BACKGROUND Business Traveller was on board Etihad Airways’ inaugural flight from its Abu Dhabi hub to Male, the capital of the Maldives, on November 1. The daily service EY278 departs at 0920, arriving in Male at 1435, while return flight EY279 leaves at 2040 and lands in Abu Dhabi at 0005.
CHECK-IN I was transferring from flight Etihad’s EY18 service out of London, which departed at 2025 and landed in Abu Dhabi at 0730. I hadn’t slept much as was in economy so felt pretty dazed when I disembarked. As I had already been issued with my onward boarding pass, all I had to do was find the appropriate business class lounge to freshen up in before the final segment of my journey. This was located about ten minutes’ walk away in Terminal 3 by gates 28-41, upstairs on level two.
However, first I had to join a long queue for security, which took about 15 minutes to get through, although it would probably have been quicker had they divided premium passengers from economy passengers earlier on (it wasn’t until we neared the area with the X-ray machines that I noticed there was a different lane). Once in the premium channel, I was whisked through speedily. Laptops and liquids can stay in your hand-luggage.
THE LOUNGE Etihad’s Diamond first and Pearl business class lounges are next door to one another. By the time I got there at 0800, I only had about 30 minutes until boarding so had a quick shower and a free 15-minute foot massage in the on-site spa. (Guests need to put their name on a list when they arrive to book a slot. Facials, scalp and back massages are also available.)
I then grabbed a quick coffee before boarding began at 0840 from Gate 29. There was a breakfast buffet but I didn’t feel like eating, along with free wifi and a business area with Mac computers. There was plenty of seating in various areas and the décor was sleek and stylish, with lots of polished wood and beige carpeting.
BOARDING Gate 29 was a short walk from the lounge, on the lower level. There was no queue for business passengers by the time I got there at 0850, and as my boarding pass and passport were promptly checked I was on the plane within a few minutes.
THE SEAT I had been assigned window seat 2A in the business class cabin, which had four rows of seats in a 2-2 (A-C, D-F) layout. This A320-200 is one of Etihad’s older planes, configured with short-haul cradle-style seating that does not have much of a recline (10in/24.5cm).
The turquoise fabric upholstery was quite worn and faded, and the lumbar supports and 10.6-inch IFE (in-flight entertainment) screens that came out of the armrests were clunky. Noise-cancelling headphones were provided but I preferred to use my own, which plugged in without a problem. In-seat power sockets are built-in, along with USB ports and Ethernet ports. The airline will be taking delivery of three new A320-200s in 2012.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Seats in row one are best as food and drink is served to passengers sitting here first, and also allows for speedy disembarkation.
THE FLIGHT Take-off was ten minutes late at 0930, with the journey anticipated to take just over four hours. I watched a film on the IFE system, which has audio-video on-demand (AVOD), as couldn’t sleep. Lunch was served at 1100. There was a choice of traditional Arabic mezze or marinated prawns with a citrus salad to start (I chose the first, which was pleasant enough), followed by seafood kebab, chicken shish tawook or vegetable lasagna with olive and bread crumble and creamy pesto.
I went for the last, which was quite tasty except for the strange crunchy crumble stuff, which I scraped off. The mains were served with an organic five-leaf salad, and were proceeded by the option of cheese with fruit paste, banoffee pie, fresh fruit with passionfruit coulis or ice cream. I declined all of these as felt quite full. I did, however, enjoy a couple of glasses of Mumm fizz, which according to the menu, is the official champagne of the Formula One Grand Prix.
Other wines included two whites – a 2008 Puiten pinot grigio from France, and a 2008 Dog Point sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, two reds – a 2007 Charmes de Kirwan from France, and a 2009 George Wyndham Founders’s Reserve shiraz from Australia. There was also a dessert wine – Gramp’s Botrytis Semillon, 2008, from Australia. The service from the crew was satisfactory, but nothing special.
ARRIVAL The plane started its descent at 1300, and although the view out of the window was magnificent – the turquoise islands of the Maldives stretching out in beautiful rings across an ultramarine sea – there was quite a bit of turbulence and some low-lying cloud. Landing was 15 minutes early, at 1320 (1420 local time).
Upon arrival, there was a traditional water-gun salute from a waiting fire engine, as well as numerous press and photographers. Because of this, disembarkation was slow, as economy passengers got off the plane first, followed by business class and then finally media. I was handed a fresh celebratory coconut to drink from when I got to the bottom of the steps leading down from the plane – it was hard to juggle along with my suitcase and jacket but certainly provided a fun, tropical welcome.
Once in the terminal building, I completed one of the customs forms that were available, and then went through immigration, which was quick as all the other passengers had been processed. Baggage reclaim was just beyond. I then had to put my case through an X-ray machine before exiting the airport.
I noted a sign saying, “No alcohol, pornographic material, idols for worship or spear guns,” amongst other things. So visitors, you have been warned. A speedboat transported me to my beautiful island resort of Anantara. Visit anantara.com
VERDICT A punctual flight with decent seating for a short hop, but not nearly as good as Etihad’s long-haul business class product. The food and service were fine, and the lounge excellent. I really valued being able to have a quick shower and foot rub before boarding. Very luxurious.
CONFIGURATION 2-2 (A-C, D-F)
SEAT PITCH 49in/124.5cm
SEAT RECLINE 10in/24.5cm
SEAT WIDTH 21in/53cm
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from Abu Dhabi to Male started from Dhs 7,200 (£1,247) in January.