CHECK-IN I arrived at Heathrow T4 at 0725 for my 0915 flight (EY002). The airport was extremely busy, and I maneuvered through throngs of people from the lift from the Underground to the opposite side of the building to reach Zone C, Etihad’s check-in area. There was no queue at premium check-in and I was seen to efficiently.
Fast-track security was a short walk back in the direction I’d come from. There were no queues at fast-track security – which was great considering the volume of travellers that morning – and I was through by 0735.
THE LOUNGE The Etihad Guest lounge is opposite Gate 10 and above the Skyteam lounge – turn right once through security, then take the lift up to reach it. A member of staff greeted me and showed me around the lounge, and said they’d come and let me know when my flight was boarding. The lounge was very well-manned and staff were attentive – I was offered drinks by several who saw me without one, and one of the spa consultants approached me, addressed me by name and offered to book me in for a pre-flight treatment.
The lounge itself had a living room feel – it was sleek and smart with simple décor, and the white leather sofas popped against the dark brown rugs and mahogany walls.
The space is divided into three main areas, plus the Six Senses spa, a business centre – with Apple macs, IP phones and generous individual desk space – and a family room. One of the lounge sections has a cylindrical bookcase at its centre, with an array of coffee table books and vases placed within its compartments – the lemongrass aroma from the nearby spa lingered pleasantly here. There are departure screens in the different lounge sections and wifi is free.
I sat in the area with the breakfast buffet – options included scrambled eggs, turkey rashers (no pork), fried tomato, hash browns, mushrooms, cereal, bread rolls, pastries and fresh fruit) – and a staff member brought me a soya milk cappuccino. A self-service fridge next to the buffet was stocked with soft drinks and bottled water.
There was also an à la carte dining area with funky orange leather high chairs as well as several dining tables. Dishes included eggs benedict, pancakes with mixed berries, maple syrup and cream, and banana porridge with honey. There was a tea menu serving brews from Sri Lankan company Dilmah – the extensive menu was made up of green teas, herbal infusions and black teas, with each one accompanied by tasting notes, food pairings and even when was the best time of day to take the tea, and some adjectives summarising each one’s “personality”.
The Six Senses spa has three treatment rooms and three showers. All treatments take 15 minutes and are free for guests. I went for a back massage at 0815 – the lovely Peter gave me an excellent massage with my preferred pressure and made charming conversation. The treatment was efficient too – with a kneeling chair rather than a table, and I only had to take my jacket off rather than change into a robe, so I still had plenty of time to relax in the lounge, and I was presented with a lemongrass tea afterwards.
BOARDING A member of staff invited me to board at 0845, offering to accompany me to the gate. I took the lift down from the lounge and walked across to Gate 10. There were no queues at the gate, but I waited in a queue on the airbridge for about five minutes.
I was greeted warmly on board and walked to my seat. The head of the cabin introduced himself, took my jacket to hang up, and asked what I would like to drink (champagne and orange juice). The champagne was Jacquart Brut Mosaique.
THE SEAT Business class was divided into two sections by a galley and washrooms – the front section had two rows (five and six) and was separated from first class by a curtain, and the back section had eight rows (seven to 14) was separated from economy, also by a curtain.
Seats were configured 1-2-1, in alternating rows of A-E,F-K and C-D,G-H lettering (to see a seat plan, click here). My seat (10H) was an individual window seat in the middle of the back section. The creamy-beige seats were upholstered in a stripy fabric, with a plump cream and navy cushion/pillow on each one. When the seat was upright, I could stretch my feet out so that they’d disappear into the space under the ottoman in front of me, which joins with the seat to form a fully-flat bed. The seat is 21 inches (53cm) wide and 74 inches (188cm) long when fully reclined.
To my right was a small amount of storage space beneath the armrest, the remote controller for the IFE [in-flight-entertainment] and electronic buttons for the seat controls (which included various massage functions).
A reading spotlight, bottle of water and a surface area for perching drinks on were also to my right, along with a magazine rack and a section for stowing very small items.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Individual travellers should opt for the window seats, but go for K or A rather than H and C – there is a barrier between these seats and the aisle (the bulk of the seat with the surface area beside the seat) and therefore greater privacy/ less exposure to the aisle action.
Unlike some cabins, in the back cabin there is a good amount of distance between the front row of (seven) and the toilets in front, and queues never formed here. The front section – with only two rows of passengers – has a more exclusive feel.
THE FLIGHT Before we took off, hot towels were handed out as well as newspapers (The Economist, The Financial Times, The Telegraph, and a couple of Arabic newspapers) and amenity kits with Korres products, cotton buds, pads, a toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, hand lotion, body lotion and an emery board). Flight socks, an eyemask and a blanket were waiting on the ottoman on my arrival.
We pushed back at 0920 (five minutes late) and the plane queued for a little while, taking off 20 minutes later. Ten minutes into the flight, we were allowed to use mobile phones, and I received a text message on my phone to say that international roaming rates applied – as well as having roaming capabilities, your network provider must have an agreement with Aeromobile in order for you to use your phone as you would on the ground. See the review of the return journey of this flight to read about onboard wifi.
Etihad’s sophisticated Ebox IFE system (with a 15-inch screen) had a decent selection of films – with trailers of them that you could watch in order to choose. There were recent releases as well as Arabian films, world cinema options and some classic oldies. I also loved the landscape camera that gave you a live aerial view from the plane, as well as the vista from the front of the plane (which I watched as we landed later).
I preferred using the handheld remote to the touchscreen, as the screen was a little far away, owing to the open, spacious feel of the seat. I found the remote more intuitive than I have done with those of other airlines – I usually find them rather cumbersome, but this one was fast and light.
The headphones were Etihad-branded – they sit on the ear rather than over, which is not my preference, but they were padded sufficiently. The at-seat power ports included a USB port and European-, US- and South African- compatible plug sockets (not UK).
The solid, one-piece table (no hinge in the middle) swivels down from an upright position against the seat in front – it had a dark, faux wood surface and looked great.
My meal order was taken just under an hour into the flight. The food was served shortly afterwards on china with metal cutlery (separate butter knife) and the water and wine were poured into good quality glassware.
I began with the Arabic mezze starter – a selection of hot and cold appetisers such as vine rolls, samosas and houmous, which was very good. The bread served with the meal was like a muffin in shape and texture, with a lovely herb and tomato sauce filling that oozed out as I bit into it. It was served with a little dish of olive oil and balsamic vinegar as well as butter.
For my main, I enjoyed some perfectly cooked pan-seared scallops served with sautéed vegetables and lemon risotto – the smoky vegetables complemented the rich, creamy rice very well.
The flight attendant recommended a wonderful dry white wine for me – a Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Torrontés 2011 Salta from Argentina – and offered to recommend a red that would go well with the scallops – she clearly had good knowledge. Other wines on the flight included Wairai Hills Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough New Zealand, Segla 2008 Margaux, Bordeaux and Domain Laroche Chablis Premier Cru Les Beauroy 2009, Burgundy.
My main was followed by a selection of cheeses – the attendant offered a port to accompany them but I declined. I also didn’t try dessert, but options included Halva tarte with mixed berries, almond and cherry pudding with vanilla sauce and a selection of ice cream.
A “Kitchen anytime service” operates throughout the flight, with dishes such as steak sandwich, baked cookies and madeleines, crisps, and fresh fruit with mint syrup that you can order at your whim. Throughout the flight, I was asked several times whether I’d like anything else to eat or drink.
I watched a film as I ate, and afterward reclined my seat fully and slept comfortably. The cradle style of the seat means that your head is shielded from the side of the aisle by the side of the seat – great for privacy. One side of the thin cream and navy-striped duvet was made from a black, furry material, which was lovely.
At 1840 local time, it was announced that we would begin our descent in ten minutes, and the crew hurried to provide people with their last drinks. Fifteen minutes before landing I was handed a fast-track immigration card and asked if I needed directions or advice for transfers.
ARRIVAL We touched down at T3 of Abu Dhabi International five minutes late, at 1915 local time. We disembarked from the front of the section, and a five-to-ten-minute walk to immigration followed. I queued in the fast-track line, which comprised about five people. Then, it was a short trip down to baggage claim, where I waited for a few minutes for my bag to arrive, and I was inside a taxi by 1945.
VERDICT A luxurious flight with excellent food and a lounge that ran like clockwork, but what really stood out was the service and the attention I received.
Flight time: Six hours and 30 minutes
Plane type: B777-300ER
Seat width 21 inches (53cm)
Seat length 74 inches (188cm)
Seat recline 180 degrees
Price Internet rates for a midweek flexible business class return fare from London to Abu Dhabi in mid-July start from £3,688.