BACKGROUND Etihad Airways has three flights a day departing from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi. There is also a daily flight from Manchester.
CHECK-IN I arrived at Terminal 3 at 0710 for the 0910 departure to Abu Dhabi. Etihad offers a free chauffeur-driven pick-up service using Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Volvo S80 cars, available from a residential address, office or hotel within a 100-mile radius of Heathrow. The service is also offered in Sydney, Bangkok and the UAE. There is a dedicated business and first class check-in desks Zone E, and there was one person in front of me trying to work out how to fit all of his hand luggage into one bag. I was assigned my seat and given directions to fast-track security upstairs, and then onwards to the SAS lounge airside, which Etihad shares with several other airlines.
THE LOUNGE The SAS lounge is on two levels and there are plenty of different seating areas depending on what you want to do – sofas, armchairs, stools along a desk area for laptops, and a TV area upstairs. There were hot and cold soft drinks, pastries and biscuits on offer on both floors, along with newspapers and magazines (including Business Traveller). I left the lounge at 0830 and headed to Gate 5.
BOARDING The gate was busy and the Etihad staff opened a glass door to allow more people to sit in an extended waiting area. We waited for about half an hour and a sniffer dog came around checking hand luggage. Boarding began at 0905. I was seated in the second business class cabin and once settled was offered drinks including Canard-Duchêne Grand Cuvée Blanc de Blancs champagne. We were late pushing back from the gate and took off at about 1000.
THE SEAT Etihad is rolling out its new business and first class seats shortly. I was flying on a three-class A340-600 with 30 business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration over two cabins, divided by the galley area (rows five to eight and then nine to 12, although the rows are staggered so it can be confusing to work out which one you are in).
I was in the second cabin in seat 11D, an aisle seat on the left side of the plane. The seat reclines to a 180-degree fully-flat bed with a length of more than six feet (186cm). The pitch is 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 on-demand entertainment were available. There was a lack of storage space for my books and magazine as I had stuffed my bag and shoes under the footrest – I ended up putting them on the floor or on the end of the bed while I slept.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The staggered seating arrangement means that in every other row the middle two seats (10E and 10F; 12E and 12F) are together – good if you want to chat to a colleague or friend during the flight. The other seats have more privacy, especially the window seats (10A, 10K, 12A and 12K). All business class seats have direct access to the aisle, so you won’t be disturbed. 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 hot face towel and a large amenity bag with Aigner toiletries (face mist, body lotion and lip balm), a bottle of Voss water, an eye mask and socks, earplugs and a dental kit. Menus were given out and drink orders were taken after takeoff. The menu is à la carte but you can also order from the “Anytime” menu, which has a range of snacks and light meals that can be requested at any time during the flight.
The meal service began shortly afterwards with an amuse bouche of lukewarm lobster bisque in a small tea cup (I didn’t know what this was but I tasted it and it was quite salty). We were then served a hot loaf of three different types of bread and Arabian dips. The starter choices were Muhammara (hot red pepper and walnut) quiche, caramelised tomato and onion in a pastry case, or smoked trout with potato pancakes and horseradish cream. The mains were steamed salmon fillet with ginger and jasmine rice, bok choy spring onions and red pepper coulis (I had this and it was very good and plentiful); traditional Arab tangine lamb braised in tomato and coriander sauce with carrots and butternut squash; braised chicken breast in capsicum and sweet onion sauce with steamed potatoes; or Arancini rice parcels filled with spinach and with tomato sauce. All mains were served with a five-leaf salad. Cheese and desserts followed but I had filled myself up with the delicious bread.
There was a good choice of drinks, with three white wines, three red wines and a choice of liqueurs and spirits. After dinner I reclined the seat to fully flat, pulled the thick warm blanket over me, watched Slumdog Millionaire and slept for a couple of hours. I was very comfortable and despite it being a day flight, the cabin was quiet. When I woke, everyone was having their pre-landing snack.
ARRIVAL We arrived in Abu Dhabi on time, and first and business class passengers were given priority disembarkation into Etihad’s new dedicated terminal 3. The terminal opened in March and we were met by an Etihad member of staff who walked us through to immigration, which was swift, and out to collect our bags, which arrived quickly.
VERDICT A superb service and one of the most comfortable flat-beds I’ve tried. The clever design also means all business class passengers have aisle access, so disturbance is kept to a minimum. The food was very good.
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 June started from £2,521 on Etihad’s website.