On March 24th, my brother asked me a question I never thought I would hear; “Do you want to go with me to Egypt next week?” Due to his miracle working with the airline award tickets (his Award Booking Service) and the fact that my boss is awesome meant that not only would I be going to Egypt with him, but that I would get to travel first class on Etihad’s brand new 787 to get there. In a quick introduction, I’m Josh, Rocky’s little brother. Like him, I love to travel and I love airplanes.
I love flying so much that I’m actually a pilot (though currently not flying professionally). Unlike Rocky though, I don’t get to travel first or business class very often, and I rarely get to travel overseas. I have a few blog posts coming up reviewing our flights and time in Egypt, but my posts won’t be the same as the usual reviews you get from Rocky. Instead they will the flights from the eyes of someone who is used to domestic traveling in economy on the cheapest tickets that can be found.
My First Class Route
My route to Egypt was quite complex. I flew out of Seattle in economy on Alaska in the late evening on Wednesday, April 1st down to where I was meeting up with Rocky in San Francisco. From there, we flew AA to Dallas. I was in coach but Rocky was in first class, luckily he was able to send me back some drinks so I had nothing to complain about. From Dallas on, I was in first class with Rocky. We left KDFW on an MD-80, which was very loud but otherwise fairly comfortable. First class had two seats on either side, so Rocky and I were next to each other.
The service on American was okay but nothing spectacular. We did get our preflight glass of champagne and had plenty to drink in the air. To be honest, the most memorable part of the flight was the food. They had an option between beef and macaroni or a vegetable pasta dish. I went for the beef, and in stereotypical airline fashion, the food was so bad that I couldn’t even finish it. The meat was super salty and macaroni rubbery, but compared to the nothing you get in coach, I guess it was still a step up. That being said, if you’re ever on AA and have a choice, get the pasta or don’t’ eat at all!
Etihad First Class Lounge IAD
When we landed at KIAD, the fun really began. We had five hours to spare till our flight to Abu Dhabi, but plenty to entertain ourselves with. We walked around the terminal and got in some excellent plane spotting (Lufthansa’s 747-8 took the prize as the best plane of the day). We then proceeded on to Etihad’s first class lounge and entered the lap of luxury. While we checked in, the attendants stored our bags and gave us free access to the rest of the lounge.
The lounge had a business area with new iMacs, a buffet of olives, hummus, cheese, and fresh fruit, a full service bar, bathroom with showers, and a play area for children. There was also a dining area for the full a la carte menu they offered. As soon as we sat down, two servers came over and offered us dates and Arabic coffee. The dates were the best I had ever had, and the coffee had a delightful blend of spices that called for several more cups. The food on the a la carte menu was fantastic. I had a pancetta appetizer, prime rib with potatoes au gratin, and poached pears for dessert. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the menu, but the food was amazing and better than food I’m used to getting while at even the finest restaurants.
As great as the lounge was, the best part of the trip so far finally came. It was boarding time. I was so beyond excited for this as I was finally going to get to go onto a 787. I have been following that plane’s progress since it was still called the 7E7. When I was in college Boeing did test flights with the 787 near Moses Lake, WA and I would fly through that airspace while the 787 was in it on a regular business.
Even though I never saw the plane flying while I was in flight, it still always made me excited knowing the 787 was in the same airspace! The plane’s composite built and use of electrical systems to replace the traditional bleed air systems is amazing. The wing flex technology is not only an engineering marvel; it’s also sexy as hell! Finally getting on board this plane was like a dream (no pun intended) come true. Oh, and I was going to be in first class!
Etihad First Class 787 In-flight
The boarding process for this particular flight was the most casual boarding I had ever seen. Rocky and I were at the bar having a drink and they just simply announced that we could board the plane whenever we were ready. So we finished our drinks (I downed mine as I wanted to get the plane but Rocky took his time), collected our bags, and boarded the plane directly from the lounge. We entered the plane and passed through business class into first class, where my jaw immediately dropped.
What I was viewing did not look anything like a plane. There were small, almost apartments all around the plane. The walls only came up to about my shoulders (so a little more than 5 feet tall), and inside of them was the amazing spot I would get to spend the next fourteen hours. The seat was more like a very comfortable lazy boy complete with an ottoman. That ottoman however, also had a seat belt on it so that two people could sit facing each other and talk during flight. On the Ottoman was a set of pajamas, a blanket, and the amenity kit. The amenity kit had a toothbrush and toothpaste set, a sleeping mask, socks, and facial moisturizer, body lotion, and chap stick in it. I was shocked, I never thought I would need or want some many things while flying!
Our flight ended up getting delayed after boarding, but there were no complaints on our end! We were on board and the champagne was free flowing. Which, I must add, was extra delicious! I’m quite accustomed to Cook’s, so the 2005 Champagne Bollinger La Grande was a whole new flavor profile that I had never had the privilege of enjoying. I should also add that I never had to request more champagne, the service from the flight attendants was spectacular and if we needed anything, they were at our seats within seconds or even before we requested them!
The plane eventually took off and what an experience! First, it was the quietest plane I have ever been on. This wasn’t surprising of course; Boeing specifically designed special nacelles for the engines that would reduce noise. Nevertheless, it was still astounded to actually be on board and witness it. The takeoff was also insanely smooth, and it hardly felt like we were even flying. Of course, this was helped along by being on the isle seats, watching TV, and having had multiple glasses of champagne. It was probably the most heavenly experience of my life.
As soon as we got aloft, dinner was served, and oh what a meal it was! At one point in the meal, I actually looked at Rocky and said “I never thought airplane food would teach me the meaning of fine dining.” We started out with a small appetizer of Salmon Tartare. It was so amazingly delicious and was unlike anything I had ever enjoyed in my life. I then had a fantastic salad made with fresh greens, and tried lamb for my main course.
If I’m perfectly honest, I took a gamble with the lamb as it’s not my favorite. That was a gamble that I was so glad I took, for it was the most delightful food I had ever had! The meat was cooked perfectly and the seasoning was divine. If there is a heaven, they will serve food of this caliber there!! I was so excited over the state of the meal that I had to immediately tweet Etihad and compliment them. Yes, I did say Tweet, as we had free WiFi throughout the entire duration of the flight.
After dinner, I had a few more cocktails while I finished watching a movie (the most recent Hunger Games), and then had to pass out. I told the flight attendant that I was ready for bed, and went to brush my teeth. The bathroom in that 787 was also a huge surprise. Literally huge, as it was about twice as big as any bathroom I had ever seen on a plane! When I returned to my seat, I found that I had a nice comfortable bed to sleep in. So I put on a classic movie and immediately fell asleep.
When I woke up, I felt like I wasn’t even on a plane. It was so smooth, and so quiet, that it seemed more like I was just in an odd hotel. Of course, the fact that 787s maintain a cabin pressure altitude of 6000 feet instead of the standard 8000 feet helped a lot with this sensation. I woke up and had some coffee (they had everything you could have wanted from drip coffee to extra dry cappuccinos). I was still so full that I couldn’t really eat anything from their large breakfast menu. Despite this though, the flight attendants came around multiple times to make sure that we were comfortable. Eventually I gave up and ordered a plate of fresh fruit and (why not) another glass of champagne! The fruit wasn’t quite ripe and was probably the worst part of the flight. Which, is so petty, that you should hopefully get an idea of how amazing of an experience this was!
Etihad First Class Recap
My time on board Etihad’s 787-900 in first class was time I will never forget. Honestly, words cannot begin to explain the luxury of soaring over the Earth in the most modern of aircraft while being treated like a king. The food, drinks, service, and comfort are far beyond superior to any airline I’ve ever been on, and even to many restaurants and hotels. The best way I can really describe this fabulous experience is this: Etihad appears to be trying to recreate the glory days of aviation; they made me feel like I was flying on Pan-Am in the glory of the Jet Age heading far off to new worlds!
These pictures are part of the drink menu, unfortunately I didn’t get all of it.
Related reading: Rocky’s Trip report Etihad Airways B787 First Class Washington Dulles (IAD) to Abu Dhabi (AUH)