Tried & Tested

Etihad Airways A340-600 Pearl business class

9 Sep 2011 by BusinessTraveller

CHECK IN I was connecting on to the 1015 Abu Dhabi-Sydney EY450 service from a previous flight from Heathrow (for a review, click here), so had already checked in and through-checked my baggage. Arriving into Abu Dhabi International airport at 0705, I headed straight for Terminal 3, about a ten-minute walk from the aircraft. I put my hand luggage through the screening machines – a premium lane allowed me to jump to the front of the queue – and proceeded into the lounge, located straight after the machines.

THE LOUNGE Etihad’s premium lounge in Terminal 3 is an impressive space with separate areas for first and business class passengers, a Six Senses spa, a variety of seating areas, a buffet area with hot and cold food (breakfast was on offer this morning), a dining section, a manned bar, a business centre with several iMacs, family, quiet, smoking and prayer rooms, departure screens and free wifi (I found this quite slow both on my laptop and on the computer in the business centre). In the spa, I availed of a free 15-minute facial, which was a lovely treat after my previous flight.

BOARDING The reception staff had asked me to be at Gate 29 for 0930 so at 0920 I made my way there – it was a few minutes’ walk. At the gate, there was a significant queue to enter and no discernable premium lane. First, passengers had their passport/visa checked and then submitted their hand luggage to a manual check – this was thorough, one of the staff even looking in my wallet. At 0935, first and business class passengers and families/people in need of special assistance were invited to board first.

Once on the aircraft, the friendly flight attendant (Michael) who would be looking after me introduced himself and offered me a drink. Prior to pushing back I was also given a menu, landing card, hot towel and amenities (rather than giving out a complete amenity kit, crew come round with a tray containing separate toothbrush sets, eye masks/flight socks, ear plugs and pouches with Aigner body lotion and lip balm, and invite you to take what you want).

THE SEAT This A340-600 was configured for three classes, with business across two cabins – the first with five rows (five to nine) and the second with three (ten to 12) – separated by a galley and washrooms. Seats are in a 1-2-1 configuration that alternates in such a way that all have direct aisle access – rows five, seven, nine, ten and 12 have a window seat A, two middle seats E and F and window seat K, while rows six, eight and 11 have aisle seats C, D, G and H (for a seat plan, click here).

I was in window seat 9A, which I had not pre-selected but was pleased with as it felt private and tucked away. This aircraft did not have the newest incarnation of Etihad’s business seat, but it was still impressive. It is a fixed shell design with the seat upholstered in sea green fabric, leather armrests in the same colour, and a pale metallic-coloured surround. The seat meets with the footstool (built into the back of the seat in front) to make a fully flat bed. A 15-inch in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen is built into the seat in front, above the footstool (positioned further away than in the newer seat), and there is storage space for a bag underneath the footstool. There is also a coat hook and in-seat power (you will need an adapter if your gadget has a UK plug). A table folds down from the side of the seat in front – it is a good size and stable for working on.

The seat surround to my right had a narrow storage compartment, a reading light, a magazine rack and the seat control panel, which includes preset upright, relax and bed settings, massage functions and buttons to adjust the headrest and lumbar support. A small drinks tray is built into the right armrest, as is the IFE control (it is not touchscreen). A substantial woollen blanket, pillow and noise-cancelling headphones are provided.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The alternating fixed shell arrangement means all passengers have the same amount of legroom. If you are travelling in a couple, taking the middle seats E and F will allow you to chat with the most ease, but note that these offer the least amount of privacy if you are flying solo, as they don’t have the seat surround to divide them. Rows nine and ten are closest to the galley and washrooms, so you might be more likely to suffer disturbance, but I didn’t notice any on my flight. Row 12 is separated from economy by a bulkhead so, similarly, you may be disturbed from there. I would choose a window seat (A or K) as they feel more tucked away.

THE FLIGHT We pushed back on time and took off just after 1030. Half an hour into the flight, drinks and a hot canapé were served, followed by a meal a quarter of an hour after that. The choices were Arabic mezze, chicken roulade or dried split-pea soup to start (I had the roulade – it was nice and was served with a warm roll), baked hammour, lamb kofta, beef skewers or vegetable lasagne for the mains (I had the fish and enjoyed it), and cheese, apple and cinnamon bread pudding, sweet pumpkin cheesecake, fresh fruit or ice cream for dessert (I skipped this). There was also a “kitchen anytime” menu including snacks such as a chicken and steak panini, salad Nicoise, smoked salmon bagel, cheese and ice cream – later on in the flight I had the panini and it was tasty.

The wines were G H Mumm Champagne, Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2008 from Burgundy, Jermann Pinot Grigio 2007 from Italy, Dr Fischer Steinbock Riesling 2008 from Mosel, Segla 2007 Margaux from Bordeaux, Mt Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2009 from Central Otago, New Zealand, and George Wyndham Founder’s Reserve Shiraz 2007 from Langhorne Creek, Australia.

After eating, I reclined the seat to fully flat – it was nice and comfortable, with a length of 73 inches (the new seat is one inch longer) – and slept for a couple of hours. I then did some work and watched a film – the audio-video on-demand IFE system had a decent selection of films, TV, audio and music.

Service was fantastic throughout – my flight attendant was one of the most thoughtful and attentive I have ever come across, bringing me an extra blanket when he saw I was cold, and checking I had enough to eat and drink. While the meal service was going on, the IFE system broke down for a short period and while it was being reset, the seat controls didn’t work, meaning I couldn’t return from my reclined position to upright to eat, so he brought over pillows to prop me up. And when my laptop ran out of power (I didn’t have an adaptor in my hand luggage), he first borrowed an adaptor from a colleague and when that didn’t work – he tried it with a couple of business seats – he took my laptop into first class and charged it for me. Much appreciated. Breakfast was served about an hour before landing.

ARRIVAL We touched down almost 25 minutes ahead of schedule, just after 0600, and were off the plane quickly. Immigration was a few minutes’ walk away and was empty – there was a premium fast-tack lane but I didn’t need it. My priority-tagged bag was among the first on the carousel, I passed it and my hand luggage through scanners at quarantine, and took a sharp left before the arrivals hall to Virgin Australia’s transfer facility for domestic flights. I was airside at 0630.

VERDICT Superb – a well-run, punctual flight with a good seat product (not quite as good as the newest incarnation, but still impressive), but what really set it apart was the exemplary service from crew.

PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Sydney via Abu Dhabi in October started from £3,724.


Michelle Mannion

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