CHECK-IN From both Abu Dhabi and Heathrow, Etihad offers free chauffeur-driven connections to and from the airport, and my car delivered me to Abu Dhabi airport’s Terminal 1 at 0030 for my 0235 departure on flight EY11. The premium check-in at Abu Dhabi was as chaotic as ever, with four desks handling business and first class passengers, and a further four desks looking after British Airways, Lufthansa and Star Alliance premium flights. After waiting ten minutes to check in and drop off luggage, I then queued for several more minutes for the fast-track security, before finally getting airside.
THE LOUNGE The Etihad lounges are found almost immediately to your left once through immigration, walking alongside the economy security gates and then up to the first floor. Both the first and the business class lounges have been much improved since my last visit. At this time (just after midnight) both were extremely busy – business class had very few free seats, and in first, passengers were spreading out over a minimum of two, and sometimes four seats. Both lounges have spas, but I was told that the first free appointment wasn’t until 0200. I filled in a card to join the waiting list and was extremely impressed an hour later when the receptionist walked over to tell me a slot had opened up, allowing me to enjoy a 15-minute head and shoulder massage.
While I waited, the lounge gradually emptied. It has free wifi (the code is available from reception), and food and drink either obtained at a bar or served by waiting staff. The lounge has a TV “den” area, a high-tech computer and electronic games room, while a luxurious feel is created by leather furnishings from Italian designers Poltrona Frau.
BOARDING The flight was called at 0210, but again, boarding was a mess, with all passengers queuing along a corridor for security, then being pushed into a large scrum between the seats at the gate. In theory, there is priority boarding, but unless you are going to push everyone else out of the way, you just have to wait until you get to the front of the line.
THE SEAT I was in seat 1A in first class, which is configured 1-2-1 across three rows on the A340-600 aircraft, making a total of 12 seats. Click here to see the seatplan for this aircraft.
Etihad terms its first class as Diamond, its business class as Pearl and its economy class as Coral, although there are rumours that these names will change. There are no overhead lockers in first class, although there is space for a laptop bag under the table beside your seat, and there are plenty of lockers at the front of the aircraft. The seat is a good size (reclining into an 81.5-inch/207cm bed), with a table already laid out in front of the large 23-inch personal TV screen. The seat reclines into a “privacy shell”, and generally the sense of concealment is good, although not quite up there with Emirates’ first class product or Jet Airways’ first class suites with sliding doors. Before take-off, we were given the largest amenity pack I have seen in any first class, almost like a dispatch rider’s bag, with Garnier toiletries, bottled water, an eye mask, ear plugs, and a cream-coloured sleep suit. Drinks were offered immediately, including Billecart-Salmon, Brut Blanc-de-Blancs 2002, Grand Cru champagne. The captain informed us that there would be a slight delay since some transferring passengers had missed the flight, even though their bags had made it.
THE FLIGHT Around 40 minutes after take off, and with the seatbelt sign still illuminated, I stood up to get changed into the sleep suit as I was feeling very tired and needed to get to bed. I asked a member of cabin staff if they would make up my bed, which they did with the minimum of fuss. Because by now it was 0330, I did not have the meal, but the choices were available at any time and included Gulf fish and chips with minted mushy peas and lemon cheek, and hot beef rib-eye steak sandwich with roasted cherry tomato crush. For wines, the choices included Louis Jadot, Chassagne Montrachet 2004 and a Château Batailley Grand Cru 5ieme 1998, Classé Pauillac, although it’s worth noting that several of them are also served in business class.
I found it very easy to sleep, although in 1K there is a light directly in front of the seat on the bulkhead wall which shines down, so you need to use the eye mask. I had asked the attendants not to disturb me during the flight, or wake me for breakfast, and they were good at sticking to this. I woke 50 minutes before landing, asked for a continental breakfast, and it appeared quickly, with them also tidying away the bed while I was getting changed. I was impressed by this level of service, as I was when they willingly replaced my Coco Pops with muesli. All the seats seemed to be good choices in first class, although if you are travelling with a colleague, the centre pairs are probably best.
ARRIVAL We arrived only five minutes late (because of stacking waiting for a slot at Heathrow), and taxied to the stand. Immigration was not busy (I used IRIS) and the bags were out quickly. I was going on to work in central London, and so used public transport to get to the office instead of the free chauffeur drive.
VERDICT The seat is as excellent as ever. What has improved from previous experiences is the confidence of the staff, and their professionalism. Firmly recommended. And with the new terminal opening on December 15, hopefully the Abu Dhabi airport experience will be conducive to transferring passengers.
Previous Etihad first class reviews: