Transport : Airlines

Related: Emirates, Etihad

Emirates has just launched a new Business Class Suite on it’s B777. Etihad already has one of the best First Class Suites in the World.

Both airlines offer a much better First Class than most other airlines, but which should you choose for your next First Class flight?

I have published several trip reports about my recent flights in First with Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and British Airways. You can read these reviews below:

Review: Etihad Airbus A380 First Class Apartment Review London to Abu Dhabi
Review: Emirates Airbus A380 First Class Dubai to Amsterdam
Review: Emirates B777 First Class Suite.

When choosing between airlines, the big question is how they differ in premium cabin class offerings, in their First Class seats and cabins.

Emirates is based in Dubai, UAE and Etihad Airways is based in Abu Dhabi, which may immediately affect your flight choice as you may prefer to layover in one of these destinations. If the layover does not affect your airline choice, I outline below which of these airlines are best for food, seat, service, lounge and pre and post flight offering.

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Emirates Vs Etihad First Class Cabin – Lounges

If the layover is important to you, you might want to choose your airline by the lounge on offer at it’s respective airport hub. I have reviewed these below and in my opinion, Etihad’s First Class Lounge & Spa in Abu Dhabi is excellent. The Concourse A Emirates First Class Lounge at Dubai International Airport is also very good and by reading my reviews you may prefer the sound of one over the other.

Emirates Vs Etihad First Class Cabin – Which Is Best?

Etihad’s Airbus A380s & Dreamliner B787s feature an extremely elegant decor and fantastic private cubicles in their First Class cabins, while Qatar’s A380, B787 and A350 cabins are very chic with a red/white theme. Emirates features slightly gaudy interiors, with lots of walnut veneer, gold trim and pearlised plastic. British Airways is classic and stylish and we like the classical music they play.

On Emirates on the A380, First Class is located in the forward upper deck. The cabin features 14 enclosed suites in a 1-2-1 configuration. All have direct aisle access. The 8 suites along the windows are spread across 4 rows, while the 6 middle suites are spread across 3 rows. All suites enjoy complete privacy, as none of the rows quite line up, so nobody is directly looking into the suite across the aisle, even when you don’t close the sliding doors of your suite.

The A380 product is quite glitzy but Emirates have toned down the glitz in their new B777 suites which are designed to compete directly with the Etihad suites below, being enclosed units with complete privacy. The Boeing 777 will launch in December and the layout will change from a 1-2-1 configuration down to 2 rows in a 1-1-1 configuration. Possibly my favourite feature is the virtual windows that will project the view from outside the aircraft onto the wall of the cabin using real-time cameras.

On Etihad Airways, the First Class cabin is located on the forward upper deck of the A380. The First Class cabin on Etihad’s A380 is stylish, with two beautifully crafted walls framing a small corridor leading to the forward staircase and contain the sliding entrance doors of the Apartments. The lighting patterns in the ceiling projects Arabian mosaic-like figures on the walls and floor, adding to the relaxing atmosphere.

Etihad Airways’ A380 First Class cabin is the industry’s first ever single aisle cabin and there are only nine First Apartments on the plane. There are 5 First Apartments on the right side of the cabin (with 2 toilets in the front), while the left side features 4 First Apartments. This asymmetry is explained by the fact that the missing 5th First Apartment and lavatories on the left side of the cabin are replaced by The Residence (featuring a private living room, separate en-suite shower room, and a bedroom with a double bed).I have written a full review of my last flight in Etihad First Class Apartment and have taken further pictures on a second trip in Etihad First Class.

In my humble opinion, for ambience, space, look and style, Etihad is best. The Emirates cabin on the A380 is glitzy and full of golds and bright colours which isn’t to my taste, although you can’t argue about the level of luxury offered by Emirates. The privacy and space is also better on Etihad. If you can snag a flight on the new Emirates B777, then you will enjoy a similar level of privacy in these suites to those on Etihad, but it is worth noting that on Etihad, if you travel as a couple you can lower a wall between the suites to enable you to share your experience with a partner. This is a major disadvantage when flying Emirates, you are very alone in their new First suites.

Emirates only has plans to install the product on nine new Boeing 777-300ERs by the end of 2019. They intend to eventually install the new product on the A380 which currently offers the onboard showers as part of the First Class suite and they don’t have clear plans to retrofit their existing 777 fleet, making the planned launch date rather irrelevant as the suite is only present on 4% of their fleet so, at least for now, you are unlikely to experience it.

Emirates Vs Etihad First Class Seats – Which Are Best?

Emirates First Class is configured with only four suites per row see upper deck seat map. The A380 First Class suites on the sides are ideal for solo travellers (with a generous 3 windows per seat, offering great views), while the 6 suites in the middle are perfect for those travelling with a companion since dividers between these suites can be raised or lowered to provide a feeling of extra spaciousness.

On the B777, we love these seats and suites for solo travellers but if you are travelling as a couple or a family, you will not be able to share this suite experience with them as there are no retractable walls.

Etihad, have configured their cabin with only two First Class suites per row which is clearly better. See Etihad seat map. The very comfortable recliner seat is equipped with in-seat massage and a pneumatic cushion control system. The seat has two armrests: one holds the tray table, while the other holds the Apartment and inflight entertainment system controls. By pressing a button, you can change the position of both the ottoman, raise or lower of the window blinds, and control the light settings for a variety of lamps situated within the Apartment. Next to the seat, there’s a minibar, stocked with a premium selection of beverages, as well as a cabinet which holds the noise-cancelling headsets.

Clearly, two suites per row is much better than four so once again Etihad wins for the best First Class suites.

Emirates Vs Etihad For Sleeping – Which Is Best?

On Emirates, at the push of a button, the seat automatically reclines into a fully-flat bed of 86 inches (218 cm) long, with fully retractable armrest. When you want to sleep, a member of the cabin crews installs a mattress, fluffy pillow and soft duvet.

On the new Emirates B777 you get huge amount of privacy, much more than the A380 as these suites are fully enclosed.

Etihad creates an entirely separate bed using the ottoman in your suite, allowing the bed to be made without having to sacrifice your seat (see above). If you have a significant other, travelling with you, certain rows of the First Class cabin allow you to lower the divider located between suites so that your head is next to your loved one’s head. If you want a double bed, you’ll need to upgrade to The Residence by Etihad.

Once again Etihad wins on space and privacy for sleeping and the option for a double room. Clearly an apartment will encourage more sleep than the option to sleep in an open cabin offered by Qatar and BA which come in 3rd and 4th respectively .

Emirates Vs Etihad First Class Food – Which Is Best?

Food is delicious on all Middle Eastern carriers. Our best gastronomic experiences have been on Etihad followed by Qatar Airways, and then Emirates.

Emirates and Etihad offer meals equivalent a Michelin-starred restaurant. Etihad has real life onboard chefs (recruited from Michelin-starred restaurants around the world). The food is an exquisite seven-course tasting menu with amuse bouche, granita and pre-dessert tasters. The Mezoon Grille menu is available to Etihad’s First Class customers only, featuring a variety of premium produce, including beef, chicken, lamb and seafood, along with a range of delicate sauces, sides and delicious desserts, all of which were prepared to order. Everything is served on fine bone chinaware, cutlery and crystal glassware. An example of just one meal choice I chose on Etihad is:
Amuse bouche: Middle Eastern style chicken salad.
Chickpea Soup, with Arabic spiced ratatouille.
Starter: marinated prawns, with Quinoa and wake salad, and red pepper sauce.
Grapefruit sorbet.
Entree: US rib-eye steak, with steamed green beans, creamy mashed potatoes, and garlic and herb butter.
Pre-dessert mini-chocolate mousse.
Dessert trio of berry and cinnamon frangipani, apricot cheesecake, with passion fruit meringue, chocolate mousse.

The Emirates’ First Class menu, by comparison, is extensive, and you can order whatever whenever. However, the meals do not have the style or deliver the flavour of that in Etihad. These were my lunch choices:
Canapés: tartlet of marinated feta with aubergine caviar and schichmi; foie gras on gingerbread with smoked salt; and arm salmon tempo sushi with herb crust.
Appetiser: caviar, presented with a traditional selection of finely chopped onion, grated egg, sour cream and lemon, served with melba toast and blinis.
Pumpkin soup with croutons and sour cream.
Main course: seafood harra, which is a traditional Middle Eastern dish of oven-baked prawns and fish in spiced tomato sauce, served with saffron rice.
Dessert: banana cheesecake with toffee sauce.

Emirates Vs Etihad First Class In-Flight Showers – Which Is Best?

Both Emirates and Etihad have two showers at the front of their cabins on their A380s. In the all-important category of shower-to-passenger ratio, Emirates wins, with one shower for every seven passengers, while Etihad only provides one shower for every nine passengers. I have written a completely separate article with Emirates sky shower pictures. There is very little to choose between the shower rooms themselves although Emirates’ showers have a panoramic wallpaper view of the Dubai skyline on the walls. The volume per passenger is key here which is why Emirates wins.

The reason there are less showers on Etihad is because they feel their passengers in The Residence need their own shower.

Emirates Vs Etihad Vs Qatar First Class Bar/Lounge – Which Is Best?

An onboard bar, exclusively accessible for passengers flying the premium cabins, is present on the Airbus A380 aircrafts of Etihad, Emirates and Qatar but not British Airways. Your chances of flying an Airbus A380, and thus socialising with other passengers in a fantastic onboard bar, are highest with Emirates, which has no less than 60 of these megaplanes in its fleet (Qatar Airways and Etihad own only 4 and 2 Airbus A380s respectively).

The Etihad bar is designated as “The Lobby” but even in First Class, you’ll have to have your drinks refilled from the display case, rather than having an onboard bartender serving you. If you prefer a more traditional bar experience, you’ll find it on Emirates with extensive seating, mood lighting, a horseshoe-shaped bar and a real-life bartender.

Emirates, therefore, wins harking back to the heydays of luxury air travel.

Emirates Vs Etihad First Class Wine List & Bar Menu – Which Is Best?

Emirates and Etihad have complimentary top-shelf alcohol for those over the age of 18. These include extensive wine lists and a vast range of spirits, liquor, and champagne all served in proper crystal glasses.

Both airlines offer extensive alcohol, but in terms of brand and cost, Emirates wins as it offers more drink options breaking the $100 USD per bottle ceiling. They are also the only airline serving Hennessy Paradis Cognac in First Class, with a retail price around $700 per bottle. All the airlines offer a decent champagne in First but British Airways is notable in that it cheaps-out on the wine list with very low grade wines which would rrp around £10-15 compared to, say, Emirates who’s wines cost double this (so arguably should be twice as nice).

Emirates Vs Etihad First Class Entertainment & WiFi – Which Is Best?

Both Etihad and Emirates First Class suites on the Airbus A380 feature big screens with a wide variety of content.

Etihad wins with a superior entertainment system, a screen that not only swivels back to let you watch TV in bed, but it also has split-screen capabilities with four different screens. Plus, surfing the web is actually possible on Etihad. Emirates offers made WiFi affordable for everyone – free for the first 10 MB and only $1 USD for 500 MB of data. Unfortunately, this means the internet connection is virtually unusable due to the number of passengers logged on.

Emirates Vs Etihad First Class Amenity Kit – Which Is Best?

I have reviewed the best airline amenity kits in the world and in this listing, Emirates comes second offering bespoke beauty goodies from one of my favourite scents; Bulgari. They also give you a fragrance. Emirates have also introduced the world’s first moisturising pyjamas in first class designed for airline use and to overcome dry air thus giving the passenger a better nights sleep.

Etihad comes in lower at number 5 in my best first class amenity kits and passengers get Christian Lacroix loungewear and toiletries from Hungarian skincare brand, Omorovicza. The amenity kit from Emirates is the most generous and therefore wins. I love a free fragrance and their pyjamas are groundbreaking.

Chauffeur service

Both Etihad and Emirates offer complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers in First.

Conclusion Emirates Vs Etihad – Best First Class

Which has the best in First Class British Airways Vs Emirates Vs Etihad Vs Qatar? Etihad has the better suite, seat, bed, entertainment, and food. Emirates has the better shower, onboard lounge, amenity kit and alcohol. Etihad wins by a small margin so your final choice depends on what matters to you onboard.

Both carriers feature in my top 10 Best Business Class airlines for long haul travel. I have also compared British Airways Club World Vs Virgin Atlantic Upper Class.

If you are planning to book a flight, don’t book through the airline’s website direct, our flight experts will quote you cheaper for Economy, Premium Economy, Business and First Class long-haul flights.