Tried & Tested

Exclusive: Etihad Airways new first class suite

27 Aug 2009 by Tom Otley

For a review of the inbound flight from Abu Dhabi in the same class, click here.

Background Etihad only
installed its current first class seating on its long-haul fleet in
2006, yet it is already being replaced by this new suite with the
rollout scheduled to take place over the next two years.

First impressions
In the UK Etihad offers a free chauffeur drive up to 150 miles from in
the UK from both London Heathrow and Manchester airports (business
class 100 miles). I checked in online early in the morning and selected
seat 2A for my EY18 departure from LHR at 2120.

The lounge
for the moment, Diamond First class passengers can use the superb
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in T3 (Qatar Airways first class flyers also
enjoy this privilege apparently). This will stay in place until Etihad
moves to T4 at the end of September (click here for more information), when it will have its own lounges there (click here for more information).

of the Virgin Clubhouse isn’t advertised on the Etihad website, and I
get the impression this must be because Virgin doesn’t want to make a
big deal out of it, though the flights are called from the lounge, so
it’s hardly a secret.

By the time we reached the lounge
everyone else had boarded and there was no queue at Gate 3. We were
quickly onboard and offered a glass of champagne, with our jackets
stowed in a thin locker which makes up the external wall of the suite
(the door to this wardrobe also has a narrow mirror on its inside).
Next to the seat there was a welcome card from Kevin, the cabin
manager. Before take-off we were also offered dates and Arabic coffee,
and asked what drink we would like immediately after take-off. We
departed only 10 minutes after departure time.

The seat the
new Etihad seats follow the lead of Emirates and Jet Airways by being
incorporated into a suite for “privacy, greater comfort and increased
storage”. In short this means sliding doors with Arabic-style detailing
for privacy, and even more room than the existing Diamond First Class.
The strategy of the airline, as articulated by Etihad’s Chief Commercial Officer Peter Baumgartner, is “to establish the
Etihad brand as a premium luxury brand of undifferentiated
superiority”. (Click here to read Business Traveller’s exclusive interview with Baumgartner.)

seat now extends into a fully-flat bed (80.5 inches in length), and
comes equipped with a built-in massager, lumbar support and adjustable
headrest, as well as power sockets which fit a UK three-point plug
directly (so no need for an adaptor), an Ethernet port and audio jack.
The IFE system is the latest incarnation of Etihad’s entertainment
called E-box, which is fully audio and video on demand and has over 600
hours of programming and a 23″ wide-screen LCD screen to watch it on.

suites have several small storage spaces, including one which contained
two bottles of water (one sparkling, one still). As well as the
wardrobe, bags can be stored under the ottoman seat, but if you have
more than one bag, it will be stored in one of the cupboards up front
where there are also covers for your suit or clothes if they are stored
up there. Note, there are no overhead lockers for any of the seats. It
makes the cabin seem spacious, and is probably necessary since the
walls of the suite would almost impede any overhead lockers.

configuration is as before – 1-2-1, with a total of 12 suites. There
isn’t anything to choose between these seats as they are all excellent,
although if you are travelling with a colleague or a loved one, clearly
the middle pairs of seats are the ones to go for. To view a seat plan
of the aircraft, click here.

The flight
We were offered sleep suits just before take-off, and I changed into
mine once we were in the air. There are two washrooms for the 12 first
class seats, but one of these is termed a changing room by virtue of
being much larger than normal. It is decked out in a flecked black
decoration, though the floor is slippy. The washroom has a long mirror
and leather fold-down changing room seat to allow passengers to freshen
up and change after take-off and prior to landing.

Meals are
served on an extra large (24 inches by 25 inches) wood-finished meal
table and as well as the Poltrona Frau leather upholstered seat covers
(a material also used in Ferraris), the ottoman seat opposite is large
enough for a fellow diner to join you for the meal service.

Food and drink
This was an evening flight, with a relatively short sector time of less
than seven hours, but this being one of the first flights featuring
this new first class product, there weren’t many people asking for the
seat to be turned immediately into the flat bed for a good night’s
sleep. Instead the a la carte menu seemed to be the centre of
attention. The menus are in a leather holder, along with the business
card of the cabin manager for the flight, some stationery in case you
feel the need to write a letter, a comment card, a guide to the
features of the suite and notes telling you that power adaptors, dental
kits and shaving kits are available on request. There is also a fast
track card for immigration at Abu Dhabi airport.

Starters Stilton blue cheese tarte, smoked salmon terrine or Cock-a-leekie clear soup.
Main courses
Roasted red snapper, rack of lamb, pan-seared chicken supreme,
Spanakopita  or Grilled prawns. All these main courses were served with
a choice of organic five leaf salad, steamed broccoli with toasted
almond, roasted pumpkin with honey and cumin, oven baked potato and
lemon juice or steamed rice with freshly ground coriander. I had the
soup followed by the Grilled Prawns, which came on tagliatelle. Both
were delicious. 
Steamed date pudding with fresh strawberries and butterscotch sauce, a
Quattro of desserts: coconut macaroon and pineapple cream cheesecake;
pineapple anglaise custard ancho chilli chocolate mousse  and seasonal
fruit lollipop, hot home-baked fruit pie with strawberry and ruhbarb
and crème fraiche.

The meal service started with a selection of
breads, and some Arabic mezzes dips which were delicious, especially
with the Louis Jadot Burgundy.

In addition there was an anytime
kitchen for those wanting more food, or preferring something a little
less organised. The choice here included everything from a steak
sandwich or fish and chips with mushy peas to baked cookies, a baked
egg tarte or Providore natural ice cream.

Champagnes Billecart-Salmon Brut Blanc de Blancs and Baudry Brut Rose.
White wines
Louis Jadot Chassagne Montrachet 2004, Castello di Pomino Bianco 2007
DOC Pomino, and Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from New
Red wines Chateau
Batailley 1998, Chateau Laroze St Emilion Grand Cru Classe 2004, Luce
della Vite Lucente 2006, Gloria Ferrer “Etesian” Pinot Noir 2006,
Sonoma, California and Langmeil Earthworks Shiraz 2007 from the Barossa
Valley, Australia.
Dessert wine Forrest Estate Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer 2007 from New Zealand. 

was also a good choice of Cognacs, digestifs, liquers and spirits
including Laphroiag single malt, Armagnac 1976. The non-alcoholic
selection included 13 teas and infusions (eg:  Masala chai non-vintage
and rosehip and hibiscus) as well as proper coffee and juices.  

The bed the
seat reclines into a fully flat bed of 80.5 inches with a width of
29.75 inches and seat width of 22 inches (the difference in width
measurements is because the arms lower to be level with the seat when
converted into bed mode). Once reclined there is a small side
compartment for stowing belongings.

The cabin crew were attentive and
on request would make-up the beds which come with an under blanket and
duvet in distinctive – let’s be frank about it, Newcastle United black
and white, or perhaps Her Majesty’s Prison gear. However,
the comfort is excellent, and my only regret was that I didn’t have
longer to sleep. The crew explained that I could close the doors at any
time, and press a button for do not disturb, only reminding me to keep
my seatbelt fastened over the blanket (unlike in this photo) – and saying they might have to
open the doors in the event of turbulence to check that I had done so.

It was too short a flight, unfortunately, and after only three hours
sleep we were woken for arrival. I had a quick glass of freshly
squeezed orange juice and then it was time to get changed and prepare
for landing. We landed on time at 0720 and were quickly at the terminal
building. There was a long walk to immigration, preceeded by a security
check which early in the morning was very busy. I had morning meetings
so went into the Etihad first class lounge for a cup of tea and a
shower at the Six Senses Spa, and managed to resist the offer of a spa
treatment before the day started.

the amazing thing about this new first class, other than the fact that
it comes only three years after the last first class was introduced, is
how it had improved on an already outstanding product. The service was
excellent throughout, the seat is very comfortable, and the cabin
spacious but also private.


Tom Otley

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