MIAMI — Below is a trip report submitted by contributor Gino Bertuccio. Bertuccio has traveled the world on major airline inaugurals for the Airbus A380, the Boeing 787 and the 747-8. This is his first-person account of his adventures in “The Residence” on the inaugural flight on Etihad’s first A380, from Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow.
On December 27, 2014, he became the first passenger to fly in “The Residence” cabin on Etihad’s Airbus A380.
I must start off by saying that this–the inaugural Etihad Airways Airbus A380 flight on December 27–was the most amazing inaugural flight I have ever flown on, thanks to many new innovations and unexperienced standards of personalized luxury.
I do admit that as soon as I arrived in Abu Dhabi at 9:30 PM that night, I was constantly surrounded and received more attention than you can imagine.
As soon as I exited my Lufthansa flight, an incredible young lady, Boutaina, from Etihad was waiting for me in her beautiful ground staff new uniform.
Boutaina’s assistant took care of my carry on and jacket, and I never had to worry about my personal belongings for the rest of my trip. I was escorted through the security checkpoint at Terminal 1, where a limousine was awaiting to take me to Etihad’s Terminal 3.
Once arriving inside Terminal 3, I was escorted into the first / business class lounge, but I was quickly brought into a big private room reserved for me. Upon arriving at the entrance, I was introduced to the Lounge Manager and met the staff who would take care of me for the next four hours.
Massimo, an Italian speaking lounge staff member, escorted me to the spa to take a shower. The lounge had an amazing spa as well as a great beauty salon for men and women.
While walking to the spa, I asked Boutaina where I could find a pharmacy because I forgot my contact lenses solution at home, but I arrived in my private lounge to find a bottle of contact lenses solution waiting for me courtesy of Etihad. I couldn’t believe it!!
At the lounge, two gentleman were assigned to take care of me, and they offered my anything you could imagine. I accepted a glass of champagne, sparkling water, and some canapés that were exclusively prepared for me by the chef, although the lounge has three buffet stations and two bars. The gentleman made sure that glasses were refilled promptly and canapés kept coming. I was offered a dinner menu, but I declined as I planned to have my dinner on board.
Later on, Isabelle and Khalid were escorted to the private room to join me, and they received the same treatment and attention I had.
While at the lounge I met Tomas Clarke Etihad who suggested that I arrive at the gate at 1am for a picture with the whole crew. At ten to 1:00 AM, M escorted me to gate 33 which was not a long walk from the lounge. I felt like a star as I was introduced to many and had pictures with staff. Hand shaking didn’t stop for the whole time, and I was very honored to have their attention.
Finally, the inaugural flight crew arrived. Captain Ali Aljaberi came over to meet me; I couldn’t feel more honored, and a few minutes later, the crew was in position for a picture with me. There were flashes everywhere, and at the end, there was a huge applause in the gate area.
Boarding was set to begin at 1:35 AM. After the photo session, we returned to the lounge to pick up my belongings. Again, I never touched them because someone took care of it. Then, we said goodbye and headed to the boarding area.
Meanwhile, some other members of “First to Fly” as well as others I knew arrived at the gate, and it was great to spend time chatting and taking pictures with them. While the excitement started to increase when it was almost boarding time, I knew that Georgina, the First Butler, would come out any moment to pick me up and escort me to my Residence.
Around 2/2:15 AM, I started not paying attention to the time as Georgina showed up in the jetway. I said good bye to M and the other fantastic Etihad staff around me. As we headed to the aircraft, Georgina was already in front of me and introduced herself. We shook hands and posed for a few pictures before stepping on-board the aircraft.
At the entrance, two flight attendants were ready to receive the “guests” as the call us. They were very nice and posed for a picture. The aircraft had a sober elegant entrance with brown and burgundy color decorating.
While I walked through the first class cabin, I was impressed to see so how luxurious the cabin was. I had never seen anything like it. The nine first apartments are positioned one on each side on the cabin—one facing forward one facing backward—in order to allow “guests” flying together to lower the partition and communicate. It’s the only first class private cabin that allows you to close your door and be able to talk around the sofa and bed comfortably.
Luxury is the best word to describe the Residence. The living room is wide, but not huge. It was comfortable and had a nice TV screen. There is a door that separates the bedroom and bathroom. The bedroom is not huge, but it is comfortable, and under the bed, there is an area for storage. The bathroom is as big as the first class bathroom, but the shower offers a generous amount of space. There was not an amenity kit, but there were plenty of Acqua di Parma toiletries items.
Back in the living room, a tray was served with some dates, and Georgina pointed out that she prepared champagne, sparkling water with lemon, and some Arabic coffee; this was exactly the same I was having at the lounge! She already knew it! THAT WAS UNBELIEVABLE.
The living room has seats for two guests, and each seat has its own set of duty free, inflight entertainment, Etihad Aspire magazine, and safety card. In front, there is a three piece ottoman hid the minibar and storage areas.
Of the nine First Apartments “guests ,” seven were members of the “First to Fly” group or others that I knew. Quickly my Residence became the meeting point for everyone as we took many pictures, chatted, or drank. It was a real party in the sky.
Georgina was keeping my glasses full while almost everybody on First Apartments was coming into my cabin to look around and take photos. I asked to visit the cockpit, and Georgina took me immediately down the stairs into the pilots work area. After a few minutes, I was back in my Residence with my seat belt on ready for push back.
We pushed back around 2:50 AM, and the taxi was a little bit long; we took off at 3:00 AM.
Once the seat belt sign was turned off, everybody got up and explored. Georgina gave me a very nice leather folder with an Inaugural certificate, Etihad stationery, copies of the menu, and a wine list. The menu’s first page has “Mr. Bertuccio” printed on it, and there was a letter from Captain Aljaberi.
After that Georgina and I discussed how I would like the service be performed and all details about dinner, breakfast, shoe shining, pajamas, shower etc.
I reached the bedroom where my Christian Lacroix pajamas were waiting for me. I got changed and was ready for dinner.
Because the cabin is for two, I suggested to my butler to undertake a drawing among all first apartment guests and an un-biased hand (Isabelle) will pick up the lucky one to share dinner with me. The winner was Rolando Veloso, recently met.
I chose for dinner caviar and chicken supreme with hollandaise sauce and fries. Champagne Brut Grand Gosset 2004 and Valpolicella Fattory red wine were served with my dinner.
After a nice chocolate cake and excellent caffe macchiato, Captain Aljaberi came up to give me a gift. A beautiful glass ancient sailboat with the words engraved “First Guest on Residence by Etihad EY 11 Abu Dhabi London Heathrow, Saturday 27 of December 2014. It was a very emotional moment as I didn’t expect it. I was more than honored.
At this point, I started getting sleepy as we were almost 3 hours before landing so I decided to take a nap and try the bed. After breakfast arrangements made with Georgina (I asked her to have a guest from economy class for breakfast, and she could pick), I went to bed. It didn’t take much longer to fall asleep in the very comfortable bed beside my size.
I only had time to sleep for one hour and a half, and Georgina woke me up with a fresh fruit smoothie. The breakfast table was set up, and my guest was already there. Yogurt, cereal and a fantastic omelet prepared by the onboard chef was served. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time to savor as during breakfast Georgina advised me that we would land in one hour. It was time for me to shower and get ready .
The shower was very easy to operate with generous space to move comfortably around . After 20 minute, I was seated in my living room. Georgina left me a nice card representing Abu Dhabi skyline with “It was a pleasure taking care of you . Kind Regards”
At 6:00 AM we started our descent into London Heathrow, and we touchdown was 35 minutes later. After a short taxi, the brakes were applied at terminal 4–marking the completion of the first Etihad A380 to LHR.
Some journalist wanted me to stay on board for few shots and interviews.
After that I was escorted by Roberta thru immigration and customs.
I was writing this review after returning home and I was living again minute by minute this fantastic journey I was lucky to live.
All what I saw was beyond anybody’s imagination. As I said in the first interview with Etihad, I have no idea what to expect, but I keep them high and definitely would never have imagined what went on. My expectations were more than fulfilled.
I want to thank M ( I’m sorry I didn’t learn your name ), Tom Clarke, Aubrey Tiedt, Georgina Jane Henderson, Andrew Davidson, Roberta Mannino, Katie Connell, and all Etihad staff that made my journey unforgettable.
Have a Happy New Year, and see on next inaugural on January 15, 2015 on Qatar Airways first A350 scheduled flight from Doha to Frankfurt..
Inflight Images Courtesy of Gino Bertuccio.