by Haas Mroue
Route: Abu Dhabi (IATA: AUH/ICAO: OMAA)–London Gatwick (LGW/EGKK)
Date: April 6, 2006
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat Number: 11F
Departure time: 0155
Arrival time: 0635
Passenger: Haas Mroue
I checked in for this flight in Dubai [Dubayy], 90 minutes away from AUH. Etihad offers through check-in from Dubai provided you drop off luggage six hours before departure time. As the check-in location is close to most of the major hotels on Sheikh Zayed Road (Dubai’s Fifth Avenue), it is very convenient to check out of your hotel at noon, drop off your suitcase, and receive your boarding pass.
Coach Transfer from DXB to AUH
The luxury Mercedes-Benz coach departed on time at 2230, and an onboard attendant distributed cold bottles of mineral water and refresher towels before we settled in for the 90-minute trip.
Business Class Lounge
First and business flyers pass through passport control in the privacy of a special section at AUH, before proceeding upstairs to the lounge. Rather crowded with pax for LGW and Johannesburg flights, the lounge had freshly prepared snacks, newspapers, and free Internet access. EY should consider expanding this lounge as a matter of urgency, as it is adding one flight per month out of AUH and this area will reach capacity very soon.
AUH airport is small and crowded. Boarding was very efficient with no bottleneck of passengers between the terminal and the cabin. At the door, smiling flight attendants escort all business class passengers to their seats. There is no first class cabin on EY’s five new 777-300ERs. Configuration is C28Y350.
The new business class seats on Etihad are a mini-version of those in first class on major carriers. Rows are staggered in a 1-2-1 configuration so you always have both an aisle and a window. There is a very private feel to the seats, with ample storage space. Blankets are large and soft and pillows are fluffy. No sleep suit is available yet, but the airline is working on several new premium products to be launched in the fall, including upgraded amenity kits. For now, in-flight complimentary ‘goodies’ include lavender re-hydrating lotion, ear plugs, temple balm to soothe headaches, lip balm, green tea facial spritz, socks, and eye mask. Ample quantities of toothbrushes and lotion could be found in the lavatories. Newspapers were handed out before pushback, but not one British-published paper was available. Only English-language Gulf papers.
Takeoff was on time, and we crossed the Persian Gulf and climbed to our altitude of 34,000ft over Iran. A nice perk on EY is the cockpit camera which lets pax see the takeoff as viewed over the captain’s shoulder. A camera mounted on the underside of the aircraft gives a bird’s eye view of the exterior. At night, of course, there was not much to see. Just south of Shiraz we were jolted with moderate to somewhat severe turbulence, and the captain ordered the flight attendants to be seated for ten minutes. Drink orders were taken 35 minutes after departure, at 0240, after the FAs had handed out plush headsets and hot towels.
As most passengers just wanted to sleep, there was no trolley service. Champagne was served in proper flutes. A light snack followed, consisting of three mini-sandwiches with roast beef and cheese, a tomato stuffed with shrimp, and fresh fruit salad. No wine was offered and there were no menus available for this particular flight because of a problem with the printers.
Etihad prides itself on the wide selection of movies and TV shows. The new wide screens are excellent (designed by Thays 4000—a French company) and the video on-demand, though somewhat difficult to figure out, is an excellent feature. After watching a movie and sleeping for two hours on the lie-flat bed, I ‘commanded’ my chair to give me a massage—which consists of a series of ‘waves’ emanating from the seat that stimulate blood flow and help circulation. A nice feature and very welcome on long overnight flights.
The gracious flight attendants began serving breakfast two hours before our arrival into LGW; rather early, and they had neither taken orders nor asked passengers whether they wished to be awakened for the hot meal. The FAs crouched beside each passenger and read off the menu selection (a choice of three hot items for breakfast entrée/main course, including grilled lamb or scrambled eggs with beef sausage). As the FA did not want to disturb the person asleep in front of me, she handed me a small piece of notepaper with the menu choices.
The coffee was hot and strong and the fresh fruit appetizer refreshing and ripe; but unfortunately the main course was very bland. It consisted of dry scrambled eggs wrapped in an even drier pancake, served with a surprisingly delicious beef sausage. Because the plate was small and rather full, it was impossible to cut the sausage without food spilling onto the thick linen table cloth. Etihad is also in the midst of purchasing brand new cutlery and china, and it is hoped that they will choose large plates like those offered by Lufthansa and Air France in their business class cabins.
Mood lighting on these brand new 777-300ERs is excellent, and those passengers who had not woken up for breakfast were roused with a very-slow-to brighten lighting system, like an artificial sunrise with a soothing glow.
As we crossed the North Sea, passing over Clacton, south of Ipswich, before making a left turn toward Gatwick, the captain bade us good morning and announced an on-time arrival at LGW. The moving map display was not fully operational throughout the flight—with many of the choices ‘Not Available’ (including arrival time and distance to destination)—so the captain’s comments were very welcome. Then the main cabin screens switched from the moving map to the exterior camera for our on-time landing at LGW. The green fields of West Sussex passed below as we came in for a smooth touchdown.
Etihad uses a gate very far from passport control, so it was a 15-minute walk to clear immigration. Bags were waiting at the carousel, which was a welcome surprise.
Etihad business class reminds me of first class on Swissair many years ago. Exceedingly gracious and genuinely pleasant flight attendants, all perfectly groomed (both male and female). Etihad considers every passenger a ‘guest’, and it shows. New premium products will be launched this fall—including à la carte, on-demand meals—which should set this carrier apart and propel it on the way to becoming one of the world’s leading luxury airlines.
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