So, it’s my birthday celebrations and I’m off on my North American jaunt! I’ll be visiting New York, Maui, Montreal and Miami. I am flying on Etihad’s First Class Apartments on their A380 aircraft to Abu Dhabi and then connecting onto New York (JFK).
I start in the Etihad First & Business Class Lounge in Sydney with a martini – shaken not stirred of course… admiring the view as. The lounge is quite spacious and has some pretty amazing views of the tarmac.
There is a fine selection of hot food items for self-serve on the buffet as well as a self pour wine area.
There is also a limited a la carte dining menu and dining area. I have the lamb slider with some red wine as I unwind before my flight.
There are also shower suites as well if you want to freshen-up before your flight.
Here is a short video of the lounge experience:
Etihad Airways have done away with the First Class seat concept for the A380 and have Apartments instead. There are nine private apartments on the A380 which are fully enclosed; the product is almost unparalleled to anything I’ve flown before. There is 30-inch reclining lounge chair with full massage functions, a separate full-length ottoman which transforms into a fully flat bed. The chair and the ottoman are upholstered by Poltrona Frau, which provide the leather for Ferrari’s interiors.
The seat controls are a breeze to use with clear LCD lighting and touch screens. There are multiple lighting options which can be controlled from your digital control panel and handset which also handles the IFE. The window shades can be adjusted electronically through the switches on the windows or the digital control panel next to the armrest. Next to the chair there is also some USB ports and power sockets.
The dining table is on the opposite side of the seat controls in the armrest of the chair:
There is also a beverage holder which is useful when the dining table is not in use.
The apartment has a 24” flat-screen TV with a pretty extensive range of audio and video on demand. The TV can swivel from the wall so are able to enjoy your entertainment in both the seat or the bed. We are provided with noise-cancelling headphones to enjoy the experience.
The inflight entertainment selection is extensive; there are hours of movies and TV shows to watch, flight path views and games. You can even watch Live TV on there from many major news channels.
I watch Billions which is my favourite show. The only downside is that Etihad has a very wide range of programmes but they don’t do whole season box sets like other airlines, so you end up with 3-4 episodes of a season and are left in suspense as to what happens next.
There are two IFE controls (one next to the chair and the other next to the bed) so you don’t need to reach for the control at any point in time.
The IFE control is pretty amazing with good solid icons of the entertainment options to allow to flick through the entertainment selection on the controller.
I should note that the IFE control also allows you to watch the movie within the handset. While you wouldn’t do this, you can watch a movie on the TV and then monitor the flight path or the Live TV news on your handset. It’s a pretty good feature.
Vanity and Storage Areas
There is a vanity cupboard with a mirror which illuminates upon opening and at the forward edge of the suite there is a full-length wardrobe to hang your clothes.
There’s a small minibar which can be opened from below the armrest… unfortunately it only contains non-alcoholic drinks and so I leave it untouched for the entire flight.
Underneath the ottoman there is the primary storage space in the apartment – it looks a little small, but with some manoeuvring I fit my carry-on bag there. The seat does have some storage spots beside it which can be used for smaller items (cameras, phones etc.).
The Amenity Kit and Pyjamas
Etihad’s pyjamas are designed by “A Friend Of Mine By Xpoze,” which is a local UAE fashion house.
I love these PJs they are extremely comfortable, soft and plush with a little bit of stretch and the material breathes pretty easy. In terms of fashionable I probably still have a crush on the Porsche designed PJs JAL gave me, but these definitely tick the comfort box. Etihad says the PJs can be used outdoors as lounge wear – I however wouldn’t be comfortable wearing these out in public… they are definitely PJs.
Etihad Airways also provided a luxury amenity bag from luxe fashion house Christian Lacroix and these were stocked with beautiful amenities from Hungarian skincare brand, Omorovicza. The bags are embossed with Christian Lacroix logo and are black leather and are fashionable and could be used off the plane if you’re a little metrosexual.
The items in the bag include Omorovicza’s “Gold” collection. There is a hand lotion, lip balm and balancing moisturiser. These apparently have some anti-inflammatory gold which claims heals micro damage and strengthens your skin. I have no idea if this claim is true, but I will say the products are a delight to use. In addition to these there are the standard amenities which include ear plugs, a comb, shaving set and dental care products and a sleep and relaxation pack.
Prior to take-off I enjoy a glass of champagne and I use this champagne to pair with the caviar later. The champagne is the Charles Heidsieck, Brut Réserve, Champagne (2006). There are wonderful floral, tea, honey and beautiful stone fruits (notably white peach) aromas with hints of nuts after the champagne has settled. On the palate there is a beautiful minerality and flow which guides the wine, the stone fruit flavours and acidity present themselves quite strongly with little lag. There is a hint of rich creamy texture of taste intermingled with honey which surfaces in the finish which is quite something – it exudes a sense of richness of the champagne.
After take-off, we were provided with drinks and some light snacks. I was hoping for a good rich full Bordeaux to sink my teeth in, but perusal of the wine list the only red wine that catches me is one from Fronsac in Bordeaux. It’s a region that’s heavily Merlot focused but it will do. The wine is the Château Moulin-Haut-Laroque, Fronsac, Bordeaux, France, 2012. It is actually better than I expected; there are beautiful aromas of berry and smoke which are quite tantilising. The blackberry fruit with hints of vanilla and wet cedar flow effortless on the palate without much bite. There is some good acidity to balance the fruit and some nice chewy well integrated tannins which balance the wine. It’s a decent wine and am happy it be used to pair with some of favoured dishes on the menu.
There is a chef which prepares your food and can design off the menu items if you wish and dining is on demand; so, you can order what you want and when you want it.
Signature Caviar Service: Russian Oscietra caviar with accompaniments
The Russian Oscietra caviar is one of the world’s prized caviars and is harvested from the Ossetra sturgeon from the Caspian Sea. I’m pretty impressed with Etihad here, they haven’t gone for the more cost-effective Abu Dhabi farmed version but for what is a premium product.
The caviar has a grey colour with a golden glow almost when the light reflects on it. I gently take a spoonful with the mother of pearl – I want it without any condiments…. the virgin caviar in its purest. I protrude my tongue and lick it off the spoon with eyes closed to let only the hum of the A380 jet engines interfere with the moment. My tongue slips back into my mouth and playfully moves the caviar around the roof of my mouth and the rest of the tongue. The pearls burst to release a sensual medley of light salinity, a creamy flow and a nutty residue with a light sweetness which appears then disappears like a hidden. The texture is delicate and jelly-like a firmness like no other. The privacy of the apartment aids this moment as my eyes closed I continue to feel the pearls in my tongue and gently let them flow. I awake from the moment breathless and reach for the champagne. I tip the glass on the angle and the golden bubbles flows like a pied piper directional order onto my tongue. It’s stone fruit flavours, acidity and buttery flow melds with the remaining pearls and caviar residue. I sip a little more champagne to recover from the moment and lean back in the chair and rub my cheek on the beautiful leather…. It sends a tingle through my nerves and I must say this is a golden moment.
It’s hard to touch the rest of the accompaniments at this point given it will never hit the highs of the first taste… The egg, cream and the super plush blinis are nice to go with the caviar, they do not interfere with the flavours of the caviar and provide some additional textures for the palate, but my heart has been stolen by the caviar. I would have preferred a blanc de blanc champagne but I would say Charles Heidsick is actually a very nice pairing with the stone fruit, buttery notes and there is a hint of salinity which does provide a bridge to the caviar.
Duck with hoisin, cucumber, sesame, spring onion
This dish is a taste of the orient, the duck is gamey and the natural oils of the duck exude their rich flavour. It’s nicely done, the skin could have been a little crispier but still projects the majority of the dishes flavour and is a treat. The hoisin has a saline BBQ like flavour while the spring onion adds a little crunchy texture and heat to the dish. The fruit in Château Moulin-Haut-Laroque the is strong enough to keep up the duck and it proves to be a good pairing. It’s a very nice entrée to follow on from the caviar.
Beef Tenderloin with beans and potatoes
Beef tenderloin is served with some side vegetables and a reduction sauce. The sauce has some good salinity and richness to pair with the beef and is provided on the side for you to pour as you desire. The sides aren’t too substantial which is fine given I’ve already had two courses. Instead of celeriac as was on the menu, there some fluffy potato cakes and potatoes. The beef is probably a little too well done for a medium rare but still tender and juicy. The Château Moulin-Haut-Laroque has some weight to go with the beef, it’s not quite the heavy hitter it needs to be. But the tannins in the wine are good to work with beef and it turns out to be a good little drop to nurse over the course of lunch.
Chocolate Lava Cake with Crème Anglaise
The dish is out of this world rich if that’s the way I could phrase it. The lava cake is thick, moist and oozing a rich chocolatey sensation. The crème anglaise is smooth with a mildness of flavour to balance the richness of the chocolate cake. The only aspect was generally lava cakes have a have a drippy gooey centre and firm outer shell. This had a blend of moist chocolate throughout – don’t get me wrong it was amazing, but maybe it’s hard to replicate the structure onboard. The taste was on the money!
Eventually it’s getting late and I ask the cabin crew will make-up the bed. The fully lie-flat bed comes with a mattress, plush duvet, smooth cotton sheets, and pillows. The mosaic patterned pillow adds a lovely touch to contrast with the rest of the bedding.
My head hits the pillow and I am thinking about my birthday in a few days… I’m excited; I love being in New York and I just adore the 21 Club Bar Room. It’s hard to sleep with all that excitement, but I watch the sunset on the horizon and the alcohol eventually gets to me and I drift off to sleep.
There’s also a “Do Not Disturb” button on your handset if you want to avoid being disturbed but I am fine with just having the doors closed.
The Onboard Lounge
There is also a lounge area which is shared with the First and Business Class cabins. It is a quaint little spot with space for 6-8 people to sit in a circular lounge. There is a fully stocked bar with some snacks. If you’re in First Class you will need to ask one of the attendants to bring your preferred choice of drink from the cabin. You can watch some TV with your friends if you wish too.
As luck would have it I met a lawyer sitting at the lounge and through our conversations realised his firm acted for us on many business deals before. We sip on wines and discuss our travels and business and while away the evening. The flight attendant pours me a glass of wine from the First menu and unfortunately my new acquaintance is traveling in business and is refused the First wine … I have always believed fine wine must be shared, so upon the next refill I pour half into his empty glass and we cheers to enjoyable flight.
Here is the bar area next to the Lounge.
At the front of the cabin are the two first class lavatories; the first lavatory is spacious and easy to use to change into your new swish PJs, the second one is smaller but that’s because most of the space is occupied by the amazing onboard shower. In each bathroom there are Omorovicza products such as some hand wash, lotions and my favourite; the face mist.
The showers are scheduled in advance at the start of the flight and the crew will prepare the shower for you with towels and an induction on the functionality onboard shower experience.
Enough water is loaded for a specific number of showers so each shower session only has 5 minutes of running water. There is a lighted timer to guide you and you can start / stop the shower as you need (i.e. the water doesn’t have to continuously run for 5 minutes). Each shower session is 15-20 minutes, so you can freshen-up, blow dry your hair etc. post the shower.
The shower suite itself is reasonably roomy and the shower head is affixed to the ceiling for a rainforest style effect. There is enough storage space with amenities. It is really an experience to behold, when you’ve had a long flight and feel like you need to freshen up before landing. The water flow is pretty good and I feel like a dream when I’m finished. It’s truly something to have an experience like this in the sky and definitely adds to the experience!
It was difficult to give you a full view of the shower in pictures, so please check out the video diary below for a full overview of the shower suite.
I had the Eggs Cooked to Order with steak, kipfler potatoes, roma tomatoes sautéed asparagus.
For breakfast I opt for the steak and fried eggs (sunny-side-up of course). I ask to pair the dish with a glass of red wine and the chef notes that they may have sealed-up the wine but he would check. He never returned… so I find myself waiting then I head into the galley area looking for him to follow-up on the request. He informs me the wines had been sealed and unfortunately would not be served. This was probably the most disappointing aspect of the service.
So, I stuck into my steak which is nice and tender. I pierce the egg yolk softly to let its gooeyness run like a sprinter all over the dish coating it with is translucent yellow glow. The steaks were nicely cooked and a little more succulent than the earlier beef dish. The potatoes are decent and I thought the tomatoes and sautéed asparagus were okay but I really could have eaten just the steak and eggs.
The flight eventually lands in the dark of the Abu Dhabi night and I race to the lounge to chill before heading through the US Pre-Clearance Facility for my flight to New York.
It’s a little hard to show the full extent of the Apartment, the Bed and the Shower in pictures due to how large they are, so I’ve compiled a little video diary of some of the highlights of the flight. Hope you enjoy it.
Where do I start, the apartment is probably the most amazing product out there (albeit now rivalled by Singapore’s new First Suite which I haven’t tried). It is spacious, offers unparalleled levels of privacy, a spacious bed / ottoman, very wide lounge chair. There are wonderful touches such as extensive lighting options, in-seat massages, private mini-bar and vanity cupboard. I have heard reports previously of the bed being too hard, but I didn’t find this to be the case, the duvet and the bedding was quite comfortable and I did enjoy a lovely night’s sleep.
Apart from the last little hiccup on the breakfast service, the cabin crew were good; I couldn’t really fault the service; food & beverage orders and delivery, the set-up of the bedding, the shower and the induction of the suite were all done quite well. The only observation is that the crew were quite formal but somewhat not as friendly as some of the Asian carriers and Qantas but certainly more personable than what I’ve experienced on British Airways / American Airlines in the past.
It’s tough to compare dining as all the airlines do some solid dining offerings; I do love JAL’s Japanese tasting menu, Singapore’s Book the Cook is a peach and Cathay have delivered solidly on dining in the past. Etihad is in that league; the onboard chef is good touch and having the menu tailored / off the menu items if you wish and dining on demand demonstrates a solid offering. The caviar service (which I understand was recently reintroduced) was the cherry on the cake and I would say the fried eggs were amazing. The wine selection is pretty good but I would say Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines probably both set the standard here.
I think the shower is ace which probably nudges Etihad to be a favourite; even if the food and wine is within the pack of premium airline competitors, the ability to have a shower is tops! You feel refreshed, awake and are able to enjoy the breakfast offering onboard in that much more comfort and you can avoid the rush in the lounge for showers and sip on a cognac at the bar instead.
Definitely worth it and a great way to kick-off the birthday celebrations.