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?
- First class vs. business class on Etihad: what's the difference?
- Five reasons we love Etihad first class
- Three tips before you fly first class on Etihad
- Getting a first class upgrade on Etihad
- Reviews of Etihad first class
- Etihad first class lounge reviews
- Etihad first class FAQs
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Finally, the airline's Boeing 777-300ER jets offer what can be described as a 'previous-generation' first class suite.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.