FIRST IMPRESSIONS I arrived at 1130 for my 1350 departure on Etihad EY20 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.
CHECK-IN Etihad has three flights a day departing from London Heathrow. In the winter schedule 2008/9 these are 0920 (EY12), 1350 (EY20) and EY18 at 2040 or 2100 on Thursdays. There is also a daily flight from Manchester at 0920/2020 depending on the day of the week. From Abu Dhabi, the airline connects onward to over 48 destinations. The Heathrow flights all 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.
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, and so boarding was speedy. The flight attendant took my jacket and offered drinks, including the champagne (Canard-Duchêne Grand Cuvée, Blanc de Blancs). We pushed back at 1350 and were airborne by 1410.
THE SEAT I was flying on a three-class A330-200, with the business class cabin having 26 passengers in a 1-2-1 configuration. (Official information from Etihad quotes this as 28, but I spent 15 minutes counting the seats, and then with the help of a flight attendant another five minutes double-checking and also consulting the flight manifest, and there are definitely 26.)
The seat reclines to a 180-degree flat bed with a length of more than six feet and a pitch of 88 inches (223.5cm). Each seat is self-contained and has its own mood lighting and built-in massager as well as a personal 15-inch LCD screen, with “Plug-and-Play” feature, which allows passengers to upload their own games and create personalised music playlists. In-flight telephony was available and more than 450 hours of AVOD entertainment, as well as in-seat power allowing me to work on my laptop.
The 26 seats in business class (rows five to ten) 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 (good for couples), and then aisle seat 5H. The row behind starts with window seat 6A, then 6D and 6G (but note, these seats are not together and you would struggle to converse with a colleague), then window seat 6 K. If you are travelling on your own and want peace and quiet, the window seats are best, with their direct access to the aisle. If with a colleague or partner, choose seats E and F in rows five, seven, nine, or 11. The v-shaped staggered configuration means in the left and right-hand columns of seats, the last row is ten, while the middle column of seats extends into row 11. A wall and a curtain separates off the economy class cabin.
For those with significant hand luggage, it’s worth noting
that the seats in the middle don’t have overhead storage, so it is best to
board early to secure storage close to where you are sitting. However, the
cabin crew informed me that there is ample storage at the rear and front of the
cabin in row five next to the windows where there is almost room for a seat,
but not quite because of the staggered formation. To view a detailed seatplan click here.
THE FLIGHT I was given a large amenity bag, which was robust enough to be used after the flight, and had a shoulder strap for if you wanted to stow valuables in it. Inside were some Garnier toiletries, a bottle of Voss water, an eye mask and socks. The seats are comfortable, with an ottoman seat for your feet, which adds length to the fully-flat bed when you recline it. It’s worth noting that Etihad was the first of the Middle Eastern carriers to have a fully-flat bed in business class, introducing it in 2006.
FOOD AND DRINK We started off with a lukewarm lobster bisque as an amuse bouche, which was salty and not particularly tasty. Things improved with the pre-starter, which was a small, half loaf with three different types of bread cleverly baked together in a kind of Battenburg arrangement, along with some dips and French butter. The choice of starters was next – smoked eggplant caviar and mushroom tart with tapenade, or spring onion pikelets with za’atar-spiced gravlax. The main courses included roast salmon, rack of lamb, poached chicken breast or thyme-scented gnocchi, and my choice of the chicken with tomato and pine seed rice, which was as good as you might hope to find in a restaurant. There was then a selection of cheese and desserts.
There was a good choice of drinks, with an extremely well-informed flight attendant who was very enthusiastic about the selection of wine. Snacks throughout the flight included ice cream, calorie-rich cookies (you have been warned) 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, 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 our own (half-full) bus to take us 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. It also has the advantage of all passengers having aisle access, so disturbance is kept to a minimum.