Ramon is the creator of Traveling Companion. He focuses on flight review, hotel reviews, and helping stretch your travel dollars, miles, and points further.
The Apartment experience featured the best lounge I have ever visited, the best seats I have ever flown along with thoughtful design touches and amazing in-flight entertainment.
Pros- Great Lounge, Stunning Seat, Thoughtful Onboard Design, Amazing In-Flight Entertainment, and Unique Amenities
Cons- Underwhelming Service and Tasteless Onboard Food
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Exploring Abu Dhabi
Etihad Apartments A380 AUH-JFK Apartments Review
We pulled up to the First Class entrance at Abu Dhabi International (AUH) and were greeted by Etihad staff ready to help us with our bags. Since we had no more local cash left we decided to handle the bags ourselves. We walked into the terminal and were ushered over to seats for the check-in process. This was the first time I had ever completed an airline check-in process seated and it was a strange feeling. The agent checked in our bags and recognized our American Airlines elite status which is something I really appreciate about Etihad. Once our check-in was complete she insisted that we head through Pre-Clearance about 50 minutes before departure to make sure we didn't miss boarding. After check-in we headed through the First Class line at security which was a quick process. Once we cleared security we headed to the First Class lounge.
Etihad First Class Lounge
Etihad's First Class Lounge is the nicest lounge I had ever visited even beating out the Virgin America Clubhouse at New York JFK. Some of amenities included a gym, relaxing chairs, and complimentary spa treatments. Because we wanted to make sure not to miss our departure we didn't have a chance to use any of these.
However, the one benefit we did get to try was the al a carte dining. When were in the lounge they were serving breakfast which ended up being really good. We were seated at a table with great runway views.
For breakfast I ordered Kimchi pancakes and Christina ordered the Eggs Benedict. The Kimchi pancakes were very different than any other pancakes I had ever tasted. They were very savory and doughy almost like a soft flat bread crust, but I did like them. Christina also enjoyed her Eggs Benedict and said it was at the level of the one she really liked at the Al Maha.
US Pre-Clearance and Premium Lounge
Etihad's First Class lounge AUH is located after the first layer of security but not after the second layer of security or the pre-clearance for US flights. This means that passengers have to leave the lounge early and then head through pre-clearance.We ended up taking the check-in attendants advice and leaving 50 minutes before departure which was way too early. While pre-clearance is a big benefit for most passengers it can actually be frustrating for those with Global Entry, since the process can sometimes take longer than using Global Entry on arrival. That was definitely the case at AUH. When we left the First Class lounge the terminal was crowded with people and it took us about 10 minutes to walk to the pre-clearance. Once we got to pre-clearance the entire process took us about 15 minutes since we had access to premium security and Global Entry.
Once we got through pre-clearance we headed to the Premium Lounge which is shared by First Class and Business Class passengers on US bound flights. This lounge was packed with people and it was a struggle for us to even find a seat. The lounge offerings were also really unimpressive compared to the First Class lounge. It offered coffee, drinks, and cold snacks only. It was better than being in the crowded terminal but a huge step down from the First Class lounge. My advice if you are flying First Class and have Global Entry would be to spend as much time as possible in the First Class Lounge.
When we arrived at the gate it was packed with people and the beautiful A380 was parked at the gate. The First Class Cabin on this flight was also full despite only four seats being full a day before departure. I assumed this was due to people getting upgraded. On this flight there was no passenger in The Residence which is Etihad's exclusive A380 experience above First Class which comes with your own apartment in the sky. When boarding commenced Etihad called First Class and Business Class at the same time which was frustrating and led to a hectic boarding process. Since we were in First Class we boarded via the upper deck. Shortly after we sat in our seats we were greeted by the onboard Chef, whom we believed was Australian. He handed us the food and drink menu and asked us if we wanted to shower onboard. We said yes to to the shower and gave our dinner orders. He also informed us that we could eat anytime starting one hour after takeoff. We asked to be served 3 hours into flight and to dine together. Once the chef left our flight attendant came by and handed us our amenity kits. The plane ended up having a technical problem which required a power restart. Before we pushed away from the gate Etihad ran a video with a Muslim prayer for the flight. Once the power was restarted, we took off for what the captain said was a 13 hour and 10 minute flight to New York JFK.
Plane and Seats
The seats in the First Class cabin on Etihad's A380 are called the Apartments because they are so spacious.
The cabin had 10 Apartments two of which can be lowered to connect 3K and 4K, our seats, and 3A and 4A. The cabin was quite beautiful and clearly Etihad put a lot of thought into its design. Sitting in 4K meant that I had to experience taking off sitting backwards which was strange and on takeoff almost made me feel ill but the rest of the flight I felt no difference.
There are big holes in the doors but generally the Apartments are quite private and have no overheads bins which makes each Apartment feel spacious. However, this means you can see lights from other seats when trying to sleep. The Apartment was quite large and featured a couch with a seatbelt to allow another First Class passenger to sit in the Apartment. This was great for dining since the tray table is large enough for two and Christina and I dined together for every meal. This even allowed her to stay in my apartment during turbulence because there is a seatbelt.
The seat itself was a large and very comfortable leather recliner. It felt like a high-end chair in a home and I loved it. The chair had numerous features some of which I did not even get to try on the flight. This included a big recline and options to change the firmness and softness of the chair. Shades were on the inside of the seat and were automatically set in the down position for most of flight which I liked.
One downside of the seat was that it had no individual air vents. A lot of airlines do this in premium cabins and I think it makes no sense to exclude these. When we asked for water because we were hot the flight attendant asked if she should lower the cabin temp and we said yes. The seat had a ton of storage with areas hidden all around to store small items and two areas below the bench/bed. One of the hidden spaces was a drawer which stored sodas at room temperature. In this drawer there were two small bottles of water two cans of Sprite and two cans of Coke. The seat also had a vanity with a bright light which we used to store our amenity kits. Another space we didn't find until almost the end of the flight was a place to store headphones that could also fit a water bottle.
The seat also had a closet with a hanger which I used after changing into my lounge wear. This further demonstrated the thoughtfulness of the Apartment design.
The Apartment also featured a bed that came out of the bench and when we were ready to sleep the attendant folded it out and added a pillow and a mattress pad. Overall, the bed was hard but certainly more comfortable than most airlines seats. I got no sleep but that had more to do with my body’s clock, noise, and light in the cabin than the seat.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
When we sat at our seats there were very comfortable blankets waiting for us.
The flight attendant also came by with amenity kits and slippers. These kits contained very small portions of lip balm, lotion, cologne, and a toothbrush/toothpaste. Several of the amenities were made by Acqua Di Parma and I thought that the sizes were really small but the scents were really good.
Upon boarding we were also handed loungewear, made by Friend of Mine, which I thought was comfortable and unlike Singapore Airlines actually had pockets which I really liked. I appreciated that it had pants pockets but it wasn't as stylish or as durable as Singapore Airline's pajamas. I also did not like the slippers. I found them be insufficiently soft.
When flying in the Apartments passengers have access to two large onboard bathrooms. These bathrooms had many fewer amenities than Singapore Airlines Suites. For example, there were no shaving kits and no mouthwash.
The real standout feature of the bathrooms though was the onboard shower which was only in one of the bathrooms. The onboard chef came around near the beginning of the flight to take shower reservations and when it was our time, we were told that we each had 15 minutes of water and that we could start and stop the shower. Etihad provided a towel along with Acqua di Parma shampoo and conditioner. The shower started off really cold but warmed up after a few minutes. It was really a surreal experience to shower in the air.
Another perk of flying in the Apartment was complimentary Wi-Fi, however, we found it difficult to connect to the Panasonic Wi-Fi and when we were able to connect it was so slow that it was almost unusable. The Apartment also offered an intuitive screen with an impressive array of options including movies, music, TV on-demand, live TV, and games. During the flight we watched Tag, Spider-Man, and Mary Queen of Scots. The selection was amongst the best I had ever seen and by the end of the nearly 14 hours we still had a lot of entertainment options.
One of the coolest things about the TV was the ability to order food and drinks over the television. We ordered drinks through the TV during the flight and it worked seamlessly.
Another fun feature of the Etihad A380 was the tail camera. During our flight we had mostly clear skies which lead to some stunning photos from the tail camera.
Two weak points of the in-flight entertainment (IFE) experience were the distance from the screen to the chair and the headphones. While Etihad generally nailed the design of the apartments one weak thing was that really responsive touch screen was too far to touch from the seat. To overcome this Etihad provided a controller which could also be used to watch another show or play a game. However, at times the controller froze requiring me to stand up and select content from the touchscreen. The headphones provided by Etihad had good sound quality but were small and uncomfortable. The noise cancelling was good but not at the level of Bose.
Food and Drinks
Before takeoff we were offered our pre-departure beverages of choice along with mixed nuts. The nuts were okay and the drink we selected was champagne but the onboard chef served us Rose Champagne which was bad despite being a 2006 vintage. We switched to the Brut for the rest of the flight which was better but not good especially compared to the Krug we had on Singapore Airlines.
For dinner I selected the lamb while Christina selected the salmon. The dinner service started with a bread course. We had a pretzel roll and a twist. The pretzel roll was good while the twist was okay. We then enjoyed an Arabic Mezze. The Tabbouleh was good while the hummus was okay.
I found that the sides with the lamb were better than the lamb itself. The sides were flavorful and rich while lamb was dry.
Christina did not like the salmon. She found it to be dry, bland and only ate half of it.
After dinner we asked for the caviar course which we enjoyed. During our travels we found that Caviar really pairs well with champagne.
In between the courses it was nice to have drink drawer since the service was slow and not attentive. The flight attendants never proactively re-filled our water. At one point the flight attendant changed the table setting removed my napkin but didn't bring me a new one. For dessert we had the camel milk chocolate mousse, which was okay, and chocolate chip cookies which were yummy.
Later in the flight, we ordered off of anytime grill menu and I had the steak frites and Christina had the steak sandwich. I thought the steak was a bit rubbery and the fries were okay. Christina thought the steak sandwich was also only okay since it was a bit dry. We tried multiple cocktails and they were all really bad. We tried all three red wines and they were all decent but our favorite was the Bordeaux.
When the flight attendants were changing our seats into bed mode we went and hung out in the onboard lounge. This is a shared space accessible to passengers in the Apartments and Business Class. It had leather padded seats and a television. We tried to order food and drinks here but were told this wasn't allowed. This was frustrating because I had seen other bloggers served food and drinks in the lounge. Not allowing food and drinks really limited the utility of the space for anything other than socializing with other passengers. While we were in the lounge, we did meet another nice couple that were also heading back to the United States after time spent in The Maldives. Overall, the dining experience was poor especially for First Class. While there was a wide selection, I found many of the dishes were of poor quality.
The service on Etihad can be best described as underwhelming. No one was rude but it didn't feel like they went above and beyond in delivering service to First Class passengers. For example, early in the flight the onboard chef came by to take our orders and ask us if we wanted to shower. However, he didn't offer us any specific options for the shower reservation or explain how the process worked. This led to us being randomly called to shower during the flight. We also noticed that the meals all started with a caviar course with only one type of caviar offered so we didn't bother ordering it until our main course arrived and we hadn't been served the caviar course. We asked the chef and he said that it was something they only served when asked. This wasn't something he mentioned when he walked us through the menu.
Another example was that we were never asked if we wanted breakfast. Instead, the flight attendants came around asking us to get ready for landing. Furthermore, the Etihad service was slow and not at all customized. In one case our dirty dishes weren't collected until 40 minutes after our meal was done. Also, we mentioned to the flight attendant that it was our honeymoon but during the whole flight there was no recognition. The food service was supposed to be dine on demand but every time we ordered food the flight attendants seemed to get annoyed and towards the end of the flight Etihad starting running out of food. Part of the problem is that the First Class cabin was full with about nine passengers served by two flight attendants and an onboard chef helping to prepare the food. At times they seemed overwhelmed.
About 45 minutes out from landing the flight attendants allowed the blinds to be put up again and came around with hot towels. I found flying Westward during the day nonstop much easier and less exhausting than our trip to Singapore. One weird thing we found out near arrival is that one person on Etihad flight was also on our flight Singapore Airlines Suites flight to Singapore. About 30 minutes out Etihad turned off IFE which I did it like. We made a hard landing at 3:50 pm and got to the gate at 4:05 pm about 5 minutes late. The staff opened the door and allowed the passengers in the Apartments to deplane first. Finally, when we arrived at baggage claim Etihad unloaded the business class bags before the Apartments something which I found frustrating.
Our experience flying Etihad Apartments onboard the A380 was very inconsistent. On one hand Etihad had the best First Class lounge I have ever visited, the best seat I had ever flown in, stunning design choices, amazing inflight entertainment, and unique amenities including an onboard shower. However, on the other hand the execution by the staff was poor with underwhelming service and tasteless food which we often found to be too dry despite having an onboard chef. Etihad's ground service, and inflight hard product on the A380 have the potential to be among the best in the world but Etihad needs to improve its execution including its staff training and onboard food and drinks.