CHECK-IN I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 4 at 1840 for my 2040 flight EY18 to Abu Dhabi, and proceeded to Zone C. Etihad has four economy lanes, one business, one first and one online check-in lane, all of which were quiet. There was one person ahead of me at business so I was directed to the first class desk. I was struck immediately by the friendly service – I was greeted and walked to the desk and then my bag was picked up for me and placed on the conveyor belt. There was no queue at fast-track security and I was through quickly, although my liquids had to be checked twice. I was airside by 1850.
THE LOUNGE Etihad’s lounge is a five-minute walk to the right after security, down a spiral staircase. It is calm and spacious with a chocolate brown and cream colour scheme. There is a range of seating, including an area with comfy leather sofas and armchairs, and a dining section with a full-service bar. There is a buffet section with hot and cold dishes, fruit, cheeses and pastries, as well as an à la carte menu. Other facilities include free wifi, a kids’ area, a computer area with about five Macs and a printer, a prayer room and a Six Senses spa offering free 15-minute treatments. By the time I went to book a session the three treatment rooms were full, but I was squeezed in for a five-minute taster back massage just before boarding, which was a nice treat. Staff were very friendly and came around to tell people to board at 2010, as flights are not announced.
BOARDING There was no queue to board at Gate 10, opposite the lounge. Once on board I was greeted and shown to my seat – my coat was not taken but I soon realised that was because there is a hook for your jacket built into the seat. I was offered freshly squeezed orange juice, champagne or water before take-off. It was good to see business class almost full.
THE SEAT The A330-300 has Etihad’s new business class seat, upgrading what was already an impressive product. There are ten rows of business (rows five to 14) with a staggered 1-2-1 layout that gives all passengers direct aisle access. Seats in odd-number rows are labelled C (aisle) then E-F and H (aisle), while even-number rows are A (window), D, G and then K (window). For a seat plan, click here.
Seats are fixed-shell style, upholstered in stripy fabric with tan leather armrests and headrests. I was in 11E. A footstool in front joins with the seat to make a fully-flat bed when reclined (a note instructs: “Before moving into bed position, put feet on footrest to avoid entrapment”). A good-sized touchscreen in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen was above this, built into the back of the seat in front (the screen has been moved forward from the previous incarnation to give more room in front). The seat surround to my left housed a drinks table, a bottle of mineral water, a small storage compartment, a magazine holder, the IFE control and seat controls – there were three preset positions as well as massage functions and buttons to adjust back, leg and lumbar support. The main table folded down from the back of the seat in front and there was in-seat power and USB charging. Good-quality headphones, a cosy blanket and pillow were provided.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Unless you are travelling in a couple, avoid seats E and F as they are situated right next to each other (with D and G you are separated by the seat surround). A screen pulls up halfway between them (it needs a bit of a yank) but you still won’t have as much privacy as with the other seats. Avoid row five as you might be disturbed by the galley and toilets ahead, and row 14 as it is directly ahead of the first row of economy, where the cots for babies are situated. Window seats A and K are probably the best as you are more tucked away. All seats have the same amount of legroom. Sit further up the aircraft if you are hungry as you will get served quicker.
THE FLIGHT We pushed back at 2040 and took off at 2100. A drink order had been taken before we departed and this was given out half an hour into the flight. My food order was taken at 2150 – staff had missed me out when distributing menus and amenity kits earlier, so I had to choose quickly. The meal service began with an amuse bouche of chicken and lamb kebabs, followed by a selection of warm breads with hummus, olive spread and sour cream. To start there was smoked salmon sashimi style, smoked chicken salad or artichoke soup – I had the first option and it was plentiful and tasty.
The mains were poached chicken breast with leek, potato and beetroot sauce, grilled Arabic spiced fish with lentils, lemongrass, brandade kebabs and rice, roasted baby lamb with mashed potato and peppered strawberry balsamic jus, and wild mushroom risotto with sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus. I found the service friendly and helpful, but slow, and the wait between courses was too long for a night flight of this rather short duration. I had watched an entire film before my risotto was served (the audio-video on-demand IFE had a good selection of recent releases but crashed when I accessed the flight map, so I had to get cabin crew to reset it).
When I eventually received my main (my neighbour had chosen the same and had practically finished hers), I had to send it back as it was cold. It was very tasty once heated. By the time it was cleared away it was 2330 (0330 Abu Dhabi time), two and a half hours into the flight – I was keen to sleep at this point as I had a full day’s work ahead of me on arrival, so I declined dessert (I didn’t see many other people taking it up either).
I reclined to fully-flat, which was comfortable, if a little restricting as the armrests don’t drop down, and went to sleep, waking shortly before landing (staff had asked me if I wanted to be woken for breakfast but I said no). There is an anytime menu if you are peckish between meals, with dishes such as a steak sandwich and shrimp-stuffed vine leaves.
We landed ahead of schedule at 0720 local time and were off the plane quickly. Immigration was a few minutes’ walk away and queues were short – I had been given a fast-track pass onboard but it was no quicker than the other lines. My priority-tagged bag was one of the first on the carousel.
VERDICT An excellent seat product and lounge, but the meal service was too slow for a night flight.
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Abu Dhabi in April started from £1,579.