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Winner May 2013

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TimFitzgeraldTC flew Etihad Airways Pearl Business, on a B777-300ER (three class)

I travelled as part of a group to our annual conference on the 16th May to Abu Dhabi on 20. As the trip was partly sponsored by Etihad they gave a good offer to upgrade to Business round trip as as I wasn't paying for the rest decided that this would be worthwhile. And I wanted to try Etihad Business Class. As on a special deal I didn't get the chauffeur service (not a problem but can't comment on this).

So my trip from Brighton meant I left my door at 10:40 for the 10:49 train to Victoria, a change at Clapham Juntion in 5 minutes for the Feltham train and then the 490 Bus from Felthams station (every 12 minutes) to T4 (bus goes onto T5). This took 15 minutes so made it to the check in desk by 12:20 for a 14:45 flight. Very easy and cheap (used Oyster for the bus service).

For anyone travelling from the south coast I can't recommend this route highly enough if you aren't using a car and wanting to avoid central London train/tube.

I had checked in online the night before and got window seat 7A. Seatguru website actually had this seat listed as last row in the front cabin whereas it is the first row of the main cabin. The seat map on the online check isn't great - this could be much improved.

Check in was quick and I only had hand luggage. Made my way to security with Fast Track pass. T4 Fast track was very slow (a couple of Americans weren't impressed). It was quicker than the normal security queues but as T4 has many international travellers whose first language isn't English I would suggest that they have 2 security lanes open for Fast Track at T4. This isn't the fault of Etihad - but they could pressure the airport to improve this.

T4 itself isn't all that, but got a couple of books and then headed to the Etihad lounge. I was the first of my colleagues to get there but quickly joined by another 5 of us in Business Class. They also allow economy passengers to pay £45 to use the lounge, so some of my other colleagues who hadn't paid to go Business also took the opportunity to try the lounge.

Overall it was good, not as good as some of the other lounges there but the food was good (especially the duck) and service was quick and efficient. I also had a 10 minute neck and back massage before the flight which was a nice unexpected bonus.

Flight was delayed by 30 minutes so got to use the lounge for a bit longer and we were called when flight was ready to board. Boarding was very quick and easy. Directed to my seat 7A. Couldn't swap as the flight was full so close to the loo and I wouldn't suggest this (I had 9A on the way back - much better seat).

Pre take off drinks offered promptly and took a glass of champagne. Another round quickly followed after take off (smooth ascent heading straight off in an Easterly direction).

Dinner orders taken, starters were Arabic Mezze, Pan seared tuna with Black Pepper and Yellow Pepper Soup. I chose the Pan Seared Tuna (had the mezze on the return flight). Mains were Chicken Parcel with vegetables, Arabic Lamb Ragout (my choice), Pan Seared scallops or Pappardelle Pasta.

Food was reasonable - they weren't dishes I would have ordinarily picked, but sometimes on a plane it is a good chance to try something new. Having never had Pan seared tuna I couldn't tell you if it was good - but I enjoyed it. Arabic Lamb was tasty.

At the same time as taking the dinner orders they had 3 choices of red & white along with the champagne option, so I had Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from Marlborough with the Starter (other choices Domaine Laroche Chablis Premier Cru Les Beauroy 2009 Burgundy or Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Torontes 2011 Salta (Argentina)). With the Lamb I chose a Red - George Wyndham Founders Reserve Shiraz 2010. Other options were Segla 2008 Margaux and Wairau Hills Pinot Noir 2011 from Marlborough. After the champagne I had already had difficult to say how good the wine was, but seemed to work well with the food.

I had dinner to Django Unchained and the entertainment had a good choice. The magazine onboard could have been thicker - with more descriptions rather than all on the screen. But lots of new film choices available and could have watched films the whole flight. Ordered a cognac whilst watching the film which seemed to take a while to come to me - but then it was served warm in a warm glass which was a nice touch.

After the film decided to try down but got a bit of indegestion so didn't sleep well (no fault of the bed). Overall I thought the bed was much comfier than the other Business Class I have flown recently (BA).

Downside to 7A was that the feet have a narrower space to fit in but I could get into a Z position. Also had no one to climb over me to worry about. Seat 9A doesn't have the smaller foot area so again a better bet if you can get it.

Snoozed for about 90 minutes and then watched another film. My water bottle was quickly replaced after I had finished the first one. Got to Abu Dhabi about 30 minutes late and given our Fast Track passes for immigration, but as we were first off by the time about 5 people were in this queue it was quicker to use normal lanes as no one was in them so very efficient. (However my colleagues who arrived at 7-7:30 am on the following flights had to queue for over an hour to get through - not something you would expect from a place like Abu Dhabi).

I didn't have any luggage so went straight to our meeting point.

Adding the below for the return journey back to LHR:

Lounge at Abu Dhabi was good - much bigger than Heathrow as you would expect. And the premium check in area is very nice. One of my colleagues was travelling with his wife in economy who was 5 months pregnant. As a quiet flight they gave her a middle row of 4 (with her husband) and blocked out the other 2 seats, and the seat directly in front of the one she was allocated so no one would recline into her - very thoughtful nice touch.

Terminal 4 Fast Track - hideously slow for an EU passport holder - should sign and say for non EU as much faster to go through these lanes. Realised that mistake when in the queue. But at least I now know!

Overall Impression: The 777 is a nice aircraft and very impressed with the Business class offering.

Service was a bit slow in places but then all served by hand - and staff were very personable. They also asked how you would like to be addressed which I liked - I just said Tim. Compared to BA - they win head and shoulders above. I feel there Business Class seat is incredibly narrow and coffin like. BA might be consistent and great for shareholders with "get as many seats in as possible" sardine like feel. However from a customer perspective I would choose Etihad over them on applicable routes.

As always this is subjective and down to experiences that we all have. From what I have read on here I guess not quite Qatar/Cathay Pacific standard for Business but I'd have no qualms in recommending it to people.


Runner up:

AntonyMercer flew British Airways Club World, on a B777-200 (Three class)

BA2167: London Gatwick to Tampa

I checked in for this flight online 24 hours before departure, having already pre-selected my seat at the time of booking. I have never had the opportunity to travel in First, so as this was a three class 777, I decided to sit as far forward as possible in an aisle seat, and was therefore in 2B.

I arrived at London Gatwick and made my way to Check In Zone A. At the far end is a cordoned area for Club World and First passengers. In truth it was not particularly well organised though the right intentions were there as one lady was welcoming passengers to the priority area, checking the hand luggage and then directing them to a desk. However, as she was on her own, other passengers bypassed her and went straight to the check-in desk much to the consternation of some passengers!

I was seen quickly by a very friendly gentleman who offered directions to both the Lounge and Fastrak Security.

I then made my way the short distance to the Fastrak Security area, which has moved since I last had the privilege of using it. It is completely separate from the main security area. The advantage of this is that the staff don't suddenly send economy passengers when it is busy elsewhere. However on the converses there is only one lane, I had the unfortunate position of being behind a family including 3 very young children. It therefore took nearly 15 minutes to get through security. I had plenty of time so it did not matter to me but I imagine it can get quite stressful at busy times.

I then went straight to the BA Terraces Lounge. BA has a First and Terraces Lounges, both on the 4th Floor. They are reached by using a lift or stairs from the 3rd floor. Every time I have used this Lounge, it is always busy but there seemed to be plenty of staff on hand to clear away cups and plates to enable new visitors to take available seats.

At this time, around 9am, the food offering was clearly geared up to breakfast as you would expect. It was of the continental variety, with offerings including various cereals, fruit, yoghurts, porridge, danish pastries, cheeses and toast. I was a bit disappointed that there were no bacon rolls, but perhaps I've got used to the high standards of LHR T5!

I did ask for and receive a lovely glass of champagne which more than made up and set me up for the flight.

As no announcements are made in the Lounge, I went down to the Gate when instructed to do so on the screen. It became confusing at the gate as a narrow corridor lead to two gates, the Tampa flight I was on and a BA flight to Amsterdam. It was not clear that the Tampa passengers did not need to be in this queue until we reached the end of the corridor. A design flaw I think!

We then had to go through two checks before entering the departure area. Thirty minutes before the scheduled departure, boarding commenced for Club World travellers and Gold Executive members.

Club World on this plane is split into two with Rows 1-8 in the forward cabin and Rows 9-11 in the second cabin, and before World Traveller Plus. As there is no First Class Cabin, it is definitely better to be in the forward cabin, and I was very pleased with my seat selection, 2B, as it meant that I did not have anyone stepping over my legs as well as being served quickly.

Although the flight was pretty full, the crew were very efficient at getting everyone organised and we pushed back a few minutes early. After the Seat Belt sign was extinguished, the crew handed out hot towels, the menus and amenity kits.

The Lunch Menu was as follows:

  • Starters: Crayfish and beetroot smoked salmon salad with chive creme fraiche, or Blue cheese and caramelised walnut salad with creamy Parmesan dressing.
  • Salad: Fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette.
  • Main: Roasted breast of chicken wrapped in prosciutto with celeriac mashed potatoes and shallow jus. Or Seared fillet steak with salsa verde, thyme-roasted cocotte potatoes and creamed leeks. Or Prawn masala with coriander rice. Or Chilled main course salad of new potato, rocket and blood orange with with shanklish goat's cheese balls and Parmesan dressing.
  • Dessert: Chocolate hazelnut tart. Or
  • Butler's Secret Cheddar and Shropshire Blue cheese with plum and ginger chutney. Or A selection of fruits.
  • Chocolates

Lunch was served with the following wines:

White: Chablis 2011, Domaine Sainte Claire, Burgundy, France, Tiki Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand.

Red: Barbera d'Asti Superiore 2009, DOCG, "La Luna e l Falo". Piedmont, Italy. Wakefield 'Jarman' Shiraz 2009, Clare Valley / McLaren Valley, South Australia.

The champagnes that were on offer were:

  • Taittinger Brut Reserve NV Champagne
  • Champagne de Castelnau Brut Rose NV
  • Champagne Boizel Grand Vintage 2004

I selected the Crayfish as the starter and the fillet steak as the main course and I was not disappointed. The service was personal and efficient, but not rushed.

I watched a couple of films throughout the flight, had a brief sleep and did some reading, as well as visiting the Club Kitchen for some water and fruit. It was well stocked with wraps and crisps available along with various drinks.

Afternoon Tea was served about 90 minutes before arrival. This comprised of:

  • An individual selection of sandwiches featuring smoked salmon with lemon creme fraiche and roast beef with horseradish mayonnaise.
  • Plain or fruit scones served warm with clotted cream and strawberry preserves.

We arrived about 30 minutes early, and as Tampa is not a busy International Airport, I was through immigration and had collected my bags within 20 minutes.

I was staying overnight at the Marriott Hotel, which is actually accessed directly within the terminal building. This is a superb hotel and one I would stay at again if I needed to overnight whilst in transit.

Overall an excellent flight. Ruth marshalled her crew really well which made for an enjoyable flight.