Etihad Airways A330-300 Pearl business class04/10/2012
CHECK IN I arrived at Heathrow T4 at 1845 for my 2130 flight EY18 to Abu Dhabi and headed for Etihad’s check-in zone, C. A member of staff greeted me on my way to the business class desk, which had no customers, and I was seen to immediately. Fast-track security was likewise quiet and I was airside in a couple of minutes.
THE LOUNGE I proceeded to Etihad’s lounge located opposite gate 10, a few minutes’ walk right after security. As I have found when using it in the past, it is a calm, well-equipped space with excellent, friendly staff. (For facilities, see my previous review here.) The reception staff informed me that the flight would board a little early at 2000-2010 as we would be leaving from a more distant gate, so I decided not to avail of a complimentary spa treatment, instead grabbing a tasty plate of curry and rice from the hot and cold buffet and printing a few documents in the business centre.
BOARDING We were invited to board at 2015 and I made my way to gate 1A, at the other end of the terminal. A bus was waiting to take me to the aircraft – one had just departed so I had to wait until my one was full, which took some considerable time. I got to my seat at 2050 and was quickly offered a welcome drink and given a menu. I was also asked what drink I would like after take-off.
THE SEAT This A330-300 was configured for three classes, with business taking up ten rows (five to 14) and located to the right as you board. The aircraft had the newest incarnation of Etihad’s business product. Seats are in a 1-2-1 configuration that alternates in such a way that all have direct aisle access – rows five, seven, nine, 11 and 13 have a window seat A, two middle seats E and F and window seat K, while rows six, eight, ten, 12 and 14 have aisle seats C, D, G and H (click here for a seat plan).
I was in seat 6G. It is a fixed shell design with the seat upholstered in stripy fabric with tan leather armrests and headrest, and the surround in beige. The seat meets with the footstool in front (built into the back of the seat in front) to make a 74-inch fully flat bed. A 15-inch touchscreen in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen is built into the seat in front, above the footstool, and there is storage space for a bag underneath the footstool. There is also a coat hook, in-seat power and USB ports. A table folds down from the seat in front – it is a good size and very stable when typing on a laptop. The seat surround to my left had a space to store a water bottle, a reading light, a drinks tray, a magazine holder and a couple of other small storage spaces. The IFE control is also built into it, as is the seat control panel, which includes preset upright, relax and bed settings, massage functions and buttons to adjust the headrest, leg rest and lumbar support. A substantial woollen blanket and pillow are supplied.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The alternating fixed shell arrangement means all passengers have the same amount of legroom. If you are travelling in a couple, taking the middle seats E and F will allow you to chat with the most ease, but note that these offer the least amount of privacy if you are flying solo, as they don’t have the seat surround to divide them. If you are in row five you can disembark first but you may also be disturbed by noise from the galley and washroom. Row 14 is in front of the bulkhead separating business from economy, so you may also experience disturbance if the bassinets are in use. Window seats A and K are probably the best as you are more tucked away.
THE FLIGHT We pushed back on time and took off at 2130. Rather than giving out a complete amenity kit, crew came round with a tray containing separate toothbrush sets, eye masks, ear plugs and pouches with Aigner body lotion and lip balm, and invited us to take what we wanted.
Half an hour into the flight, drinks and a canapé (chicken skewer) were served, followed by a meal after another half an hour. The choices were tomato soup or Arabic mezze to start (I had the mezze, which was lovely), mixed crudités salad or fillet of beef tenderloin for the main (I had the salad, which was fine, though not very substantial, and it was served with some very hard pitta bread), and cheese, bread and butter pudding, fresh fruit or ice cream for dessert (I had the ice cream and asked for a little of the two choices, vanilla and chocolate, receiving a full portion of both, which was very kind of them, though there was not a chance of me finishing both). There was also the option of an express supper if you wanted to sleep (chicken and vegetable mille feuilles, with tomato soup or turkey and cream cheese bagel, and fresh fruit, all served together) and a “kitchen anytime” menu including snacks such as a steak sandwich, cheese, fruit and ice cream.
The wines were G H Mumm Champagne, Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2008 from Burgundy, Jermann Pinot Grigio 2007 from Italy, Dr Fischer Steinbock Riesling 2008 from Mosel, Seglas 2007 Margaux from Bordeaux, Mt Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2009 from Central Otago, and George Wyndham Founder’s Reserve Shiraz 2007 from Langhorne Creek, Australia – as I was ultimately bound for Sydney, I had the last of these, and it was very nice. Service was faultless.
I watched a film on the audio-video on-demand IFE system, which had a decent selection of movies, TV, audio and games, and did a little work. The headphones were excellent at blocking out noise, which I discovered when I took them off after a couple of hours and found there was a fair amount of chat going on between crew in the galley, and some serious snoring going on among the other passengers. As most of the passengers had been seated together in the front four rows of business, leaving the rest of the cabin pretty empty, I moved towards the back of the cabin to get some rest uninterrupted for a couple of hours. I reclined the seat to fully flat, stretched out – it was very comfortable, with ample room both lengthways (I am five-foot three) and widthways (it is 20 inches wide) – and snoozed until shortly before landing, skipping breakfast.
ARRIVAL We landed into Abu Dhabi International airport ten minutes early at 0705 local time and were quickly off the plane. As this was a connecting flight to Sydney (for a review of that leg click here) and my luggage had been through-checked, I proceeded to Terminal 3, about a ten-minute walk, and headed for the premium lounge, just after security (this had a fast-track lane for first and business class passengers).
VERDICT An excellent service – punctual and efficient with welcoming staff and a well-designed, comfortable seat.
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Sydney via Abu Dhabi in October started from £3,724.