a bed and a book on a table

The “best” of anything is always subjective, but when you’re one of only three potential contenders for the prize, you can call yourself the “best”, whether it’s quantifiably true, or not. For luxury commercial air travel, the “best” was arguably Etihad, with their first class “apartments” on the Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet.

Singapore Airlines came along and took their own shot at the crown, but even when they did, the airline failed to add the bells and whistles, or extra VVIP “The Residence” cabin which the Etihad A380 offered.

Sadly, recent comments from a senior Etihad executive suggest we may never see the cabins, or the Etihad A380 in the air, ever again.

a bed and a book on a table

Etihad Retiring A380’s Officially?

Tony Douglas is the group CEO of Etihad Airways, and it’s been a rough year for the Abu Dhabi flagged airline, like most others. Abu Dhabi was not as welcoming to visitors during the pandemic as nearby neighbor Dubai, which saw many Abu Dhabi routes clawed back entirely, or dropped to skeleton services.

Most notably, the A380 was pulled from action early, and unlike Emirates which brought the planes roaring back into service, with 6 daily A380 flights between Dubai and London just a couple months ago, Etihad’s remain parked. Now, Tony Douglas, CEO of Etihad says it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see the A380 return. Douglas told The National

 “We have now taken the strategic decision to park the A380s, I’m sure it’s very likely that we won’t see them operating with Etihad again.”

Tony Douglas, CEO, Etihad Airways

So, What Made Etihad’s A380 So Special?

Well, a few things. Quite a few things, actually.

For a start, Etihad was the only other airline other than Emirates to offer showers on board to all first class and “Residence” customers. And by shower, they really meant a full on shower suite, with ample room to pamper yourself.

At hour 13 of a 15 hour flight, I can say there’s no greater feeling in the sky than a complete and total refresh with your own shower.

The Residence, although technically a step above “first class”, was also the closest thing to a private jet a commercial aircraft will likely ever see. With a large scale privacy door, seating area, private shower and separate “plush” bedroom, it was an absurd fixture on a plane — and came with its own butler.

Etihad does not offer the ‘Residence’ on any other aircraft, nor does any other airline, so this quasi-absurd level of commercial travel will die with Etihad’s A380’s, if plans to park them permanently – stick. Etihad’s First Class Apartment, at the time of the initial launch was also the biggest footprint of any first class “seat”.

a bed in an airplane

And calling it a seat would just be an insult.

Each of the Etihad First Class Apartments on the Airbus A380 featured a tall privacy door, a comfy seat and separate bed. Those traveling together could even take down ‘the divider’ wall to effectively create an actual apartment on a plane. Singapore’s A380 Suite eventually won the square footage battle, but still lacked the shower, or on board chef which Etihad brought to the mix.

I was told by an Etihad chef once that first class passengers could eat almost anything they like. Even though no raw beef is boarded onto any plane, Etihad had the ground caterers sear/seal the filet mignon so well that if a passenger requested a beef tartare, they could cut the seared edges off and create a nearly perfect tartare.

Goodbye, Innovation

Really, it’s a sad time for aviation. The A380 marked the first modern,”original” period in design, where airlines had more space than they could use. This lead to innovations such as the shower, on board cocktail lounges or extra private VVIP areas — features long gone from the jet-set 60’s until recently.

As the four engine, gas guzzling behemoth has fewer and fewer uses in a post global pandemic, “green” and nimble world, commercial air travel will lose many of its most aspirational cabins as the A380 is retired, and final models are built. Sadly, the world’s best first class cabin, and many others, may never fly again.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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1 Comment

  1. I think the A380 will go down in history as has already been described as being a decade too late or possibly (without Covid) a decade too early.

    It is by far my favourite aircraft to fly in.

    However, the almost universal use and acceptance of two engines these days means that sadly, such innovation is left behind before it could truly conquer.

    From the perspective of someone who pays for their own seats and that means business class and some upgrades, the sheer quality of business class these days means first class is only a marginal step up, outside a couple of options. I would

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