Introduction to a European Birthday Adventure
New Delhi to Abu Dhabi (Jet Airways First Class 777-300ER)
Abu Dhabi to London (Etihad First Class A380)
London to Rome (British Airways Business Class A319)
Hotel Boutique Nazional (Rome 1)
Mainson Tofani Hotel (Sorrento)
Best Western Plus Hotel Milton (Rome 2)
Hotel Palazzo Manfredi – Relais & Chateaux (Rome 3)
Rome to Paris (Air France Business Class A321)
Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel (Paris)
Paris to Doha (Qatar Airways First Class A380)
Al Safwa First Class Lounge (Doha)
Doha to New Delhi (Qatar Airways Business Class 787-8)
Abu Dhabi - London
Class: First Class
I had been looking forward to this flight for some time - in what many consider to be the best 'First Class' seat in the world (The Residence notwithstanding of course). Having reached Abu Dhabi an hour early, I actually managed to breeze through security and spend a little time in the lounge. Considering I hadn't planned to review the lounge and the fact I was jet lagged meant that I plopped myself into my seat and only got up to get some yogurt. When I reached the lounge, I was welcomed in and given a quick (very quick) tour of the lounge, and shown to the First Class area (Etihad only has a business lounge in T3, with an area cordoned off for First class passengers). I quickly asked for a coffee as I didn't want to be out of it when experiencing The Apartment. Unfortunately no pictures were taken in the lounge, but it was decent enough - though I hope they open their First Class lounge next year.
Anyways, 30-40 mins before take-off I headed towards the gate, which was just a 5 minute walk, scanned by boarding pass and headed up the first skybridge to the upper deck. I realized this was also my first ever trip in an A380 (odd considering I travel so much), but I had specifically chosen this flight just to experience The Apartment. Once I reached the top, I was taken left of the entrance (always an amazing feeling) towards the first class cabin - and all I can say is Wow! 9 Apartment's (and 1 residence) featured in this part of the plane, and they were all simply stunning, and not to mentioned massive! I've read plenty of reviews over the last 1 year of The Apartment's, but nothing ever truly prepare's you to see what the Apartment has in store for you (it was so big I had trouble capturing the entire Apartment in one picture). Each Apartment feature's a single seat, with a bench which converts into a bed, which can quite clearly sit 4 people, (both decked in Poltrona Frau leather) and a massive 32" tv in front of you - easily the biggest TV I have ever used in a plane. Quite simply, it was breathtaking - and I never felt otherwise during the 7.5 hours I was on it. Absolutely stunningly designed.
To start with, I'll make this review a little shorter as there have been plenty of reviews of this particular cabin. I had two lovely cabin crew members looking after me (again - horrible with names), but an Indian woman (Neha?) and an Italian man (Stephan?) - both were completely the opposite of each other but complemented each other wonderfully in that respect. Neha was young, friendly and chatty (I always love the one's that are chatty as they make the flight more enjoyable), and Stephan was professional, clean cut, and happy to take on any request you had for him - and I learnt quite early on that he also is a Butler for The Residence when it's in use, so he was Savoy-trained and very very efficient at his job. Both made the entire experience extremely enjoyable - though Stephan tended to apologize too much if the slightest thing went wrong, which is great and all, but I essentially told him not to worry so much as I was pretty easy going.
The First Class section also feature's an on-board chef who would give you recommendations and have discussions about drinks to pair with your food - here's where the service fell short a little. The Chef was British, so maybe that was just his nature, but he didn't come across as friendly, though he wasn't necessarily bad at his job, I just felt it wasn't as inviting to speak to him as compared to anyone else on the flight. As a run down, while my Jet Airways First Class Cabin was empty, this was quite packed and consisted of 7 of the 9 Apartments being full (1 businessman, 1 guy who decided to sleep the entire flight, and a family of 4 living in London) - I never interacted with any of the other members unfortunately. From a comfort point of view, the seat, while comfortable, only reclines a little, as they expect you sleep in the bed. I wish it would at least recline to a 45 degree angle, but unfortunately it did not. Otherwise, the seat was nice to sit in (more on the bed later).
After the Chef had taken my my food order, I decided to start of with Champagne (Champagne Bollinger La Grande Annee) while we took off, and asked Neha to serve to food 30 minutes after we were cruising, as I was starting to feel peckish.
A few small faults appeared in the Apartment as we started to take off - first my bag couldn't be stored under bench because the storage compartments were broken (Stephan apologized profusely for this and immediately put my bag in another Apartment - 1 for me, 1 for my bag!). Upon takeoff, the many drink and amenity drawers I had in my apartment popped open and I had to manually close them twice during takeoff, something which really shouldn't be happening on a plane that was only 1 month old (we were flying on the newest A380 Etihad had received - which is why everything looked so pretty).
Food service was fantastic, as dish after dish kept coming out, and Neha or Stephan would always pop in to make sure my plate's were in need of a refresh or not (For some reason Neha really wanted me to try to desserts and asked me 4 times if I wanted to - but I was too full by the end). To give you an idea, I didn't close my apartment door for the first 5 hours of the flight - that's how private it felt. I started out with the Roast Beef salad with mozeralla, which was decent I suppose - followed by the Etihad famous Steak Sandwich and fried chips, which was rather good. More so than the Steak Sandwich, having french fries on a plane was quite the experience.
A quick Sorbet palette cleanser followed, before we moved on to the main course - Rib Eye steak with hollandaise sauce accompanied by mashed potatoes and a glass of Johnny Walker's Blue label Whisky (quite the feast if you ask me). I was quite impressed with the steak, which tasted better than I expected it to 38,000 ft in the air. My only gripe with the meal service was that by the time I got the Rib Eye (2.5/3 hours into the flight - I spaced out the meals), the chips & wedges were all out. Overall though, an impressive meal, with a good meal service (with good recommendations from the Chef).
Post my meal, I asked Neha to show me to the 'Lounge', or what Etihad calls The Lobby, which is shared between First and Business Class passengers (and it sit's exactly between the First and Business class cabins). Having done my Champagne and Whiskey fill for the flight, I moved onto Asahi Beer, and sipped my drink alone for 30 minutes, waiting to see if anyone would drop by. No one ever did, so I spent reading Reddit and checking up on Facebook (in flight wi-fi speed's were quite impressive and the connection rarely dropped out, but I do wish First Class passengers were given complementary access to this service. Instead it cost me $20 for 4 hours). I think part of the reason is The Lobby isn't exact inviting - The seat's aren't the most comfortable, and it only really seats 6-8 people at any one time. There's a small self service bar, by the flight crew is always on hand if you need anything. I feel this space is in need of a redesign, especially considering how little it is used. There is live TV playing in the lounge which I suppose is fine if there's anything worth watching.
I returned to my seat and asked Stephan to prepare the shower (Yes, the most exiting thing on board was a shower!) and to provide a quick turn down service. Again, it didn't seem like anyone in First Class wanted to take a shower, so I was the first and only passenger in First to use the shower, and Stephan made sure to explain each aspect of the shower so I knew how everything worked. What's it like having a shower at 38,000 ft in the air? It's simply the coolest thing I've done on a plane, and I was giddy the entire time, because of how surreal it felt. Each person get's 6 minutes of water to use, and the digital timer counts down how much time you have left, but that was plenty of time as you could turn it on and off at any time. Etihad provides Bergamote 22 shower ammenities on board, and they were nice enough. My only complaints about the shower was that 1 - The bathroom and shower space was quite small and cramped, and it wasn't the most comfortable changing in and out of clothes (there is a second bathroom without a shower). 2 - Once the warm shower was done, the rest of the bathroom area was freezing, and it wasn't a comfortable experience getting out. Though the Etihad Pajamas were quite comfortable and warm in their all black shade.
Once out, I quickly hopped into my recently made bed. It's here you truly get an idea of how large your Apartment is - you have a seat and a bed, and you STILL have space to walk around your apartment. The bed is just the bench, with a small layer put on top as a make-shift mattress - and while I was cosy - I didn't feel the bed was that comfortable, and it took me a bit to get to sleep. What I did like is that the Television screen flips out so that you can watch while in bed, and there's a remote right next to you to control the screen as well. Speaking of - The entertainment section was the same as what I had on my previous Jet Airways flight - essentially it was okay, but lacking. Considering how amazing this experience was I'll let it slide, but it pales in comparison to what Emirates offers on board.
I did however get about 30 minutes of light sleep before Stephan awoke me to inform that we had started our decent and I should take this opportunity to get out of my Etihad Pajamas if I would like, which I did. Once back, the bed was already removed and turned back into the bench.
One good thing to remember is despite the fact my seat was facing backwards, the quietness of stability of the A380 really meant I didn't feel a difference at all once settled in. We descended into a cloudy London 30 minutes early and breezed through to our gate. Stephan was kind enough to give me some food options while in Rome, and Neha checked to see if I wanted anything else before we landed. Again, the service was pretty exceptional. As I stepped off the plane (reluctantly mind you), I thanked them both for a wonderful flight, and headed to get my bags, as I had another plane to catch in 4 hours towards Rome. I wanted to make this a short review (oops) - but I got carried away by how amazing the entire experience was!