Any regular listener of the Simple Flying Podcast will know how big a fan of the Airbus A380 I am. With this in mind, when Etihad offered me a seat onboard the (re)inaugural London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Abu Dhabi (AUH) service with the giant of the skies, it was an offer I couldn’t resist. Here’s what went down on the flight:

Simple Flying traveled onboard the (re)inaugural Etihad Airbus A380 Service as a guest of Etihad.

Excitement at the airport

Already arriving at the Etihad check-in desk, it was clear this would be a flight to remember. Other carriers brought the giant of the skies back without much fanfare. In contrast, Etihad went all out.

Photo: Rhys Jones - Head for Points

The check-in desk already seemed slightly busy when I arrived at 06:00 (for the 09:30 flight), though not with passengers. It seemed that all of the airline’s London administrative staff had turned up for the occasion despite the early hour. If passengers hadn’t realized that this was a special flight, there was a large banner to highlight the fact, while Airbus A380 branded chocolates were on hand at the desk itself.

Etihad had an entire brand concept generated just for this flight. The concept had an airmail feel with red, white, and blue coloring, and every aspect, from menus to headrests and gifts, had the branding. The one thing sadly not branded was the boarding passes.

Terminal 4 security

Having checked in for the flight, we wanted to maximize our time in the lounge beforehand. I met Rhys, from Head for Points, at the check-in desk, so we headed to the lounge together. London Heathrow Airport offers a premium security lane for eligible passengers at Terminal 4. We were eligible as we were flying in business class. Surprisingly, despite there only being a single lane open (two were available), there was no queue, and we were through quicker than you could say Airbus A380!

Coffee Time
Photo: Rhys Jones - Head for Points

With this in mind, we proceeded to the lounge opposite Gate 10. I will review the lounge separately, so I won’t dive into the details here.

Boarding the upper deck

We left the lounge early. As press, we were able to pre-board the flight. While we boarded, the finishing touches were still being made to the cabin, though we had a short opportunity to tour the first class and economy cabins.

Photo: Tom Boon - Simple Flying

Jetbridges were attached to both the lower and upper decks. Etihad’s A380s are exclusively economy on the lower deck, with the upper deck only hosting business, first, and the Residence. We boarded at the upper deck and turned right to find our seats. Already at the seat was a menu for the flight and an amenity kit. Both had the aforementioned “air mail” branding.

Airmail Branding
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

Delayed takeoff

Due to circumstances out of Etihad’s control (poor weather over Eastern Europe), we were delayed leaving London Heathrow by about an hour. During this time, I sat down with the flight's captain, Jihad Matta, for a chat about returning the Airbus A380 to service, before joining him in the cockpit (on the ground prior to departure).

Calling the Airbus A380’s cockpit huge is an understatement. Rhys noted that you could’ve done yoga in the extra space at 36,000 feet. I sat in the jump seat while we chatted with Matta and Captain Azizan Othman and got a tour of the vast cockpit. By this point, we had also been joined by Jonny Clark from TheDesignAir.

Flight Deck
Photo: Jonny Clark - TheDesignAir

As fun as it would be, we couldn’t stay in the cockpit forever, so the three of us decided to take a seat in the onboard lounge, accompanied by a glass of champagne. This seemed to do just the trick, as a few minutes later, we felt the nudge of the tug being connected, so we returned to our seats for takeoff.

Lounge Light
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

A quiet giant

It seemed like a short taxi (actually 19 minutes) from Terminal 4 to Runway 27R, and before I knew it, we were lined up on the runway, ready for departure. The Airbus A380 has four huge engines under its wings. While these were running at high power during takeoff, you could barely hear them in the cabin. The aircraft departed the gate at 10:24, some 54 minutes behind schedule, before taking off at 10:43. It seemed to use most of the runway but, once airborne, began climbing and turning toward its destination.

Tail Cam
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

One interesting point to note is the seatbelt sign. Typically when it goes off, an audible bong is heard throughout the cabin, followed by a number of passengers swiftly heading in the direction of the restroom. On all of my flights with Etihad, I noticed that there was no audible accompaniment to the seatbelt sign being turned off.

Looking at the seat

Etihad’s A380 business class is laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration. The rows are staggered between seats adjacent to the aisle and seats with a table between them and the aisle. Unlike most business class cabins where your feet would be in a box by somebody’s head, half the seats face backward.

A380 Seat
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

The seat itself was more than comfortable. After many long-haul flights in an economy seat, I will never criticize a lie-flat seat! At first, I found that the table seemed quite clunky, but I quickly realized that the solid construction was far preferable to anything with a fold in the middle.

A380 Seat Side
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

There were two ways to customize the seating position. Tactile buttons on the side table would move the seat to pre-defined positions. Meanwhile, you had far more granular control with the small touchscreen available. Among the options available was the hardness of the seat, changed by inflating or deflating pockets within the seat. For those who may not have done so before, flying backward may seem like an unusual experience. Apart from the takeoff and landing, I barely noticed that I was flying in the wrong direction.

Lie Flat Bed
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

Both sides of the two aisles had overhead storage, while those with window seats also had storage at the side of the fuselage. This meant that there was no shortage of storage space for bags, though it would’ve been nice to have a little more storage at the seat itself for takeoff and landing. This felt a little limited, in my opinion.

Overhead Bin
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

Efficient catering

The business class cabin on the Etihad Airbus A380 is ridiculously large and was full on our flight. There is a suitably large galley separating the cabin from first class. Prior to departure, a huge number of Do&Co catering staff were running about, making sure that everything had been placed in the right spot.

Before departure, a flight attendant named Joanna introduced herself to us, saying that she would be taking care of us for this hop to the Middle East. She also took our lunch orders. I didn’t feel like anything from the A La Carte lunch menu, so I opted for the “Open chicken & tarragon pie with mashed potato” from the all-day menu.

A380 Menu
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

Around 50 minutes into the flight, my iced latte was served by Joanna right as we were flying over Frankfurt Airport. I was surprised to see how many different coffees were on offer in Etihad business class, and the Etihad iced late got my seal of approval! Around this point in the flight, I realized that why I had thought was a pillow was actually a mattress topper, which I unfolded and placed on my seat.

Cold Latte
Photo: Tom Boon - Simple Flying

My pie was brought to my seat at around 12:55, or two hours into the flight. I must admit that I failed to eat the pie correctly. Due to the open-top nature, I had assumed that the filling was in a ceramic dish, so I ended up eating the pastry separately afterward.

Open Pie
Photo: Tom Boon - Simple Flying

Despite my failure at eating the pie, it was delicious. You could definitely taste the tarragon! My only comments would be that it could be slightly larger and the filling could be slightly less viscous. Surprisingly, the mash was great!

Visiting the lounge

After a couple of hours cruising, Rhys and I decided to visit the onboard lounge, available to business and first passengers. There was no manned bar, as is the case on Emirates, though the crew was happy to bring drinks to the area in much the same way as they would at your seat. There did appear to be some self-service drinks options, though with the super attentive service from the crew, we had no need to touch these.

The Bar
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

The lounge seemed under-utilized during our flight, and while we were there, we only saw one other passenger there. To the side of the area, there was a screen showing a live feed of BBC News. The main news on a loop during our flight was footage of the tragic firefighting aircraft crash in Greece. I understand that it can be changed to any offering from the IFE system.

Lounge Drink
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

Each of the seats has a seatbelt, meaning that you can occupy the space during turbulence. There was a round table in the middle of the space, along with little tables for drinks between seats. Personally, I felt that the seating options in the lounge weren’t particularly comfortable, and I was relieved to jump back into my seat after our drink. Unfortunately, the lounge also lacked natural light, so it felt quite dark even though it was daylight outside.

Lounge Ambiance
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

Another snack before arrival

Throughout the flight, I had heard glowing reviews of the steak sandwich on the all-day menu, with some describing it as an “Etihad Staple". People weren't lying when they said I had to try the dish, as it was so good I would've eaten two. This was served at my seat with a small dish of ready-salted crisps, a glass of water, and my chosen drink.

Steak Sandwich
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

I was blown away by how much assorted catering equipment must have been onboard the aircraft. Joanna made sure that I was never without something to drink, and each drink was presented in a new glass with a new stirrer. A note to readers, while the crew will bring you water in a glass, you can also ask for a bottle or two (0.5L) if you're particularly keen to hydrate.

Hot Latte
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

Connected at 36,000 feet

Etihad offers WiFi onboard its Airbus A380, though I worry that the volume of passengers might be more than the system can handle. There are two pricing options on the London-Abu Dhabi flight.

  1. Passengers can opt only to get text base chat functionality (think WhatsApp, iMessage, etc...). This costs $2.99 on flights under seven hours or $4.99 on flights over seven hours, though it is free if you are a member of Etihad Guest.
  2. If you want full internet access throughout the flight, this will set you back $9.99 when the flight duration is under seven hours and $19.99 on flights over seven hours.

The flight from London to Abu Dhabi International Airport was technically scheduled to take seven hours and five minutes, though the prices for a shorter flight were applied on this flight. During the first half of the flight, I found that the internet was performing great (I was even able to send videos to our social media manager from cruise altitude). However, from around the mid-way point, I found that the paid package became totally unusable and resorted to making use of the IFE while using the chat package on my phone. More on that below.


Compared to some IFE systems I have seen recently, you would've struggled to be bored with Etihad's "E-BOX" system. On the Airbus A380, you have access to a nose cam, a tail cam, and a belly cam. I missed this on my return Boeing 787 flight. There is also an interactive map application, which seemed to be the same one that Emirates offers.

IFE Welcome
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

I noticed that there was an application to allow you to order drinks to your seat, though I was unable to give this a go as it was disabled for the entire flight. Of course, you also have access to a huge library of television, films, and audio. I watched a James Cameron documentary on whether the film Titanic was realistic and another documentary on the UAE, as seen above. Etihad provided passengers in business class with comfy over-ear noise-canceling headphones.

The Map
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

Arriving in Abu Dhabi

As we were approaching Abu Dhabi, the seatbelts went on, and the aircraft began its final descent. As always, when this happens, there was a rush to use the aircraft's restrooms. The WiFi was turned off just as we were approaching the coastline, and before I knew it, we had touched down on the northern runway.

Trendy Bathroom
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

We taxied past the new terminal, where the latest Tom Cruise movie was partially filmed, and headed to a gate with jet bridges at the main Etihad terminal. After arrival, I was keen to catch up with Captain Matta to ask how it was to land the A380 with passengers in Abu Dhabi for the first time since 2020. We then asked him and First Officer Othman to sign commemorative headrests from the flight.

Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

In the end, we were the last off of the giant Airbus A380, and I was fearing the worst as we walked to passport control (I'd spent three hours queuing at LAX when three A380s landed in close succession). However, instead of the mountains of people I was expecting, there was no queue at all. We breezed right through the checks and, before we knew it, were waiting for a taxi in the humid 40° heat, but not before a quick peek into the arrivals lounge.

The flight details

We flew from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi onboard EY12 on July 25th. The flight was due to depart at 09:30, arriving in Abu Dhabi at 19:35. Despite the hour delay at departure, we arrived in Abu Dhabi at 19:55, just 20 minutes behind schedule.

The (re)inaugural service was operated by A6-APG. With MSN 198, this aircraft first flew on November 10th, 2015, meaning that it is 7.7 years old. It had been in storage since March 2020, positioning from Abu Dhabi to Teruel in April 2021. The aircraft flew from Teruel to Tarbes on January 30th, 2023, and then positioned across to Abu Dhabi on March 9th.

Were you following the Etihad Airbus A380's return to passenger service? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!


  • Etihad Boeing 787-9
    Etihad had been a significant investor in Alitalia in the years leading up to the first round of loans from the Italian government. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying
    Etihad Airways
    IATA/ICAO Code:
    Airline Type:
    Full Service Carrier
    Abu Dhabi International Airport
    Year Founded:
    Tony Douglas
    United Arab Emirates