Abu Dhabi to London is neither a quick nor easy flight by most people’s standards with about 8 hours in flight time from runway to runway. It certainly seems out of the way to go for an extended weekend break. Thanks to the world of airlines miles and points traveling, though, this route can be a once in a lifetime experience on its own even without experiencing the destination. Having just returned from 4 nights in London, I can easily say that this trip served as a wonderful reminder of why we started earning miles and points and got into this travel hacking game in the first place.
For 40,000 American Airlines miles each way and about $350 in taxes I was able to find availability to experience the most luxurious and private cabin in air travel booking the Etihad A380 “apartment” in the sky en route to London to watch Chelsea take on Stoke City on March 5. My trip began Thursday morning with a 9:00 am departure and finished on Monday night with an 8:30 pm arrival back into Abu Dhabi from Heathrow. In between I was able to explore London, get a taste of a real winter, take in a Chelsea match, and take a day trip to Birmingham to visit some friends.
The travel expereince began early on Thursday morning as I was greeted with a chauffeur at my apartment, picking me up in an Audi A4 — this pick up service is complimentary for all premium cabin passengers traveling aboard Etihad. After a quick 10-minute ride to the airport, I was greeted curb side with a luggage porter who quickly grabbed my bags and escorted me to the private business/first class check in in Etihad’s dedicated Abu Dhabi Terminal. At the first class check-in counter there was at least a dozen agents in the lobby and I was the only guest. I was quickly greeted, offered a new boarding pass, and then escorted the 25 steps to a dedicated passport control agent. Before I knew it, I was past security and on my way to the Etihad premium lounge.
The lounge itself was large and fairly crowded, but there was plenty of space to stretch out, relax, and order an omlette. First class passengers were given a roped off area in the lounge offering more privacy and were also offered a complimentary treatment at the lounge’s Six Senses Massage facility — including the option of a haircut or shave in the barber shop. At 8:00 am, I made my way to enjoy a wet shave prior to boarding — I had a wonderfully close shave with a straight razor — and then headed a few hundred meters down to Gate 10 where passengers were already boarding.
Boarding the A380 was an unusual experience since it is a double decker plane; the premium cabin is on the upper deck and had a separate boarding gate from economy passengers. Aboard the plane there are 8 private apartments and one 3 room “residence” which comes with a personal butler. Of the 8 available apartments, 5 were occupied on my flight in addition to two passengers in the residence up front. Upon arriving in my booked apartment 3K, I was blown away at the amount of space and the beauty of the cabin. The color tone and designs worked perfectly together. The entire cabin was inspired by many of the design elements of Islamic architecture and the middle east that emphasize symmetry, patterns, and creative lighting. The apartment is designed to have a seating area, that faces a long bench which can be folded out into a bed (made up upon request). Additionally, there was a mini-fridge, a lit vanity, drawer for personal storage, personal coat closet, and 24” TV screen that rotates so it can be viewed while laying in bed or stays flush with the cabin wall for viewing while seated.
After taking in the beauty and luxury of the cabin, the flight crew came over one by one to introduce themselves and offer me a pre-flight drink. I ordered a cappuccino that came on a beautiful silver tray complete with dates, a hot towel, and a hand written welcome note from the crew leader on board. Shortly after I had my drink, the on board chef came by and went over the “on-demand” dining menu and I ordered an omlette to be served after takeoff along with a sparkling water. I was also given my choice of timings for taking a shower during the flight and booked an appointment for an hour before landing. As we reached cruising altitude I was served some tea, along with a dish of warmed almonds, cashews, and a few olives. My omlette was delivered to my apartment about 30 minutes after we reached cruising altitude and the dining experience was nothing short of five stars with a table cloth, fine china, and Etihad branded designer flatware.
After breakfast the table was cleared and I scrolled through the in flight entertainment which featured live TV and radio stations in addition to hundreds of on demand movies and television shows for streaming. The “E-box” selection was extensive and it included many new releases; during this flight I watched The Big Short and Apollo in addition to streaming BBC news and CNN international live. About 4 hours into the flight, I had the bed made up and decided to get in a little nap and test out the bed. The crew made up the bed ,outfitting the bench with a mattress pad, sheets and an additional pillow for sleeping. While they made up the bed I changed into my Etihad sleepwear which was handed out at the start of the flight. When I returned the bed was made up and I got a quick hour of sleep. I didn’t want to sleep too long since it was the middle of the day, but if this were a red-eye flight it would be easy to get hours of uninterrupted rest as I found the bed quite comfortable; it was on the firm side which is perfect for me.
After my brief nap, I ordered the salmon lunch which was delicious. Along with the Salmon I had a glass of Duval Leroy Brut Rose along with a glass of sparkling water. The salmon was phenomenal and the entire presentation was amazing again. After the salmon, I had a cheese tray along with a glass of 12 year Glenlivet. Shortly after lunch, I was given a towel and taken to the shower suite as it was time for my designated appointment. Last summer on our Amtrak trip from LA to Seattle, we had a shower in our train cabin, and while this shower was larger than the Amtrak option, it was not large by any means. The shower was a bit of a novelty but it was also quite refreshing to arrive in London showered and ready to explore the city. Though not large, the shower’s water pressure was good, the body wash and shampoo were terrific, the water was hot and the experience was memorable. After heading back to my apartment, I ordered a gin and tonic (of course) and settled in for the last 45 minutes or so of the flight.
The flight arrived in London early and by the time we were at the jet way it was about 12:15. All premium passengers were given fast track cards for passport control and this allowed me to breeze through the airport stopping only briefly at the passport counter and then waiting an additional 5 minutes for my checked bag to arrive. At Heathrow there was an Etihad counter with the chaffier driver’s ready to take passenger’s to their final destination and this was complimentary up to 100-mile radius of the airport (an additional charge for anything past 100 miles). My chauffer met me and escorted me to a beautiful BMW 7 series and we headed into London to my Airbnb in the Victoria neighborhood. It was about a 45 minutes ride with traffic and it was great to head straight to my destination without having to bother with the Heathrow Express into town.
By 1:00 pm I was at my destination and ready to begin the next leg of my weekend adventure in the UK. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with every aspect of the flight and transfer in both Abu Dhabi and London. Etihad has really spared no expense or detail when it comes to their premium 1st class product. It was a memorable experience and it made me excited to try again in a few days time upon my return from London.