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Review: Etihad First Class Airbus A380 (AUH-LHR)

by Staff

For the next portion of my review trip, I flew Etihad’s Airbus A380 first class on the 7hr15min flight from Abu Dhabi to London. I was looking forward to this flight, given that Etihad only recently brought back its A380s, after they were grounded for an extended period of time.

I’m happy to report that Etihad really is on top of its game, and is as good as ever. Etihad’s A380 first class is an impressive product, with gorgeous design, great food and drinks, and (on this flight) exceptional service. I rank this as being one of the best first class products in the world, and I’m so happy that Etihad made the decision to bring this plane back into service. Let’s get into the review.

How I booked my Etihad first class ticket

I booked my entire journey from Jeddah to Chicago (via Abu Dhabi and London) as a single award using American AAdvantage miles. Specifically, I booked the following for 115,000 American AAdvantage miles plus $323.73 in taxes and fees (with the Jeddah to Abu Dhabi segment in business class, and the Abu Dhabi to London to Chicago segments in first class):

12/04 EY330 Jeddah to Abu Dhabi departing 2:35AM arriving 6:20AM
12/04 EY17 Abu Dhabi to London departing 2:05PM arriving 6:10PM
12/05 BA295 London to Chicago departing 11:00AM arriving 1:55PM

That’s a pretty great use of American AAdvantage miles, if you ask me. Furthermore, while there were carrier imposed surcharges on this award, they were much cheaper than if you were exclusively booking an award on British Airways across the Atlantic.

Etihad first class lounge & boarding

Etihad recently moved to the new Abu Dhabi Terminal A. In previous installments I reviewed both the Etihad First Class Lounge and Etihad Business Class Lounge Abu Dhabi, which are excellent.

The first class lounge offers a great a la carte dining selection, while the business class lounge is huge and offers all kinds of amenities, from relaxation rooms, to a bar. These are among the best first class and best business class lounges out there.

Another awesome thing is that Etihad offers direct boarding from the lounge to three gates, and typically A380 departures operate from these gates. My flight was departing from gate C29, which offers lounge boarding. While my boarding pass indicated that boarding would start at 1PM (65 minutes before departure, which is suspiciously early), in reality it started at 1:20PM, 45 minutes before departure.

Etihad boarding from lounge Abu Dhabi

Etihad A380 first class cabin & seats

Etihad’s Airbus A380 first class cabin (which the airline markets as “First Class Apartments”) is located at the front of the A380’s upper deck, with each suite being 39 square feet. At the door I was greeted by the delightfully friendly crew, and pointed left into first class.

Etihad’s A380 first class cabin is in a 1-1 configuration, so it has a single aisle, which is something you’ll otherwise only find in Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class. I’d argue that this is the first class cabin with the best first impression, as there’s so much attention to detail that went into the aesthetics of the cabin.

Etihad A380 first class cabin

Etihad’s A380 first class cabin has a total of nine first class seats, in addition to The Residence (which is the three room suite that you can book for an extra fee). The A380 first class cabin has a staggered layout, with seats alternating between being forward and rear facing, and between being closer and further from the aisle.

Personally I don’t care whether a seat faces forward or backwards, though I do far prefer the seats that are closer to the windows. Here’s my general recommendation for picking seats:

  • Seats 3A and 3K are rear facing seats that are closer to the windows, while seats 4A and 4K are forward facing seats that are closer to the windows; these would be my preferred seats, and frankly I like them all equally
  • Seats 1H, 5C, and 5H, are rear facing seats that are closer to the aisle, while seats 2C and 2H are forward facing seats that are closer to the aisle
  • If you’re traveling with someone, try to assign seats 3A and 4A or seats 3K and 4K, because the partition can partially be lowered between those pairs of seats to have a somewhat shared space

Honestly, no matter which seat you select, you’re in for a treat, so don’t think that any seats here are “bad.” However, it is nice to feel like you have more distance from the aisle, and to be able to gaze out the window more easily.

You’ll also notice that Etihad’s first class seats on the A380 have differing colors. While seats in odd numbered rows are beige, seats in even numbered rows are brown.

Etihad A380 first class cabin

I assigned myself seat 3A, the “true” window seat on the left side in the third row that is rear facing. As you can see, Etihad’s A380 first class product consists of both a seat and a bench, which can be used as a buddy seat. When it’s time to sleep, the bench converts into a bed.

Etihad A380 first class seat

The seat itself is incredibly comfortable for lounging, as it’s well padded and the perfect width.

Etihad A380 first class seat

To the side of the seat are the window shades, which have blinds that can be raised or lowered. You can either just lower them so that you block the view without blocking the light, or there’s a full blackout function.

Etihad A380 first class window shades

The tray table folds out from the same side of the seat, and must be one of the biggest and heaviest tray tables out there.

Etihad A380 first class seat tray table

On the opposite armrest is a small storage compartment, seating controls, and a touchscreen to control more seat functions.

Etihad A380 first class seat controls

Just beyond that is the entertainment controller, as well as two USB-A outlets, an HDMI outlet, and a headphone jack.

Etihad A380 first class seat entertainment controller

There’s also an AC power outlet a bit further away from the seat.

Etihad A380 first class seat power outlet

The main thing next to the seat is a huge vanity, which can be opened and closed.

Etihad A380 first class seat
Etihad A380 first class seat vanity

Underneath the vanity is a small minibar, with room for up to six drinks — in this case it included four cans of soda and two bottles of water.

Etihad A380 first class seat minibar

There’s also an additional storage compartment, which is the best place to leave smaller objects during the flight (as long as you don’t forget them later!).

Etihad A380 first class seat storage

Also right next to the seat is a small vertical storage area that you can open or close. I’ve never really used this for anything, but it’s another place you could store a phone or passport.

Etihad A380 first class seat storage

Near the aisle, there’s a larger closet area, where you can hang clothes during the flight, if you choose to change into pajamas.

Etihad A380 first class seat closet

The cabin doesn’t have any overhead bins, but instead your carry-on bags can be stored underneath the bench, as there’s a specially designated place for those (just make sure your carry-on isn’t too big or full, or else it might not fit, and will need to be stored by the crew in a closet).

Etihad A380 first class seat storage

Of course one of the other great features about this product is the door, which can be opened or closed inflight. The door goes up to 64″, which is quite high, though there are little holes in the door so that the crew can (theoretically) look through there.

Etihad A380 first class cabin

Above I mentioned how seats 3A and 4A, as well as seats 3K and 4K, can sort of be turned into double suites. To expand on that a bit, see the darker color partition in the left of the below picture?

Etihad A380 first class seat

Well, there’s a control panel right by there, and if you click the button, that panel can open between suites. So you wouldn’t get a full double bed, but you can at least easily see the person in the other suite.

Etihad A380 first class seat controls

Etihad’s A380 first class hard product is mighty impressive. It’s visually stunning, and the sheer amount of space that each passenger is allocated is unbelievable. Now, I will say that I wish Etihad had designed this space a bit differently.

Specifically, it’s a bit disappointing how passengers have so much space, yet the actual sleeping surface and bed isn’t any larger than your typical first class seat. But that’s a minor thing in the scheme of things, and it doesn’t undo what an impressive product this is.

Etihad first class amenities

Waiting at my seat upon boarding were a pillow and blanket. Both of these are great — the pillow provides lots of padding, while the blanket is cozy and soft. I do find it interesting how Etihad has a partnership with Armani / Casa for business class, but this doesn’t extend to first class.

Etihad first class pillow & blanket

A moment after settling in, all the first class crew came by to introduce themselves, and one offered a pre-departure drink. I ordered a glass of champagne, which was served on a beautiful tray with a warm towel and dates. Arabic coffee was offered a few minutes later.

At the moment, Etihad’s champagne in first class is the 2010 Devaux & Michel Chapoutier Stenope, which is nice, but not particularly memorable.

Etihad first class pre-departure drinks

I was also presented with an Etihad branded bag that contained many of the other amenities for the flight.

Etihad first class amenities

Etihad’s first class pajamas are from “A Friend Of Mine,” an Emirati fashion brand. The sleepwear is breathable and soft, and I appreciate how Etihad highlights a local brand. However, note that these pajamas run really large, so perhaps select a size smaller than you’d usually choose.

Etihad first class pajamas

There were also a pair of well padded slippers.

Etihad first class slippers

Etihad is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, and is offering special amenity kits. The kit was well stocked, with eyeshades, earplugs, socks, a dental kit, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and several products from ESPA. These included hand and body lotion, facial mist, a lip treatment, a relaxing oil, and a night balm.

Etihad first class amenity kit

On my last Etihad first class flight, the airline was offering Acqua Di Parma amenity kits and products, so I wonder if that partnership is over, given the switch to ESPA.

I was also presented with headphones, which were nothing special, but did the trick.

Etihad first class headphones

Next up, I was given a voucher for free Wi-Fi (which is always offered in Etihad first class), plus the menu and drink list for the flight.

Etihad first class Wi-Fi voucher
Etihad first class menu & drink list

Etihad A380 first class entertainment & Wi-Fi

Etihad’s A380 first class offers a high definition 24″ personal television, which can swivel. It can either face the seat, or it can be turned 90 degrees if you want to use it in bed mode, so that flexibility is great.

Etihad first class entertainment screen A380

Etihad’s E-BOX entertainment system is excellent, with a huge variety of movies, TV shows, live TV, music, games, and more. The selection is basically endless, so even if you’re picky with inflight entertainment, you should have no issues staying entertained.

Etihad first class entertainment A380
Etihad first class entertainment A380
Etihad first class entertainment A380
Etihad first class entertainment A380
Etihad first class entertainment A380
Etihad first class entertainment A380

Best of all, the system offers a map feature, plus a tail camera, which is such a cool thing about flying the A380 (I’ll have pictures of both below).

Etihad also offers Panasonic Wi-Fi on its Airbus A380s.

Etihad Wi-Fi portal A380
Etihad Wi-Fi portal A380

Pricing is quite attractive nowadays, as for a flight on this route, you can pay $2.99 for a messaging pass or $9.99 for a surfing pass, both with no data limits. That’s some really great pricing. Fortunately first class passengers don’t even have to pay that, but rather can log-in with a special access code.

Etihad Wi-Fi portal A380

I found Wi-Fi speeds to be quite good for a long haul jet, and was able to stay productive for much of the flight.

Etihad A380 departure from Abu Dhabi

Boarding took quite some time, which I don’t really mind when sitting in such comfort. Of the nine first class seats, six were occupied, while The Residence was empty. I’m pretty sure just about everyone in first class had redeemed points, based on the discussions I overheard between other passengers (about Aeroplan, the crazy routings they flew, etc.).

Business class was just over half full, with 37 of the 70 business class seats occupied, so that’s not exactly a great load factor (I know this because I overheard the gate agents discussing the load just prior to boarding).

At 2PM, the captain made his welcome aboard announcement, advising that we were just waiting on two passengers, but would be departing soon. He advised us of our 20 minute taxi to runway 31R, our flight time of 7hr15min, and our eventual cruising altitude of 40,000 feet.

By the way, the captain had a very distinctive Korean accent, and I’m pretty sure I had flown with this guy prior to the A380s being grounded. Small world.

Exactly on schedule, at 2:05PM, the main cabin door closed. At that point the travel prayer was played through the cabin, and then the safety video was screened. We then started our pushback at 2:15PM.

Pushing back Abu Dhabi Airport

Then at 2:20PM we started our taxi, as we passed one of Etihad’s other Airbus A380s. Is there a more beautiful A380 livery out there? I’d argue not…

Taxiing Abu Dhabi Airport

On the plus side, our taxi was much faster than advertised, and we were at the runway by 2:30PM, and immediately cleared for takeoff.

Taxiing Abu Dhabi Airport
Taking off Abu Dhabi Airport

On the A380 you really almost don’t feel like you’re taking off, thanks to how smooth and gentle the jet is. We had a gradual climb out, and the seatbelt sign was turned off about 10 minutes after takeoff.

Etihad first class meal service

Etihad has a dine on demand concept in first class, so you can order what you want when you want. In addition to the standard a la carte menu, Etihad also has the “lounge and grill” menu, where you can select your protein, sides, and sauces, so that’s a nice level of customization to offer. You can find the Etihad first class menu below.

Etihad first class menu
Etihad first class menu
Etihad first class menu

Then you can find the Etihad first class drink list below, including wine, cocktail, spirits, juice, soft drinks, mocktails, coffee, tea, and more.

Etihad first class drink list
Etihad first class drink list
Etihad first class drink list
Etihad first class drink list

Meal orders had already been taken on the ground, and I was served my first drink just under 30 minutes after takeoff. I decided to order a dirty martini, and that was served with some snacks, including mixed nuts, olives, and feta cheese. I love how Etihad presents its pre-meal drinks and snacks, and it’s also great how the airline can prepare proper cocktails.

Etihad first class drink

To kick off my meal, I ordered the caviar course, which was served about 50 minutes after takeoff. Etihad presents its oscietra caviar in a tin, with blinis, and then a side plate with chopped red onions, sour cream, chopped eggs, etc. I also had a glass of champagne to accompany this.

Etihad first class caviar course
Etihad first class caviar course

Next up, I ordered the Arabic mezze, which included both hot and cold appetizers. It was delicious, particularly the beetroot hummus and shrimp. Prior to this, I feel like Etihad hadn’t changed its mezze in so long, so I was happy to see some new additions.

Etihad first class mezze appetizer

Next up, I was offered a palate cleanser, as the airline traditionally offers between the appetizer and main course.

Etihad first class palate cleanser

I was then served the main. Rather than customizing the dish, I just ordered the fish as recommended on the menu. This consisted of red grouper with baby fennel, pumpkin, cherry tomato, pea shoots, and watercress dressing.

Etihad first class main course

I was so full at this point, so I decided I’d have dessert later in the flight. The meal concluded with a warm towel and a box of chocolates.

Etihad first class warm towel & chocolate

The food quality and presentation were excellent, as was the service. Even though Etihad eliminated the onboard chef and food & beverage manager a few years back to cost cut costs, I haven’t found that this negatively impacted the quality of the dining experience.

Etihad A380 first class lavatory & shower

Etihad’s A380 first class features two lavatories, one of which is also a shower suite (The Residence has a separate private bathroom and shower suite). These are located at the very front of the cabin by the staircase, on the right.

Etihad A380 staircase
Etihad first class lavatories A380

The forward-most lavatory is the one without a shower, and it feels larger than the one with the shower. It features a toilet and sink, but is very spacious.

Etihad first class lavatory A380
Etihad first class lavatory A380

The other bathroom features a toilet, a sink, and a shower. Passengers can use this any time as a bathroom, except for the periods where it’s reserved as a shower suite.

Etihad first class shower A380
Etihad first class shower A380

Shower reservations are taken at the beginning of the flight, and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis (perhaps Etihad Guest Platinum members get priority, but there often aren’t any of those in the cabin). As you’d expect, people generally want to shower as close to landing as possible, so if you want a shower later on in the flight, just ask the crew to reserve a late slot ASAP.

For example, I was the fourth person to be asked when I wanted a shower, and all the slots in the last three hours of the flight were already booked. So I ended up just having a shower after lunch.

While this is the ultimate first world problem, don’t expect the Etihad A380 first class shower experience to be quite like the Emirates A380 shower suite. Before it’s time to shower, the crew sets up the bathroom with a towel, a floor mat, and toiletries.

Etihad first class shower A380
Etihad first class shower A380

There are also toiletries from ESPA, and you’re given five minutes of water (which you can turn on and off, so that the shower lasts a bit longer).

Etihad first class shower A380
Etihad first class shower A380

The shower suite definitely borders on being claustrophobic, and I’m not usually a person who has an issue with that. Still, how can one possibly complain about a shower on a plane? It’s still an experience that makes me giddy every time.

Etihad first class shower A380

Note that in case you need it, there’s a hair dryer in the cabinet above the sink.

Etihad first class shower A380

Etihad A380 lobby lounge

Located between the first class and business class cabin is The Lobby, which is the lounge concept on the Etihad A380. There’s a huge galley between first and business class, and it’s located immediately behind that. The Lobby consists of a circular seating area with two separate couches, each of which can seat at most three people. There’s a coffee table between the couches, plus a wall-mounted TV.

Etihad A380 onboard lounge
Etihad A380 onboard lounge

There’s a drink display area with some light snacks across from The Lobby. Flight attendants are of course happy to get you any food or drinks from the galley, but this isn’t otherwise a traditional bar. In my experience The Lobby isn’t very popular with passengers, and usually stays pretty empty.

Etihad A380 onboard lounge
Etihad A380 onboard lounge

Etihad A380 first class bed

After lunch and my shower, it was time to get some rest, as it had been a very long day. I asked the crew to make my bed while I was showering, and that turndown service was complete by the time I returned. Etihad’s A380 first class offers an 80.5″ bed, so that’s a very long bed.

While I wish the bed were a bit larger (given the amount of space allocated to each first class passenger), it’s still an absolutely lovely product, and very comfortable.

Etihad A380 first class bed
Etihad A380 first class bed
Etihad A380 first class bed

I also find it cute how Etihad places a bookmark on each pillow with a Dr. Seuss quote — “you know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

Etihad A380 first class bookmark

I ended up going to sleep with around five hours remaining to London, as we were flying over Iraq.

Etihad A380 first class map feature
Etihad A380 first class map feature

I woke up just under three hours later, as we were flying over Serbia.

Etihad A380 first class map feature
Etihad A380 first class map feature

Oh my gosh, I felt so great after getting some rest. At this point the sun was starting to set, with a beautiful view from the tail camera.

Etihad A380 first class tail camera

Etihad first class pre-landing snack

Within a few minutes of waking up, a flight attendant was at my seat to ask if they could get me anything. I ordered a cappuccino, which was delicious. In first class, Etihad often proactively serves this with a plate of sweets, including cookies and madeleines. Honestly, Etihad needs to stop doing this, because they’re so damn delicious, and I end up eating most of them. Grrr…

Etihad first class cappuccino

About 20 minutes later I decided to order a pre-landing snack. I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I basically just decided to finish my meal from earlier. I ordered the rainbow chiffon cake, fresh fruit, and an iced latte, all of which were served at once, and were excellent.

Etihad first class dessert

Etihad first class service

Service on Gulf carriers can be a bit inconsistent, given that you have crews from all over the world. I feel like Etihad is in a groove, as virtually all of the flight attendants that I’ve had in the past year have been exceptional.

I have to say, along with my Etihad A350 business class flight last year, this was the best crew I’ve had on Etihad in a long time. In particular, the Lebanese flight attendant serving me for most of the flight was incredible. She struck the perfect balance between being professional, personable, and attentive, all while having an eye for detail. She’s a superstar, and Etihad is lucky to have her.

A good crew can make or break a flight, and the crew on this flight certainly made this a special experience. I hope Etihad can continue with this level of service going forward.

Etihad A380 arrival in London

At 5PM London time, the captain was back on the PA to advise that we were 260 miles from London, would start our descent in around 10 minutes, and would land in around 45 minutes. He advised that we’d encounter some turbulence on the approach, so he asked the crew to prepare the cabin for landing a bit early.

Etihad A380 first class map feature
Etihad A380 first class map feature

Indeed, it was a windy evening in London, and we had quite a bit of turbulence on the descent. Despite that, we had a perfectly smooth touchdown at 5:50PM.

From there we had a short 10 minute taxi to our arrival gate in Terminal 4, where we pulled in at 6PM, 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

Etihad A380 first class tail camera

I bid farewell to the lovely crew, and then headed to the Hilton Heathrow Terminal 4 for the night, prior to flying British Airways’ A380 first class to Chicago the following morning.

Bottom line

What an absolute treat it is to once again fly Etihad’s Airbus A380 first class. This is an incredible experience, in terms of both the hard and soft product. The cabin is intimate and stylish, the seats are huge, the food, drinks, and amenities are great, and the service couldn’t have been better. What more can one ask for from a first class flight?

Etihad has been through quite the rollercoaster in recent years, when it went from endless growth to cost cutting, and now it’s nice to see the airline trying to grow in a more sustainable way. On balance, I think Etihad is as good as it has ever been, and I’m happy to see the airline continuing to improve.

What’s your take on Etihad’s A380 first class?

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