Etihad Airways A340-600 Pearl Business04/10/2012
CHECK-IN Etihad’s dedicated Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi airport opened in March, and I had to convince my taxi driver that it even existed. Business and first class passengers enter through the premium entrance at the far end of the terminal building. I arrived at around 10.45am for my 13.30 EY17 flight to London Heathrow. The check-in area has leather sofas and chairs in case there is a queue, but there was no one in front of me and I was greeted by a member of staff who showed me to the desk.
I asked politely for a window seat (as these have more privacy) but I was told that there were none available. I was given seat 6G (an aisle seat in the middle section) and the check-in agent explained that this was a good seat because it was near the front (in the first section of business class rather than the second). However, I heard another lady asking for a window seat a few minutes later and she was granted one, which rather annoyed me.
THE LOUNGE After check-in there is dedicated passport control and security for premium passengers, which I cleared within a few minutes. Airside, there are rows of designer shops. I went straight to the new area that houses the first and business class lounges. The business lounge is large and has several different sections stylishly fitted with leather chairs, stools and armchairs in brown, beige and green, and funky shelves with Middle Eastern ornaments.
I arrived at around 11am and half an hour later some hot food was brought out about 20 minutes later. Dishes included mashed potato, chicken stroganoff, tomato rice, and spaghetti bolognaise. I had some chicken stroganoff and it was lovely. There were also cold offerings including sushi, meat, cheese and biscuits. Drinks were available from a staffed bar.
I settled down in a secluded corner with a large sofa and views over the runway. There’s a smoking room and free wifi, as well as a workroom with ten new Mac computers and desk lamps. When I was there, I couldn’t access my email for some reason but other websites were working fine. The lounge has a small Six Senses spa where you can book a free 15-minute facial or massage. (I had a very good intense shoulder massage.)
BOARDING We were due to board at about 12.30pm but I finished my massage at 12.35 and boarding had not yet begun. I waited for 15 minutes before heading to Gate 28 and once there, was directed to the first airbridge to board the front of the plane. I walked through first class (12 seats in 1-2-1 configuration) and into the first business class cabin. I was in my seat (6G) by 1pm but before take-off I had a look around and realised there were several window seats still empty (which again was annoying as I had been told there were none available) so I moved to seat 5K.
THE SEAT Etihad’s new first class product and revamp of its business class seating will be completed by the end of next year. I was flying on a three-class A340-600 with 30 business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration over two cabins (rows five to eight, and then rows nine to 12) divided by the galley. I was in the first cabin in seat 5K, which was a window seat on the right side of the plane.
Seats are staggered (C, E-F, H / A, D-G, K) so that in every other row the middle two seats (E and F) are together – good for if you want to chat to your colleague/friend during the flight. The other seats have more privacy, especially the window seats A and K.
All business class seats have direct access to the aisle so you won’t be disturbed or disturb anyone else. But be aware that middle seats don’t have overhead storage, so it is best to board early to secure space close to where you are sitting. (Visit seatplans.com for help choosing the best seat.)
THE SEAT reclines to a 180-degree fully-flat bed with a length of more than six feet (186cm). The pitch is 88 inches (223.5cm). Each one is self-contained and has its own mood lighting and built-in massage function, as well as a personal 15-inch LCD screen with a “plug and play” feature that allows passengers to upload their own games and create personalised music playlists. In-flight telephony and more than 450 hours of AVOD entertainment were available.
THE FLIGHT We were offered champagne once were we settled in, and pushed back from the gate late, with the pilot explaining that the flight would be seven hours and 20 minutes. Somehow I was missed out when the amenity kits came round, so I asked for one and a flight attendant came over and introduced herself. She presented me with a large bag containing Aigner toiletries (face mist, body lotion and lip balm) a bottle of Voss water, an eye mask and socks, earplugs and a dental kit. She also gave me a menu for the in-flight meals.
Food orders were taken shortly after take-off and I chose potato gnocchi and beef tenderloin. The meal service started about half an hour later, and we were served an amuse bouche (fish) and then a hot loaf of three different bread types and Arabian dips. My beef was rare, just as I like it, and the gnocchi was also good.
There was a mother with an eight-month-old baby, which cried a lot, sitting in the same row as me. So I put on the IFE and started watching a film in a bid to drown out the noise but the system kept defaulting back to the main menu, and after several patient attempts to resume play, I gave up and went to sleep for a couple of hours.
When I woke up, I tried to watch the film again but the IFE was not co-operating, so I ordered a warm club sandwich from the “Anytime” menu, which was a pleasant distraction. I attempted to watch a different film a bit later, which seemed to be working, but we landed (at 6.15pm local time) before I could finish it.
ARRIVAL Business class passengers have the option of a fast-track immigration lane but I used IRIS and was through before anyone else, and my bag came out quite quickly. Etihad offers business and first class passengers a free car transfer to anywhere within 100 miles of the airport. (You need to book it 48 hours before you travel.) But I decided to catch the Heathrow Express into the centre of London as it was still rush hour so probably would have been quicker. I was on board by 7.20pm.
VERDICT The lounge at Abu Dhabi was a great comfort, and the seat and service on board the plane is top notch. However, the IFE was disappointing on this leg of the journey. (I had no problems with it on the way out.)
CONFIGURATION 1-2-1 in business (C, E-F, H / A, D-G, K)
SEAT PITCH 223.5cm/88in
SEAT WIDTH 50cm/20in
PRICE Return business class fares for a midweek flight in June started from £2,520 online.