Etihad Airways will be the first Gulf-based carrier to offer fully flat beds in business class.  But UK passengers will have to wait until the Spring before sampling them.

The new seating will make its debut on Etihad’s new fleet of Boeing 777-300ER planes, the first of which arrive this week. It’s good news for passengers because Etihad’s reguional rivals offer either normal or lie-flat style products.

The B777s will accommodate 378 passengers in two classes: Coral or economy class with 350 seats and Pearl or business class with 28. Passengers in Pearl class will sit only four across (1-2-1) in beds which are 73 inches long and which recline 180 degrees.Coral class seating is more conventional with a nine across (3-3-3) layout and regular legroom.

As well as a new Inflight Entertainment system with 30 movies, 16 hours of TV programming, 24 hours audio programming, 25 audio CD’s, and 26 Interactive Games, the new planes also have high-speed wireless internet access using the advanced ‘Connexions by Boeing’ system.

So when will travelers from the UK get a chance to experience the new planes on the London to Abu-Dhabi route? According to Etihad, it all comes down to how quickly the planes are delivered. As well as purchasing the five Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, Etihad has ordered 24 Airbus aircraft – four A340-500s, four A340-600s, 12 A330-200s and four double-decker A380s. There’s a rumour that this first Boeing has already been earmarked for the Abu-Dhabi to Frankfurt route rather than London, so we will see one of the Boeing’s on the Gatwick-Abu Dhabi route some time this Spring (exactly when depends on the delivery schedule of the planes from Boeing). The two class product is being augmented by a three-class one, including a first class – Diamond – at the front end of the Airbus A340s.

Kirk Albrow, Regional Manager Europe and the Americas, told Business Traveller that he believed that while Gatwick would support a two class product (and the Manchester route, when it starts this Spring), Heathrow was capable of having a three-class product, though again, the exact date of arrival remains to be decided. Other news this week included possible new routes for Etihad: Manila, Jakarta and Shanghai.