What to expect on board Etihad’s A380 first-class Apartment, which alongside the carrier’s Residence and Suites is setting new standards of airborne luxury

During the early decades of commercial flight, there was always a certain glamour associated with flying. With exorbitant pricing meaning the experience was only accessible to the world’s elite, a jetliner was closer to an airborne private members’ club than a perfunctory mode of transport. Fast-forward to Laker Airways and the advent of the budget airline and suddenly affordable air travel was available to all. In the intervening years glamour has all but left the industry, but a few carriers are determined to carry on the traditions of the jet-set era.

Abu Dhabi-based carrier Etihad is one of them. It received global attention when it recently launched “The Residence”, a three-room suite that is unquestionably the most luxurious space available on a commercial carrier. But their new A380 first-class offering deserves praise too. Passengers in this category are seated either in a “First Apartment”, or a “First Suite”. The latter provides guests with their own minibar, wardrobe and private seating area, alongside other amenities. The former are enclosed seating areas consisting of, among other things, an armchair and a long leather couch that converts into a bed. Passengers here can expect better space, comfort and privacy than with any other carrier. The most impressive element, however, is the cabin’s design. Etihad’s A380 first-class cabins have a genuinely residential feel. From soothing lighting to the use of Poltrona Frau leather seating, the suites are lavished with luxurious detail; everything has been given careful consideration.

PRE-DEPARTURE Etihad offers complimentary airport transfers to its business- and first-class customers – passengers departing from Abu Dhabi are picked up from anywhere within the UAE; those arriving at or flying from Heathrow can request a transfer to or from a location up to 100 miles from the airport. In Abu Dhabi, where I was flying from, the airline benefits from a dedicated check-in area that is both fast and welcoming. In the lounge, first-class passengers can have a treatment at the Six Senses spa, visit the barbers or the beauty salon, or just relax, eat or drink.

SEAT Each Apartment features a large recliner seat and an ottoman bench that folds out into an 80 -inch bed. Both are finished in Poltrona Frau leather. The suite has a wealth of amenities: seat firmness can be changed and massage functions activated; there’s a chilled minibar; ample storage space is provided; a beauty area features a large vanity mirror and is stocked with toiletries and Le Labo skincare products.

FOOD & DRINK I was on a night flight so breakfast was the most significant meal served on my trip. However, the carrier also offered an a la carte menu, which offered a variety of midnight dining options prepared by the onboard chef, all exquisitely plated on the finest bone china. If you can’t make up your mind, the chef will prepare something special for you. As well as vintage champagne, there is a well-stocked “wine cellar” on board, and a variety of freshly made cocktails. For passengers who want to socialise, a lounge and bar with seating for six is found behind the first-class cabin and can also be used by business-class passengers.

SERVICE The highlight of the flight was the service. The impeccably dressed cabin crew managed to cater for my every need, and even prepared the shower for me – each first-class passenger can use it for five minutes – before our arrival. When I returned a fresh tea was waiting for me, and I was then able to tuck in to the best breakfast I’ve had in the sky (featuring freshly baked pastries, eggs cooked to order) and to catch up on the news over a freshly printed morning paper.

ENTERTAINMENT Fitted with 24- inch flat screen TVs and noise-cancelling headphones, the apartment and suite entertainment systems hold over 750 hours of inflight entertainment, including new blockbusters, classic films and TV boxsets. A great bit of design engineering means that the TV can swivel from the wall so passengers can watch the TV whether in their seat or lying on the bed.