First look: Etihad’s new business class on board the inaugural A350 flight to Paris

Mar 31, 2022

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor’s note: Etihad Airways provided Nicky Kelvin with free flights to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and on the inaugural A350-1000 route, but all opinions expressed are entirely his and weren’t subject to review by the airline.

This flight had been a long time coming. Etihad began taking delivery of A350-1000s from Airbus way back in the summer of 2019. We all know what happened next, but suffice it to say it was not an ideal period to be adding a new aircraft type to the fleet.

Almost three years later, on March 31, I was lucky enough to be invited aboard Etihad’s very first commercial flight with the aircraft. What made this even more exciting was the fact that this was the first time Etihad’s new business-class product took to the skies. This launch is another step toward normality for the world of travel and aviation, and there was a palpably positive energy in the air among the airline executives, dignitaries and media on board.

We flew as Flight EY37 departing from Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) at 7:59 a.m., arriving at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) six hours and 55 minutes later on this two-year-old aircraft, registered as A6-XWB.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

In This Post

 

Etihad’s Airbus A350-1000

Etihad has now taken delivery of five of these Airbus A350-1000s and has another 15 on order. Etihad’s configuration of the aircraft has 371 seats in total. This is composed of 44 business-class seats, based on the Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seat, which is also the foundation of the British Airways Club Suite. Farther back are 45 Economy Space seats with extra legroom and 282 regular economy seats, all laid out in a 3-3-3 configuration.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

One notable omission from this aircraft is a first-class product. Etihad has indefinitely grounded its Airbus A380s, with the much-hyped Apartments and the Residence aboard. Now Etihad only maintains a first-class cabin on some Boeing 787s and the lack of first class on its A350s is likely a signal that, in line with many other airlines around the world, first-class seats might be on the way out.

Although it was created for long-haul flights, Etihad will first operate the A350 on medium-haul routes to Istanbul; Cairo; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; New Delhi; and Mumbai, India, with the following frequencies:

  • Istanbul Airport (IST) — daily flights from April 1 to June 20.
  • Cairo International Airport (CAI) — four flights per week from May 2 to June 30.
  • King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) — six flights per week from April 3 to June 30.
  • Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) — daily flights from April 30 to June 30.
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM) — daily flights from April 1 to June 30.

The A350-1000 is able to operate on ultra-long-haul routes with over 16 hours of range, though. So from July, the aircraft will begin serving North American routes, starting with New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD).

Stepping on board

Boarding the aircraft at Door 1L and coming straight into the business-class cabin, I was immediately impressed. Etihad has chosen to remove the overhead storage bins from the center of the cabin.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

This allows for higher ceilings and a more open ambiance, and while there is a loss of space for bags, it certainly provides a noticeable sense of space.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The tones and colors are all classic Etihad, with gold, brown and cream tones throughout the cabin coming together to provide a stylish and chic environment. The lighting is designed to mirror natural ambient light and there are some newer features such as a dark-mode interface on the inflight entertainment system to help reduce light pollution for the best sleeping environment and to combat jet lag. Wi-Fi is also available throughout the plane.

New business class

I was most interested to set my eyes on the airline’s latest business-class seats.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

Aside from some leaked images from the Dubai Airshow in November 2021, there has been scant detail, photos or videos of this new product.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The business-class section of the aircraft is in a single cabin with seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, with direct aisle access for each passenger.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

I was assigned a window seat, 10K. Though angled, all seats face forward and are 20 inches wide. They convert into fully flat beds measuring 79 inches long.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

Each seat comes with a sliding door that closes almost all the way.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

It adds a certain level of privacy but you’ll find this most effective when lying down, as the door is not high enough to fully block you from view from the rest of the cabin when sitting upright.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

There is some, but not much, storage in various compartments around the seat.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

A shallow storage area is housed in the console by the window, with a slightly deeper unit next to it containing a touchscreen control for the inflight entertainment system and a universal power socket.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

A smaller open bin for storage by your legs and water bottle storage in the movable armrest comprise the remaining stowage areas.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The window seats face outward and have two windows apiece. So if you’re like me and could stare out at the world below for an entire flight, you’ll be very happy. The center pairs face inward and would be better for a couple. They do, however, have a privacy screen between the two seats if you are traveling alone.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The seat’s tray table slides down to two different height settings and folds out to double in size. It was sturdy and made a great surface for both working and eating.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The mechanism itself is incredibly satisfying to move up and down and feels “just right” for whatever you are trying to do. No fiddling around and pulling on sticky latches here.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The inflight entertainment system is comprehensive, with a wide selection of movies and TV shows and multiple live TV channels, all viewable on the 18.5-inch touchscreen.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

Alongside the power plug and USB ports (including USB-C), there is also a built-in wireless charging dock and Bluetooth headphone pairing, which are both features that should hopefully become the standard in today’s world.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

I did try charging my phone on the wireless charging dock, but because I kept picking it up (perhaps more of a reflection of my severe smartphone addiction) the phone struggled to power up and I switched to a wire instead.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

Overall, the seat was very comfortable and I could have stayed far longer than this almost 7-hour flight. I also tested it out in its fully flat position.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

It was soft and wide enough around the shoulders for any type of sleeper, although the footwell felt a little small, and if you like to wriggle your legs in your sleep, you might find your range of motion hindered.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The stylish Etihad lamp that you might recognize from other aircraft has been added to this seat, too.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

There is also a smaller push-out reading light at shoulder level.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

Etihad’s new business-class seat does indeed feel very similar to the British Airways Club Suite but I would consider this to be an upgrade due to the fabric upholstery, the cabin colors and the high-end finishes such as the marble effect on the seat’s flat surfaces.

Economy and Economy Space

I didn’t spend the whole flight upfront, though.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

I was also curious to check out how the airline had refreshed its economy cabin.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The seats feature the signature Etihad adjustable headrest, USB charging ports and Bluetooth headphone pairing and a 13.3-inch inflight entertainment screen.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

In the front portion of the economy cabin you’ll find the 45 Economy Space seats, which have an additional 4 inches of legroom, but are in the same 3-3-3 configuration as the rest of economy.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

I tried out both versions and the “normal” economy seats were fine for me, however, the extra 4 inches were definitely noticeable and would make a difference if you were taller, especially on a longer flight.

For instance, this is what my legs looked like in the Economy Space seats.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

And this was the legroom in economy.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The flight experience

As for the flight itself, there were a number of touches to mark the special occasion. A box of Mirzam chocolates was placed at every seat with “Celebrating the A350 entry into service” wrapping.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

Since the destination was Paris, the flight attendants served a special French-themed menu.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The food was perhaps not the norm that you might expect from Etihad for breakfast, with particular highlights including lobster eggs Benedict and a French omelet with caviar.

I began with the fresh fruit followed by the French omelet.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

The omelet was presented beautifully and tasted delicious, although I do prefer a runnier egg, which isn’t often found in the sky.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

I noticed the breakfast service took around four hours to complete after takeoff. This could mean that Etihad might experience the same problems British Airways had on its A350s, with a very small galley and a relatively large business-class cabin. Or it could have been the special nature of the flight and the menu. Time will tell whether teething problems are easily smoothed out and service becomes more efficient.

Back on the ground in Paris, a media briefing was hosted at the gate, complete with speeches and an incredibly elaborate carved melon.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

I particularly appreciated the accurate melon-skin representation of the Etihad logo — that must be one talented fruit carver.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

 

“The Airbus A350 is an absolutely incredible aircraft, and we are proud to introduce it into the Etihad Airways network today,” Tony Douglas, Etihad’s CEO, told the crowd. “Our teams have worked closely together to craft a product and travel proposition that will ensure every journey with Etihad is a choice well made – both for our guests and for the planet. With highly efficient fuel consumption and CO2 savings, the A350 will support our goals to reduce carbon emissions and deliver an unmatched flight experience for our guests.”

Bottom line

Overall, Etihad’s A350 is a beauty and, in particular, the new business-class product has a lot to make a passenger comfortable and happy.

As for me, it was a wonderful experience to be back on board an inaugural flight and experience some aviation magic, but this aircraft is one I would definitely recommend trying out for your next trip to or through the Middle East and especially once it begins flying between Abu Dhabi and the U.S.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.