There’s no denying that flying, in general, has lost some of its appeal. The golden age of air travel – when men wore sharp suits, women wore high heels, food was five-star-fancy and framed pictures hung from the plane walls (no, they really did) – is all but a distant, slowly fading memory. When travelling 20,000 feet in the air was exciting, magical and above all, glamorous. Think a chic Mad Men cocktail party, but without all the cigarette smoke, if you don’t mind.
These days? Travel is a chore and a bore with its long queues, bad food, confined spaces and people… so many people. Don’t get me wrong; it’s now more affordable and accessible than ever to fly across the globe at a moment’s notice, which is fantastic, particularly when your business/life demands it, but sometimes, don’t you just want to sit back, relax and enjoy your flight in peace and quiet? Isn’t life as much about the journey as the destination?
If you just answered yes and YES!, I have just two words for you: ‘First Apartment’, which, you’re right, sounds like so much more than a seat at the pointy end of the plane. That’s because it is, in fact, a one-room suite on Etihad’s A380 that provides phenomenal privacy and extraordinarily personalised service at cruising altitude. It also has signature cocktails, made-to-order meals, a bar, a shower, a comfy bed… But more of that later.
It starts when you’re welcomed onboard by name, relieved of your hand luggage, and escorted down the large single aisle to your ‘apartment’. Belongings quickly and neatly stowed underneath the ottoman (which will later transform into your bed), you take your ‘seat’, which is more of a wide lounge chair; soft, comfy and upholstered in the same Italian leather you’d find in a Maserati.
A look around and you soon realise that the suite is so spacious and secluded that it’s near impossible to spot any of your fellow First Class passengers unless they walk by your door. If, indeed, said door is open. Now, this is what you call privacy. And luxury.
After a short tour around your ‘home’ for the next 12 hours – wardrobe, chilled minibar, vanity unit, USB outlet, plus a code for some complimentary wi-fi – Etihad’s First Class ‘signature welcome’ arrives: a hot towel, a bowl of dates and a glass of Champagne, which you can enjoy as boarding is completed.
The last requirement before take-off involves a visit from the chef who explains the (extensive) menu, before taking your order for dinner, your preferred time for a shower, and your choice of aperitivo once airborne. “Cipriani Bellini, Ms Armstrong?” Don’t mind if I do.
Dining in first, just like with business class, isn’t locked to a set meal time, but available when you’re hungry. Begin dinner (at whatever time you like) with the First Class caviar service – Russian Oscietra with traditional garnishes – before a starter of either duck with hoisin sauce, harira soup with pulled lamb or the delicious Arabic mezze with a selection of hot and cold appetisers.
After a palate cleanser of apple sorbet, main course is a choice of chicken breast with herb gnocchi, beef tenderloin, sea bass, lamb boukhari or goat’s cheese tortellini. Nothing on the à la carte menu tickle your fancy? You can choose from the Lounge and Grill menu, with three different ‘signature grills’, all cooked with a choice of three sauces and three sides. There’s also steak and frites or The Etihad steak sandwich, which is incredibly good.
Still have room for dessert? (Don’t bank on it.) Choose from the chocolate lava cake, lemon citrus tart or cheeseboard. Or ask Chef to create something special for you. It seems nothing is too much trouble, and the presentation, personalisation and flavour of each dish is as good, if not better, than some top restaurants on land.
After dinner, you might want to stretch your legs and take a short stroll to the Lobby, a lounge for First and Business Class, to enjoy a social drink with fellow passengers (yes, there are other people on board). Let the flight attendant know you’ll soon be ready for sleep, and when you return to your suite you’ll find the ottoman is now a 7-foot bed with a mattress topper, a quilted doona and a full-size pillow – Etihad stewards on the A380 are trained to convert a seat into a bed in 19 seconds.
The super-quick, five-star turndown service comes with a little gift of some lavender mist to spritz your pillow with, ensuring a restful night in your own private bedroom. And sigh… Can this actually get any better?
Funny you should ask. With just a couple of hours left til touchdown, you’ll be gently woken and told the bathroom is now ready for you. And this is the moment that takes the first-class experience to the very next, truly luxe level. There’s nothing quite as invigorating as a hot shower before breakfast to wash away 12 hours of travel.
When you’re 40,000 feet high in the air? It’s infinitely better. With a bathroom stocked with high-quality Le Labo toiletries, and super-soft towels, the five-minute water limit is more than enough to leave you feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to start your day
in your final destination.
Yes, that’s right, you’re going to have to change out of your Etihad PJs, squeeze your feet back into your shoes, resist the overwhelming urge to hide under your enormous seat, and eventually disembark this little cocoon of pure, unadulterated luxury.
What, pray tell, can be worse than that? Oh, just one thing. Knowing that, going forward, you will compare this, the very best flight of your life, to every other flight you ever take from now on. Consider yourself warned… and weirdly, very much encouraged too. Fancy that.