Etihad Airways First Class Apartment Abu Dhabi to London Review
Experience the revolutionary First Class Apartment in the sky – an excellent way to maximise the value of your Velocity Points.
Aircraft Type: Airbus A380-800
Route: Abu Dhabi to London
Class: First Class Apartment
Enoch's Etihad Rating: ★★★★★☆
Introduced in 2014, Etihad’s First Class Apartments offer a spacious and impressive way to fly. Notably, Etihad is the first carrier to offer a private suite with a separate bed and armchair. The First Class Apartment is featured exclusively in Etihad’s A380 fleet, which operates to a handful of destinations from its homebase in Abu Dhabi, including London, Paris, New York and Sydney. As I was scheduled to return to London, I took the opportunity to try out this high-end product.
A one-way ticket from the UAE’s capital to London was consistently priced above AUD$9,000 across the month that I was travelling. Surprisingly, by connecting the flight from Sydney to London via Abu Dhabi, the price dropped to AUD$7,100, despite being a significantly longer journey.
Etihad Airways isn’t part of any major airline alliance. Instead, it has a set of unique partners, and thankfully, Virgin Australia happens to be one of those partners, permitting Velocity members to earn and burn miles with Etihad flights. I decided that this flight would be an excellent way to utilise a stash of Velocity Points that I had acquired through an Amex sign-up bonus.
Securing two award tickets (reward flight tickets that are redeemed using frequent flyer miles) for me and my wife in the Apartments could have been potentially challenging due to the limited seat availability, so I made a conscious effort to finalise my redemption seven months ahead of the departure date. Velocity online doesn’t support searches for Etihad first class seats, so I performed a dummy search with Etihad Guest online to look for seat availability beforehand. Then I redeemed my points with a Velocity agent over the phone by quoting the desired flight number and date of travel.
Seat availability as shown on Etihad Guest’s online portal
All up I paid 78,000 Velocity Points plus AUD$437 in taxes per person for the sector between Abu Dhabi and London. Considering the advertised fare for this flight was more than AUD$9,000 at the time, I was extremely pleased with the value – I got more than 10 cents per Velocity Point! For additional booking tips, check out the notes at the bottom of the review.
Helpful guides for using points for Etihad First Class Apartments
Online seat selection isn’t possible with bookings redeemed through Velocity. I contacted Etihad customer support a month prior to our departure and there were only two interconnected suites left for selection: 1H and 2H. Etihad also offers a complimentary Mercedes-Benz Chauffeur service for first class passengers originating from UAE, but unfortunately, we were not able to enjoy this benefit. As of April this year, this perk is no longer available for award ticket holders.
First class passengers and Etihad Platinum members have access to Etihad’s flagship First Class Lounge and Spa located in Terminal 3. Unlike most first class lounges that tend to be exclusive, this lounge is accessible to non-premium guests for a fee. Having said that, this massive lounge appeared deserted during our visit. I counted no more than five passengers during our entire stay there.
Etihad First Class Lounge foyer
The lounge staff were friendly and welcoming as they ushered us into the lounge through the impressive orchid-decorated foyer. We chose a dining table adjacent to the window in order to get the best view of the tarmac.
The à la carte breakfast consisted of standard breakfast options such as an omelette, sausages, pancakes and a fresh fruit salad. I ordered the smoked salmon eggs benedict and picked up some pastries and fresh fruit from the self-service snack station. While I found the breakfast options pretty underwhelming (stale croissants and underripe fruit), my wife was very pleased with her perfectly spiced chai latte ordered from the lounge bar.
Smoked salmon eggs benedict
Some outstanding features of the lounge include the Six Senses Spa and the fitness room. All first class passengers are entitled to a 15-minute complimentary spa treatment with the option of an extension or additional service for a fee. During this visit I opted for an additional 25-minute back massage for US$37.
While this experience cannot be compared to the hour-long complimentary massage I experienced at the Thai Airways Royal Orchid Spa, it wasn’t bad. However, it’s a shame that Etihad recently closed down its Style and Shave Salon, as this was a service that I was looking forward to leading up to the trip. The fitness room is equipped with Technogym equipment and free weights, which were a nice touch, especially for transit passengers who have been stuck in a seat onboard.
I found the gate lounge in Abu Dhabi pretty crowded, so having priority boarding was an advantage. We entered the aircraft directly onto the upper deck where business and first class seats are located. The first class cabin is also connected to the main deck via a beautifully lit staircase.
Cabin and seats
There are only nine seats in Etihad’s First Class Apartments with a single aisle running down the cabin. Located at the pointy end of the upper deck, the Apartments are separated from the Business Studios by the spectacular onboard bar. Of course there is also the renowned Residence, a stand-alone three-room suite with a private butler taking the 1A spot in the upper deck.
Interestingly, the seat configuration for each Apartment is varied. Hence a combination of factors should be considered when it comes to seat selection, including:
- Travelling solo or partnered
- Forward or rear facing seats
- Proximity to the window or the aisle
- Access to one, two or three windows
- Other factors: Bassinets, proximity to the lavatory/bar, etc
Rear-facing seat 1H located next to the aisle
In this flight, we were seated in Apartment 1H (rear facing) and 2H (forward facing), which are considered couple-friendly. Both our seats were located directly beside the aisle, which meant more exposure to the adjacent foot traffic. We both had access to two windows, but they were rather distant from us while in a seated position. In my opinion the best seats are:
- 4A or 4K for solo travellers, as you have access to three windows, forward-facing seats, plus more privacy.
- 3A/4A or 3K/4K for partnered travellers, allowing access to three windows each, plus more privacy.
Also, I would avoid row 5 unless a bassinet is needed, as they are rear facing and only have access to one window.
A380 upper deck seat map
Forward-facing seat 2H
The living spaces in the Apartments were private and luxurious. Each Apartment is a fully enclosed suite with fretwork sliding doors, furnished with a leather lounge chair and a matching ultra-long ottoman.
I was impressed with the level of detail put into the design of each seat, particularly the built-in vanity and chilled minibar. The vanity unit with light-up makeup mirror can be found behind a set of closed doors, which also serves as storage area for personal amenities. Chilled water and soft drinks are literally within arm's reach from the minibar drawer – brilliant!
Onboard vanity unit
Upon request, cabin crew offer a turndown service, where the ottoman is transformed into a nearly seven-foot-long flatbed. When it was time for a snooze, we tested out the double bed formed between the interconnecting suites of 1H and 2H. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a real double bed. Even after the divider is fully stowed, the remaining section of the wall still separates the two beds. Nevertheless, I found the bed comfortable and I had no trouble falling asleep.
Bed of seat 2H
The Apartment is installed with a high-definition 24-inch TV screen. The touch-enabled screen is adjustable to suit sitting up or lying down in bed. A second handheld console is beside the bed, which is perfect if you want to lie down while watching. Etihad E-Box offers a decent selection of entertainment options, including many Hollywood blockbusters and up to 350 TV shows.
TV screen stowed away
Noise cancelling headset
It was disappointing that Etihad didn’t offer complimentary Wi-Fi, a relatively small perk considering the cost of first class. At the time I travelled, onboard Wi-Fi was chargeable based on data usage, US$4.95 for 30MB, US$11.95 for 90MB or US$19.95 for 180MB. The good news for those travelling in first class, Etihad is currently advertising 90MB of complimentary Wi-Fi access, as advertised on their website.
I received a set of Christian Lacroix sleepwear and a beautiful leather amenities bag. Included in the kit were skin care products from Hungarian brand Omorovicza, but unlike Emirates or Singapore Airlines, there was no cologne included.
The novelty of taking a shower at 35,000 feet never grows old. Each first class passenger is allocated a 10-minute block in which to shower, which seems short, but I discovered that the electronic timer can be paused at anytime, which gave me more than enough time to freshen up before landing.
First class lavatory
As we settled into our suites, the cabin crew came around to serve welcome drinks and a mini antipasto plate. Onboard chef Aziz also greeted us and explained the menu to us before departure. Soon after take off, I was also offered Arabic dates and coffee.
Welcome drinks and mini antipasto plate
There are no set meal times in the Apartments, which means the meal service is exclusively on-demand and personalised. Available on the service were à la carte menu items and a separate lounge and grill menu. During meal times the tray table is designed to accommodate two, which gave us the chance to dine together.
The traditional Gulf mezze, flat bread served with a selection of dips and accompaniments, is always my standard choice when flying with Etihad. Again, it did not disappoint. Before we transitioned to the next course, we were offered sorbet as a palate cleanser. For mains I selected a grilled black cod dish, which was a little bland but tasted fresh nonetheless. To finish, I had the raspberry tartlet. While it was delicious it would have been nice to have a few more dessert options.
In my overall opinion, the dining was good but perhaps not the best when compared to other carriers. While the “lounge and grill” menu concept offers a versatile combination of options, I decided against having a second meal as I had dinner plans upon arrival in London. I went for something light instead, a cup of black tea and delicious baklava.
Appetiser: Gulf mezze
Main dish: Grilled black cod
Dessert: Raspberry tartlet
À la carte menu
While the cabin crew were generally pleasant and formal, I felt they were a little indifferent. They maintained minimal cabin presence outside of mealtimes, and interestingly, the onboard chef attended to us whenever we pressed our cabin crew call button.
It was a joy to witness the view via the A380’s tail camera, particularly during our descent through the blanket of clouds. We arrived in London refreshed, well rested and 30 minutes ahead of schedule. My only regret was that I wish we could have enjoyed this stunning cabin a little longer.
The Points Finder Flight Rating: ★★★★★☆
Redeeming an Etihad First Class Apartment with Velocity has its intricacies, but the experience is still well worth the effort. While Etihad’s ground experience wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, I loved the fact that I could opt for a quick workout in the complimentary fitness centre, then unwind in the spa.
In my opinion, the overall dining experience, both on the ground and in the air, lacked a little flair and the cabin crew were a bit aloof. However, the spacious and stylish cabin, coupled with the sensational onboard bar and shower, could only be rivalled by a highly selective league of first class products.
All up I would say that the Etihad First Class Apartment is a great way to fly and it should be on the bucket list for any aspiring points collector.
Additional booking tips
Etihad Guest is the official frequent flyer program for Etihad Airways. As mentioned above, the Etihad Guest web page is a useful tool for availability searches. While performing a dummy search with Etihad Guest online, be sure to look out for Guest Seats rather than the significantly more expensive Open Seat redemption. If you are not an existing member with Etihad Guest, no worries. Etihad Guest permits award searches without having to log in, so it is non-member friendly.
At the time of redemption, I did consider using Etihad Guest Miles as Etihad Guest is less punitive with its redemption taxes/surcharge. Back in 2016, Velocity passed an unpopular Reward Seat Carrier Charge of US$300 per flight sector for both adults and children in first class. In other words, taxes alone would set you back more than AUD$1,000 if you were redeeming a first class trip from Sydney to London using Velocity Points.
Nevertheless, I settled with using Velocity Points as I had other plans for my Etihad Guest Miles. I celebrated over the fact that my flight was just under the 3,600-mile limit to be included in Zone 4 of Velocity’s distance-based redemption table. By redeeming AUH-LHR rather than the other direction, I also avoided the hefty UK-departure Air Passenger Duty fee of £156 per person.
Velocity’s zone-based redemption chart and reward seat carrier charges
|Program||Miles||Taxes and surcharge|
Miles and taxes required for AUH-LHR redemption