Background This was a return flight to the check written here. Having spoken with Etihad’s chief commercial officer Peter Baumgartner while in Abu Dhabi, the news is that this first A340-600 with the new Diamond First suites will be on the London route predominantly for the next few months. In September Etihad takes delivery of another refitted A340-600, and then a third in December, though interestingly this one will have the new business class and economy class on board (click here for details). Then from January 2010 the entire long haul fleet will gradually be retrofitted. There is an interactive tour of the new suite on Etihad’s website here.
First impressions Etihad has three flights daily from Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow, the first at 0235, then 0830 and 1330. I was on the 0830 departure EY19 and so was picked up by the pre-booked chauffeur at 0630 that morning from my hotel. The business and first class check-in at Abu Dhabi’s Terminal 3 is at the far end of the terminal. Staff greet the car and carry your luggage into the check-in. The main difference between the business and first class check-in is that business is standing, while first class you sit at a desk in a cream leather seats. Staff then check you in and take your luggage to the dedicated immigration and security. From there it is only a few steps to the business and first class lounges.
The lounge Etihad’s Diamond First Class lounge has several “zones” including a dining area, a Six Senses spa, individual movie viewing area (“Entertainment pods”), relaxation day beds, meeting room, a “den” for watching pot and relaxing, a library and lounge area. There is also a smoking room, with cigars in a humidor. Along with the neighbouring business class section the lounges are designed to take up to 200 passengers at any one time, and although I have read about the lounges becoming very busy at peak times, this Friday morning, during Ramadan, they were quiet. There is an interactive tour of the lounges on Etihad’s website which can be found here.
Since I had over an hour before my flight, I took advantage of one of the complimentary 15 minute treatments in the spa, choosing a “deep” as oppose to light or medium back massage. It was superb.
Boarding We boarded the flight at 0820 and once on board were offered drinks. There is a narrow wardrobe in the wall of the suite where you can hang your jacket, which I did. I was then offered a choice of newspapers.
The main difference between this flight and the one I had taken two days previously was that his was a daytime flight back from Abu Dhabi, giving the chance to see the new Diamond First Class suite in action during waking hours. By coincidence, the airline’s chief executive officer James Hogan was also booked on the flight into London. To see notes on the seat from the previous review, click here. On the previous flight I was in 2A, this flight 1K. Although the changing room was immediately in front, there was minimal disturbance, and because of the sliding doors, if you want privacy, it’s very easy to come by. For a night flight however I would probably choose either row 2 or row 3 of the cabin. The flight was full in all cabins. What was impressive about the first class cabin was that although every suite was occupied, you had complete privacy, since all other passengers are out of sight. Some of these were on connecting flights.
Photographs taken during outbound flight from London (click here to see review)
On the previous night flight I did not spend long using the E-box entertainment system. On this flight I noticed that the News section was not yet working (this will remain the case until at least the end of the year) but the choice of movies was impressive: 23 current releases and 12 classics, along with other categories such as Cinema Arabia, Cinema Asia, Eurocinema and Kids. There is also a choice of TV programmes and a good audio choice, which once I’d worked out the rather convoluted way of scrolling through the albums, allowed me to make up a playlist of music which I then listened to the rest of the flight while working. One point, if you move forward through the playlist, it often skips songs and plays a different one than that are showing as being played on the screen, and the headphones, though adequate, have too much base and distortion. Fortunately, this isn’t the case when watching the movies, even at loud volumes.
At my particular seat, the flight maps section of the IFE system became unavailable and the system had to be reset. I was warned it would take up to 20 minutes but in the event it took the crew only five minutes which just about summed up the service, though unfortunately, they didn’t work after that. I was told the problem had been reported with only one other seat on the aircraft suffering the same defect. Since that seat belonged to the CEO James Hogan, I’m sure it is going to be fixed. The in-seat power takes a UK three-pronged plug without needing an adaptor, and so I could work for most of the flight, and did.
The advantage of being able to store a bag under the ottoman seat in front is that if you are working you have access to everything you need without it getting in the way when you want to recline the seat. My other roll-on bag was stored in a cupboard (and returned to me just after landing).
Food and drink This was a daytime flight departing just after 0830 the meal service started with breakfast, which was a la carte and was offered at any time during the flight along with the Kitchen anytime menu. Breakfast included a choice of toast, pastries, (croissant, pain au chocolat, fruit cake and muffin), cold cuts, an assortment of cereal and Bircher muesli. Main courses were scrambled eggs, Manakeesh, Mushroom omelette, toasted saffron waffles and Foul medames, all of these served with a choice of sauteed mushrooms, buttered spinach, pan seared potato and hash brown. Also on the menu: fresh cream yoghurt and fresh seasonal fruit.
The wine list was the same as a few days earlier:
Champagnes: Billecart-Salmon Brut Blanc de Blancs and Baudry Brut Rose.
White wines: Louis Jadot Chassagne Montrachet 2004, Castello di Pomino Bianco 2007 DOC Pomino, and Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from New Zealand.
Red wines: Chateau Batailley 1998, Chateau Laroze St Emilion Grand Cru Classe 2004, Luce della Vite Lucente 2006, Gloria Ferrer “Etesian” Pinot Noir 2006, Sonoma, California and Langmeil Earthworks Shiraz 2007 from the Barossa Valley, Australia.
Dessert wine: Forrest Estate Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer 2007 from New Zealand.
There was also a good choice of Cognacs, digestifs, liquers and spirits including Laphroiag single malt, Armagnac 1976.
Since it was a morning flight, I took more notice of the non-alcoholic selection this time. The choice of teas and infusions was wide: Lapsang souchong, Royal breakfast, Darjeeling, Earl grey, Japanese green tea, Moroccan nights, Oolong, Decaffeinated tea, Masala chai-non vintage, chamomile, Verbana mint, rosehip and hibiscus and Rooibos heal. Coffees were espresso, macchiato, latte, cappuccino, American filter and decaffeinated filter.
The service was excellent, with the staff attentive, but also able to recognise when I wanted to be left alone to work without being asked about further needs every few minutes. About two hours before landing I asked for fish and chips from the Kitchen Anytime menu, and within 10 minutes it was served. The other choices included a Steak sandwich with roasted cherry tomato and onion jam, warm chicken club sandwich with potato crisps, smoked salmon bagel with ricotta cheese, rocket leaves and red onion salad, high tea with a scone, sandwich and petit fours, warm baked chocolate sauce. A selection of cheese with organic fruit paste, seasonal fresh fruit with apple jelly, Providore natural ice cream (selection of flavours), potato crisps, Doritos crisps (selection of flavours), Rosemary marinated mushroom tapas, prawn crackers, baked cookies, Swedish crisp breads and Arabic baklava.
Arrival We had been given fast track cards for immigration, which, although valuable for non-EU nationals, can’t be used by UK passport holders, who are refused admittance to that particular queue at Heathrow, although of course EU nationals can’t use these. Instead we landed after a 10-minute circle ahead of Heathrow, were quickly on the stand, and since I had hand luggage only and am registered for the IRIS scanners at London Heathrow, I was quickly through and present at the Etihad chauffeur point. I filed this story from the back of the BMW 730 taking me home.
Verdict Apart from not being able to access the flight maps, faultless. There’s much talk of under-promising and over-delivering in these cash-strapped times. On the evidence of this new first class, the airline seems to be promising and delivering. The challenge is for Etihad to extend this service ethic throughout the business and economy cabin, something they are committed – on record - to achieving.