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Review: I flew the First Class Etihad Apartment Three Times for £2,300 and loved every minute! [Oct 19]

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This is my second review from flying four Etihad First Class flights in one week. And this is the big one, covering my three flights in the Etihad Apartment! The Apartment really is stunning and the excitement of entering the single-aisle cabin hit every time, even after travelling for almost a whole day!

The Facts

When: October 2019

Route: Abu Dhabi International AUH – Seoul Incheon International ICN – Abu Dhabi AUH – London Heathrow LHR (all in Etihad First Class Airbus A380)

Cost: part of a £2,300 / € 2,666 special fare itinerary between Stockholm, Abu Dhabi and Seoul. If flying just the Abu Dhabi Seoul round trip, it would set you back £6,920 / €8,044!

Techniques: Special fare, Ex-EU departure

Taking my seat 3A Apartment Seat!

The How

These flights were part of my longer itinerary, first taking me from Stockholm to Abu Dhabi via Munich. This resulted in four Etihad First Class flights averaging at £575 / €666 each, treating the inter-Europe Business Class flights also flown as part of the itinerary as sunk costs.

If I had flown just the Abu Dhabi to Seoul roundtrip alone, each flight would have averaged £3,460 / €4,022. This massive saving was achieved by taking advantage of a Stockholm special fare. You can still (as of Nov 19) take advantage of this fare by booking a multi-city itinerary (Stockholm to Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi to Seoul, Seoul to Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi to Stockholm) here, and read more about my itinerary here. You can get four Etihad Apartments into your itinerary if you choose to only connect through London Heathrow.

The Experience

This review covers the end to end process of all three Etihad Apartment flights and looks at consistency across them.

I could not be happier in my 3A apartment and the delicious Charles Heidsieck 2006 Champagne!

Pre-Departure

From Abu Dhabi – 6.5/10 | From Seoul – 3/10

As an independent airline, you are only going to get the true First Class ground experience when actually departing from Abu Dhabi. I will cover the Etihad Abu Dhabi First Class Lounge & Spa and the Asiana Airlines Incheon Business Lounge fully in my next posts, but will compare the Abu Dhabi vs. Seoul ground experiences here!

Abu Dhabi

Flying from Abu Dhabi First Class with Etihad, your chauffeur (as long as you pre-booked one here) will pick you up from your hotel (or anywhere in the UAE) and drop you off at the dedicated First Class entrance at the roadside. I got a bit excited at this point, but in reality, it is just a dedicated check-in desk for First Class and does not at all compare to the likes of British Airways’ First Wing, or Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal.

From check-in you will directly enter immigration and security. There is no fast track lane or priority lane, which surprised me. So you just gotta queue. It did go very quickly, but I just found it strange that as Etihad’s flagship hub, there was no dedicated lane for its premium customers.

Straight off from security is the entrance to the First Class lounge and spa. I enjoyed a few relaxing hours here, with a free 15-minute spa treatment (subject to availability), a la carte dining and full bar service. I’d say the staff and service were wonderful, far exceeding British Airways’ First Class Concorde Room, but the food and drink were a little underwhelming.

When it is time to board your flight, again, you just have to head to the gate and wait like all passengers. No direct boarding of the plane like Emirates so excellently do! I understand airport constraints may mean Etihad can’t do this, but I think they could do more to improve the ground experience for their First Class customers. I understand they manage to go all out if you are staying in The Residence (I’m sure I will…one day!!) – can they not instil a bit of that on First Class? On one out of the two occasions, First Class customers didn’t even board first and it was a free for all!

Seoul

So I learnt a lesson. If you are flying First Class with Etihad from Seoul, have been checked out from your hotel for 5 hours already and just want to get into a lounge and rest, and think it’s a good idea to turn up extra early to do just that. Don’t. Unless you have hand baggage only! No matter what class you are in, Etihad will not let you check-in or bag drop until 3.5 hours before departure. So I had to wait forever. Boo. There was at least a First Class check-in desk.

Then there is no fast track immigration or security lane. So more waiting. When I was finally through, I just wanted to lie down in the lounge so badly! But I couldn’t, because literally anyone flying Business or with Star Alliance status was also heading to the Asiana Airlines Business Lounge. It was SO busy, and the small number of relaxing chairs were gone. This is where Etihad falls down for me. Outside of Abu Dhabi, you are going to get a mediocre Business experience on the ground at best. And if I had been paying full whack, I wouldn’t have been happy. Etihad needs to negotiate better lounges with its codeshare partners!

And again, the ‘go to gate’ and boarding process was nothing special, but at least with priority given to First customers. Overall though, the ground experience at Seoul felt like Premium Economy.


Boarding

9/10

As mentioned, boarding groups were not always followed, which was a little frustrating. But once stepping onto the plane, all frustration melted away. The A380 is a double-decker, so First & Business customers have their own entrance.

Turning left and entering First Class is a ‘wow’ experience! The cabin has a single aisle leading onto alternating apartments. It really is stunning!


On Board

9/10

As per my previous Etihad First Class experience in the Boeing 777, I was offered the Charles Heidsieck 2006 Brut Champagne along with dates and Arabic coffee. It is worth noting that the drinks and amenity kit offering on all my Etihad First Class flights did not change throughout, so I won’t review these again, except a change from the yellow washbag that I really like (pictured below) to a black one on my final flight back to London. I’m not sure why they have changed to black, it is nowhere near as striking.

I have to say Etihad are incredibly consistent with their welcome and service. It is top-notch. Every time I was greeted warmly, offered a welcome drink, introduced to the team by name, asked if I needed showing around the Apartment and every time the team noticed I was trying to get a photo and offered to take one!

A difference between the A380 and the 777 (apart from the massive Apartment!) is the onboard shower. You will also be asked if you will be taking one and if you would like to book a slot straight away. I advise doing so, as it can be in high demand!


The Suite

9/10

The Apartment is just wow. It really took my breath away when I first saw it in real life and I could not believe I’d be spending the next 10 hours in it!

The Apartments are alternating, so some have the seat close to the window and others do not. Some face the direction of travel and others backwards. I would recommend:

  • If travelling together: get 3K & 4K or 3A & 4A. Then you both get a window seat and you can put the divider down between the two seats and make a semi-double bed for you both come sleep time. It won’t be a proper double bed because only the head-end of the divider comes down. I wonder why Etihad did that??? Snort.
  • If travelling solo: get 3A or 4A for both benefits of a window seat and facing the direction of travel. I found taking off ‘backwards’ a little bit unsettling!

I loved the use of space in the Apartment. You get a chair AND a bench which converts into a bed. This is great for couples dining together as you both get a proper seat, with the table that comes out in the middle. The TV is directly opposite the main chair, but you can also watch it from the bed/bench as it swivels. You can control the TV from handsets placed by both the seat and the bed too! There is under bench storage which keeps the Apartment neat and tidy.

I really liked the storage under the bench, keeping your Apartment spacious and neat.

AND my personal favourite! The vanity station! I was expecting a little mirror, so was delighted to find I could get ready properly in the comfort of my own Apartment!

I loved the vanity mirrors in the apartment! I could get ready after my shower without hogging the bathroom!

When you are ready to sleep, the FA will make up your bed with a mattress topper and quilt. I’d say my only deduction for the Apartment is the comfort of the bed. It is a little on the hard side. And I like a firm mattress. But you can fully stretch out which is great for tall folk!


Dining

9/10

As mentioned, the drinks selection is the same on all Etihad First Class flights and there is nothing out of this world that you wouldn’t be able to obtain at home. On my three Etihad Apartment flights, I had plenty of the lovely Charles Heidsieck (both Brut and Rose for comparison!). I also stuck to my two favourite wines, the Chateauneuf-du-pape white wine (about £35 – £40 a bottle) and the Bordeaux Blend red, which only retails at about £20, but was really lovely.

I was convinced on the Seoul – Abu Dhabi flight to have the Cipriani Bellini cocktail, which it turned out, was from the bottle variety and is more of an alcopop. Bleh! But if you want some, you can grab some for £8 a bottle.

What I did enjoy was the Remy Martin Cellar Master No28, which is a duty-free exclusive, at about £125 a bottle. It was smooth and warming. And I LOVED the glasses that Etihad serve it in!

Remy Martin Cellar Master No28 served in the most wonderful cognac glass!

Where drinks remain consistent on all flights, dining is a different story. Every flight I was presented with a slightly different menu, so I never got bored with the choices. All menus feature an a la carte section, and a lounge/grill that is more casual or customisable. I liked how the menus were tailored to the origin and destination of the route.

The big difference food-wise flying the Etihad Apartment is the caviar! I never justify the expense of caviar at home, so I made the most of it in the sky and had it on all three flights! The caviar is Russian (which is a bit weird seeing how UAE hosts the world’s largest caviar factory!) I loved how it was presented and truly enjoyed it every time. But no more caviar for a while, please!

Etihad’s Signature Caviar Service is served in Etihad Apartments only.

The standard of the food on all flights was excellent. I’d say Etihad has provided my most impressive dining experience in the sky to date. My standout dishes were the Lamb Shank Mandi, which was tender and flavoursome, and the French Toast, which I could have ordered again!

I felt like the food on the Seoul to Abu Dhabi flight was just a bit under par. The chicken dish I had wasn’t as flavoursome as the other meals and a little dry. And I didn’t really enjoy the vanilla waffles in the morning. So I can’t say the food was 100% consistent.


Service

9.5/10

Once again, the Etihad service was truly excellent. They balance professionalism and chattiness so well and seem to anticipate what you need before you even know yourself!

Again, I just felt it was just very slightly lacking on the Seoul to Abu Dhabi flight. The presence of the team seemed a lot less and I had to use the call button a bit more.


Entertainment and Connectivity

7.5/10

As per my Etihad 777 review, the Wifi was great. It did cut out early on the Seoul to Abu Dhabi flight, but they provided me with a second voucher without hesitation.

Entertainment-wise, I was really struggling on flights three and four and had resorted to reruns of Friends. So maybe bring some extra entertainment if you have a long itinerary like me.


Landing and Arrivals

7/10

I took my onboard shower about 2 hours before landing each time, which gave time to have a bit of breakfast afterwards. The FA lets you know when it is ready and shows you how to use it. You only have five minutes of shower time, but you can pause the water and the timer. I found it more than enough. A hairdryer is also provided. It is nice to arrive off a flight feeling fresh!

Seoul

Arriving at Seoul was the most painful. But there isn’t much Etihad can do in this case. First passengers were let off the plane first, but there is no fast track immigration queue (unless you have a VIP card, which I assume Etihad can’t obtain for its premium passengers). So you just have to queue. For a long, long time. The good news is my baggage had been going round and round for ages by the time I finally got out!

Abu Dhabi

Etihad give you a fast track card for transfers through Abu Dhabi. Which wasn’t needed at 5:15am! It was probably the quickest transfer I’ve ever done, from plane to lounge in 15 minutes!

London

Again, for London there is no fast track lane. But I was through immigration in minutes and my bag was one of the first out. This was one of the only times I observed the priority bag process actually working!

The Conclusion

I’ll remember my series of Etihad Apartment flights forever. For me, this trip was worth every penny. The Apartment feels like something truly special and was one of the most luxurious feelings I’ve ever had. Writing this review has made me want to be back in one again! As much as I enjoyed the First Class flight on the Boeing 777, the Apartment was something else.

I think Etihad has a great product. It would be a 10 if it could negotiate better ground experiences with its codeshare partners, made its drinks selection a bit more exciting and just polished off the few inconsistencies that emerge here and there.

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