BACKGROUND Etihad Airways has three flights a day departing from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi – these are 0920 (EY12), 1350 (EY20) and EY18 at 2040 or 2100 on Thursdays. There is also a daily flight from Manchester at 0920 or 2020 depending on the day of the week.
CHECK-IN I arrived at 1130 for my 1350 departure to Abu Dhabi. Etihad offers a chauffeur-driven pick-up service using Mercedes-Benz E Class and Volvo S80 vehicles, but I was coming from central London so used public transport. The Etihad chauffeur service is available from a customer’s home, office or hotel to London Heathrow, and is free within a 100-mile radius of the airport. It is also offered in Sydney, Bangkok and the UAE. Flights from Heathrow depart from Terminal 3, and there is a dedicated business and first class check-in at Zone E. There was no queue, and I was assigned seat 7C and given directions to fast-track security upstairs and then onwards to the SAS London lounge airside, which Etihad uses along with several other airlines.
BOARDING The departure was from Gate 3, with an Emirates A380 visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows at a neighbouring gate. The flight wasn’t busy so boarding was speedy. An attendant took my jacket and offered drinks including Canard-Duchêne Grand Cuvée Blanc de Blancs champagne. We pushed back at 1350 and were airborne by 1410.
THE SEAT I was flying on a three-class A330-200 with 26 business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. The seat reclines to a 180-degree fully-flat bed with a length of more than six feet (186cm) and a pitch of 88 inches (223.5cm). Each one is self-contained and has its own mood lighting and built-in massage function as well as a personal 15-inch LCD screen, with a “plug and play” feature that allows passengers to upload their own games and create personalised music playlists. In-flight telephony and more than 450 hours of AVOD entertainment were available.
Business class seats (rows five to 11) are assigned in a slightly odd way, with row five (the first in the business cabin) being aisle seat 5C, then 5E and 5F which are together, so are good if you are travelling with someone, and then aisle seat 5H. The row behind starts with window seat 6A, then 6D and 6G (note that these are not together and you would struggle to converse with a colleague), then window seat 6K. (See seat plan, right.)
If you are travelling on your own and want peace and quiet, the window seats are best and have direct access to the aisle. If you are with a colleague or partner, choose seats E and F in rows five, seven, nine or 11, although be aware that middle seats don’t have overhead storage, so it is best to board early to secure space close to where you are sitting. (Visit seatplans.com for more information on Etihad’s product.)
THE FLIGHT I was given a large amenity bag with Garnier toiletries, a bottle of Voss water, an eye mask and socks. The meal service began shortly after with an amuse bouche of lukewarm lobster bisque, which was salty and not particularly tasty. Things improved with the pre-starter, which was a small, half loaf of three different types of bread with dips and French butter on the side. The choice of starters was smoked eggplant caviar and mushroom tart with tapenade, and spring onion pikelets with za’atar-spiced gravlax. The main courses included roast salmon, rack of lamb, poached chicken breast, thyme-scented gnocchi, and my choice of chicken with tomato and pine-seed rice, which was as good as you might hope to find in a restaurant. Cheese and desserts followed.
There was a good choice of drinks, with an extremely well-informed flight attendant who was enthusiastic about the selection of wine. In-flight snacks included ice cream, calorie-rich cookies and warm rosemary and garlic popcorn with lemon salt. Because this was a day flight, I didn’t sleep, instead using the in-seat power to work on my laptop, but plenty of passengers used the full recline and seemed to be very comfortable judging from the snoring.
ARRIVAL We arrived in Abu Dhabi on time and business class passengers were given priority disembarkation plus a (half-full) bus to take them to the airport terminal. Immigration was painless and quick, as was the baggage pick-up.
VERDICT A very good service and the flat-bed product has lasted well. Clever design also means all business class passengers have aisle access, so disturbance is kept to a minimum.
CONFIGURATION 1-2-1 in business (C, E-F, H)
SEAT PITCH 223.5cm/88in
SEAT WIDTH 50cm/20in
PRICE Return business class fares for a midweek flight in March started from £1,161 on Etihad’s website.