While there’s no question the airline is at the forefront of the global airline scene, the Etihad Airways business class product on its A330 aircraft flying between Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong doesn’t give the best first impression, discovers Nick Walton.
Etihad is the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, based in Abu Dhabi, and operates over 1,000 flights each week to a network of over 120 passenger and cargo destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.
I checked in at Abu Dhabi’s international airport using a sophisticated, designated business and first class check-in hall and walked ten minutes to the airline’s Premium Lounge, which has to be one of the best we’ve encountered. There’s a concierge that actually fixes problems, a stand-up bar that mixes a mean martini, a Six Senses Spa that offers complimentary 15-minute treatments, shower suites and a barbershop, and an extensive hot and cold buffet. Even when full the lounge is spacious, elegant, and welcoming.
Unfortunately, things take a small step down once we board the A330, the business class cabin of which seems impossibly cluttered, ill-designed, and rather weathered. While most airlines try to use every square inch as efficiently as possible, the Etihad A330 business class product looks like it’s been repurposed rather than specifically designed for the aircraft and at every turn there’s negative space. There’s no forward galley, just a partition between cabin and cockpit, with seats set in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration that requires some careful consideration (so be sure to select your seat in advance). There are no overhead bins above the centre seats and smaller-than-usual bins on the sides (even smaller on the port side) which causes a little post-boarding chaos despite the warm welcome of the Etihad crew.
The 185-centimetre-long lie-flat Solstys-style seats are comfortable but offer little in the way of privacy, especially those window seats with armrests against the fuselage, which have virtually nothing between passenger and aisle, ensuring plenty of spilt champagne and a sore shoulder but the end of the journey. In addition, there’s almost no storage space (despite a whopping gap between seat and fuselage); there’s an odd panel-styled light fixture (which is very obtrusive to other passengers) at shoulder level, and a built-in magazine holder above a small drinks shelf, with room for very small items under the armrest. There’s a 15-inch monitor built into the seatback in front, below which the tray table is awkwardly bolted. For connectivity, there are USB and
AC ports at foot level, with a headphone jack and additional ports hidden under the armrest. While the seat isn’t our favourite, it’s perfectly adequate for medium-haul flights like Abu Dhabi to Hong Kong.
I’m greeted by a charming cabin manager in a spotless white jacket, who offers me a glass of Piper-Heidsieck champagne, a hot towel, and a menu (though no amenity kit). It’s a late-night flight and many passengers had dined in the lounge so that they can sleep as much as possible. On offer is an Arabic mezze platter, followed by dill poached prawns with sesame red cabbage; and tomato lemongrass soup with crème fraiche.
Mains include beef tenderloin with roast potatoes, baby carrots and a shiitake mushroom sauce; fried barramundi with egg fried rice, bok choy and a red curry sauce; chicken margouga, a local favourite; and a Mediterranean vegetable tart with buffalo mozzarella and rocket. I opt to skip the main and just have the mezze platter and soup, both of which are excellent, especially when paired with a New Zealand Wither Hills sauvignon blanc from Marlborough.
Breakfast includes a range of pastries, cereals and breads; natural yoghurt with cranberry, sunflower and flax seeds; and the options of a steak sandwich with Emmental cheese and red onion chutney; or a seeded laugen roll with smoked salmon and crème fraiche, but like many passengers I skipped the meal in lieu of more sleep.
Etihad has made a name for itself with its world-class service and while its A330 product might not be its best offering, the service on the Abu Dhabi-Hong Kong flight is top notch. The crew are friendly, welcoming, attentive and efficient, serving drinks and dinner quickly after takeoff, and ensuring guests could dine and sleep and are always on hand throughout the flight.
Etihad business class Hong Kong-Abu Dhabi return from US$4,090.
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