After a two-year hiatus, UAE’s Etihad Airways is bringing back its Airbus A380 and Metro.co.uk was invited on the inaugural flight from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi.
In 2020, the airline retired its entire A380 fleet due to the impact of Covid on air travel demand.
Now, as post-pandemic travel resumes, the first of the airline’s four Airbus A380s has returned to the sky on the popular Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow route.
And, as demand for travel surges over the UK’s wet summer, the aircraft adds some much-needed capacity connecting London with the Middle Eastern hub.
What’s so special about this aircraft? For starters, the A380 is the largest passenger airliner in the world. With a typical seating capacity of more than 500 passengers, it’s far bigger than other aircraft – a proper superjumbo jet in every sense.
The aircraft has 337 economy seats and 68 premium economy seats offering an additional four inches of leg room.
Another cool thing about the A380 is its double-decker design. With two full-length decks extending the entire length of the fuselage, the upper deck is dedicated to business and first-class seating.
Upstairs, guests can enjoy access to a serviced lounge and bar area located between the First and Business cabins.
The upper deck has 70 business class seats that recline to fully horizontal, perfect for the seven-hour journey.
The aircraft also has nine first-class ‘apartments’ featuring a private living space with a wide leather lounge chair and a separate ottoman which converts into an 80-inch bed.
They come with personal vanity units and you can even take advantage of the shower room in first-class if you fancied taking a rinse at 40,000 feet in the air.
This aircraft is also home to the Residence – the world’s only three-room suite in the sky.
Available to book for up to two guests, it features a private living room, bedroom and ensuite bathroom with a shower. Basically, a lot better than a London flat.
Guests in The Apartment can enjoy luxuries such as champagne, caviar and high tea in the sky. But starting from 2,500 USD (£1,900) per person for a one-way ticket, you’d expect no less.
The Residence can be booked by selecting a first-class ticket and then choosing to upgrade. While guests can redeem Etihad Guest Miles towards treating themselves to this unforgettable experience, we’re guessing you need to be a super flier to earn those points.
The Journey on board Etihad’s A380
Flying in one of the business class offerings, we got to kick off the journey from London in Etihad’s premium lounge, located in Heathrow Terminal 4.
With an extensive buffet and à la carte menu with everything from eggs benedict to shakshuka, the breakfast service was top-notch. It also has a great view if you’re into watching planes take off and land.
While the flight from London was delayed by an hour due to poor weather conditions, it gave me time to familiarise myself with the space of which there was plenty.
Business class passengers get an amenity kit with basic flying essentials and the leather pouch makes for a nice travel accessory.
I was thankful for the noise-cancelling headphones as we were joined by not one but two crying babies on the journey.
Once we took off, the service was swift and we were served our lunch and drink orders that had been taken beforehand.
Also, the fully reclining seats and retractable privacy dividers ensured I had the best naps in the air.
On the return leg, I skipped the TV entirely, converted my seat to a bed and snuggled up with my duvet for a good five hours of sleep before landing in London.
The Armani/Casa bedding with a memory foam mattress made the overnight flight as comfortable as any hotel room.
Full points for the option to choose when you want to be woken up by crew with a breakfast of your choice and coffee so you can freshen up prior to reaching your destination.
Etihad’s A380 aircraft started operating on the Abu Dhabi – London route on flights EY11 and EY12 from 25 July and on EY19 and EY20 from August 1.
The A380s will connect travellers between the UK, the UAE and onwards across the Etihad network.
For passengers travelling to Asia and further east, Abu Dhabi is the perfect stopover destination.
Roughly halfway between London and major Asian hubs like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok, it’s the ideal stopping point to break up long-haul flights.
Travellers can also take advantage of free Abu Dhabi stopovers offered by Etihad on many fares from Europe to Asia.
If your transit is between 10 to 24 hours, you can get complimentary accommodation close to the airport. This applies to Economy, Business and First guests on eligible Etihad Airways flights as long as you book at least five days before arriving in Abu Dhabi.
If you want to splurge a little, Etihad also offers up to 40% off Abu Dhabi’s premium 4-star and 5-star hotels.
As someone who makes the journey between London and India on an annual basis, UAE is my preferred stopover. So far, Dubai had been my destination of choice but this journey has convinced me to switch to Abu Dhabi as there’s still so much left for me to see and do. Flying on Etihad’s A380 would also be a definite bonus.
Top tips to for a stopover in Abu Dhabi:
Where to stay
W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island
If you’re an F1 fan, then there’s no better place to be. The Yas Marina Circuit racetrack wraps around the hotel on one side while another overlooks the Marina.
Just 10 minutes from the airport, it’s ideal for families and solo travellers. The best rooms have a view of both the marina and the racetrack, so either way you’ll enjoy the views from the balcony.
Double rooms can be anywhere from £153 in the low season to £400 during the F1 season in November.
Where to eat
There’s plenty of great food in Abu Dhabi with the Corniche, Al Bateen, Al Raha Beach area and Yas Island neighbourhoods featuring brilliant dining. Don’t forget to try a shawarma and hummus platter when you’re there.
What to do
The Louvre Abu Dhabi, an outpost of its French namesake, is a must-see with impressive architecture and iconic exhibits like Van Goghs and Monets.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is also a stunning sight and one of the world’s largest mosques.
Yas Island is home to the Ferrari World theme park with some of the world’s best rollercoasters. Younger visitors will particularly enjoy Yas Waterworld.
Anugraha travelled on Etihad’s A380 service that’s now available to book directly or through travel agents.
Economy fares from London Heathrow-Abu Dhabi are available from £483 return including taxes. Business fares from London Heathrow-Abu Dhabi are available from £2,434 return including taxes.