As the 2017 year draws to an end I look back on my year full of wonderful travel and food experiences on many spontaneous weekend trips. However, one of the biggest highlights and once in a lifetime experiences I had this year was my flight with Etihad Airways on their Airbus A380 aircraft in their Apartments on flight EY 100 from New York JFK to Abu Dhabi back in November.
Please enjoy this post by playing one of the following versions of Etihad’s soothing boarding music, one of my favorites of any airline in the world:
I had dreamed and hoped to experience the Etihad Apartments ever since they first announced and revealed this industry-leading and changing product on their Airbus A380 back in 2014. My dream was realized a lot sooner than I ever could have hoped. All thanks to my friend to brought to my attention some great credit card sign up bonuses as well as tips from The Points Guy and One Mile At A Time.
Now, this product has been reviewed multiple times, and there are plenty of youtube videos out there that showcase what it is all about. And yes in the last year Etihad Airways has unfortunately done a lot of cost-cutting and some of the very extra amenities and aspects of this product are now gone. But it was still one heck of an experience and I’m offering my personal takes and opinions and this is in no way a “comparison” post or a post on how best to redeem for this product…etc, Ill leave those types of posts to the professionals out there.
Date: Monday November 13, 2017
Flight: Etihad Airways EY 100
Route: JFK – AUH
Flying time: 12 Hours 25 Minutes, dept. 10PM, arrival +1 7:25pm.
Aircraft: Airbus A380-800, registration: A6-APC
Seat: Apartment 4A
How I booked:
I redeemed 115,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles that I got from two credit card sign up bonuses (AA Citi Aadvantage World Elite Mastercard and Barclays AAdvantage card) and purchased a couple hundred miles to make up the difference, then paid $11 in taxes. 100% worth every mile and dollar I spent on the ticket as well as to get the sign up bonuses. With these credit cards, they even cash back 10000 miles once you redeem a certain amount, so its really a great deal.
I booked by taking advice from The Points Guy and One Mile At A Time by first searching on Etihad’s website for award availability, and most important to search for dates with saver first class availability. Once I found a date and flight that would work out for me, I called AAdvantage Australia to redeem and book my flight, it definitely worked and was quite easy and straight forward. Once booked, 24 hours later I was ticked and confirmed, then called Etihad Reservations to quickly book my seat 4A, and then I was set to go!
Now, unfortunately Etihad Airways has suspended all international chauffeur service and no longer allows passengers who use AAdvantage miles to reserve Chauffeur service in Abu Dhabi either. Honestly, given the whole fight against the ME3 carriers by the big 3 US carriers, its a miracle you can still book the apartments using AAdvantage miles.
Before the Flight:
Before the flight I had called multiple Etihad Airways customer service lines including the Residence Concierge to figure some things out. Including pushing my luck with some outlandish requests, most of which were denied. I asked for special meal items or book the chef features like they do in Singapore Airlines, none of that exists for Etihad. I did slide a message that this trip was a special and early Birthday celebration (my Birthday was 4 days following my trip), and wanted to see if they took note of it and would do any small thing for it (as you see later they went above and beyond).
The biggest request I hoped would get granted but did not end up getting granted due to “lack of passenger details and reason for travel and lack of travel history with Etihad” (a poor excuse if you ask me), was to tour the Etihad Residence, the even more exclusive cabin on the A380 equipped with a full queen size bed in a three room setup. It took me forever to reach the right folks for this request but I finally reached the Residence Concierge who put the request in for me. I was denied the request but a Guest Relations Manager named Tobi personally reached out to me via Whatsapp to explain and see if they could do anything else to help make my flight memorable and even followed up with me after my flight and offered some tips for travel in the UAE.
Besides being thrown from one Etihad email and phone number to the other with my requests and clarification questions, the pre-flight process was straight forward albeit lacking in clarity and service from Etihad phone associates. Which was not a great first impression for one of the most exclusive products in the skies today.
Check-In and The Etihad Lounge
On the evening of Monday November 13th, 2017 I proceeded to JFK in heavy New York traffic. I arrived at Terminal 4 and proceeded to the Etihad First Class Check-In counter.
With no one in line for first class, check-in was easy and fast. And to my surprise, the check-in agent proceeded to inform her manager about my arrival and then proceeded to personally escort me through security and to the lounge. Normally they have a dedicated first class/ priority lane, but at this evening hour of 7PM that lane was closed and we ended up just cutting the busy regular security line. Obviously I felt a bit awkward and bad, first for cutting but also being escorted by an Etihad Staff, but it also felt so cool with all that celebrity status, so I just relished in the moment. After security she walked me to the beautiful Etihad Lounge. Also, I must say Etihad Airways truly has one of the best looking uniforms in the skies today.
The lounge is designed with the Etihad Airways Facets of Abu Dhabi design aesthetic that they introduced with their re-branding and introduction of their revolutionary A380 products back in 2014. I was handed off to the lounge agents and was greeted with friendly smiles and welcomed to the lounge. They explained some of the features and amenities and asked if I would like to board first or last. This being a once in a lifetime flight, I obviously said I would like to board first, they said certainly and would come find me when it was time to board.
The lounge is just large enough for the premium passengers on Etihad’s double daily A380 service. There is a stunning bar, lounge seating and a la carte restaurant seating. There is a secret door that opens to a private lounge for those traveling on The Residence. There is a shower, one in each restroom.
You can choose from the buffet or a simple a la carte menu for your food options. I chose to dine from both to fully experience it all. Unfortunately due to cost-cutting, Etihad has gotten rid of the extravagant a la carte dining menu as well as the craft-cocktail menu at the bar, now its just a few small but delicious bites to order and for cocktails there are no menus, just whatever you fancy to drink you tell the bartender. Nonetheless the lounge is relaxing, beautiful and did not get overly crowded. The food tasted great and wide-range of top-shelf drinks to choose from.
At around 8:45PM the lounge agent found me at the bar and escorted me to the gate. She even offered to stop along the way if I needed to pick up any duty-free, I was like nope, take me to the plane! I asked if they see lots of Residence passengers, since you can only pay for the residence and not redeem points and it costs on average $20,000 or more one way but can accommodate two passengers. She said it is actually quite often booked. Arriving at the gate area, I stopped to snap a few photos of Etihad’s beautiful A380, the agent then escorted me to the boarding door, and just simply walked me in, no one checked my boarding pass or my passport and boarding had not even begun for other passengers!
Upon arriving on the upper-deck boarding door I was greeted by friendly smiles. The flight attendant handed me off to the Food and Beverage Manager, Pedro, who personally welcomed me “Welcome Mr. Gary, please follow me, here is your apartment 4A.” Every crew member servicing the apartments addressed me by name every time they interacted with me, I never once had to mention to another crew member what seat I was in, absolute personal attention.
I am writing this just over a month since my flight, but I can still remember that feeling of awe, surrealism upon walking into the Apartments and the entire cabin. Simply one of the most aesthetically pleasing aircraft interiors I have ever seen. Beautiful understated luxury, tones of light and dark wood, beige leather, with hues of ocean blue, light touches of gold and geometric patterns reflecting the Arabian desert. My seat 4A was the second to last row on the left side, with a window-side forward facing seat, and along with 3A the dividing partition can be lowered to create a quasi-double-bed for families or couples traveling together. There are a total of 9 Apartments in a 1-1 configuration at the front of the upper-deck, seats A and K can be linked together, while B and H are single suites away from the window, on the left side of the cabin the front is occupied by the three room Residence.
Pedro walked me through the features of the Apartment, put my carry-on away in the dedicated storage bin under my sofa/ bed. Upon showing me my personal in-suite bar, he even offered to switch up the beverages throughout the flight should I desire it, from beer to juice to sparkling water. A few minor cost-cutting is that Etihad now uses regular plastic water bottles instead of the fancier VOSS Water, the slippers and pajamas no longer come in a dedicated Apartments shopping bag, and I definitely believe the amenity kit had a few amenities taken away from it.
The apartments features a closet to hang your jackets or clothes after you change into pajamas. Storage for your carry-on, storage for your shoes/ slippers, personal mini-bar, a vanity station with a mirror and storage for beauty products, two lamps, a reading light, three sets of seat controls (two that double as entertainment consoles, one by your seat and one by the couch/bed), a large 27 inch flat screen TV that swivels out when you are in bed, and lots of storage nooks and crannies throughout. A fun feature of the TV and entertainment control console is that you can have two separate displays on each, you can be watching your movie on the TV but have up the flight map or menu or seat controls on your console. The window shades are electronically controlled, and are double-layered, during the day the first layer blocks the sun rays but allows light in, while the second layer completely blocks the light, at night it comes down as one unit to block all light.
The Apartments cabin has two restrooms (technically three, but one is in the private quarters of the residence). One is smaller and features the shower, the other one is quite large and features ample space for changing. Bathrooms are fitted with amenities such as toothbrush, mouthwash, shaving kits and lotion.
After introducing me to my suite features, Pedro offered me hot towel, dates and some champagne, there was even two to choose from, although on the ground there really was only one they were allowed to open, a nice bottle of 2007 Vintage Billecart-Salmon. Champagne service is poured in front of you in your suite, and is then followed by Arabic coffee service. Upon asking if there was anything he could do to make my flight enjoyable, I asked once again about touring the Residence, just to try my luck. He said it was technically not allowed but that later in the flight he would check with the purser and see if maybe he could sneak me in to show me but prohibit me from taking any photos as they need to prepare the cabin to be at “Etihad Standards” for tours and photos. (Unfortunately, later on when I reminded him, he asked the purser and it was a hard no, but they were all very friendly and professional about it).
Shortly thereafter the onboard chef came in to offer me the evening’s food and beverage menus. While Etihad does not offer any special pre-flight book the chef or special dining options, their menu is still rather extensive and you can customize your meals and dine at any time you’d like. The chef later returned to take my order, and seeing as I was not quite ready and that I even asked if I could order more than one appetizer, he simply offered to created a bespoke tasting menu for me and asked if I’d like wine pairing. Without hesitation I said yes to all, I was ready to stuff myself and drink a lot more than I could handle if I had to in order to fully experience everything the Apartments have to offer. After ordering both my dinner and breakfast, the chef asked if I’d like to freshen up with a shower on board, I said yes please, and asked me when I’d like to shower, I said before arrival. He then offered to set the shower up for me around 3-4 hours before arrival and just before my breakfast. The Champagne was consistently topped off, and I never said no, which did not help with my conditions later on in flight with my wine tasting.
Soon the boarding door closed and we were pulling out ahead of schedule, much to my disappointment as I wanted to spend every last minute experiencing the apartments. Etihad’s famous and soothing pre-flight prayer played followed by their safety video.
Once we reached cruising altitude, Pedro returned to my suite to offer me tapas (nuts, wasabi peas and olives) and more champagne, this time some 2006 Charles Heldsieck Brut.
Pedro and his colleague then came in to set my table, laying down the table-cloth and pressing it down with his arms just like at a fine-dining restaurant, unfortunately an iron wouldnt do at 35,000 feet for safety reasons I believe. Champagne was topped off followed by a healthy pour of my first wine of the night, 2014 Gruner-Veltliner, Laurenz V “Charming” Austrian dry white. Bread was then offered, while some airlines like Emirates give you an entire basket full of bread, I personally prefer a personalized bread service where you simply pick and choose what you want to eat so that you dont necessarily waste food and fill up on too much bread. The bread was delicious, although would have been better if it was warm.
First course of King Prawns, watermelon, red pepper gazpacho, cucumber jelly was served. It was very well presented, and tasted refreshing, very good quality.
I was then poured my second wine of the night, 2016 Greywacke Savignon Blanc from New Zealand before being served my deliciously aromatic and creamy tomato soup.
A palate cleanser sorbet was next.
Followed by a pour of 2015 Two Hands Shiraz from Australia, and my main course of Beef strip-loin with potato, peas, carrots and veal jus, which tasted great but the beef was a tad on the dry and overcooked side.
Next up was a lineup of desserts, first a pour of “So” De Bastor-Lamontagne, Semilon blend 2015, sweet white wine, to go with my Lemon Meringue tart.
I thought this was it, but then Pedro brought out a special chocolate tart that was definitely not on the menu, and poured me a glass of Noval 10 year Tawny PORT. By this point I was stuffed and getting drunk, but I powered through.
Despite being beyond full, I ordered some Lamb Biryani because I had read that the Etihad first class Biryani is quite good. Pedro obliged and then came with yet another wine to go with the Biryani, a delicious Chateau Brown 2012 Bordeaux red. The Lamb Biryani was amazing, and honestly is what I’d recommend you go with for your main, but I was so full I couldnt possibly finish the entire plate.
I then changed into my pajamas, and returning to my suite, the chef hurriedly walked up to hang my clothes for me in my closet. A warm cup of chamomile tea was waiting for me. Two cabin crew then came and offered to make my bed, I was asked to stepped out for a few short minutes as I watched in excitement while they reclined the sofa into a full-sized bed, added a mattress pad, then a thin mattress, then the blanket and pillows, swapped over my headphones from my seat to the bed and swiveled out the TV, dimmed the lights and laid down a Dr. Seuss poem. Returning into my suite, they closed the doors and I was ready for bed. The bed was really comfortable, and I slept a solid 5 hours. Throughout the flight, whenever I’d leave to go use the restroom, I’d return to see my bed was made once again. Not only that, I never found myself to be short of water, water bottles were constantly replenished.
When I woke up, it was already daytime outside. I decided then to walk about the plane and tour it. I relaxed a little and hydrated in The Lobby Lounge, which is Etihad’s version of an on-board lounge minus a full-service bar. Its a nice environment, with live-TV, charging and headphone jacks, great place to hangout with a group of family or friends but definitely nothing to get excited over compared to the Emirates or Qatar Airways full service bar (neither of which I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing…yet). The crew came by and asked what TV I’d like to watch and switched the channel for me. I then asked if I could tour the other cabins, a friendly flight attendant said sure, and walked me through. The flight was not full at all, I even sat in and checked out a Business Studio seat, which I have to say is quite nice and more spacious than it appears. On the lower deck is all economy class, and the Etihad A380 economy seats are nice, ample legroom and I quite like the large stationary headrest incorporated into the seat.
At the lounge I had ordered a snack, the famous Etihad Steak Sandwich. At first I wanted to eat it in the lounge, but it took a while to prepare and so I opted to return to my apartment and enjoy it there. It is great when you don’t even need to tell them where you sit or who you are, the steak sandwich appeared in front of me in no time. It really is quite delicious and lives up to its reputation.
After my snack, the chef came by to inform me it was shower time. Entering the smaller of the two lavatories, the shower mat and towel and soap, shampoo, and conditioner were all set up. After giving me instructions the chef left me be. However the shower did not start despite doing everything correctly, I hopped out and the chef quickly came by to inform me the flight deck had to reset the water system. Sure enough, a few minutes later the shower worked. Just like Emirates, the only other airline with an on-board shower, your time limit is 5 minutes and there is a countdown meter. 5 minutes was more than enough time. It was such a surreal and fun experience to shower at 35,000 feet, and thankfully it was a smooth flight all around. Refreshed, I hopped out and returned to my seat, and asked for my bed to be made again (it had been removed to open my tray-table for my steak sandwich service). It was made rather quickly and I proceeded to sit in bed to relax and enjoy a movie but also to watch the sunset over the clouds across three large windows, a vantage I’ve ever before experienced on any plane (featured image on the left).
A few minutes later the chef and the purser knocked on my suite door, and in their hands was a plate of brownies a la mode. Which they said was specially baked fresh on-board for my birthday, just how freshly baked on-board I’m not sure, but nonetheless it was delicious and a very nice touch. This was as much as I expected them to do when I dropped a hint that this was a pre-Birthday celebration of sorts to both the reservations associate and Tobi, the guest relations manager, I did also shamelessly mentioned it to Pedro and the purser when they both greeted me while I settled in. I did all this in part to really see if things are noted or if they are just thrown to the side and just how above and beyond Etihad goes.
As the sun continued to set and I continued to float on cloud 9 in my apartment, it soon came time for breakfast.
My table was set, with a bread plate of croissant, chocolate roll and muffin. I ordered coffee, lemon mint juice and an energizer juice of Kale, kiwi and pear, it was incredible. What came next is what really took me by surprise and for me is what Etihad did to go above and beyond with little touches. Pedro and the purser came in with a hand-drawn card, signed by all Apartment flight attendants in English and their native language, wishing me a Happy Birthday, the cover featured a hand-drawn Etihad A380 taking off! I was quite touched and it was a very nice gesture on their part. Then my full-English breakfast with eggs made to order arrived. I had ordered sunny-side-up. This was by far the best airplane breakfast I have ever had in any cabin as usually airplane breakfasts are horrible. Breakfast ended with a fruit plate.
Soon and very sadly, it was time for our descent and arrival into Abu Dhabi after an incredibly memorable 12 Hour 25 Minute flight, one of the few times I felt that long span of time was simply not enough on a plane. Pedro came by to every passenger to thank them and also offer his business card not only for future needs but to also highlight the feedback email address if there was anything we wanted to mention be it good or bad about the flight.
We touched down and pulled into Etihad’s Terminal 3. There are no escorts for Apartment guests upon arrival, but they do get to utilize fast-track immigration. Once I cleared, I grabbed my bags from the carousal and proceeded to the small but comfortable Etihad Arrivals Lounge. The lounge has showers and small snacks and fruits as well as beverages for you to enjoy. Again, as part of the cost-cutting the barber shop that once offered guests a nice shave was gone. Most folks come in here to wait for their chauffeur service, I was there to take yet another shower (my third one on this flight, from the JFK lounge to the plane to this lounge), change and hangout until it was time for me to get to downtown Abu Dhabi to transfer on to Emirates’ complimentary economy class shuttle from Abu Dhabi to Dubai International Airport for my onwards connection to Taipei. Etihad also offered a complimentary shuttle for all passengers from Abu Dhabi airport to the Etihad Airways downtown office in Dubai.
Like I said, completely worth every mile and dollar I spent on this flight. Truly a remarkable flying experience. The personalized service, attention to detail, delicious food, fine wine selection and friendly cabin crew is what makes this a worthy experience. Not to mention the design of the apartments, from both practicality stand point, the space it offers, comfort level and aesthetics. Of course my birthday surprises here and there added to the magic of this flight.
Yes, one notices some of the cost-cutting efforts done my Etihad. But the things they have cut are all very extra, and don’t actually take away from the experience in my opinion. I have read about inconsistent service from Etihad, but from start to finish each Etihad staff I encountered wore a smile, were professional and very friendly.
The flight combined all aspects of things I love. Great food and wine, one of my favorite planes to fly on, amazing design aesthetics, and excellent hospitality by a very diverse crew.
Definitely one for the books, and I am now forever ruined when it comes to flying as there are very few products out there that can beat this. My next goals are to experience Emirates (new fully-enclosed suites on their 777-300ERs), Singapore Airlines (refreshed A380 suites) and Air France (La Premiere on their 777-300ERs) first class products. Hopefully and with some luck, slowly but surely my dreams may come true.
Happy New Year and may 2018 bring more wonderful experience.