Arriving 90 minutes early for my 1320 departure on EY325 to Frankfurt,I passed through the x-ray security checks and into the check-in area. The queues at the economy (Coral) desk were short, but Etihad’s first and business class passengers have their own check-in area, accessed via a short corridor to the left of the main check-in area and through to a lounge. This was very busy, with only three desks, and it took 10minutes to check in my bag and receive my boarding card. I was unlucky in this, since as I left, all three desks had become clear. Nevertheless, the helpful and friendly desk assistant told me that with all the new Etihad flights, they did need more room for premium passengers (and presumably for the economy passengers outside).
In this interim lounge, an immigration official was processing business and first passengers before sending them through a side door to go through to airside. The queue I had been part of (and at the back of) had now transferred here. I asked the lady if there was another option and she said that through that same open door was the main immigration area and it would probably be quicker for me to walk through and pass through immigration out there. I attempted to do so but was stopped by security, so had to queue for the one immigration official (at the pace of the fast-track procedures in Terminal 3 Heathrow). Business class may be worth it for lounge access and seats, but in the eyes of airports, we are all equal.
I had my passport stamped, then found that to go airside I had to go through immigration once again. I tried to explain that my passport had already been stamped, but to no avail, so I received a second, identical exit stamp.
Etihad’s lounge is to the side of immigration on the first floor of the airport. There are six free computer terminals with free internet access, and seating areas divided into smoking (by the window overlooking the runway), non-smoking, and, behind a screen, women only.There is attentive waiter service for drinks and snacks, and alcohol is served.
Flights are called from the lounge, but I left early and then wished I hadn’t, as Gate 7 and Gate 8 were both forming one queue and we were packed into one of the satellite piers to access these two flights.Boarding was rapid though, and I was quickly shown to my seat.
Once on board, the seat is the first surprise. On these new Boeing777-300ER planes the two-class formation is as follows: 378 seats in two classes, business (Pearl) with 28 seats arranged 1-2-1 and economy (Coral) in 3-3-3. The business class seat transforms into a 186cm bed. Most refreshing is the staggered layout, which means that even in a window seat you have direct access to the aisle without having to disturb or step over the person sitting next to you, since they are some way in front, and have their own cocoon which does not move forward or back.
At first the seats feel narrow – partly because of this staggered effect, and because of a slight gap between the straight edge of the seat and the curved fuselage. The seat has a permanent footrest with some storage space underneath and a permanent screen in front with very clear quality. Below the TV screen is a sliding hatch containing an Ethernet port for Connexion by Boeing as well as two USB sockets and the audio and visual sockets. The seat has three positions – upright, relax and bed – as well as lumbar support and various massage options. It also reclines so that the seat area meets the footrest to become a fully flat bed.
Other improvements include mood lighting to create specific ambiences, supposedly to help jet lag – although with this being a daylight flight from Abu Dhabi to Frankfurt with a time change of only three hours, it was impossible to test – and a new in-flight entertainment (IFE) system which, after initial confusion, proved useful, with 30 films, 16 hours of TV programming, 24 hours of audio programming, 25 audio CDs and 26 games.For business travellers the main attraction may well be Connexion by Boeing (throughout the plane) as well as the seat power for laptops requiring no fancy adaptors, and actually powering the laptop rather than just slowing the rate of discharge from the battery. For daytime flights it is perfect, since the Connexion by Boeing switches on automatically at above 10,000ft and for payment ($26.95 for 24 hours)you are fully connected. Several passengers in business were using VOIP phones, and I managed a couple of calls without any problems, although cabin noise can mean it is advisable to have headphones and a microphone for this in order to clearly hear the person you are calling.
The food on this flight was particularly good – the same style of menu as out of London, but with better quality and taste – perhaps a reflection of the food being boarded in Etihad’s home and its hub. The wine list seems to be consistent, with the same choice on this Abu Dhabi to Frankfurt as we had on the London to Abu Dhabi leg a few days earlier.
At this point, the flight became unusual due to heavy snow at Frankfurt. We circled for over an hour, diverted to Munich, sat on the ground there for a few hours, disembarked half of the plane who were prepared to have their check-in luggage sent to them the next day, and then finally flew back to Frankfurt, arriving several hours late. None of this was Etihad’s fault, and the staff were excellent throughout.
An innovative product, and one which other airlines will look at with interest. Competitive prices on the UK route and the transfers in the UAE make this new product worth considering (though note that the prices given below are much higher because they are on the Frankfurt route).