The Etihad Airways first class guide: everything you need to know

Whether you're flying high for business or taking a well-earned holiday, here's what's in store in Etihad first class.

By Chris C., December 2 2019
The Etihad Airways first class guide: everything you need to know

Etihad captured global attention back in 2014 with the launch of its Airbus A380 first class Apartments – and, the better-than-first-class Residence – but even though that initial fanfare has since passed, Etihad first class remains one of the most luxurious ways to travel.

Here's your guide to Etihad Airways first class, including chauffeur services and airport lounges on the ground, as well as your private suite, and shower, in the air.

In this article:

What is Etihad first class?

Depending on where you're travelling to, Etihad offers up to four classes of service on each flight: economy, business class and first class, as well as The Residence which is exclusive to the Airbus A380.

The Residence is considered 'above' first class in terms of service and standards, more comparable to a private jet, rendering first class the best of the 'regular' cabins on board.

Of course, Etihad first class is no poor cousin to The Residence: you're still flying high in luxury, with closing privacy doors on every first class flight regardless of the aircraft type that arrives at your gate.

First class vs. business class on Etihad: what's the difference?

While Etihad business class offers travellers the expected suite of features including airport lounge access, a fully-flat bed in the sky, respectable inflight dining and Champagne service, first class takes that to another level.

On the ground in Abu Dhabi, this includes access to a separate first class lounge where passengers can dine with table service – versus a buffet in the Abu Dhabi business class lounges – enjoy spa treatments, and more.

Among the ranks of Etihad cabin crew, a Food and Beverage Manager takes charge of service.
Among the ranks of Etihad cabin crew, a Food and Beverage Manager takes charge of service.

Step aboard your first class flight and you'll experience a more personalised service, including upgraded inflight dining with a chef on board the aircraft to customise dishes to your personal taste during the journey, or even create a tasting menu.

When it's time to doze, the crew will transform your suite into a large bed, complete with a mattress and linen for a perfect night's sleep.

Five reasons we love Etihad first class

1. Gratis chauffeur service in the UAE

It's no secret that Etihad has downgraded some of the chauffeur-drive inclusions for both first class and business class passengers over recent years, although the service is still available both when arriving into and departing from Etihad's UAE hub of Abu Dhabi.

Etihad chauffeur-drive service in Abu Dhabi
Etihad chauffeur-drive service in Abu Dhabi

Provided Abu Dhabi is your final destination or you're booked on a stopover – rather than merely flying straight through on a connection – the chauffeur service can take you anywhere in the United Arab Emirates, including destinations beyond Abu Dhabi such as Dubai, Sharjah, and other Emirates.

This service is available on all paid first class tickets, both upon arrival into and departure from Abu Dhabi.

Etihad's Gold and Platinum frequent flyers who booked their first class ticket using Etihad Guest miles can also receive one complimentary transfer, but it's a choice between using this on arrival or departure, not both.

Other travellers who booked their Etihad first class jaunt using points – including Virgin Australia Velocity members of all tiers – are instead not entitled to complimentary transfers: but, the rest of the experience remains the same.

2. Relax and unwind in your own private suite

As with many airlines, Etihad operates a range of aircraft, and they don't all carry the same seats: but one thing's for sure, and that's when you fly Etihad first class, you'll always get a private suite on the plane, complete with closing doors.

The best of these is found aboard Etihad's Airbus A380s, which carry first class 'Apartments' – offering a separate chair and bed and space to walk around. Plus, many of the Apartments can adjoined to the suite next door, with space enough for a companion to join you, too.

Share a meal in Etihad's Airbus A380 first class Apartment
Share a meal in Etihad's Airbus A380 first class Apartment

First class aboard Etihad's Boeing 787s instead adopts a more standard appearance, being a seat that can transform into a bed, rather than separating the two functions.

Relax in your own private sanctuary, in Etihad's Boeing 787 first class suites
Relax in your own private sanctuary, in Etihad's Boeing 787 first class suites

Finally, the airline's Boeing 777-300ER jets offer what can be described as a 'previous-generation' first class suite.

Work, rest and dine on your schedule in Etihad's Boeing 777 first class
Work, rest and dine on your schedule in Etihad's Boeing 777 first class

While the design of these isn't as modern as on the A380s and Dreamliners, they're still a perfectly comfortable way to fly.

3. There's a flying chef in first class

Dining above the clouds in Etihad first class isn't your typical airline fare: instead, there's a chef on every first class flight who can customise each dish to your personal tastes, create something off-menu from the ingredients on board, or even assemble an impromptu degustation.

Etihad takes dining to the next level in first class with an onboard chef
Etihad takes dining to the next level in first class with an onboard chef

As in Etihad business class, the service is also dine-on-demand, so you can order what you like, when you like. That's especially handy if you're planning your meals and rest around your destination's time zone, as the chef and other cabin crew will work around your schedule.

4. Stretch your legs in the A380 Lobby lounge

Available to passengers flying in both business class and first class, Etihad's Airbus A380 flights have an exclusive facility known as The Lobby.

The Lobby, open to business class, first class and The Residence passengers on Etihad's A380s
The Lobby, open to business class, first class and The Residence passengers on Etihad's A380s

This is a place where you can mingle and socialise, help yourself to a refreshment and stretch your legs, or simply visit as a 'break' should you prefer a change of scenery from the otherwise-luxurious surroundings of your A380 first class Apartment.

Executive Traveller review: Etihad's A380 Lobby Lounge

5. You can earn Velocity Gold in one return trip

Although Etihad operates its own Etihad Guest frequent flyer program, Virgin Australia is a partner to Etihad, and Etihad flights can instead be credited to Velocity Frequent Flyer – through which, one return Etihad first class (or even business class) journey from Australia to Europe can take you from being an entry-level Red member right up to Velocity Gold.

This unlocks a raft of perks which can be enjoyed on further travels for an entire year, not only on Virgin Australia and Etihad, but Virgin's partner airlines like Delta, Singapore Airlines and more.

There's only one catch – to qualify for Velocity Gold, you'll need to have taken at least four paid flights where the ticket was booked on a VA flight number.

Domestic and international flights taken with Virgin Australia qualify, of course, but so do codeshares operated by partners, including Etihad. Given Australia-Europe via Abu Dhabi is two flights in each direction, booking your European Etihad jaunt as a Virgin Australia codeshare would give you not only the status credits needed for Gold, but those four sectors, too.

Three tips before you fly first class on Etihad

1. Airbus A380 flights offer the airline's most luxurious first class

While your destination and schedule will dictate which flights (and aircraft types) are available for your journey, when you're a little bit flexible, choosing one flight over another can give you a drastically different first class experience.

For example, on flights from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, Etihad flies both the Boeing 777-300ER, with its 'regular' first class suites, and the Airbus A380, with those first class Apartments:

Would you rather travel in a first class suite, or an Apartment in the sky?
Would you rather travel in a first class suite, or an Apartment in the sky?

This choice of aircraft may apply with onward connections, too.

On flights from Abu Dhabi to Paris, for instance, travellers can also choose between Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 flights in first class – and, on Airbus A380 flights, there's also an onboard shower for first class passengers.

Freshen up before you arrive in the Airbus A380's onboard shower
Freshen up before you arrive in the Airbus A380's onboard shower

While that choice may effectively be made for you when aiming for a quick connection, those breaking the journey in the UAE are primed to pick the best aircraft and flight time for them, including A380 flights with first class Apartments.

2. There's an arrivals lounge in Abu Dhabi

Open to both first and business class passengers, Etihad offers an arrivals lounge in Abu Dhabi as a place to freshen up and begin your day.

Etihad arrivals lounge, Abu Dhabi
Etihad arrivals lounge, Abu Dhabi

Located after baggage claim and passport control, you can grab some breakfast and a coffee here, freshen up with a shower and get work done using the WiFi. When you're ready to head into town, the staff will call around your chauffeur, but there's no rush: everything is on your schedule.

3. Make time for the first class lounge in Abu Dhabi

First class passengers departing Abu Dhabi are in for a treat on the ground, so make time for Etihad's dedicated first class lounge before your flight.

Etihad first class lounge, Abu Dhabi
Etihad first class lounge, Abu Dhabi

Offering restaurant dining, spa treatments and more, there's ample reason to arrive early and stretch out – and as the meal service on your first class flight is 'dine on demand', you may choose to eat on the ground and go straight to sleep after take-off, enjoying an inflight meal later during the journey.

Getting an upgrade on Etihad

If you're already travelling on a paid Etihad Airways business class ticket, you may be able to upgrade to the even more comfortable surroundings of first class by using Etihad Guest frequent flyer miles, bidding for an upgrade using money, or by purchasing a confirmed upgrade, albeit normally at a higher cost.

Upgrade to Etihad's Airbus A380 first class Apartment
Upgrade to Etihad's Airbus A380 first class Apartment

There are a few hoops to jump through – for instance, flights which were already booked using miles/points, and flights on the lowest-cost paid business class tickets, aren't eligible for an upgrade: and in any case, these upgrades are subject to availability.

For more information on Etihad first class upgrades, read our Executive Traveller guide.

Reviews on Etihad first class

Boeing 787 Suite: Etihad first class review

Boeing 777 Suite: Etihad first class review

Airbus A380 'shower suite': Etihad first class review

Airbus A380 Apartments: Up close with Etihad's first class

Airbus A380, The Residence: Inside Etihad's three-room VIP suite

Lounge reviews for Etihad first class flyers

Etihad arrivals lounge, Abu Dhabi

Located after passport control, baggage claim and Customs, Etihad's arrivals lounge features a familiar style as seen with the airline's departure lounges, but on a much smaller scale.

Originally, this space was home to an in-lounge barber. That feature has since been removed, although you'll still find showers available: particularly welcome after long overnight flights, if you didn't already take advantage of the shower at 35,000 feet on the A380.

Review: Etihad arrivals lounge, Abu Dhabi

Etihad first class FAQs

Do you get pyjamas flying Etihad first class?

Of course! These are no longer offered in business class, however, but in first class, you'll be offered a pair in your size.

Does Etihad first class have WiFi?

Inflight Internet is available on most Etihad Airways flights, and in first class, passengers are currently offered 90MB of complimentary data per flight, with Platinum-grade frequent flyers gaining further complimentary access.

Stay connected throughout your journey using the complimentary inflight WiFi
Stay connected throughout your journey using the complimentary inflight WiFi

Beyond these entitlements, access can be purchased by credit card via the WiFi portal on the aircraft.

Does Etihad offer a first class chauffeur service?

Yes: as above, this is complimentary in the United Arab Emirates for almost all first class flyers, except for those who booked their flight using miles/points and aren't also an Etihad Guest Gold or Platinum member.

Be aware that unlike in the years gone by, free chauffeur service is no longer offered for first class in any other city, except to passengers flying in The Residence, which is sold separately to first class and offered to destinations such as Sydney, London, New York, Paris and Seoul.

Does Etihad first class have showers?

Etihad Airbus A380 flights offer on-board shower facilities, with one shower suite shared between all first class passengers.

The Residence has its own shower suite inside, but which is not for the use of first class flyers – only those booked to travel in The Residence.

Showers are not available on any other aircraft type, although of course, first class passengers arriving into Abu Dhabi can visit the airline's arrivals lounge, where shower facilities are available.

Passengers in transit between first class (and business class) flights can also use the shower facilities in Etihad's departure lounges in Abu Dhabi, and before boarding their flight in airport lounges used by Etihad in many cities worldwide.

Also read: Your guide to flying business class on Etihad Airways

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.


03 May 2013

Total posts 667

It's pretty well known Etihad has dropped in standards considerably. While the hard product is the same the soft product leaves much to be desired. I wouldn't fly Etihad First class for a now half hearted service when only a few years ago it was amazing.

12 Aug 2014

Total posts 15

Absolutely. It is actually very underwhelming these days. The gulf between the PR spin and reality is enormous, you'll be very disappointed.


27 Apr 2017

Total posts 2

I agree totally. The service on first and business class is nowhere near what it was. The service when we last flew with Etihad, a couple of years ago, was very ordinary. The service crew didn't show any care at all and simply went through the motions. After many years we switched airlines.

Such a shame!

30 Oct 2019

Total posts 3

Wholeheartedly agree!

04 May 2015

Total posts 268

When did everybody here last fly Etihad first class? I'm thinking about booking a trip in the Apartments as I've not had the chance to fly them before, so would be curious to hear any recent feedback. Appreciate one person above last flew Etihad a couple of years ago, but curious about the rest as a lot can change in a couple of years, and most of the cuts and changes seem to have passed now.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 171

Whoa Folks, Whoa There, Daisy!

Underwhelmed by the A380 Apartments? Compared to.... I still think it's great.

In 2018/2019 I've flown First in EK, EY, QR, QF (sorry no SQ, alas) and have to agree with Chris. It's still, pretty impressive. The Abu Dhabi First Lounge is great, best dining I've had and a heck of a lot fewer people than other lounges. 'The Apartment' is ginormous and really quite a bit of overkill. Yes, Nicole Kidman might night be swanning around for you, and yes, I do acknowledge there has been a drop in expectations (I'm still of the belief that EY & EK cannot exist as separate entities).

Only EY & QR have Arrivals Lounges and that helps, too. Give it a go 'deanr' you'll enjoy it. Cheers!

06 Nov 2019

Total posts 9

Like many airlines , crew can be hit and miss, but overall Etihad's First Apartments are amazing and far superior to most other carriers. I've used Etihad continuously for the past 12 years and they've nearly always been phenomenal both in their Abu Dhabi First Lounge as well as onboard.

Etihad's food onboard is great , of course this depends which port you're flying out of- Sydney's catering is great, but like other airlines, they're at the mercy of local suppliers and caterers so quality etc can vary for Etihad too Etihad's First Apartments are nothing short of glamorous! Basic and bland is not in their DNA

American Airlines - AAdvantage

16 May 2019

Total posts 4

I just finished RTW19 3.0 this past Sunday flying both Etihad and Emirates 1st Class. EK JFK-DXB-ICN on A380s. Returned on EY ICN-AUH on an A380, then B787-9 AUH-IAD.

Etihad was slightly better than Emirates except for the shower suite and a slight edge on the lounges.

Etihad crew were friendly and attentive. Food wise, Etihad does the best in keeping red meat red :-) The Apartment is much nicer and roomier than the Bling EK suite. The B787 suite is very nice - my 1st sitting backwards with super view of the most beautiful wing in the sky. The cabin features a cross aisle passage between the forward large bathrooms that allows the front galley for the chef.

As far as layovers, again slight edge to Abu Dhabi. Visiting the Louvre is highly recommended while the sunset from the 156 level of the Burj Khalifa was also fun.

I'll have to wait until next summer to try Qatar 1st, but then I'll have tried the big 3 MEC. Other 1st Class I like are LH, CX, JAL, & ANA :-)


14 Jan 2020

Total posts 2


Would like to add my 2 cents on this subject having done Singapore suite class many times I expected that such a product would be hard to beat, that was until I did Etihad apartment last year.

Although I agree that on land the changes such as outsourcing the lounge in Sydney and no chauffeur service was a little lacking for a first class, I still believe that the on board experience makes up for the cost cutting

I found the extras on board such as the shower and bar made the point of difference for me to such a degree that I have now just booked my next flight from Sydney to UK in the apartment for early Feb and cant wait

Even taking the wife this time to see how its done!

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