When we were booking our flights to Sydney, we looked at a lot of different options; reserving several different award tickets until we found the ‘right’ one. We knew the trip to Australia was going to be a long one, and we basically had 2 criteria – 1) that the ticket be as close to free as possible using miles, and 2) that we travel in relative comfort. A trip to Australia, depending on the routing can be at least 21 hours of flying, plus layovers since there are no direct flights to Australia from NYC.
There were a only a few choices given our preference of the OneWorld alliance, and since Qantas are super stingy with award seats especially for Business and First class we decided to Fly Etihad from JFK-AUD-SYD. It costs us 90,000 points and $28 per person. While this did add about 5 hours of flying on the way to Australia versus flying west, it did make it a true round-the-world trip, as we flew exclusively East-bound from JFK to Abu Dhabi to Australia, then returning from Australia to LAX to JFK. We also found availability in First Class which came with many perks.
Our First Class experience on a Middle Eastern carrier was something I’d been wanting to try. These airlines tend to be big on bling, and making the journey as luxurious as possible. It all started (and ended) with chauffeur service, picking us up at our apartment and driving us to JFK, in a nicely appointed luxury vehicle. You get access to the lounge, but it was not memorable and definitely not one of the better ones we’ve been to. Of course, the real benefits of First Class comes when you are above 10,000 feet.
We had flown business class on several long haul flights to Europe and Asia, and were pretty impressed with the lie flat seating, meal service, and other amenities, but it was nothing compared to first class. The cabin is only 4 seats wide, 1 at each window, and 2 in the middle. Just for comparison, in the economy section, 10 people would be crammed in width-wise. As you enter the plane, and turn left into the cabin, you are greeted by a purser, addressing you by name. Then as you settle in your seat, the butler and chef on board will come by to introduce themselves and ask what times you’d like to eat, sleep, or generally be left alone. They will bring by a nicely appointed toiletry bag, stocked with full size toiletries, and a relatively nice quality set of pajamas.
Each suite has an enormous chair, that could easily accommodate 2 people side by side, the foot rest on the other end also functions as a guest seat, and a 30 inch TV to enhance your entertainment experience. At your finger tips is a snazzy touch-screen control panel with many buttons to adjust seats and lights to your preference. The only bad thing is no Wi-Fi on board. To ensure your privacy for the duration of the flight, each cabin has a door that you can slide shut if you don’t want to be disturbed.
Eating is a whole other experience when you fly first class. There is no set time or menu, but the food options are extensive, and unlimited. Whenever you’re hungry, just signal the butler, and he will come over and take your order. There is a chef on board to make you anything you can think of from the fresh ingredients in the pantry. Champagnes and alcohol flow freely from the minute you are onboard until the time you have to leave. Johnny Walker Blue Label is on the menu, and the tried and true Jack Daniels is nowhere to be seen. I guess its not high-end enough, but who was I to complain. For dinner, a guest can come and sit across from you in your suite, and you can have a nice romantic dinner.
When you’re tired and ready to sleep, let your butler know and they will provide turn down service. While you run into the bathroom to change into the provided pajamas, your seat will be magically transformed into a twin-size bed, with additional mattress padding, a down blanket and a fluffy pillow. The bathroom, by the way, is enormous, and has plenty of room for changing. There was also a window, so you can enjoy the view while doing your business.
Our first time flying at the front of the plane was amazing and memorable! From the ease of travel to the mood lighting to the food, everything in first class was designed to make our flying experience is seamless and enjoyable. We had so much fun that the 26 hours flew by pretty quickly.