I spend the night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Terminal 4. The hotel only opened in October 2018 and still retains that smell of new building and new furniture. The rooms are comfortable and spacious and the staff are obviously still eager to please. The only issue I have, is that I mistakenly booked a room in the quiet zone of the building, which by default means a room away from the airport. So no airport views.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
This must be one of the shortest airport transfers ever! I exit the hotel at 11h15 and make my way up the escalator onto the foot bridge to Terminal 4, which is about two minutes away if you’re walking at a leisurely pace. The foot bridge ejects me on the departures level of the terminal.
Etihad Airways checks-in in sector C, which is at the opposite end of the terminal from where I entered the building coming from the hotel. There is one counter for First Class passengers, three for Business Class passengers and five for Economy Class.
The check-in agent tags my suitcase and, seeing my passport, chats idly about how nice she thought Malta was when she visited… But then for one horrible moment I think I’m royally screwed as she informs me I’ll need to apply for a visa for Abu Dhabi before I enter the country. But then she realises that she’s made a mistake and used the country code for the Maldives instead of Malta. So we’re good after all.
AIRSIDE & LOUNGE
There’s a fast track for security, which is pretty much empty when I arrive. One thing they do really well at Heathrow, is the security check – it’s well organised, quick and efficient. Before I visit the lounge, I decide to take a stroll around the departure concourse. The whole length of the terminal is littered with luxury boutiques from all the well-known brands, with the occasional restaurant thrown in for good measure. The glitzy shops are all empty though, while the Prêt à Manger is the only place that’s busy.
Other than that, architecturally Terminal 4 is not likely to win any prizes any time soon. And I’d also like to know what sort of cruel soul designs a terminal in such a way that most windows will not give you an unobstructed view of the airplanes…?
Along the way, I pass a sign pointing passengers in the direction of the all-purpose prayer rooms. I find the sign rather odd though, because it uses the plural ‘ablutions’ but with a singular verb.
The House lounge is located opposite gate 10, from where my flight to Abu Dhabi will be boarding later on. The entrance to The House is to the right of the SkyTeam lounge.
The receptionist welcomes me in and then shows me around. The lounge has a separate dining room. The tables are all nicely set, with a small vase of flowers on each table. There is a choice between an à la carte menu and a selection of hot dishes from the buffet. Figuring it’ll probably be a while before I get to eat on the plane, I order the Tortelloni with truffle oil, creamy pumpkin and hazelnut pesto, which tastes excellent.
The staff in the lounge are polite, friendly and very attentive. Once I’ve finished the meal, I find myself a quiet corner to sit and relax a bit with my Kindle. I only realise once I sit down that I’m actually sitting next to actor Bill Nighy!
Boarding starts at 13h20 for our 14h05 departure. First and Business Class passengers are instructed to take the exit to the airbidge on the far right, which leads to the upper deck.
Upon entering the cabin, there are two cabin crew welcoming passengers aboard. The flight attendant acknowledges my status as one of their frequent flyers with a very formal ‘welcome back, sir’ and points me in the general direction of my seat.
The cabin lights are dimmed and the mood lighting is set to a warm glow. Etihad Airways has an interesting configuration in the Business Class cabin of their A 380, in that the seats are arranged in pairs facing each other. The advantage of course, is that every passenger has direct aisle access.
The window seats, so A and K, face in the direction of travel, whereas the C and H seats are on the aisle and face in the opposite direction. Obviously, this also means that the window seats have more privacy because they are not directly on the aisle.
The seat itself is easy to get in and out of and in the sleep position it’s wide enough to be able to turn easily. The seat also has a lot of storage space, partly also due to the large bins on the side, under the windows. The inflight entertainment system is touch screen enabled and can be operated either directly or using the hand held remote.
The cabin is nice enough. And once again, I’m impressed by how quiet the A 380 cabin is. My only issue, and this is something beyond Etihad’s control, is that there is a woman sitting right behind me whose perfume is so heavy and overpowering it’s actually starting to give me a headache.
A pillow, a blanket, a bottle of water, the menu and the vanity kit have already been placed at my seat when I arrive.
The crew are a mix of Eastern Europeans and nationals of the Indian subcontinent. Their service seems quite formal. As a result, they’re quite unobtrusive and not all that noticeable in the cabin, and I’m not sure if this is intentional or not. I find it quite pleasant.
The service on the ground consists of a welcome drink of my choice and a scented hot towel. Unlike many other airlines, just the one hot towel is offered during this flight. To drink I go with a glass of fresh orange juice. Just before we push back, the crew come through the cabin taking orders for lunch. I notice that they approach passengers for their choice in order of their frequent flyer status.
After take-off, the crew pass through the cabin with drinks. I have a glass of sparkling water and a ramekin of nuts that have a distinct hint of cardamom.
First course: Arabic mezze.
The first course is served on a tray which also has on it the bread, salt and pepper as well as butter and olive oil with balsamico. The mezze are hummus, stuffed vine leaves, pickled vegetables, tabbouleh and a pastry filled with spinach, the name of which I don’t know.
Main course: the fish.
The main course I chose is a nice piece of grilled salmon, served with spinach, asparagus and mashed potatoes.
Dessert: the hot chocolate lava cake.
The lava cake is served with a small pot of warm custard.
The meal is good. The mezze is tasty, although perhaps not quite as good as that served on QR. The size of the portion is also much smaller. The grilled salmon is nice and juicy on the inside and the asparagus have managed to not go all soggy. For me though, the hot chocolate lava cake is definitely the highlight of the meal.
Once the crew have cleared away my table, they bring me a mug of Moroccan mint tea, which is served with two small biscuits.
The amenity kit is by Acqua di Parma. It contains a small tube of hand cream, a sample flacon of perfume as well as ear plugs, socks, eye shades and a toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste. No slippers are provided on this flight.
After a flight time of just under six hours, the engines are gently eased back and we start our descent into Abu Dhabi. Luckily, the airport isn’t too busy, which means there are none of the holding delays that seem to be getting more and more frequent in Dubai.
Eventually we land after a total flight time of six hours and ten minutes. Abu Dhabi is currently in the process of building a new terminal. The facility should have opened a few years ago but got repeatedly held up. Apparently, it’s now expected to open in the fourth quarter of 2019. And it’s about time too, because the current facility was clearly not laid out to handle the amount of traffic and the size of aircraft currently operating into Abu Dhabi.
But the process is swift. Etihad Business Class passengers are given an access card to the fast track immigration and within thirty minutes of landing, I’ve retrieved my suitcase and sitting in a taxi on my way to the hotel.