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Etihad made news back in 2014 with the debut of its three-room first-class “Residence” aboard the A380, and for rolling out an all-new business-class product. TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen had the chance to test it out last month. Here is his review of the new Etihad business-class experience. (All photos are by the author).
I ended a recent trip to Asia in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and was looking for a way to get back to New York. I was planning to return to Asia about two months later, so was considering purchasing a round-trip ticket from Colombo to New York — Colombo is a great origin from which to book round-trip premium travel because tickets often price out at a fraction of the cost of those that originate here in the US. Etihad was having a fare sale in January while I was researching all this, so my timing ended up being just right.
I booked my ticket directly through Etihad’s website. Though not every date in February and March with a return in April or May priced out so low, there were several options for both my outbound and return trip that came to 263,539 Sri Lankan rupees, or about $1,795 at the time. It seemed like a steal!
I would fly from Colombo to Abu Dhabi on Etihad and then continue from there to New York (JFK). The one thing I had to watch out for was that many of the lowest-priced flights to New York were actually operated on the airline’s 777-300ER rather than the A380, so I just needed to be sure I picked a date with flights on the larger aircraft to make sure I could experience the newest business-class product.
I found the dates that worked for me, entered my American Airlines AAdvantage number so I would earn AA miles and booked my ticket. One note on mileage earning with American, though — while the airlines are partners, you can only earn redeemable miles on Etihad flights unless your travel is ticketed as an American Airlines flight (with an AA flight number). Unfortunately, I couldn’t get American’s site or its phone agents to price out my flights at the same rates with AA flight numbers, so I just settled for earning award miles.
Though Etihad noted my ticket as booked in the W business-class fare code, when my mileage was credited to American Airlines, it just showed up as J codes. Both fare codes earn base miles plus a 25% bonus, though, so it didn’t make a difference in the end. All told, I ended up with a total of 22,300 miles plus 5,385 ThankYou points since I used my Citi ThankYou Premier card to pay for my ticket and earned 3 points per dollar. I would have loved if those AA miles had been elite-qualifying miles, since the one round-trip would have been almost enough to get me to AAdvantage Gold status, but oh well.
If you’d prefer to redeem miles, AA’s AAdvantage program is a decent option for that as well. Following the devaluation, business class on this route requires 70,000 miles each way, while you’ll need to redeem 115,000 miles each way to travel in first class.
Airport and Lounge
I’m just going to skip the details of my Colombo-Abu Dhabi flight and go straight to my experience flying from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to New York (JFK). My Colombo flight landed at about 12:25am and my onward flight to New York would depart at 3:20am.
I had to transfer from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3, but luckily that only meant a quick walk and a security check with no line, so I was able to get through the Duty Free area and the crowded terminal to the airline’s main international premium lounge in Terminal 3 in about 20 minutes.
I’ve been to the Etihad Premium Lounge before, so I headed straight through the seating areas and past the bar and buffets to the back where there is a salon and a Six Senses Spa. I requested a complimentary 15-minute facial — to moisturize after a day of travel! — and was given a slot at 1:30am.
My one concern was that I needed a bit of extra time to go through the US Customs and Immigration pre-clearance facility at Abu Dhabi, after which there is another small premium lounge and the boarding gates for flights to the US.
Once my facial was booked, I asked for a shower and was shown to one immediately so I could wash up and change.
Afterwards, I still had plenty of time before my spa treatment, so I ventured out into the main lounge and grabbed a few snacks.
There were both hot and cold little plates (like finger sandwiches), a couple of meat dishes and a lovely little pastry section with sweet treats to choose from.
Unfortunately, I was asked by not one but two lounge attendants not to take photos, so I was only able to snap a few.
The lounge has a few buffet areas with offerings that change throughout the day, as well as a sit-down restaurant, a full-service bar, tons of seating areas and semi-private work stations.
It was actually pretty crowded during my visit, so there were very few open seats, though I managed to find one near a power outlet and camped out there.
Then it was time for my treatment and I headed back to the Six Senses Spa to check in. I was shown to a treatment room and given a quick exfoliation and moisturizing masque — after one final spray of toner, I was out and on my way.
As I mentioned, you have to go through US Customs and Immigration at Abu Dhabi — they have lines for Global Entry, though, so I was through in a matter of moments.
I still had quite a bit of time before my flight was due to board, so I popped into the mini-lounge past the pre-clearance facility and snacked on a few finger sandwiches to kill time.
They also had a small bar where you could get wine and beer, some stations with coffee machines and a few small seating areas.
That lounge started to get crowded, too, so I made my way to the gate, a short walk away, and waited for boarding to begin.
And then I waited some more. And then some more. According to Flight Stats, this flight actually has an on-time record of about 50%, with an average delay of about 36 minutes.
I would call that fairly accurate, because it was just about 4am when we actually began to board. In the meantime, the waiting area filled up to the gills with passengers and there weren’t even any free seats in the little business- and first-class section that was roped off just to the side.
When I saw the agents about to open the doors, I edged my way toward the desk and was among the first to board.
Cabin and Seat
You can take a complete tour of the A380, including all cabins, in this post. The business-class cabin takes up almost the entire top deck of the A380 — The Residence and First Class Apartments are at the very front.
There are actually two business-class cabins.
The front one contains 11 rows of seats, while the rear one contains seven, though there is actually a mini-cabin of sorts in the very back of the plane with just eight seats in two rows.
Each row contains four seats in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration.
The even-numbered rows have side seats that face forward with wide armrests separating them from the aisle, while the middle seats in even rows also have wide armrests on the aisles with narrow dividers between them that can be raised for privacy.
Those middle seats are great for couples since they provide privacy but also allow you to spend the flight with your companion.
Odd-numbered seats on the aisles are rear-facing and have thin armrests separating them from the aisle, so they are not as private. The middle seats in these rows are also rear-facing, but with thick armrests between the seats (in case you’re not traveling with a buddy) and thinner ones on the aisle side.
I was traveling alone and wanted privacy, so I tried to choose one of the forward-facing side seats. Unfortunately, for weeks before my flight, all of them seemed to be either occupied or blocked off. I checked every few days, though, and sure enough one opened up a few days before departure, so I was able to switch my seat assignment.
Each seat is 73 inches long and 20 inches wide. The seat cushion and backrest are upholstered in a beige fabric while the headrest is in leather. Next to it is a stylish light fixture with bulbs for both mood lighting and reading.
The thick armrest, whichever side it is on, has buttons for present seat positions including upright for takeoff and landing, a lounging position with the leg rest raised and seat-back reclined and one for the full-flat position for sleeping.
The armrest also contained another little storage cubby, where the amenity kit was stowed, and a bottle holder for water, plus a slot for the airline’s magazine and safety brochure.
The seats on the side of the plane have two large storage cubbies along the fuselage where I was actually able to put my laptop, power cord and a few other things I wanted to have on hand during the flight.
There was also a handheld control from which you could manage the in-flight entertainment system, as well as the seat lighting and call buttons. Next to this were touchscreen buttons controlling the seat, cushion firmness and lighting, plus a do not disturb notification.
When I was ready to sleep between meals, I asked one of the flight attendants to make up my bed for me while I brushed my teeth. He put a thin cover over the seat itself and made up a fleece blanket for me, then put my accent pillow as the pillow for sleeping as well.
I found the bed to be comfortable but not especially roomy. If you have big feet, the footwell under the IFE screen might be a bit tight, but it was fine for me.
In-Flight Entertainment and Amenities
Business-class seats have relatively large 18-inch IFE screens, and the system is booted up so you can watch it from gate to gate. The airline provides noise-canceling headsets in one of the little cubbies by the seat as well.
There were tons of options available, including plenty of films and TV shows as well as music and games, among other features. The movie list included new releases like Carol, Creed, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Big Short. Etihad also offers in-flight Wi-Fi with plans varying from 30 minutes for $5 to $21.95 for the full flight.
The amenity kits were colorful and designed by Luxe of London and even included one of their London mini-city guides. They also contained Scaramouche and Fandango products including honey lip balm, hand cream, a dental pack with toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs, a sleeping mask and footies.
I was also given a pair of taupe pajamas, which I put on right after takeoff in the large handicap lavatory between the two business-class cabins.
Food and Beverage
As I mentioned, we were late to board, and even later to push back from the gate. In fact, I think we sat there for nearly an hour. The captain came on at one point to explain that there was a medical situation delaying us, but he didn’t specify anything beyond that.
In the meantime, the crew were conscientious about passing through with pre-departure drinks, including water and Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaïque.
Eventually, we did push back, though, and taxied for about 15 minutes before taking off. The cabin was pretty quiet and dark at this point since it was so late, or rather so early. A lot of people seemed to have fallen asleep, but the flight attendants still came through with menus asking if and when we wanted to eat. Though there are normal meal service times, you can also just order at will from the “all-day” menu at any time during the flight.
I decided to stay up and eat to try to get back on New York time and sleep after the meal, so I asked to order and eat during the main meal service. Meal service started about 45 minutes after takeoff with a drink and a plate of warm nuts.
Here’s what was on the menu after that, and what I had to eat:
- Arabic mezze including hummus, tabouleh, olives, a stuffed grape leaf, and some sort of pastry with sesame seeds and a mild cheesy filling
- Chicken, duck and pistachio terrine with mustard pickle
- Carrot and coriander soup with crème fraiche
- Beef fillet with fondant potato, rocket, balsamic and roast cherry tomato
- Chicken breast with lentil ragout, green beans and crisp onions
- Authentic Gulf lamb machboos with cucumber yoghurt and dakus sauce
- Spinach and ricotta tortellini with peas, arugula and cheese sauce
There was a selection of cheeses with crackers and fruit for dessert, or a choice of:
- Caramel apple pudding with vanilla sauce
- Dark cherry cheesecake
- Seasonal fresh fruit
- A selection of ice cream
The All-Day menu was sort of like a light in-flight menu. The breakfast options served before landing included:
- A selection of bread and pastries
- Fruit smoothie energizer drink
- Natural yogurt with mixed berry compote
- Breakfast cereals with your choice of milk
- Pulled barbecue beef sandwich with turkey rashers, cheese and grilled marrow
- Chive omelette with beef Cumberland sausages, tomato and hash brown
- Kanchipuram idli with masala dosa, rawa pangal, sambar and coconut chutney
- A selection of sides like potato “crisps,” baked cookies and Arabic baklava
The beverage menu was pretty extensive. Among the non-alcoholic options were:
- Al Ain sparkling and still water
- Espresso, cappuccino, macchiato and other coffee drinks
- A selection of soft drinks
- A selection of teas including Sencha green, green with Moroccan mint, chamomile and Earl Grey
Wines and other beverages included:
- Louis Jadot Couvent des Jacobins white Burgundy
- Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand
- Grauer Burgunder Trocken from Germany’s Rheinhessen
- La Fleure Laroze red Bordeaux blend
- Franklin Tate Estates Shiraz from Australia’s Margaret River
- Montenero Primitivo from Puglia in Italy
I had Champagne for most of the meal, but tried the Australian Shiraz with my main and it was full-bodied but not overpowering. Meal service took about 90 minutes from start to end, so I watched a movie and started another before I finally got a bit of rest.
I woke up about four hours before landing and worked for a little while. I was waiting to see if anyone came by, but after about half an hour with no crew in sight, I pushed my call button to order breakfast and asked for the Indian meal, which was pretty tasty.
I also popped by the small bar area between the business- and first-class cabins (where TPG enjoyed his Thanksgiving dinner). During the flight, the crew raises a round table in the middle of this area, which is surrounded by a circular booth. There are six individual seats, each with its own seat belt and power ports, so you can hang out here and work, though I only saw a couple of other passengers here the entire flight. There were bottles of water and booze laid out along the bar in case you wanted to serve yourself, however, this didn’t seem like a great hangout overall because it was so dark the whole flight.
We actually arrived in New York just about on time. It was great being able to simply walk off the plane and out into the terminal without having to go through Customs and Immigration at JFK.
Even better, my electronic ticket contained a link to book Etihad’s chauffeur service, so I made a booking to take me from JFK to my hotel in the city.
All I had to do was go to the Etihad arrivals desk near the baggage claim area, let the person there know my name, and he called my chauffeur, Arnaldo, over from a group of drivers. Arnaldo then took my carry-on bag from me, led me out into the garage to his BMW 7 Series, complete with power adapters and Wi-Fi, and we were off to the city. It was seamless, simple and Arnaldo was a fantastic driver.
I had really been looking forward to trying out Etihad’s latest business-class product, and I did enjoy the flight. The timing of it made the experience a bit middle-of-the-night fuzzy, but I will say that the cabin was very nice and the seat was quite comfortable. Everything felt new and state-of-the-art, and though the business-class cabin is quite large, I thought that I got more than enough personal attention and time from the crew.
Speaking of the crew, every one of them that I met or spoke to was delightful, cheerful and efficient without being obsequious. Plus, they were from all over the world, including Australia, South Africa, Ireland, the Philippines, Thailand, France and other countries, so the vibe felt fun and international.
All in all, I thought this was a great experience. Being able to enjoy the lounges on the ground, including a little spa treatment, then flying on a new plane with the latest-generation business-class seat, superior service and chauffeur service upon arrival meant I was rested, refreshed and relaxed when I got to New York. I can’t wait for my return flight next month.
Have you had the chance to fly in Etihad’s new business-class? Tell us about it below.
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