A380 First Class Showdown: Emirates Vs. Etihad

When it comes to blingy first class cabins, I think those of Emirates and Etihad are the first two which come to kind. The Emirates first class cabin is perhaps the most easily recognizable even to those who have never flown it before, while the new Etihad A380 First Class Apartments are stunning, even if they’re not as well known.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to compare the A380 first class products on Emirates and Etihad — which is better, Emirates A380 first class or Etihad A380 first class?

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To answer that question, I’ll share my thoughts on eight aspects of their first class product, and then give my conclusion:

  • Cabin
  • Seats
  • Bed
  • Food
  • Drinks
  • Onboard lounge/bar
  • Onboard shower
  • Entertainment

Cabin

Both Emirates and Etihad’s first class cabins are located at the front of the A380 upper deck.

Emirates has a total of 14 first class seats, spread across four rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. There are four rows of seats along the windows, and then three rows of seats in the center section.

The Emirates first class cabin is blingy as could be. As far as first class products go it’s a fairly tight configuration, in terms of the number of seats they managed to squeeze into the area.

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The Etihad A380 cabin is beyond stunning. It features a single aisle, making them the only A380 operator to have such a configuration. There are a total of nine First Class Apartments, spread across five rows in a 1-1 configuration. The first row has The Residence on the left side, which is Etihad’s three room suite with butler service.

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Winner: Etihad

Seats

The Emirates seat is as blingy and “glam” as they come. You have a snack basket, exposed minibar, all kinds of lighting, and even a mirror facing you the whole flight.

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The catch is that the seat is not all that spacious. Among A380 first class seats, I find it to be the most restrictive. Fortunately the seat has plenty of entertainment and bling, which more than makes up for any space disadvantage.

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Etihad Airways revolutionized first class with their A380. Instead of just having a seat you have an apartment. Three of us recently flew the Etihad A380, and we could all dine together at one seat. How cool is that?!

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The seat features a “bench” which converts into a bed, and then a seat where you can use the bench as an ottoman. There’s even a vanity, as well as a TV which you can watch from either bed or the seat.

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The seat isn’t perfect, however. Because of how the seat is designed, it doesn’t recline that much. Instead it only reclines very little, and if you want to lay down the bench turns into a bed. This is great if you like sitting fully upright or completely reclined, but if you’re like me and being reclined halfway, it’s not ideal.

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Winner: Etihad

Bed

Emirates has great bedding, though the seat itself is quite tight. It’s not the most spacious bed in the sky, though you’ll still get a good night of sleep.

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Etihad’s A380 first class seat is much more spacious, and therefore the bed feels much more spacious as well. The catch is that I think they could have done better with the bed on Etihad. While the overall setup is impressive, the bed is smaller than the bed on many of the other top carriers, and the sleeping surface also tends to be pretty hard. So I don’t think the bed is quite as comfortable as on Cathay Pacific, Qantas, etc.

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Winner: Etihad

Food

This is a real tough one.

Emirates has one of the most extensive menus in the sky, with a dine on demand concept. You can order what you want when you want, and the selection is (nearly) endless. It’s tough to beat the variety of their selection, and they also serve caviar and the best Arabic mezze of any airline.

While food quality can vary depending on where the flight was catered, all things considered the food is top notch.

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Etihad has both a food & beverage manager as well as a chef in first class. They also have a dine on demand menu, and the options are extensive, though not quite as extensive as on Emirates (and they don’t have caviar, and their mezze isn’t quite as good as Emirates’).

But what makes Etihad unique is that the onboard chef can prepare something to your specifications. You can choose the type of protein you want (fish, chicken, veal, beef, lamb, etc.), the side you want (veggies, french fries, etc.), and the sauce you want, and they’ll make it for you. I should note that in the past I’ve sometimes experienced them running out of food, though I haven’t had that happen on the A380 yet.

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Overall I’m really conflicted. I love Emirates’ caviar and mezze (it’s half of what I eat on them), and their menu is extensive. But I also love that Etihad lets you customize the meal however you’d like.

Winner: Tie

Drinks

Emirates serves Dom (most recently the 2005 version, which is fantastic). For cognac lovers they have Hennessy Paradis. For whisky/scotch lovers they have Johnny Walker Blue Label.

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Etihad’s selection really isn’t to the level of Emirates’. They focus on a lot of smaller and lesser know wineries, many of which are quite good. But overall they’re a notch below Emirates when it comes to drinks, in my opinion.

Winner: Emirates

Onboard lounge/bar

Emirates has an A380 onboard bar, which is located behind business class, at the very back of the upper deck. It’s shared between first & business class passengers, and is just such a fun place to spend time. It’s nice to have somewhere you can stretch your legs and talk to other passengers without inconveniencing the crew or other passengers.

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Instead of having an onboard bar, Etihad has an onboard lounge, which they call “The Lobby.” It’s located between first & business class, just behind the forward galley. It features six seats around a coffee table. While it’s a good concept, I think they could have done better with it.

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There’s no self serve bar or snack bar (there’s a beverage display across from the lounge, but you can’t help yourself from it), and the lounge as such isn’t staffed (though the crew should come to the lounge and see if you want anything).

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But when you have a First Class Apartment there’s really not much of an advantage to it. I can invite a few other people traveling with me to my apartment, which is just as comfortable as the onboard lounge.

Winner: Emirates

Onboard shower

Ready for the most “first world” statement you’ll ever hear? Not all onboard showers are created equal!

Emirates has two A380 shower spas, and they’re incredible. They’re spacious, you can choose from two types of toiletry lines (revive or relax), and the shower rooms even have heated floors.

There are two full time shower attendants who are there to clean the showers and look after you, so showering on Emirates really is the highlight of the flight.

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The shower experience on Etihad isn’t quite as glam. There’s only one shower shared between the nine First Class Apartments, and the room is much smaller than the one on Emirates. The shower room also has a lot of dark colors, so it’s almost like showering in a cave.

The actual shower design is the same, and you also get “only” five minutes of water. But the overall ambiance of the shower room isn’t nearly as nice as on Emirates.

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Winner: Emirates

Entertainment

Emirates has the best onboard entertainment system in the sky with their ICE IFE. Everyone else can go home. End of story.

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Etihad’s E-Box entertainment system is good, though not quite to the level of Emirates.

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Winner: Emirates

Bottom line

Emirates and Etihad have two of my favorite first class products in the world. Etihad’s A380 First Class Apartments were introduced just a bit over a year ago, and are revolutionary. The amount of space each first class passenger gets is unreal.

It’s an incredible product to fly, and I commend Etihad for their innovation.

I guess to sum up how I feel about Emirates vs. Etihad, I think Etihad has a far superior A380 first class seat, while I just find Emirates’ A380 first class to be a bit more fun. Between the superior shower and the awesome onboard bar, it’s more fun to fly.

All else being equal, which would I choose? I think I’ve decided the following:

  • If traveling alone I prefer Etihad A380 first class for the amount of personal space and privacy
  • If traveling with someone and if I wanted to have fun, I’d choose Emirates A380 first class for the awesome onboard bar & shower, superior drink selection, and all around bling factor

Which would you choose — Emirates or Etihad A380 first class? Anyone disagree with any of my above assessments?

Comments

  1. One element I think you missed – or at least should point out – is that Emirates flies their A380 basically everywhere whereas Etihad only flies it to 3? places… So for most people, finding an Emirates A380 route is as simple as finding their nearest international airport, whereas flying Etihad’s A380 would often require at least one additional flight leg (which severely mitigates the positives IMO).

  2. So basically…you avoided a definitive answer.

    Wouldn’t Etihad A380 get points for people traveling together since you can 1) dine face to face and 2) lounge around together in both the seat and super-long ottoman? Neither of which you can do on Emirates?

    How about comparing Emirates and Etihad business class on the A380? Would be a much more valuable comparison since the seats are much closer. And make it a 3 way battle with Qatar, and see how their rh seats compare.

  3. “I should note that in the past I’ve sometimes experienced them running out of food, though I haven’t had that happen on the A380 yet.”

    We have. LHR > AUH they ran out of the biriani and we ordered it on take off. On the way back in AUH > LHR, I asked the chef about this and he said it was very common, so I enquired why they don’t have more and he mentioned that he has to request it and sometimes they provide it. Not great when we’re paying £4k a ticket

  4. Just want to reiterate to all the readers something Lucky has said before – be careful of your departure time if you are flying Emirates A380 First – the experience can be VERY different.

    Long haul from SFO was great, then connecting to HKG in the middle of the night in Dubai. Lucky warned me, but on the 7 hour first class flight, there was NO caviar, NO dinner menu, NO lunch menu. Only dine option was breakfast. I was baffled. Same flight in the daytime has all the bells and whistles. Just a fair warning for the fair readers of OMAT!

  5. What about air hostesses? If one went above and beyond that would make my day. Sadly they are probably all exploited eastern European women trying to save their jobs.

  6. I think your evaluation is almost spot on, but I´d give the edge to Emirates food, in theory it would be a tie but the outcome of the onboard chef isn´t that better. EK also has a better amenity kit and PJs.
    Everything considered, flying EY should be a better experience than EK, but last year I had a bigger blast flying Emirates than Etihad and if I could repeat just one of them, it would be EK.

  7. Lucky, when you say you can invite people traveling with you to the Etihad First Class Apartment, can that apply to passengers in business class or economy class, or do they have to be traveling in First?

  8. Unfortunately, it is likely that I will never experience first on Etihad. Fortunately, I have experienced Emirates first on a 777….and will experience their first class service on an A380 later this year. (DXB to SFO.) In the words of Bart Scott…..”CAN’T WAIT!”

  9. I just had my first Emirates FC trip 3 weeks ago. I was traveling solo. There were four people in F, so the attentiveness and overall service was incredible. I had an absolute blast. I do like having my seat reclined a fair amount so the seat was perfect for me. The bling effect fades pretty quickly as the lights are lowered, you close the vanity mirror and the warm bar of drinks. My food service was excellent and the quality was great. I spent about an hour and a half in the bar at the back of the plane behind business class and had a great time with the FA’s and other passengers I met. When I was looking over the wines and champers, the FA asked what I was drinking previously and I told them, the DP 2005. They said, “We’ll go get you a bottle from the front,” and were back in about 3 minutes with it. When it was time for sleep, they made up the bed in an unoccupied suite – a very convenient accommodation. 2.5 hours out I had a wonderful shower and shave, then finished off the trip with a salmon slider. It was a great trip.

    Perhaps I should do an outbound on Emirates to DXB, shoot up to AUH, tourist around a bit and fly back on Etihad. OK, I have a new aspirational trip to plan.

  10. It’s hard to equally compare both EK and EY A380 given EK has flown the A380 since 2008, whereas Etihad just started flying the A380 in 2014. Since Etihad has had time to observe other A380s, it of course has a superior first class hard product (and economy product too, in my opinion.)
    I’ve flown Emirates several times and Etihad only a few times, but on my Etihad experience, they ran out of food (or at least my first choice) twice. Emirates never ran out of my first choices. For First class, I do feel it has to have a certain standard like caviar or lobster or truffles, etc…. so I would give the food category win to Emirates.
    If flying to the USA, I’d definitely fly Etihad A380 hands down. The pre-clearance facility in AUH has improved a lot and I just love entering JFK in the domestic side versus the international side. 🙂
    Overall, I hope Etihad continues to add more A380s to its fleet and I hope Emirates will do a cabin refresh soon!

  11. Emirates is just so gaudy, their planes look as if they were all on an episode of “Pimp My Ride”. Fir for a Russian gangster turned millionaire or a Kardashian.

  12. Nice airlines for sure, but with the detour to and the stopover in DXB/AUH, often during the night, I’d rather take a direct Lufthansa flight. Life’s to short and time too precious.

  13. A very thorough comparison, Ben. I’ve never flown either airline but plan to fly Ethiad apartments this year if my booker finds the right flights for me. Although the Emirates cabin looks a little too cramped and gaudy for my tastes, as noted in a prior comment, the food, beverage selection and bar on Emirates is definitely superior.

    Question: Which airline is the best value in terms of points or miles for first-class travel?

  14. I’ve flown both cabins and I pretty much agree exactly with your assessment. To be honest though given the choice I would select Ethihad. Yes their showers maybe smaller but their offering is still pretty good. I think the apartments just cannot be beaten in terms of space and quality finishes, and so whether travelling alone or with someone Ethihad is the winner for me.

  15. I’ve never flown Emirates first, but I can’t imagine a better experience than I’m currently having in Apartment 1H. I had the pleasure of dining with two other apartment dwellers/OMAAT readers in their apartment a couple of hours ago. One small gripe, though: $21.95 for WiFi? I’m very surprised it isn’t included.

  16. “If traveling with someone and if I wanted to have fun, I’d choose Emirates A380 first class for the… shower…”

    😉

  17. Emirates simply is gaudy and tacky … and that lost my interest within the first few minutes of boarding. This is what I would expect if Russian gazillionaire’s wife — or a Kardashian — designed it.

  18. I think you should also factor in the F departure experience, especially AUH-JFK. While EY has no dedicated F lounge and forces one to go through the pre-clearance experience, EK allows one to board directly from their huge F lounge. There’s something about being able to board directly from a lounge that can’t be beat.

  19. I pretty much knew where you were going to go here before even reading the article (which was to favour Etihad while still keeping Emirates close – no need to burn bridges right).

    While it might look pretty in pictures, the Etihad First Apartment has really poor ergonomics. The bench bed is hard (and some of them are starting to slope a little), the seat is very limited in range of movement, and the space is mostly wasted (and aisle access is minimal with the bench extended). The Etihad “Chef” is little more than a fry cook – they can do some simple things (which anybody can really do) but otherwise are pretty limited (it’s mostly about cooking eggs – everything else is heavily pre-prepared and involves little more than putting in the galley oven).

    Yes, the Emirates First Suite takes up less floor space (however none of it is dead space like the Etihad Suite has) but it’s ergonomics are so much better. It’s seat is better as a bed than the dedicated Etihad bench is, and it’s a way more flexible seat. Everything is within close reach, and accessing your carry-on is easier. The closet is even bigger.

    Also, compared to Etihad’s one size only slipper and limited size range of PJs, Emirates will have you covered with their multiple slipper sizes and wide sizing ranges in PJs.

    Emirates also make it easier in that you can see you menu, wine list, and entertainment guide before you even step onboard.

    Etihad First may make for some good instagramming/selfies, but Emirates makes for a more comfortable/enjoyable flight than Etihad can yet.

    Emirates just show their experience here, and no doubt the new concept First being developed will help with the “newness” that others seem to get carried away with. I actually prefer Etihad’s 777-300ER First more than the A380 First Apartments (staff on the 777 seem a bit more professional too).

  20. my opinion is based on what Ben has written in the past and I had just read Tiffany’s post ref Etihad and I thought Ben preferred Emirates. But this post makes it neck and neck. I appreciate the other posts here that clarify differences good and bad. Personally I prefer service, I am willing to tolerate a mediocre hard product if the service and food are really good. Good report Ben it always makes us think

  21. Kieran’s comment just above is spot on. I would quickly take Etihad F on their 777 (which, by the way, is the equipment you will probably end up anyway). The seat is superior in all stages of recline, and if I’m not sleeping, I like it semi-reclined for a movie with my legs supported. The Etihad A380 can’t do that. More importantly, the colors and textures are far more relaxing and conducive to an enjoyable, luxurious flight than Emirates Vegas-Plastic-bling-o-rama show.

  22. I think you’ve been too generous to EY. Their product is still a little immature when you take the whole product into account. Deal breaker for me is not being able to stay in my seat and place in lounge position. Nothing like watching a movie then hitting bed button and falling asleep. Lounge, ground service, airport problem solving etc Emirates wins hands down. The only disadvantage EK has is the seat area being tight.

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