Friday 18 August 2017

Review: What's it like to fly Etihad's A380 business class?

Mile-high luxury

Etihad's A380
Etihad's A380
Etihad crew pose in uniforms created by Italian Haute Couturier Ettore Bilotta. Photoshoot by Norman Jean Roy.
Etihad: First class apartment.
Etihad business class.
Etihad butlers at the Savoy in London. Picture by Harry Page.

John O'Ceallaigh

John O'Ceallaigh reviews Etihad Airways' A380 business class studios on a flight from London to Abu Dhabi.

The national carrier of Abu Dhabi, Etihad Airways is just 12 years old but, among commercial airlines, it is at the forefront of luxury aviation experiences.

That is largely due to it launching The Residence, a "better than first class" cabin that accommodates just one couple, on board its new A380 aircraft. Its debut attracted masses of media attention but perhaps overshadowed other innovations.

Etihad A380 first class services accommodate passengers in impressive "apartments" or "suites", while Etihad's A380 "business studios" are undoubtedly some of the most sophisticated business-class seats on offer.

Pre-departure

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Etihad's chauffeur service

Etihad business-class passengers departing from London can avail of complimentary chauffeured transfers from addresses within 100 miles of the airport. I was picked up punctually in a (somewhat unkempt) 7-series BMW.

Check-in at the dedicated business-class counter was rapid and, after clearing security via the Fast Track channel, I accessed Etihad’s Heathrow lounge. The process took 15 minutes.

Built years before the airline’s A380 services commenced, the lounge was too small to comfortably accommodate all its premium passengers, but it’s reasonably well-equipped. For our morning flight, a buffet offered European and Middle Eastern breakfast dishes and the bar was already busy; an enclosed kids’ play area caters to families and a Six Senses spa offers complimentary 15-minute facials and massages.

Read more: Etihad Airways has a $20,000 suite, and this man was first to try it out

The seat

The aircraft’s entire top deck is reserved for top-tier passengers: 70 in business, nine in first and one couple in The Residence.

Business travellers sit in a 1-2-1 configuration and each passenger has direct aisle access. But there are eight seats in each row and it’s due to dovetailing, with some seats facing backwards, that so many can be accommodated.

Though some might feel somehow off-kilter if facing the “wrong” way, as I did for a moment after boarding, the direction of the seat becomes inconsequential when airborne.

These “business studios”, are comfortable too. Tastefully finished in brown, taupe and understated golds, seats are partially clad in Poltrona Frau leather and stretch into fully flat 80.5” beds for those facing forwards and 75.7” for those facing backwards. Their firmness can also, in theory, be pneumatically increased or lessened at the touch of a button. (I found that feature temperamental, though changes were subtle in any case.)

Storage is ample and a large retractable dining table functions adequately as a desk. With business class so vast, the cabin remains reasonably peaceful even when near capacity, but avoid rows 8 and 9 if possible. They stand by the entrance to the Etihad lounge and galley and, on my return journey, the area remained busy throughout the flight.

Food & Drink

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Etihad business class.

Ordering from a “Dine Anytime” menu, passengers have complete flexibility to eat as and when they wish, and the choice is comprehensive.

An all-day menu offered light, deli-style snacks (such as toasted bagels, scrambled eggs and yoghurt with granola) but the most enticing options are on the a la carte menu, which features Middle Eastern and international dishes.

My Arabic mezze, chicken supreme and chocolate and vanilla mousse cake were tasty and well-presented but it’s the option to eat whenever you like that struck me as the meal’s most winning feature. Eating at predetermined times when flying business with other airlines may now feel like more of an imposition.

To drink, Champagne Jacquart is served alongside a limited selection of wines; other alcoholic options are plentiful.

Rather than offering its premium passengers a separate bar area, as a number of other airlines are doing, Etihad has used the A380’s additional capacity to provide a relatively sedate lounge area where drinks, tea and snacks can be taken. It lacks the hubbub found in other airlines’ communal spaces but some passengers will no doubt welcome the relative tranquillity, and the space itself is inviting.

Read more: Concorde Comeback: Plans to resume flights on iconic aircraft by 2019

Service:

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Etihad butlers at the Savoy in London. Picture by Harry Page.

An area where Etihad excels. Service is attentive, assured and amenable. An international bunch – our crew spoke a panoply of languages including Romanian, Serbian and Greek – many of the staff I spoke to had served the airline for years and seemed justly proud of how sophisticated its premium products are.

Entertainment

Each set incorporates an 18” touchscreen TV and passengers can access 750 hours of films (of innumerable genres, periods and countries of origin), television shows, music albums and games.

Two USB ports are integrated into each studio, so passengers can display their own photos and file on screen. Those who wish to work have use of a mains socket for UK, US and EU plugs and Wi-Fi is also available. It worked well when I tested it, but surprisingly business-class passengers must pay an additional fee to use it.

I was quoted $12 for two hours’ access. 

Post-departure

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Etihad crew pose in uniforms created by Italian Haute Couturier Ettore Bilotta. Photoshoot by Norman Jean Roy.

Etihad crew in a shoot by Norman Jean Rockwell

Business-class passengers are provided with fast-track vouchers so they can clear Abu Dhabi immigration promptly and a pleasant arrivals lounge offers light snacks, drinks, showering facilities, a shaving salon and pressing facilities should guests wish to freshen up before continuing to their final destination. A complimentary chauffeur service brings business-class passengers anywhere within the UAE.

Price

A return fare from London-Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways costs from £415/€563 in economy class and £2,020/€2,740 in business class, inclusive of all taxes.

Going to press, direct fares from Dublin to Abu Dhabi ranged from €515 (economy) to €2,561 (business), using B77-300ER and Airbus A330-200 aircraft.

For reservations see etihad.com.

Telegraph.co.uk

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