Etihad unveiled its all-new cabin products for its A380 and B787 aircraft last year (see news, May 2014). These include the Residence and First Apartments on the A380, First Suites on the B787, and Business Studios and Economy Smart seats on both aircraft.
I saw the three-room Residence when it was showcased at the GBTA Convention in LA last summer, complete with bedroom, impressive shower room, lounge, chef and personal butler.
This review is of the Business Studios cabin on the A380. The airline's first A380 started on the London Heathrow-Abu Dhabi route at the end of December. It serves one of the Gulf carrier's three daily flights on the route, with a second planned for May and a third in the second half of this year.
Etihad's business class service includes complimentary chauffeured pick-up within a 100-mile radius of Heathrow. I was collected at 0530 in a BMW 5-series estate from Brighton, with the aim of a 0700 check-in for the 0915 departure on Flight EY12.
However, the journey was quick and traffic-free, so I arrived at Heathrow T4 at 0630.
I walked to Zone C and was immediately checked-in at the dedicated business class check-in desk (you can also check-in online 24 hours before departure).
I went through the fast-track security channel, where there was no queue, and was airside and at the Etihad first and business class lounge, opposite Gate 10, within ten minutes.
The Etihad first and business class lounge opened in 2009, and a renovation was completed in December last year. This refurb included extra seating to provide for the increase in premium passengers brought by the arrival of the A380, up to 80 on a single flight.
The lounge was serving breakfast, both in the buffet area and in the á la carte full-service restaurant area. I ordered eggs benedict with smoked salmon (also served with turkey bacon rashers or spinach) from the á la carte menu.
The menu also included pancakes with berries, scrambled eggs and banana porridge. The buffet added chicken sausages, sauté mushrooms, hash browns, fruit, cereals and pastries and muffins.
The lounge has a Six Senses spa with complimentary treatments — I booked a 15-minute neck and shoulders treatment — and three showers, free wifi, an enclosed children's playroom, and a private inner sanctum for The Residence passengers.
The Etihad lounge is opposite Gate 10, where most of its flights depart from.
A lounge stewardess invited us to go to the gate at 0840.
The first and business class boarding channel leads to a separate air-bridge to the all-premium upper deck. There was no queue so I was onboard within five minutes.
I received a warm welcome from crew and cabin manager, my jacket was taken to be hung up and I was offered water, orange juice, carrot juice or champagne (I chose carrot juice as it was only 0900), as well as a small selection of newspapers, including the Independent.
The Business Studios are in a dove-tailed 1-2-1 configuration, all with direct/undisturbed aisle access. Each is 22-inches wide and between 75.7 and 80.5-inches long when in fully-flat position. To see a seat plan, click here.
My seat was 11D, near the front of the cabin facing aft (backwards).
The first thing that strikes you is the use of space, and sense of generous width — my neighbour in the central bank of seats was about five feet away.
Between us (to my left), each had a padded armrest more than 15-inches wide and large table surface. This table, together with the also generous fold-down table in front, gives plenty of space and options for eating and working at the same time.
The armrest opens to provide storage bins — not big enough for a laptop or A4 documents, but there is also a large shelf under the ottoman footrest in front, and further open space to the side. Plus the overhead bins have plenty of room in a cabin with relatively few seats.
The seat could be described as a semi-private cubicle, with a sliding panel offering some privacy from the aisle. But there is no screen between these middle seats (see below for more details), although as I said the neighbour is a good distance away.
The 18-inch screen is generous and sharp. Both the main TV and the remote control panel have touchscreen controls, and noise-cancelling headphones with magnetic connectors are provided.
The seat has two USB ports plus a mains socket for UK, US and EU plugs.
It is upholstered in beige-speckled fabric with tan leather headrest and armrests. There is a panel for seat positions, plus another touchscreen panel for further seat functions including massage, cushion firmness and moodlighting settings.
Seat position presets include a fully-flat bed, and a silk-feel pillow and a soft chenille fleece-lined blanket are provided. I briefly tried out the bed, and it was comfortable with plenty of room to stretch out (I'm 5ft 10in), although the curved footwell narrows towards the end.
On "ultra long-haul" routes, such as to Australia and the US, slippers, sleepsuits and comforters are added in business class, with a turndown service. On other routes these are only in first class.
The amenity kit includes Korres hand cream and lip balm, socks, eyemask and toothbrusk and paste. The windows have double electric shades.
Overall, I found it pleasant and comfortable to work, eat, drink and watch television, on occasion all at the same time.
The AVOD system offers around 100 films, including Arabic, European, Indian and Asian productions, although I found the choice of recent blockbuster releases was less than on other services. There are also more than 200 TV shows, and music and games.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
Though configuration is 1-2-1, dovetailing means the seats are labelled ACDEFGHK, so each row contains 8 seats.
Travellers used to Club World will be familiar with this idea – but with the difference of all-aisle access, in what is effectively a 1-2-1 configuration. In this case, AEFK face forwards, CDGH face aft (backwards).
Seats A and K are the forward-facing window seats, furthest from the aisle and with a slightly more private feel, so would be the first choice for many passengers.
Central forward-facing E and F are good for couples or family travelling together as the seats are close, but there is a dividing screen if you're travelling alone.
Aft-facing centre seats D and G do not have a dividing screen, but the seats are around five feet apart, so you don't feel too close to your fellow traveller.
Seats C and H have a window, but, like D and G, are nearer the aisle and face aft. It's quite a strange experience taking off backwards while watching the forward-facing tailfin camera on your TV screen.
Row 8's A and K window seats are nearest the communal lobby lounge, that sits between first and business class, so are likely to be near a bit of bustle and noise if passengers are using the lounge.
Further back, rows 18 and 19 are nearest the central block of toilets, while row 26 is nearest the rear galley.
However, the whole upper deck has 70 business studios, nine first apartments and the Residence, compared to 417 economy seats on the lower deck, so it doesn’t seem to get hectic, even on an almost full flight such as ours.
We pushed back at 0920, and took off at 0942.
Before take-off, the cabin manager introduced himself, and a stewardess explained that meal times were at our choice, but I could pre-order from the menu now and then choose times later.
She also took orders for a drink and breakfast snack to be served after take-off. A toasted beef bagel from the "all-day" menu and a glass of Jaquart Brut NV champagne seemed a good idea.
The champagne was served at 1025 – I realise now that doesn't look good in writing! The bagel arrived some time later, at 1110.
The service was excellent, very friendly and helpful, but with 70 seats in business class, it's not as instantaneous as some flyers may be used to in smaller cabins.
The all-day menu also includes:
- Breakfast cereals
- Vanilla smoothie
- Scrambled eggs with potato rosti, asparagus and tomato
- Cheeses, fruit and ice cream.
Logging on to the hotpoint wifi was a bit of a procedure, but the crew was on hand to help. I found it worked well for a while, although it appeared to stop operating during the second half of the flight.
Wifi is currently free onboard the A380 for first and business class (although this promotion is not planned to be permanent) and available to buy in economy — an all-flight tariff is US$21.
For the main á la carte lunch, I ordered yellow pepper and lemongrass soup, which was very tasty with fresh herbs and sour cream, served with warm rolls and rosemary-infused dipping oil as well as butter. This was followed by pan-seared lamb loin — nicely cooked and tender — with vegetables, baked potato and a flavoursome jus.
Around 1300, I asked for the lunch I'd chosen earlier to be served. It took around 30 minutes, as I'd been advised. The table was set with a white linen table cloth, chrome cruets, cutlery and glassware.
The á la carte menu also includes:
- Hot & cold Arabic mezze, and marinated buffalo mozzarella with rocket and balsamic reduction
- Grilled seabass with mashed potatoes, broccoli, beetroot and garlic herb butter
- Arabic chicken biryani with aromatic rice
- Artichoke ravioli with tomato sauce and black olives.
- Orange bread and butter pudding
- Coconut panna cotta with passionfruit coulis
- Fruit and ice cream.
- Louis Jadot chardonnay, Bourgogne 2013 (white)
- Brancott Estate sauvignon blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand 2013 (white)
- Weingut Kessler-Zink Rivaner, Rheinhessen, Germany 2013 (white)
- Saint Emilion Grand Cru La Fleur Laroze merlot blend, Bordeaux 2007 (red)
- Franklin Tate Estates shiraz blend, Margaret River, Australia, 2012 (red)
- Montenero primitive, Puglia, Italy 2013 (red)
- Domaine de Grange Neuve Semillon blend, Monbazillac AOP 2012 (desert wine)
There are also beers, liqueurs, aperitifs and a range of spirits including Glenlivet 12-year-old single malt, Hennessy VS Cognac.
There is a lobby lounge between first and business class, with circular sofas around a coffee table. It seats around six, and staff serve drinks here. It didn't get busy.
The moodlighting is quite dark, but it's a good spot to sit and chat with colleagues. It has a TV, and the armrest folds down to reveal connectivity, power and headphone sockets.
The toilets also have a premium feel, with mosaic tiling and nice amenities including face mist and hand cream. They were kept clean during the flight.
We landed at 2020, just after the scheduled 2015 arrival time, and started disembarking about 20 minutes later, again through a separate upper-deck airbridge.
We were given fast-track invitations. A brand new landing card requirement has been introduced which nobody was aware of, which slowed down the procedure, so it took a half-hour to get through immigration even in fast-track.
Our priority tagged luggage was already through. There is a recently-opened arrivals lounge for first and business, which we didn't have time to visit, but offers facilities including showers.
An impressive product and service, with clever layout to create a feeling of space. Etihad says it offers 20 per cent more personal space than the earlier version of business class. All-aisle access puts it in the top league.
Service is not as speedy as on some flights, but perfectly friendly and attentive. The all-premium upper deck feels tranquil and relaxed, even when nearly full. The quietness of the A380 helps this.
The good food, drinks and ease of working make it a pleasant, user-friendly experience.
With the turndown service and comfortable beds, this product will work well on the longer routes, for example down to Australia, when Etihad adds more A380s and Dreamliners to the network.