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Is this the world’s best plane cabin? Inside The Residence, Etihad’s A380 £5,000 hotel suite in the sky, which comes with a private lounge, shower and a DOUBLE BED. It’s jaw-dropping (and business class isn’t bad, either!)

There’s something beyond a first-class plane cabin.


The Residence. Etihad’s A380′ hotel suite in the sky’, which features a private lounge, an ensuite shower and toilet, and a separate bedroom with a double bed. I’ve been inside it all of one minute and already concluded it’s surely the world’s best plane cabin. Seat pitch, legroom – irrelevancies here.

I’m giddy with excitement and desperate to have a good look around but a first-class passenger opposite asks if I can stand aside for a moment while he steps inside and films it. A cabin with celebrity status.

What’s more, there are notable millionaire-pleasing pre and post-flight VIP extras, as I discover when I fly from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi in Etihad’s top seat, before returning in business class to discover how far back into the plane the luxury extends.


The Residence – designed by London-based Acumen Design Associates – is seat 1A on the Etihad A380 and it’s located at the very front of the top deck of the aircraft. MailOnline Travel’s Ted Thornhill flies in it from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi – then returns in business class

My Residence experience begins at Heathrow Terminal 4, where I’m granted access to a swanky hidden VIP lounge.

Who’s in it? Me. And my personal butler.

There’s a luxurious sofa suite, a TV, a little kitchen – and a table set for one.

My attentive butler delivers hot, smooth coffee and pastries, and Aaron, another charming Etihad attendant collects me when it’s time to board and delivers me in person to the door of the aircraft, after pointing out the best place to capture video and pictures of the double-decker that’ll take me to the Middle East.

Ted’s Residence experience begins at Heathrow Terminal 4, where he’s granted access to a swanky hidden VIP lounge

Ted’s Abu Dhabi transport awaits…

I step aboard with beaming crew members reaching out to shake my hand and introduce themselves.

The Residence – designed by London-based Acumen Design Associates – is seat 1A and it’s located at the very front of the top deck of the aircraft – a supersized, upgraded version of Etihad’s already very-enticing-indeed first-class cabin.

Ever-buoyant flight-attendant Claudia ushers me through to my deluxe domain for the next seven hours, and once my fellow passenger has finished his mini movie, the next-level VIP-ness begins in earnest.

Claudia gives me a tour of the cabin, but there’s so much to take in, so many buttons and storage options and modes of relaxation to entwine oneself in that the unveiling of the suite’s treasures happens in stages.

Before take-off, Ted is granted the privilege of meeting the captain and first officer for the flight

Ted is pictured here in The Residence enjoying a glass of Duval-Leroy rose premier cru fizz

This ensuite bathroom is for the sole use of Residence customers. It comes with toiletries by Acqua di Parma

The ensuite also features a shower, with customers able to enjoy five minutes of hot water mid-flight

The Residence double bedroom, which can be sealed off with a partition door – ‘a cocoon within a cocoon’

Claudia shows me how the vast cinematic TV in the private lounge can be operated from a handset to the side of my sofa. Yes, sofa. Big enough to fit two side by side in comfort and one that wouldn’t look out of place in a boutique hotel. Then she guides me through to my ensuite-for-one, which has a shower in a completely enclosed cubicle and toiletries by Acqua di Parma.

So far, so… ridiculous.

Beyond the ensuite is my double bedroom, which can be sealed off with a partition door.

The suite itself has a privacy door, so this can become a cocoon within the cocoon.

Talk about dreamy.

Ted begins proceedings with a glass of ‘crisp’ Billecart-Salmon 2016 Champagne

LEFT: Ted tries out economy class to compare the legroom. RIGHT: The legroom in The Residence is definitely superior

Big bird: An Etihad A380 superjumbo 

The bed, which is flush to the left-hand wall, is roomy enough for two and is festooned with luxe pillows and cushions – and it’s anything but a squeeze walking up and down the space. Claustrophobes have nothing to fear.

And what have we here resting on the covers? Black pyjamas that are softer than a baby bunny’s behind and an eye-catching (highly reusable) Acqua di Parma amenity kit. Good brand. However, the kudos is slightly tainted as it doesn’t exactly feel stuffed with goodies – there are four sanitising wipes and sanitiser gel (which don’t count as goodies), plus lip balm, a miniscule bottle of cologne, body lotion, an eye mask, flight socks, and a toothbrush and toothpaste. Feels more business than first class.

But what else? There’s a second TV with controls on one side and lights that can be orchestrated to produce a variety of tranquil moods. I’m particularly enamoured by the lantern-effect light that runs along one side of the mattress.

The private lounge area is also an incredibly pleasant space to spend time in – comfy enough not just for a seven-hour flight to Abu Dhabi but 80 days around the world.

Both sides of the sofa can be reclined and the facing ottomans glide in and out at the touch of a button to serve as footrests.

The first and business-class lobby – where high-flying flyers can relax on semi-circular high-back banquettes and enjoy a drinks service

There are two windows in The Residence each with two blinds – one that filters sunlight, one that blocks it out – that can be lowered by arrow-shaped buttons underneath them.

Storage? It’s everywhere – in the ottomans (the padding doubles as a lid), there’s a mini wardrobe for coats, and multiple bags can simply be slid under the (footlit) bed.

The service, meanwhile, is the toppest of top-tier – five-star-hotel standard. Attentive, charming, thoughtful, graceful.

And the food and beverage offering is excellent.

I begin proceedings with a welcome glass of crisp Billecart-Salmon 2016 Champagne. Well, it is 9am after all, late in the day to start drinking for some fliers.

And once we hit cruise altitude, out comes a Duval-Leroy rose premier cru fizz livener.

Claudia explains that I can order whatever food and drink I like from the menu at any time – there is no demeaning ‘meal service’ at this end of the plane.

Yum’s the word: Ted’s lunch experience begins with Oscietra caviar with salmon (above). And a wine tasting

The starter: ‘Artfully arranged and deliciously succulent lobster tail with orange segments and grapefruit’

Ted’s Residence chicken breast with crispy lamb belly crumb and colcannon mash

Ted writes: ‘Lunch is a banquet. There’s linen. A showplate. Perfectly placed cutlery’

Lunch is a banquet. There’s linen. A showplate. Perfectly placed cutlery. A huge wine list to drink in.

I begin with Oscietra caviar with salmon; then artfully arranged and deliciously succulent lobster tail with orange segments and grapefruit; chicken breast with crispy lamb belly crumb and colcannon mash follows, and sticky toffee pudding makes for a delicious denouement.

Indulgent and deeply tasty the lot of it.

To accompany the fodder, I opt for four tasting measures of the white wines on offer – a honeyed Burgundian Pouilly Fuisse Le Renard by Devillard; an elegant Cuvee Caroline by Chateau de Chantegrive from Bordeaux; a crisp Gruner Veitliner by ‘Laurenz V’ from Austria; and an ‘ultra-premium’ Chilian Chardonnay by Concha Y Toro.

After a mooch around the first and business-class lobby – where high-flying flyers can relax on semi-circular high-back banquettes and enjoy a drinks service – it’s time for a shower. A notion I never thought I’d be able entertain on a passenger plane.

Claudia prepares the suite, hanging out a towel and robe, then I enjoy five minutes of lovely warm water jetting out at quite a decent rate of knots, before reclining on the bed in the robe as the A380 begins its descent into Abu Dhabi’s stunning new Zayed International Airport – Terminal A.

It’s been a wildly extravagant ride in what must be the world’s best commercial airline passenger seat.


On the way back, my business-class ticket grants me access to an Etihad lounge at Zayed International Airport that’s world class – three floors of wanton (complimentary) luxury.

The world-class Etihad lounge at Zayed International Airport – ‘three floors of wanton (complimentary) luxury for business, first class, and tier-status economy passengers’

The future of air travel: Ted takes in the glittering magnificence of Zayed International Airport Terminal A

There is a live cooking station serving local and international dishes, a bar worthy of a five-star hotel, 18 shower suites, games rooms for adults and children, and more modish seating that you can shake a neck pillow at. I am given a sneak peek at the first-class area, which features inviting semi-cocooned private seating areas shielded by elegant curtains.

Some of the gates connect to the lounge, which faces the runway, with huge windows affording guests magnificent views of manoeuvering planes – including A380 superjumbos.

If you’re an Etihad lounge user and your flight is departing from one of the gates connected to the lounge, you can board directly. Mine is. And it only takes a couple of minutes to go from bar to air bridge, with beaming staff on hand to make sure I don’t take a wrong turn and end up in a shower suite by accident.

As my plane backs away from the airport, I admire the mesmerising wavy rooftop of the airport, which mirrors the UAE’s undulating dunes.


‘The business-class cabin is smothered in Etihad’s signature brown and cream hues,’ writes Ted. Above is his seat – 19C

Ted explains that the Etihad cabin is on the top deck, and arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration

The business-class cabin, on the top deck, is smothered in Etihad’s signature brown and cream hues, with the all-aisle-access seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Mine – seat 19C – is facing backwards, which I don’t mind, it makes the take-off and landing extra-fun.

Let’s take a look around.

There is a slightly downgraded version of the Residence Acqua di Parma amenity kit – more of a pouch than a bag and no body lotion – a window with button-operated double blinds a la The Residence, a decent-sized entertainment screen that seems dutifully responsive and over-ear headphones good enough to keep most audiophiles content.

Stretching out: Legroom for Ted’s 5ft 10in frame ‘is plentiful’, as this picture shows

Ted reveals that there’s ‘an array of buttons’, conveniently positioned, enabling him to slide his seat to a lie-flat position and increase the lumbar support

Business-class customers get ‘a slightly downgraded version of the Residence Acqua di Parma amenity kit’. The storage ‘is convenient and useful’

Hue goes there: Ted’s Arabic mezze starter, ‘which is fresh and tasty’ – and colourful

A ‘delicious chicken madhbi main – succulent and sensuously spicy’

The business-class a la carte menu

Storage is convenient and useful – a lid to my right opens to reveal two compartments big enough for wallets, books and water bottles – and there are plenty of flat surfaces to place small items on. The seat’s infrastructure includes a built-in ‘table’ to my right, the lid of the storage box doubles as another small table and I end up putting my selfie-stick camera on a small shelf that runs along the wall.

The seat, meanwhile, is big and comfortable, with an array of buttons enabling me to slide it to a lie-flat position and increase the lumbar support.

In addition, there’s a wonderfully luxurious blanket to snuggle with and two good-quality cushions for extra support.

Legroom for my 5ft 10in frame is plentiful, while privacy is mixed. My seat is open to the cabin, but I can slide a small partition door part way across, which increases the cocooning factor to satisfactory levels.

The ergonomics are very impressive. All the buttons for the seat have been thoughtfully positioned to my right and my welcome glass of Champagne by ‘rising-star’ label EPC sits on that built-in ‘table’, and can be brought to my lips without any strain at all.

No business-class customer will countenance straining for fizz.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoy the flight. The seat proves comfortably comfortable for a seven-hour trip, the service is pleasant and prompt – and my meal is several rungs above any economy offering.

I opt for an Arabic mezze for my starter, which is fresh and tasty, and I have a delicious chicken madhbi for my main – succulent and sensuously spicy.

To drink, it’s a vibrant and citrusy Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc by Chateau Thieuley and just before we begin our descent it’s sparkling water and smooth coffee. (Coffee is unsafe on planes? Cobblers.)

The flight attendant forgets the milk, so I press the call button to request some – and he’s there at my side in seconds. The cabin is packed, so bonus marks.

The verdict? The Residence is clearly in a class of its own, but Etihad’s business class certainly isn’t worlds apart.


Ted is hosted by Etihad Airways. Visit Customers who buy a first-class ticket are then eligible to buy an upgrade to The Residence. London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi, first-class fare (one way) £3,497 ($4,457). The Residence upgrade is £1,570 ($2,000) for one person and £1,970 ($2,510) for two people.

Business-class fares Heathrow to Abu Dhabi return start from £3,499 ($4,462), one way from £2,330 ($2,971). Manchester to Abu Dhabi return fares start from £2,640 ($3,367), one way from £2,629 ($3,353).


The Residence

PROS: The world’s best commercial airline seat. Ridiculous levels of luxury. Faultless, top-tier service straight from the golden age of flying. Five-star dining. You will feel like royalty. 

CONS: Amenity kit could be slightly more generous. You may have to be dragged out once you reach your destination. 

Rating out of five: ***** 

Business class

PROS: Impressive seat architecture, comfortable, good screen, great service, very good food and drinks list. 

CONS: Less private than competitor seats and not the most spacious on the market. 

Rating out of five: **** 



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