Review: Etihad Airways First Class 787-9 (AUH-IAD)

I recently had the pleasure of flying first class with Etihad from Abu Dhabi to Washington DC. Though the hard product is not meaningfully different than other first class products out there and a far cry from Etihad’s A380, the superb service made for a memorable experience.

How I booked my Etihad first class ticket

I booked this flight using Air Canada’s frequent flyer program. The cost was 130k points and $99. Given the cash cost for this one way is about $9,200, I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.

a screenshot of a flight ticket

I transferred American Express Membership Reward points to pay for this, but Aeroplan has lots of transfer partners, so in addition to Amex MRs you could use Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One Venture Rewards, or Marriott Bonvoy. Also, considering these programs often run transfer bonuses, you could easily get the cost down to around 100k points.

My ticket details were as follows:

  • Etihad Airways 131
  • Abu Dhabi (AUH) – Washington DC (IAD)
  • March 27, 2022
  • Departure: 11 AM
  • Arrival: 5:20 PM
  • Flight Time: 15h 20m
  • First Class, Seat 2A

Etihad first class lounge in Abu Dhabi

This was probably the most disappointing part of the experience. It’s not that this lounge was bad per se, it just wasn’t commensurate with the quality of Etihad’s premium onboard product. The first thing you’ll see as you enter the lounge is a reception area with a flower arrangement.

a group of flowers on a table

Once you walk down the hallway on your right, you’ll see a reception desk with staff ready to check you in. Directly to the left of the reception area is a short corridor to the restaurant.

a room with tables and chairs

Next to the dining area are also two well-stocked bars.

a bar with bottles of liquor on the shelf

Just past that, there’s a lounge area with comfortable armchairs. There are several shower suites that, though quite small, are well-designed and very comfortable.

a bathroom with a glass door and a toilet

I didn’t get a chance to visit the spa, where treatments are available for a fee, or the gym, though my friend and travel companion, Austen, ran three miles on the treadmill before our flight, an impressive feat considering we’d had two hours of sleep the night before.

Here’s a very brief walkthrough of the lounge entrance area.

Etihad first class lounge walkthrough

All in all, it’s a good lounge, but still falls short of its competitors. It’s not as large as the Emirates first class lounge or Qatar’s Al Safwa (and can even feel a bit stuffy at times) and there are no sleeping rooms, which you’ll find in most of the world’s best first class lounges.

Etihad 787 first class boarding

After a stop in first class lounge, I made my way to our gate which was about a 10-minute walk from the lounge. The plane was only about 70% full, so the gate area was not crowded at all and boarding went smoothly. As I stepped from the jet bridge onto the plane, I was told sternly by a flight attendant to “please don’t record” and that Etihad doesn’t allow filming (which is untrue). About three seconds later, the same stewardess glanced at my first class boarding pass and began apologizing, saying that I should feel free to film throughout the flight. All in all, a bit of an off-putting experience since there’s no Etihad rule against filming your flight and certainly no Etihad rule that only allows first class passengers to film. Below is a video of the interaction in question.

Attempt #1

Etihad 787 first class cabin and seats

My first impression as I entered the first class cabin was extremely favorable. The color palette of ochre and dark brown felt calming and refined. The cabin is tastefully decorated with triangular tessellations and the seats are covered in soft brown leather which makes the interior feel elegantly futuristic. Here’s a video of my walk through the business class cabin to my first class seat, 2A.


Etihad’s first class cabin featured a total of eight seats, arranged in two rows with a 1-2-1 configuration. This cabin is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it’s one of the few first class cabins on a 787. As far as I know, of the 25-odd airlines that offer international first class, just six offer it on the 787:

  • British Airway
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Etihad Airways
  • Oman Air
  • Xiamen Airlines

Second, these seats alternate between being forward- and rear-facing; in the first row, the window seats are rear-facing and the middle seats are forward-facing, and in the second row, the window seats are forward-facing and the middle seats are rear-facing.

a screen shot of a plane

I was seated in 2A, a forward-facing window seat on the left side of the plane in the second row. The seat is extremely comfortable and comes with three large windows, a very large ottoman for your feet or dining across from a travel companion, and a small coat closet. The seat is 30 inches wide and has 80 inches of pitch. It has a fairly high door that, when closed, grants a great deal of privacy.

On the left side of the seat are a small storage compartment and a very small “minibar,” which in actuality is just a collection of four unrefrigerated drinks. Also to the left of the seat is the very (very) large tray table, which makes it easy to use a laptop and eat at the same time.

On the right side of the seat are two USB outlets, another small storage compartment, and seat control buttons. Above the armrest are entertainment controls and a touchscreen monitor to control a wide array of seat functions (including a back massage function!). Next to the door is an individual air vent, which is extremely handy if you’re a hot sleeper. Finally, in front of the seat is a 110V universal outlet.

Below is a quick video tour of my seat. In the future, I’ll be taking more photos, but I took this flight before I decided to start OtBP and thus didn’t take as many pictures as I should have!

Etihad first seat tour

Etihad 787 first class amenities

Waiting in my seat as I boarded was one of my favorite amenity kits in the sky: Acqua di Parma branded body lotion, aftershave balm, cologne, and lip balm housed in a gorgeous black leather toiletries bag. My absolute favorite pajamas provided in any first class I’ve flown were handed out shortly after boarding. Designed by a local Emirati brand, A Friend of Mine, they’re insanely soft and light but warm.

a black bag with a small yellow tube and small bottles of cosmetics on a table
The excellent Acqua di Parma Amenity kit. Photograph courtesy of Business Insider.

Moments after sitting down, I was poured an Arabic coffee (not my thing but fun to try), a hot towel, and dates. I also ordered carrot juice, which was delicious. This flight was off to a flying start.

a tray with food and drinks on it

Etihad entertainment & Wi-Fi

Etihad’s inflight entertainment is pretty comprehensive, with a broad selection of TV shows and movies. If you’re flying soon, you can check out what’s playing here and plan what you’re going to watch. First class passengers are also provided free wi-fi, but it’s limited to 200MB, which any normal person will tear through in no time, so it’s not particularly useful.

Etihad 787 first class dinner service

The highlight of this flight, by far, was the dinner service. Part of that was because I was flying with a close friend and fellow avgeek, and we decided to dine in his seat, 1A, across from each other. The food, drinks, and service were all phenomenal, but what made it special was being able to dine with a friend, face-to-face.

The service started in earnest about 90 minutes after takeoff. My friend informed the extremely kind and attentive first class flight attendant, Kleena, that we would like to dine together, so she laid the table in 1A. 10 minutes later, we were both poured glasses of Champagne Charles Heidsieck and sat down for our first course: Oscietra caviar with blinis, sour cream, egg, a lemon wedge, and mother of pearl spoon. Although not unlimited like Emirates’ caviar service, this was the best caviar I’ve had in the sky.

a plate of food on a table

Next, we selected our food and drink. The menus were as follows:

a book with text on it
a menu open in a book
a menu open in a restaurant

For starters, I had the smoked salmon, and my friend, Austen, had the carrot and sweet potato soup. For the main course, I chose the black cod and Austen ordered the beef tenderloin. The black cod was the best fish I’ve had on a plane.

a plate of food on a table

Though it’s not captured in the photos, this dinner was drawn out in the best possible way. We began with the caviar, then selected our wines and ended up sampling six or seven. After we had chosen one, we got our starters and warm bread. After this, we were given a small palate cleanser of sorbet, and then moved on to the main course. We ate slowly and ordered side after side. We then were convinced by Kleena, our incredible flight attendant, to order two desserts: the date and fig pudding and a cheese plate. Just as we were about to burst, we ended our meal with two excellent cappuccinos.

Etihad 787 first class bed

After being wined and dined, we were both ready for bed. Etihad’s first class bedding is top-notch, with a thick mattress pad, two oversized down pillows, and a down duvet.

Etihad first class bed

After brushing my teeth, I slept undisturbed for around seven hours. Austen, who is over six feet tall, also slept extremely comfortably, a testament to the size of the bed.

Etihad 787 first class lavatories

The first class lavatories aboard the 787 are fine. They pale in comparison to the size of first class lavatories on any A380, but they’re clean and generally well-stocked.

a toilet in a bathroom

Etihad 787 first class service

The service on this flight was very, very good thanks to our extremely attentive and kind Irish stewardess, Kleena. She seemed ever-present when we needed something throughout the flight, and was an all-around blast to chat with about her many fascinating experiences as a first class flight attendant for Etihad. She made this flight.


Although the hard product doesn’t touch Etihad’s A380, the seat is extremely comfortable and well-designed, and the service standard is stratospheric. The food and drink were also phenomenal, made better because they were enjoyed with a good friend. I’d love to fly Etihad first class again, especially now that Etihad has reintroduced its A380s!

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