BANGKOK TO ABU DHABI
Background The UAE’s national carrier, Etihad is the only airline flying from Bangkok to Abu Dhabi direct and vice versa, 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 8.45am and arrives at 11.50am Abu Dhabi time, while the second, EY401, leaves at 8.35pm and touches down in the emirate at 11.50pm. The flights are operated on Boeing 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 Wi-Fi 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 onboard 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 seat 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.
Which seat to choose? Since every seat has direct aisle access, you don’t have to worry about your sleep being disturbed by someone with a weak bladder mid-flight. My preference in any case is always for a window seat.
The flight 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 inflight 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.
Price Online rates for a Business Class return in October from Bangkok to Abu Dhabi start at THB53,340 (US$1,588).
ABU DHABI TO BANGKOK
Background Etihad flies twice daily to Bangkok from Abu Dhabi. EY408 leaves at 9.25am and arrives at Suvarnabhumi at 6.45pm, while EY402 leaves at 9.55pm and arrives in Bangkok at 7.15am the following day.
Check in I checked in online and was allocated a central aisle seat 6G. Since the flight was full, it wasn’t possible to change this. A day before my flight, an Etihad representative called me at my hotel to check details of my departure. I gave her my local mobile number and was told that my driver would call me on arrival at the hotel lobby. In fact, the driver called me 20 minutes before the assigned pick-up time to check I was ready and to ask where I was headed so he could drop me off at the right terminal. All nice touches.
I arrived at the airport about two hours before my flight departure at 9.25am. I was dropped off at the premier entrance and was met and greeted by staff, given my boarding pass and directed through the fast-track security and immigration lines.
The lounge I made my way to the Business Class Lounge, which is stylish and well staffed and offers snacks and drinks with an attentive waiter service. The lounge also has a kindergarten and a spa. The only criticism is that there were a number of transit passengers who had been misdirected to the wrong terminal lounge – this happened with two of the three passengers ahead of me. I chatted with some friends who I spotted in the lounge and headed for the gate when my flight was called.
The flight This was a B777-300ER aircraft in a two-class configuration. I took supreme advantage of the flat-bed seat in Business Class and was sound asleep soon after take-off. I didn’t wake until about 40 minutes before landing, only having time to grab an orange juice. Had I eaten dinner, I would have had the choice of either masala-spiced chicken with white-bean salad and rocket leaves or a Sicilian-style salad for starters. Mains included a slow-poached cod fillet with lentils or a herb and goat’s cheese-encrusted chicken. The vegetarian option was a vegetable bake. Dessert included a cheese selection, steamed fig pudding, tarte tatin, fresh seasonal fruit or Providore ice cream.
Breakfast consisted of a selection of breads and cereals, fresh cream yoghurt with honey and fresh berries, and a continental breakfast. Etihad also offers an express breakfast option if you fill in a card, and there was a “kitchen anytime” menu of snacks such as club sandwiches, popcorn, cookies, ice cream and baklava that could be ordered during the flight.
Arrival We touched down perfectly on time. Before landing, Thai immigration arrival cards were handed out. Flight attendants also provided a Suvarnabhumi Premium fast-track card to speed those going through immigration. The card came with a THB1,000 (US$29) coupon for use in duty-free shops for purchases of THB5,000 (US$148) or more, but as I was in transit I headed for my next flight.
Verdict While I can’t complain about the comfort of the flat-bed seat, I regretted not taking more advantage of Etihad’s impressive inflight hospitality.