Aircraft Type: A330-300
Class: Business Class
Date: July 2014
Best for: International business class travellers looking for luxury with one-stop connections
Most likely to sit next to: Local Abu Dhabi residents or über-cool marketing and media types.
Business or pleasure: This is an airline all about pleasure, whilst the carrier offers wi-fi and large tables to work from and more plug sockets than a computer store, the seats, with massage, extensive movies and comfortable flatbeds make it all about switching off.
Routes: For such a young airline, the carrier is continuing to grow, the business class product, (which is quite unique) is identical throughout the long haul fleet, making for guaranteed comfort.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Etihad Guest. Whilst Etihad isn’t a member of an alliance, its strategic partners mean you can earn miles on 22 carriers, and with many seats available to use your miles on.
Best bits: Seat, Service and IFE
Worst bits: The London and Abu Dhabi Lounges are great, but we felt the Abu Dhabi lounge was a little tired, needs a refresh.
Etihad Airways A330-300 Business Class Report
We were very lucky to be invited on the Etihad A330 business class product, when heading over to Abu Dhabi to see their innovation centre and to speak to Peter Baumgartner, their CCO. The trip gave us the perfect opportunity to fully experience their award winning current business class product in detail, which will be available on the majority of the fleet for a good few years yet. The seats will eventually be phased out to match their new A380 and 787 products. Etihad, from London is one of the many Middle Eastern Carriers, that offer many flights a day in relative luxury, it was time to see how it stacked up against its competitors.
On the Ground
Sadly, our tickets weren’t eligible for chauffeur service, which most of the business class tickets do allow for. Making a journey into London Heathrow’s Terminal 4, all that bit more relaxing. Still arriving in the sunshine was still pleasant enough. Terminal 4 at Heathrow used to be seen as the poor-man’s terminal, with low ceilings, a dark long corridor of a departure lounge, and mismatched unheard of airlines huddling together for protection. How things have changed. A lighter, more modern check in zone, brightly lit departure lounge and luxury shops now make Terminal 4 a secret that is well worth sharing.
The check in zone was relatively empty on our arrival, 2 hours and a bit before the flight, and the Business Class check in was completely empty. A quick stroll up to the desk where we were greeted by smiling ground staff dressed in Etihad uniforms effortlessly checked us in and sorted out our lounge access. The check in zone, was a mere stone’s throw from the premium fast track security point. This meant we managed to get to Security in under 5 minutes from arriving at the airport.
However the Fast Track at Heathrow Terminal 4 was a disaster, and apparently a common problem. The new automated bag scanner they have meant that anyone having their bag pulled aside to be checked was in for a 1 hour wait. We managed to get through fast track in a unbelievably pathetic 35 minutes. There was only 12 people ahead of us. The main security channels were most likely faster. Heathrow desperately need to address this situation.
Still, once through, and de-flustered, we headed off to the Etihad Lounge. It’s sort of hidden away, we actually walked past it, before turning back on ourselves and finding the signage. The Etihad lounge, situated below the Skyteam lounge, was down a spiral staircase and seemed fairly unassuming, that is until we reached the bottom of the staircase.
The Etihad Lounge is spacious and split into three main areas, a lounge area, with adjoining kids zone and Six Senses spa, a main restaurant and bar area, and a further lounge area featuring a buffet bar and large picture windows onto the airport’s apron. The lounge matches the design ethos of the main lounge in Abu Dhabi, and features dark wood, clean bright walls and floors and splashes of Orange to inject a little colour. The wifi in the lounge is fast, and there is good phone reception.
There are no announcements in the lounge either, instead, the lounge staff come up to you to advise you when the aircraft is ready to board. With a little bit of time, I headed to the spa reception, where someone from Six Senses greeted me and told me there was plenty of space to fit me in for a 15 minute facial. (This is a bit of a change, from Heathrow’s Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse, where its virtually impossible to book anything due to a lack of treatment staff and rooms)
The facial was brilliant, and whilst not exactly invasive, was perfect for rehydrating you before a long flight in an air conditioned aircraft. The lounge beckoned once again, and I took a seat at a dining table, where I was treated to restaurant style service and a glass of Champagne was offered to me within a matter of seconds. Whilst no drinks or menus were on display, this was due to us travelling during Ramadan, but being an international airline, they still cater with a full drinks and food list.
We are a great fan of this lounge, and whilst a little minimalist, it’s a perfect secret haven away from the hustle and bustle of the main departure lounge. On finishing one of the best kebabs we’ve had in a while, we were told the aircraft was ready for us, and we made our way to the gate. Today the gate was situated quite a walk away, so when we arrived, the ground crew were already closing up for the flight.
Making our way through the jet bridge, we were greeted by impeccably dressed cabin crew, with their lovely trademark red leather gloves. We were then escorted to our seats. We picked 9E and 9F, a middle seat pair that are sat next to each other. The Business Class cabin on the A330-300 is split in two, a mini two row cabin in front of the galley and entrance way, and a larger cabin behind, situated just in front of the economy cabin. The seats are situated in an alternating 1 x 2 x 1 configuration, providing both space and privacy.
The cabin is quite a neutral tone, offering a wealth of sandy earthy tones, mixed with striped fabric chairs, Poltrona Frau leather head rests and panoramic images on the bulkheads of the Modern Arabia that Etihad is proud to promote. What is key to Etihad’s airbus cabin, and is lovely to see, is their use of the mood lighting available on the aircraft and starlight ceiling panels. The centre overhead bins have also been removed to offer more height and space in the premium cabins.
The aircraft’s business class also offers a toilet with double sided fully mirrored walls and a window, the toilet is well appointed, very clean and spacious and offers a full range of Korres products. One of our thedesignair.net favourite brands. Naturally, photographing a confined space is a little difficult…
The seat itself is a throne, the best are definitely those away from the aisles, so the window seats if travelling alone, and the two seats side by side if travelling with a partner. The aisle seats, whilst identical, have an open foot well, meaning that your whole body is exposed whilst sleeping. Not a problem, as they are covered with a beautiful duvet whilst asleep, but there is more chance of being knocked by a passing passenger or cabin crew member.
The seat is very comfortable, with a thick padded cushion, and whilst not super wide, still has plenty of space to tuck yourself into. There are a variety of massage functions to get the blood circulating, and there are lots of storage areas to tuck away personal effects, and a coat hook, on which your coat is returned to just before landing. The centre pair of seats has got a partition screen which can be raised or lowered to ensure privacy if travelling solo and brought down if travelling together.
The seats also offer a variety of hi-tech elements, such as a giant touchscreen TV, IFE controller by your seat, lots of plug points and charging ports, and a variety of lights to make the space your own. However, the simplicity of the seat, and its controls are the big winner here. There’s nothing worse than needing to read an instruction manual before operating the seat. It should be intuitive with everything in the right place, and these seats do this perfectly.
If you read us a lot, you’ll know, we love the black and white humbug bedding, what most people won’t know is that one side is the printed fabric, on the other side of both the pillow and the duvet, is soft black micro fibre, perfect for snuggling into to keep warm. The seat also offers a large table, perfect for dining or working.
The eBox system is certainly packed full of options, from blockbusters to classic movies, whole TV series and music offerings. But the eBox system also offers a wealth of other #avgeek options, from moving maps, to cameras perfect for watching the landing, or the ground crew pushing back the aircraft. There is also WiFi, which although a little glitchy on our return flight, is fairly quick and affordable. The user interface is pretty easy, and you can even favourite certain programmes meaning you can line up your viewing list before you even take off. And yes, it’s gate to gate viewing, on fairly decent noise cancelling headphones.
The food onboard was excellent, and even on a short flight as this (6 hours or so) we were offered two full meals. For those wanting to eat in the lounge, this was an option, being a night flight, it can be a good idea if you have to work the following day to maximise your rest. For those wanting to get the most out of the flight, there is plenty on offer. You’ll have to forgive the quality of the photos, with the low lighting, and open cabin, we didn’t want to use flash to interrupt their sleep.
For dinner we started with an Arabic Mezze, and finished with a rack of lamb, and for dessert we went with Vanilla and Chocolate Mousse. All of which were cooked perfectly, and pre-discussed with one of Etihad’s food and beverage managers, who are onboard each flight.
We were also delighted to see drinks served at your seat, when ordering champagne, it was poured at your seat, a very nice touch, that only a few carriers do. After a very deep, but short sleep, we were woken to a delightful and tasty breakfast, which could be either small or large, depending on your preference, all came served with fresh croissants, that were crisp and fluffy, and a wake up smoothie. Shortly after the food service, the cabin was tidied and prepared for landing. Those still sleeping were very gently woken to prepare for landing, just 10 minutes before landing. A lovely touch.
Etihad offers a host of luxury extras, from chauffeur services through to noise cancelling headphones and everything in-between. The greatest element is the amenity kit, whereby Etihad partnered with Sougha, a social enterprise initiative which preserves Emirati traditions and promote local artisans. The beautiful and unique amenity kits feature patterns of Sadou, a colourful, intricate and centuries-old Abu Dhabi weaving craft, inside are a wealth of extras, from Korres products, through to socks and the usual amenity kit offerings.
Our trip with Etihad was virtually faultless, it offered a wealth of contemporary and industry leading elements. Overall, the service was by far the biggest selling point, (our outbound flight more so than our return back to London), but both offered genuinely smiling crew, happy to serve and help. They were the epitome of professionalism and their grooming standards impeccable. The seats were comfortable, and well equipped, they could have been a little wider, but the airline has already addressed this with the new wave of seats they are releasing. Compared to the cost of the tickets, the product way outperforms expectations and the airline should be the first choice for those travelling across the middle east. We can’t wait to experience them on a longer flight now. Our recent trip just justifies why this airline features in our Top 10 airline business classes 2014.