Tried & Tested

Etihad Airways B777-300ER Pearl Business

20 Apr 2009 by Sara Turner

BACKGROUND The UAE’s national carrier, Etihad, is the only airline flying from Bangkok to Abu Dhabi direct, with flights taking about six hours. Alternatives exist with Thai Airways, Gulf Air, Jet Airways, Emirates, Kuwait Airways and Qatar Airways but all involve a stopover or codeshare. There are two Etihad flights daily on this route. The first, EY407, leaves Bangkok at 0845 and arrives at 1150 Abu Dhabi time, while the second, EY401, leaves at 2035 and touches down in the emirate at 2350. The flights are operated on B777-300ERs in a two-class configuration.

CHECK-IN I checked in online and saw that I had been allocated seat 11K. Etihad’s business class is in a 1-2-1 configuration and the website described this as an aisle seat. Preferring a window one, I clicked on the online seatplan only to find that 11K was indeed by the window. As all business class seats on this configuration have aisle access, this is a little confusing. In any case, satisfied with the seat, I left the option unchanged.

I arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International airport just over two and a half hours before departure. I found the transit desk, was given my boarding card and had my luggage tag from my connecting Cathay Pacific flight scanned to arrange the bag’s pick-up and onward transfer.

THE LOUNGE Expecting to have plenty of time to check my email and have a snack, I was surprised to be told that not only was there no dedicated Etihad lounge but nor were there any shared facilities with other airlines. This was something I expressed scepticism about to the check-in clerk but was told firmly that there was no lounge facility. Later investigation revealed that Etihad business class passengers can use the Thai Royal Orchid Lounge but this information has obviously not filtered through to the desk clerk who dealt with me. Nor is this information given on the airline’s website, which names SkyLounge as Etihad’s partner at Suvarnabhumi. I grabbed a snack at one of the food courts, tried unsuccessfully to find a free wifi service and made my way to the gate.

BOARDING The security check was quick and courteous and I headed to departure gate E4. Boarding commenced 40 minutes before the scheduled take-off with priority boarding for business class passengers. I was welcomed by name on board and shown to my seat. My only quibble about the seat was that storage space for books and iPods didn’t feel adequate and I hate having to store things underneath the footrest.

THE FLIGHT On this two-class configured B777-300ER, seat 11K is the end row in business class with its back to the galley. The configuration of the middle aisle is unusual in that some of the two-seat units are set up for couples and some for individual travellers with a divide. I assume this is a reflection of Middle Eastern sensibilities about sitting with strangers of the opposite sex.

Safety instructions were given in Arabic and English. I found the lighting system ingenious – there was a wall lamp as well as a spotlight. Fruit juice was served and drinks options for later in the flight were taken. I opted for the Marlborough sauvignon blanc, but there were plenty of alternatives, including a Tuscan chardonnay-pinot noir blend. Had I wanted a red there was a Bordeaux, a Californian pinot noir and a South Australian shiraz to choose from. There was also a Canard-Duchêne champagne and a French sauvignon and muscadelle dessert wine.

The drinks list was huge. There were two Scotch whiskies and a bourbon, Grey Goose vodka, two gins, three beers, one rum (Bacardi), a cognac, a port and a variety of liqueurs. Soft drinks included still and sparkling Voss water, seven fermented teas, two herbal teas and one botanical, seven types of coffee and a number of fresh fruit juices.

The main meal offered a choice of two starters – a smoked eggplant tart or gravlax salmon. I had the latter. The main course options were rack of lamb, roast salmon, chicken breast or thyme gnocchi, all served with an organic salad. I had the lamb and it was the finest dish I have ever had on a flight – quite superb.

I skipped the dessert options, which included a selection of cheeses, fruit tarts, white chocolate parfait, fresh fruit and ice cream. Etihad also has a “kitchen anytime” menu of snacks such as club sandwiches, popcorn, cookies, ice cream and baklava that can be ordered at any point during the flight.

The in-flight entertainment system looked excellent but as I was in the middle of finishing a book I opted to finish a couple of chapters and take a nap.

ARRIVAL Business class passengers were given a fast-track card with a map of the airport on the back to speed them through immigration and customs control, but as we were disembarked first and there was no queue ahead, it was difficult to work out how much of an advantage this was. I picked up my bags, made my way to Etihad’s counter in the arrivals hall and was pointed towards my car. Business class passengers get this service and it really is a boon, especially when arriving in an unfamiliar city for the first time.

VERDICT An excellent flight with a superb business class offering. The flight attendants worked exceptionally hard throughout without getting flustered.

CONTACT etihadairways.com

PRICE Online rates for a business class return in May from Bangkok to Abu Dhabi started from 53,340 baht (£1,004).

Kenny Coyle

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