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Etihad’s cramped and aging 777-200 economy cabin meant an uncomfortable 16-hour ride home from the Middle East. Pros: ample vegetarian-friendly dining options and a decent amount of in-flight entertainment considering the electronics ban. Cons: poor service, trash kicked under seats by flight attendants.
When the electronics ban forced nine foreign airlines operating nonstop flights to the US from 10 Middle Eastern and African airports to implement new restrictions within 96 hours, JT Genter and I took a last-minute trip to the Middle East to see for ourselves how the changes would be implemented. Both of us observed Qatar Airways’ gate-side security and boarding for US-bound flights before I experienced the electronics ban on Etihad and JT saw how it all played out on Emirates. Here’s what the leg from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Dallas (DFW) was like in economy aboard Etihad’s 777-200.
Booking and Check-In
Despite the last-minute nature of this trip and how packed the flight ended up being, there was Etihad award availability when we booked just four days prior to departure. The one-way trip from Doha (DOH) to Dallas (DFW) via Abu Dhabi (AUH) cost 40,000 American AAdvantage miles and $50 in taxes. Otherwise, there really aren’t any cheaper options available, but technically you can use ANA Mileage Club miles to fly Etihad from North America to the Middle East (or Africa) for just 65,000 miles round-trip. Remember that ANA is also a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, just in case you don’t have enough ANA miles lying around.
If you’re paying cash, expect to spend about $927 for the one-way economy flight, making an award redemption a no-brainer here. Round-trip fares from Doha to Dallas are a bit cheaper, actually, at $903, while a round-trip originating in Dallas will run you $995 and up. Round-trips from Dallas to Abu Dhabi start at $1,133, so you’ll actually save quite a bit by continuing on to Doha.
I checked in online, but was unable to obtain a boarding pass for my AUH to DFW leg through the website or at the self-check-in kiosks in AUH Terminal 3. While there was a short line at the “USA Flights” check-in counters, it seemed to be going slowly for those ahead of me and it took me 20 minutes to reach the agent.
I didn’t have access to the Etihad lounges in Terminal 3 — as they only offer complimentary access to business- and first-class passengers — however, Terminal 1, which is connected to Terminal 3, does have two Priority Pass lounges. One of them — the Al Dhabi Lounge — actually won the Africa/Middle East Priority Pass Lounge of the Year award in 2013, so I went to check it out, given that I have access thanks to my Citi Prestige card.
The Al Dhabi Lounge has three main rooms — one with snacks, one with food and one with a bar. All three were crowded and loud during my visit, but the food selection in the middle room was impressive. Both warm and cold breakfast options were offered, and I found the flat omelet and “Mexican potatoes” to be particularly tasty. The lounge also had shower facilities, but there was a substantial waitlist at the time.
The Al Dhabi Lounge is accessible to Priority Pass members, select Diners Club International or American Express cardholders, elite and premium passengers on some airlines and anyone who wants to pay for entry — in this case, it’s AED 180 (~$49) per person for two hours, 320 AED (~$87) per person for five hours or 520 AED (~$142) per person for ten hours.
Even for those with complimentary access, I’d only recommend stopping by the Al Dhabi Lounge for a quick meal or drink. For longer layovers, the nearby Aerotel Airport Transit Hotel (airside, with prices starting at AED 290 or about $79 for six hours) or the Premier Inn Abu Dhabi International Airport (landside, I paid AED 207 or about $56 for an overnight stay) will likely be a better option.
Security and Boarding
It took me 20 minutes to walk from the Al Dhabi Lounge in Terminal 1 to the US Preclearance Facility in Terminal 3. Check out this post for more about my out-of-the-norm experience clearing security and customs, brought to you by the electronics ban.
After clearing the US Preclearance Facility’s security and immigration, all US-bound passengers are corralled into another area with a couple of connected gates. There was a small shop, but don’t expect to find substantial food or souvenir-buying opportunities at this point.
The boarding process was chaotic after the business and elite passengers were let on the plane. Although passengers were called by group, everyone — including the gate agents — seemed to be ignoring the group numbers. We proceeded slowly, with the final passengers trickling onto the plane after the scheduled departure time. We ended up pushing back 30 minutes late as a result.
Cabin and Seat
Most of the economy cabin in this 777-200 is arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration, although the last five rows are in a 2-4-2 layout. Note that SeatGuru doesn’t depict the correct style or seat numbering of the Etihad 777-200 — the actual layout of the economy cabin can be seen below or on Etihad’s website. For this flight I was in 23G, an aisle seat on the right side of the rear economy cabin’s middle section.
With a width of 17.5 inches, I found the seats to be uncomfortably narrow for a flight of more than 16 hours. To make matters worse, the 10-wide configuration forced the aisles to be very snug as well. In my aisle seat, I found myself getting bumped many times by other passengers and food carts throughout the flight. I did find the 31 inches of pitch to be adequate for my 5’5″ stature.
The cabin and seats looked aged but classy. Each seat had a headrest with wings that could be bent to provide neck support while you’re sleeping, although they didn’t bend as much as I would’ve liked.
Each seat came with a USB charging port, a universal power plug, an Ethernet port and a video port. I didn’t test the Ethernet port or the video port, but the power plug worked just fine between take-off and landing.
The brown, black and gray striped seats reclined in a way that didn’t reduce your knee space when the passenger in front of you was in the reclining position. It would’ve been difficult to work on a laptop, but thanks to the electronics ban, I didn’t have access to one on this flight anyway.
Although legroom wasn’t affected, larger personal items wouldn’t easily fit under most seats in the middle section of the economy cabin due to the seat supports. If you have a large personal item, you may want to pick one of the outer sections to ensure you’re able to store it underneath the seat in front of you.
In line with the aged feel of the cabin, the four economy bathrooms had no touchless features. I noticed the bathroom on the right side in the middle of the economy cabin was larger than the other three economy cabin bathrooms.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
Each seat came with a packaged blanket, a pillow in a disposable pillowcase, noise-canceling headphones and a small drawstring amenity kit.
The drawstring bag contained toothpaste, a toothbrush, an eye mask, ear plugs and socks. I’ve been using the little drawstring bag from a previous Etihad flight as a case for my personal eye mask and earplugs for years — in my opinion, it’s one of the best reusable amenity kit bags. The eye mask is cute and functional — it lets the flight attendants know whether to wake you to eat or not — but unfortunately, it’s not thick enough to effectively block out light.
The noise-canceling headphones were comfortable (and certainly better than the headphones provided in economy on most other long-haul flights) but weren’t very effective when it came to the noise-canceling part. The one downside of having nicer headphones was that they were collected — and the entire IFE system switched to just a flight map and exterior camera — about 50 minutes before landing.
The IFE system featured a large selection of movies (130), TV shows (16 different genres and seven live stations), games (70) and music (15 genres with 10-25 albums in each) but the resolution was grainy at best. There were many international selections and most movies were available with audio in multiple languages. The IFE screen could tilt, but my touchscreen rarely recognized my touch at the correct location, so I defaulted to using the handset instead.
I needed to remain connected during this flight. Based upon literature in the seatback pocket, there was an option to turn off airplane mode on mobile phones and pick up a mobile network. My Google Fi SIM card found no networks though, so I purchased a full flight Wi-Fi pass for $21.95. Two-hour ($11.95) and four-hour ($17.95) options were also available.
I tested the Wi-Fi multiple times during the flight — the best download speed I saw was 9.1Mbps in the middle of the flight and the worst download speed I saw was 880Kbps a few hours before landing. I noticed that the passenger in 23K video chatted on his phone for hours though, so apparently the Wi-Fi was strong enough to support it. The Wi-Fi completely shut down 30 minutes before landing.
Food and Beverage
The departure meal featured three options — “roast Chicken with Mash Potato and Vegetables,” “Baked fish With Couscous” and “Veg Bagara balgan with Pulao” — which were sent in multiple “Crew Messages” through the IFE system before the food service cart arrived.
By the time the food service cart reached the left side of row 23, the flight attendants claimed to only have the fish entrée left. However, when two passengers said they were vegetarian, more vegetarian entrées magically appeared. The food service cart on my side of the cabin still had all three options when it arrived, although I did receive the last chicken entrée.
Each of the three entrée choices came with crackers, a cold roll with butter, corn relish, one piece of watermelon, two small pieces of pineapple and a water bottle. The “roast Chicken with Mash Potato and Vegetables” entrée was disappointing. The mashed potatoes tasted powered, while the vegetables were overcooked and soggy and the sauce on the chicken was bland. Despite “desert” [sic] being listed as “chocolate mouse” [sic] on the IFE, there was no dessert — mouse or mousse — served at all.
Five hours after departure, flight attendants walked through the cabin with small bags of apple wedges. These apple wedges were crisp and provided a healthier alternative to the snacks often found in the economy cabin.
Seven hours after departure, a mid-flight sandwich and a choice of juice or water was served. There were two types of cold sandwiches: cheese and tomato or turkey. The turkey sandwich consisted of just meat and bread — surprisingly, it was not soggy.
10 hours after departure, flight attendants distributed bags of “creamy caramel” popcorn, which was so tasty I wandered over to the galley to see if there were additional bags. There was still an entire tray of popcorn bags remaining and the flight attendant encouraged me to take two.
14 hours after departure, the arrival meal was served. There was only one option for this meal: “Dak Makkhani with rice and Paneer,” which consisted of rice, paneer cheese in a leafy green sauce and a container of beans. The paneer was firm, the green sauce had a slight bit of spice and the rice wasn’t soggy. The entrée was served with a side of crisp vegetables, a cup of water and an off-brand Kit Kat.
Between the departure meal service and arrival meal service, there were consistently cups of water available in the galley. The two flight attendants there were happy to provide other drinks and packets of “savory snacks” upon request.
White wine, red wine, beer, spirits, juice, soda, coffee, tea and water were available on the food service cart during the departure and arrival meals. The mid-flight sandwich service featured just water and juice, although other drinks could be requested.
The entire 191-seat economy cabin was served by just four flight attendants — one of which was also serving as the flight’s “Flying Nanny” as denoted by her orange apron. However, due to crew rest, the mid-flight snack and arrival meal were both served by just two flight attendants — meaning it was quite slow.
The flight attendants were rather terse while in the main cabin but were friendly when interacting with passengers one-on-one in the galley. I watched the “Flying Nanny” make pipe cleaner animals for a few children in the galley and noticed some of the other passengers having extended conversations with FAs as well.
Overall though, service was disappointing on this flight. After the departure meal service, the flight attendants didn’t collect any trash, including coffee cups and some trays, for a few hours. Upon spotting trash in the aisle, the flight attendants would kick it under the seats instead of picking it up. But perhaps the worst was how the flight attendants handled — or failed to handle — a sick child in the row behind me. The child became physically ill during the second half of the flight, yet the FAs never encouraged the family to take the child to a restroom to be sick. This created a pungent environment for the passengers seated around the family, yet no re-seating options were offered.
After an excellent flight in 2015, I’d looked forward to flying with Etihad again, but this experience wasn’t what I’d hoped for. Both the hard product and soft product were lacking this time. Although the sick child was a special case, there was no excuse for flight attendants not collecting trash frequently and being unnecessarily short with passengers.
In terms of the hard product, I found the 17.5″ seat width to be uncomfortable for the more than 16-hour flight. And, it wasn’t just the seats that were narrow; tight aisles also made things uncomfortable. If I were to fly on this aircraft again, I’d try to get an aisle seat in one of the first few two-seat rows at the back of the economy cabin, as this would surely minimize the number of times I’d get bumped during the flight. Additionally, the IFE quality was disappointing, especially given that the electronics ban limited personal entertainment options to begin with.
Have you flown an Etihad 777-200 recently? If so, how did your experience compare with mine? Let us know in the comments, below.
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