After looking like it was going to be put out to pasture by the pandemic, Etihad Airways' Airbus A380 – the signature double-decker jet equipped with First Class Apartments and onboard showers – made a comeback overseas this year. Next year, it'll resume flying to the U.S.
The Abu Dhabi (AUH)-based airline announced Wednesday that it will resume flying its A380 to and from New York City (JFK) as of April 22, 2024. The so-called Whale Jet was a fixture on that route prior to the pandemic.
That's welcome news for aviation geeks with bucket lists, as the ludicrously spacious first class suites on these planes are widely viewed as among the best in the world. There's even an ultra-exclusive “Residence” available for a substantial upcharge, complete with an honest-to-god double bed and a dedicated butler. Plus, Etihad's A380 is one of just two commercial jets that offer a shower onboard along with Emirates First Class.
To date, Etihad has only resumed flying its A380s between Abu Dhabi and London-Heathrow (LHR), but that changes next spring. Etihad's own schedules show it plans to fly the A380 to and from New York daily, though that aircraft doesn't yet show up through sites like Google Flights or partner airlines. Etihad says it will run a second daily frequency to and from New York on its Boeing 787-9.
“We’re thrilled to start flying our remarkable A380 across the Atlantic, and we know our guests love the onboard experience,” Etihad CEO Antonoaldo Neves said in a statement. “Putting the A380 on the popular New York route makes sense as we satisfy customer demand for more capacity, further growing our expanding network.”
Once heralded as a game-changing plane that could ferry more than 400 passengers across the globe, the airline industry quickly fell out of love with the A380, leaving it behind for smaller, more fuel-efficient alternatives like the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787. For a while, it looked like the pandemic would kill these jumbo jets off for good.
But many airlines that mothballed their Airbus A380s have brought them out of retirement as travel demand exploded over the last year. British Airways, Lufthansa, and Qatar Airways have all resumed flying their A380s across the globe. Emirates – the king of the Airbus A380 with more than 120 in its fleet – has brought back the jet to the vast majority of its pre-pandemic routes.
But Etihad's A380 is something special.
About Etihad's Airbus A380s
Etihad's double-decker A380 jets operate with four classes of service: the Residence, the Etihad First Class Apartments, business class, and economy with a grand total of 485 seats on board.
The Etihad Residence is a private three-room suite at the front of the first class cabin on the upper deck that includes butler service, a bedroom, and its own private shower. It's largely viewed as the most exclusive flying experience in commercial aviation.
Then there's the Etihad First Class Apartments. The airline configures its A380s with nine of these first class suites, each measuring in at nearly 40 square feet – with a separate seat and sleeping space. Some of the First Class suites adjoin, allowing traveling companions to snooze face to face. And there's even an onboard shower passengers can reserve to freshen up before landing.
Read our full review of the Etihad First Class Apartment from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to New York (JFK)!
Unless you have a money tree, booking these first class seats is tough: Etihad can be incredibly stingy with releasing award availability to book the Apartments across the Atlantic with points and miles. If and when that happens, though, there are a handful of ways to book.
American will charge you 110,000 AAdvantage miles each way for a first class seat between the U.S. and Middle East, but those miles can be hard to earn. That's where Air Canada Aeroplan shines: While you'll need 130,000 miles each way, Air Canada is a transfer partner of Chase, American Express, Capital One, and Bilt Rewards. Air France/KLM Flying Blue is a new addition thanks to a growing partnership with Etihad, though it's unclear whether you'll be able to book First Class that way.
Meanwhile, here's what you'll currently see trying to book with Etihad Guest miles. No, thank you.
But business class on Etihad's A380 is nothing to scoff at. While the airline has since introduced snazzy business class suites on its newer planes, the Etihad Business Studios are still chic and spacious.
And booking these seats can be a bargain using miles. American charges just 70,000 AAdvantage miles while you'll need to fork over 90,000 points to book through Air Canada. Rates through Air France/KLM Flying Blue are reasonable at just 84,500 miles for the nonstop to Abu Dhabi – a redemption you can book with even fewer credit card points if you time it right with a transfer bonus.
Both business class and first class passengers get access to the onboard lounge to stretch their legs during the 13-hour flight.
Finally, Etihad has 405 economy seats on board which take up the A380's entire lower level. The economy seats are in a spacious 3-4-3 configuration.
At long last, Etihad's signature Airbus A380 will be returning to the States.
The double-decker jet equipped with First Class Apartments is scheduled to resume flying between Abu Dhabi and New York as of April 22, 2024. That'll mark the first time in more than four years that U.S. travelers can book and fly one of the coolest experiences in the sky.