CHECK-IN I arrived at Abu Dhabi airport at 0635 for my 0815 flight EY19 to London Heathrow. Etihad has its own dedicated terminal at Abu Dhabi, Terminal 3 – make sure you get your driver to drop you off here rather than the main entrance, as it is a five- to ten-minute walk through the airport otherwise. There were several Etihad check-in desks when I got to Terminal 3, but don’t queue here if you are a business class passenger as these are for economy. The way to the business class section was badly signposted – I was directed down a side corridor and through an unmarked door – but this was probably because of the direction I had come in. There were six business desks – one had no queue and staff were friendly. Passport control was to the left of here and was quite slow, with security staff brusque – I was not asked to take out either my laptop or my liquids. I was airside by 0655.
THE LOUNGE Etihad’s lounge is immediately opposite security, up one level via a lift. It’s a lovely facility – it has separate sections for business and first class, along with meeting rooms, prayer rooms, a family room and a Six Senses spa offering free 15-minute treatments. The business section had a selection of seating areas, including a relaxed area with cream and mint leather chairs, a TV area, a dining section with tables and chairs, and bar stools by the food buffet. On offer were hot breakfast items, fresh fruit and yogurt, meats and cheeses, breads and pastries. There was also a bar, free wifi, plenty of TVs, newspapers and magazines, a smoking room, a business centre with ten Macs, and departure screens.
BOARDING Flights are not called in the lounge – I was told by staff to be at the gate half an hour before take-off. I set out at 0730, going back down in the lift and walking for five minutes through the shops and to the right to reach Gate 28. There were short queues for both economy and business/first. After showing my boarding card, I was directed to sit down again as the airbridge was busy. After five minutes I was invited to board and was in my seat at 0745. I was offered water or juice after ten minutes and given a hot towel and menu.
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 14G, which felt more spacious than my seat 11E on the way out (also on the A330) because I was sat by the aisle with the seat surround on the inside, so I could stretch out into the aisle if needed. I could also place items on the floor to my left, which I couldn’t do on the outbound flight as this would have obstructed the aisle.
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, along with an amenity kit (smaller than on the way out as this was a day flight).
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Unless you are travelling in a couple, avoid seats E and F as you will have less privacy (with D and G you are separated by the seat surround). 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 are situated (I could hear babies crying during the flight). 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 0815 and took off 15 minutes later. My food and drink order was taken at about 0900. My peppermint tea came half an hour later, along with an amuse bouche of fresh fruit on a skewer, but my food didn’t come until 1015 – I was glad I had grabbed something to eat in the lounge. I noted that people at the front of the cabin had finished their meal long before I had even received mine. I had ordered brioche toast and a ploughman’s bagel from the selection of items available, which included onion and tomato shakshouka, scrambled eggs, tomato, beans and chicken sausages, and poached salmon omelette. There were also croissants, pretzels, Danish pastries, muffins and smooties on offer. The brioche was unpleasant and there was no discernable pickle in the ploughman’s, though it was tasty enough. There is an anytime menu if you are peckish between meals, with dishes such as a steak sandwich and cream of roasted fennel soup.
After watching a film on the audio-video on-demand IFE system – there was a good selection of recent releases – I reclined my seat to fully-flat and slept soundly (even the crying babies couldn’t rouse me), waking 40 minutes before landing. We had to circle above Heathrow for 20 minutes and landed at 1220. We were off the plane swiftly, immigration at Terminal 4 was very quick (I didn’t need to avail of the fast-track card given to me onboard as there were no queues) and my priority-tagged bag was one of the first on the carousel.
VERDICT The seat was excellent, as was the IFE selection, but the meal service was slow.
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Abu Dhabi in April started from £1,579.