Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow

Introduction

The course with Etihad was good fun and went by really quickly. The people attending the course were easy going and really impressed me by their professionalism. Of course, it also helps that the Etihad training facilities near the airport are modern, with well-equipped classrooms.

On Thursday afternoon we finish around lunch, and I even get to take the tour of the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi, which is quite dazzling. The white marble is so bright that I can hardly stand to look at the building, it’s literally blinding.

But on Monday the next course will be starting in Luxembourg, so it’s high time for me to leg it back Europe. Which is a shame really, because the weather here in Abu Dhabi has been a delight this last week, with pleasantly mild temperatures hovering around 25 degrees Celsius.

Getting to the Airport

Being the weekend, there’s hardly any traffic on the roads. Which means we manage to make the journey to the airport in just over fifteen minutes. The trip from the Hilton Capitol to the airport will cost you roughly UAD50.- by taxi.

Check-in

Terminal 3 is dedicated to Etihad Airways and there are separate entrances for First and Business Class passengers. The Business Class area of the terminal is calm. It looks rather elegant. There are seven counters open when I arrive.

Right next to check-in, there is a dedicated Fast Track for immigration and right behind that the security check. Most of Etihad’s flying out of Abu Dhabi occurs during the night time, which is probably why the airport is surprisingly quiet, given the size of the facility.

The Etihad Airways Business Class Lounge

The Etihad Business Class lounge is located opposite gate 35, and it’s enormous. There is a wide selection of hot and cold dishes to choose from at the buffet, ranging from Indian to Japanese, Western and Arab dishes. There are also, as far as I can tell, three bars. Although only one of them is currently open.

I have a bit of lunch, seeing as the flight will not be departing until 13h45 and I’m not likely to eat anything before about 15h00.

Once I demolish my plate (I seem to be developing a serious liking for mash in my old age) I decide to check out the Six Senses Spa, also located in the lounge. I still have slightly more than an hour to go before boarding begins, so I figure I might as well treat myself to a full body massage of one hour.

Boarding

My flight is departing from gate 33. At the entrance to the gate, my passport is first checked, followed by a secondary security check during which all electronic devices I’m carrying are briefly switched on and checked. And then I’m free to board.

The Cabin

I’m seated on 12A, which is the same seat I had on the outbound flight from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi. This cabin configuration is starting to grow on me, I must say. I really like the abundance of storage space, which allows you to keep everything you might need during the flight within easy reach. What’s more, no matter how many passengers there are in the cabin, it never feels full or crowded.

The Crew

I’m told that Etihad have a crew complement of 22 in the cabin of their Airbus A 380. Today’s crew is yet another interesting mix of ethnicities and races. They’re not exactly warm or personable at first, but they’re professional and courteous in the way they go about their duty.

Amenities

A blanket, a pillow, the menu and the vanity kit have already been placed at my seat when I arrive. No sooner have I settled in, the crew bring me a rose scented hot towel and a glass of lemon and mint juice, which are both very refreshing.

Just before we push back, the crew pass through the cabin taking orders for drinks after departure.

The Meal

Once the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off, the service begins, and I’m brought a ramekin of warm nuts and another glass of the lemon and mint juice. The service is à l carte, and passengers have the option when they’d like to eat.

The First Course

Mezze – muhammara, hummus, a filled grape leaf, tabbouleh and a pastry filled with a feta-like cheese and served with a slice of lemon.

This dish tastes much better than the one I hand on my way down to Abu Dhabi, I’m guessing that’s because this dish was locally made in the UAE. Especially the muhammara is very good and the lemon gives it a refreshing twist.

The first course is served on a tray, together with the breads, butter, olive oil and salt and pepper shakers.

The Main Course

Rigatoni with a sugo of sun dried tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic pesto, parmigiano and fresh basil.

When the flight attendant arrives with my main course, I comment on the fact that I think it’s a shame the airlines tend not to serve spicy food and that the only thing missing for my main course is a bit of spice. The flight attendant puts my plate down and then rather abruptly dashes off. He returns just a short while later grinning and with a bottle of Tobasco for me, which I think is pretty cool and a very nice gesture.

The dish is exceptionally good. The sugo has a lovely tangy flavour that is perfectly balanced with the pesto and you can actually still taste the fresh basil.

Dessert

Almond and pistachio pudding with butterscotch sauce.

Instead of one of those horrific gelatinous blobs of tasteless gunk that most airlines seem to serve these days (…and rather unconvincingly disguise as ‘mousse’), Etihad makes the effort to offer a real dessert. And sweet baby J., it’s divine! It’s still warm and the texture is just so dense and rich. Gorgeous!

Arrival

About eighty minutes out of Heathrow, the cabin lights slowly start to go on again and the crew come through the cabin asking passengers if there’s anything they’d like from the menu before they start preparing the cabin for landing. I’m still quite full from lunch, so I just order some ice cream and leave it at that.

Originally, we’re scheduled to touch down at 17h15. But traffic in Heathrow is busy and so we end up doing two laps in a holding pattern north-east of the capital before we are eventually released for the approach. By the time we land, it’s already 17h45.

Terminal 4 is much busier than when I left and there are people everywhere. But still I manage, and before long I’m through security and on my way to the SkyTeam lounge.

Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 380: London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi

Introduction

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.

Check-in

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.

The House 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

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.

The Cabin

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

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.

The Meal

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.

The First Course

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.

The Main Course

The main course I chose is a nice piece of grilled salmon, served with spinach, asparagus and mashed potatoes.

Dessert

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.

Amenities

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.

Arrival

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.

Etihad Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Colombo to Abu Dhabi

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Date: 16. April 2017
Departure: 21:10
Arrival: 00: 35
Flight time: 4 hours 25 minutes
Seat: 2A, window

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Introduction

Time to move on. I wouldn’t have minded staying in Sri Lanka a little while longer. I’ve rather enjoyed being here. But I have to get back home because I’ll be traveling week after next and still need to get a few things done before then.

Let’s see. I’ve tried Qatar Airways, Oman Air and Emirates. So I think it’s only fair to give Etihad a try before I make up my mind if Qatar Airways really is my favourite airline.

The flight to Abu Dhabi will not be leaving until 21h10. Which means I have the whole day to spend by the pool revising a paper I have to submit soon and having afternoon tea at the lovely Galle Face Hotel before it’s time to head for the airport.

Getting to the Airport

I’ve ordered a car to pick me up at the hotel at 17h30. The journey to the airport is only 36 kilometres. Colombo is still only just coming back to life after most of the city folk left the city behind to celebrate the Singalese New Year with their families.

Security at the airport is very tight and there are roadblocks and barriers set up all along the road leading to the terminal.

Check-in

The driver drops me off before the entrance to departures. And then the hassle begins. First, I need to show a police officer standing guard by the entrance my passport and a copy of my ticket to even be allowed to enter the terminal building. Immediately inside the terminal is a first security checkpoint where I need to have all my bags screened and another police officer pats me down. From there I follow a long corridor that looks as though it was originally set up as a provisional building but then accidentally, brutally started sprouting retail space.

At the end of the corridor I finally enter the terminal proper. From here passengers have to go through another security checkpoint and show their passport again to enter the actual check-in area. Photography is strictly prohibited within the terminal.

Check-in for the Etihad flight opens three hours before departure. The departure hall is very crowded with passengers checking in for their flights with Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Sri Lankan which all seem to depart around the same time.

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From check-in I walk to the far right of the departure hall and queue again for immigration. I’m not really sure why they bother though, because the officer is obviously so busy reading text messages that he nearly forgets to stamp my passport.

And then, finally, I’m airside.

The Araliya Lounge

Etihad Airways uses the Araliya lounge, which is at the beginning of the pier on the left hand side. The lounge only has very basic facilities, but there is a small selection of hot and cold snacks, there’s wifi and the toilets and shower are very clean. The lounge’s best feature though, is the excellent view of the action on the apron.

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Boarding

Not again, seriously? My flight will be departing from gate B5, which is a bus gate. To enter the gate area I need to show my boarding pass and passport again to another police officer guarding the staircase. Once he lets me pass, I head downstairs to the holding area for the gate, which pretty much looks like a badly converted broom cupboard. But not as pretty. And yes, I have to go through security. Again. I don’t have to take out any liquids or laptops but I do have to take off my shoes and get another pat down under the watchful eyes of no less than eight police officers manning one conveyor belt and one security gate.

Shortly after, and somewhat unceremoniously, boarding begins. Our bus pulls up to the rear stairs of the aircraft and I step outside. I try to make my way to the forward door but one of the five police officers guarding the plane won’t let me pass and insists I take the rear door. But then a member of Etihad’s ground crew here in Colombo talks to her and I’m allowed to walk to the forward door.

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The Cabin

I rather like the cabin. I think the design and colours have some serious retro vibe going on, but somehow it works. There are four rows of seats in a 2 + 2 configuration for a total of 16 seats. Every seat has an AC and USB power port. The aircraft also has wifi, although I don’t actually try it out. The air is very humid tonight and as a result, there is thick mist coming out of the air conditioning system, which is a pretty nifty effect.

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The recline of the seat is good and the seat controls are electric. Stretching my legs is problematic though because of the IFE box under the seat in front of me which takes up a lot of space.

A large blanket, pillow, earphones and the menu have already been placed at the seats. The blanket is rather funky in that one side is in this velvety fake fur material which feels kind of kinky. Now I know what Jane Fonda must have felt like rolling around naked on that fur rug during the opening credits of Barbarella.

The Crew

The crew up front consists of a young man of Pakistani origin and a Chinese young lady. Both of them are friendly and courteous in their manner and give all the passengers a warm greeting as they board the plane.

The service begins with a welcome drink and a hot towel.

Amenities

The flight time to Abu Dhabi is four hours and twenty minutes. Etihad does not provide a full vanity kit on this flight, but they do provide eye shades, socks and earplugs.

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IFE

The IFE is touchscreen enabled and works really very well. The selection is fairly large, but as usual there’s nothing I’d really be interested in watching.

The Meal

… or HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM…BUT IT’S BEAUTIFUL…
The meal service is a bit of a let down and definitely not on a par with Qatar Airways’ offerings. We start with an aperitif and a bowl of warm nuts.

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The First Course

For the first course I have the Arabic mezze, which basically is a small dollop of hummus, with a huge portion of parsley that’s been drowned in lemon juice and some vegetable pickles and a greasy samosa. The tray is served with a bun, Arabic flat bread and butter. The taste of the food is so so, but the presentation of the tray really is nice.

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the Indian chicken and pea curry, which is quite simply disgusting. Yuk! There’s something chewy and green on the plate that tastes of nothing and is hard to bite. The chicken itself is mainly bone and skin and I decide not to touch it. The only edible parts of the meal are the spicy coconut rice and the warm beetroot.

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Dessert

And then for dessert I make the mistake of ordering a bowl of vanilla ice cream, which is served with a sablé on top. The only problem is, the ice cream is so cold the sablé is welded to it. I can’t get it off! And the ice cream is so hard I think you could knock somebody unconscious with it if you threw it at them. So I wait a few minutes. But eventually my impatience gets the better of me and I make the fatal mistake of trying to take a spoonful of ice cream.

Next thing I know, the spoon hits the bowl with a clank, and the blob of ice cream slips off to the left and goes flying through the cabin. The whole thing happens in slow motion. I swear I can actually hear the opening chords of Strauss’ ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’ and feel the compulsion to ask HAL what’s going on… But then I manage to catch the ball of ice cream with my hand, but the thing is slippery and gets away, eventually landing and sitting in my lap. Well fine. I scoop the ice cream off my groin and when the flight attendant passes my seat next, I tell him to take the ice cream with him. A few minutes later though he returns. Apparently he’s put the blob in the oven to thaw it a bit for me. Which is kind of a nice gesture, only now the ice cream has a faint and very disturbing taste of the curry chicken I refused to eat a short while previously…

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Arrival

But at least the flight passes quickly and before long we’re starting our descent into Abu Dhabi. We land in darkness and then taxi for a very long time to the main apron. We park on a remote stand, but things happen so quick that I don’t really have any time to take any photos before the Business Class bus whisks us off to the terminal.

Conclusion

Of all the flights I’ve done on this trip, I think this one was the most unremarkable one. The crew were friendly enough and very polite but the food really was bad. The seat was okay, But I think a flight time of over four hours is really pushing it for passenger comfort in the premium cabin.