We experienced the reimagined way to fly with Etihad Airways
Your car pulls to the kerb and when the door is opened, you are calmly greeted by a porter who has been at the ready, as if he has been expecting your arrival all along. You step out and the car boot opens, and by the time you look up the porter is already there managing your luggage. He then guides you along the walkway and through the sliding door entrance, as he diligently scans for an available reception desk, so that you don’t have to. The porter walks you over and with a polite nod, he transfers your care to the smiling receptionist.
You hand over the necessary documents and once the admin work is completed, another porter is on hand to take care of your luggage. It will be the last time you see it until you next need it. You simply walk through security and head to the lounge. Upon entering, you’re made to feel like the most important person in the room at that moment in time. If you’re hungry, there is a generous buffet to help yourself to.
The time comes for you to leave the lounge and head to your room where a beautiful Poltrona Frau leather and fabric upholstered armchair awaits. Here you can dine at any time throughout your stay. You can choose to have a 3-course meal or go straight to dessert, and not have to wait for anyone else. If you need to work on your laptop, there’s plenty of space for you to keep doing that while your meals are being served. For a reasonable fee, you can purchase internet access for 2 hours, 4 hours or the duration of the flight.
When you’re done working, you can recline back and enjoy some of the best entertainment on an 18 inch touch screen TV. To get some sleep, you simply go to the bathroom and slip into the provided loungewear while your bed is being made.
If you thought I was describing a luxury hotel stay, then you’d be wrong but then again, you’d also be right. Flying in Business Class departing from Abu Dhabi airport, I realised that Etihad Airlines, has actually ‘reimagined’ the experience of air travel.
Of course, the experience varies slightly departing from different airports. For example, in Australia, you still get a chauffeur as part of your business class fare, but there will be no porter waiting for you by the kerb upon arrival. The check-in process is standard but we can safely blame that on the limitations imposed by Australian airports. However, once you reach the sanctuary of the Etihad premium lounge in either Sydney or Melbourne, the ‘flying reimagined’ experience picks up again. Both lounges offer a generous buffet and à la carte dining service for Business and First class guests. They both have awesome bars with cocktails that would rival some of the best concoctions offered in either of the cities. From here it only gets better when you board the plane.
Etihad Airways Sydney Premium Lounge
Etihad Airways Melbourne Premium Lounge
Re-imagining flying wouldn’t be complete without re-thinking one of the biggest components of air travel, the seat. Arriving at my seat, the first thing I noticed was that there was so much desk space to put things on. I effectively emptied the contents of my backpack consisting of a Macbook, iPhone, Bellroy travel wallet, personal onboard kit, Bose headphones and a Sony A7 camera with a huge lens all onto the two side tables before sitting down. When I sat down on the seat it felt a little firm, so I adjusted it to my preferred cushy level with the push of a button, which incidentally was right next to the seat massage button, so I turned that on too. There was plenty of storage to put all of my stuff away before take off. The screen was a whopping 18 inches wide with noise-cancelling headphones.
From the moment you board the plane the attendants tend to your every need. There is a dedicated food and beverages manager who looks after your culinary desires throughout the flight and also happens to know everything about the list of boutique wines on offer. Being able to eat what you want and when you want from the à la carte menu is often only privy to those flying in first class on other airlines. I was pleasantly surprised when I was informed that this was also for business class shortly after settling into my seat.
The seats facing forward have slightly more privacy than those facing backwards, although access to the aisle is more generous for the latter. I have tried it both ways and neither is much better nor worse than the other and in case you were curious, I did not experience travel sickness from facing backwards. In fact, after take off you pretty quickly forget which direction you’re facing until landing.
The creative team had clearly put a lot of careful thought into the ergonomic design of the Business Studio space. Duplicate controls were installed for easy access in the sleep position. USB ports were placed exactly where you would be charging your devices, above the table. One of my pet hates about aeroplane seats is the mechanism you always have to wrestle, to get your dining table in and out of its stowage. Finally, someone has cared enough about it to design a table that elegantly and easily slides in and out so that I don’t have to look like a complete moron every time I want to get some food on the table. With all the good things about the seat, there was one glaring oversight which I struggled to understand. The AC power outlet was, for some reason, installed in the darkest and most awkward to reach part of the seat. I had to use my phone torch to find it and depending on the alignment of my seat at the time, it was either hard or very hard to plug in the power cord.
Moving on to the food, as far as plane food is concerned the meals were up there with the best. The presentation is nice and the serving is generous. My choice of the grass-fed fillet of beef with polenta chips, asparagus, red onion jam and beef jus, was cooked to perfection. I felt like I was dining in a restaurant rather than on a plane. Upon reflection, I noticed that there wasn’t a trolley in sight, a substantial difference but subtle if you weren’t paying attention.
The Etihad A380 also has an incredibly well-designed bar / lobby area. Instead of wasting the space by planting a bar in the middle of the room, they’ve installed a 6 seater sofa for guests to sit back and enjoy drinks and nibbles on. It also doubles up as a meeting room if you’re travelling with work colleagues.
Another aspect of how Etihad have really thought through the entire journey is the final touch in the arrivals lounge. Have you ever stepped off a long haul flight and despite having a good night’s sleep, you just feel a bit… yuck? Your hair is messed up, you could kill a small insect with your breath and along with the facial growth someone might think you had forgotten your razor. With most airlines, you’re on your own once you step off the plane but in Abu Dhabi, my premium experience just kept going. The Etihad arrivals lounge puts most other airline’s so-called premium departure lounges to shame. Here, I was able to grab a quick snack, brush my teeth and take a hot shower in an oversized bathroom to freshen up and then to top it all off, I got a shave by a proper barber.
Premium air travel is no longer just a means of getting from A to B in a big chair in the sky, it’s an experience from the time you step out of your home and into your hotel room. Having flown in business class on countless flights with various airlines, you start to wonder if anyone could really stand out beyond a fully flat bed, big screen TV and fancy cutlery. Most airlines try to improve their service within the confines that have been created by someone else’s imagination from another era. Etihad, on the other hand, started over and re-created the experience by listening to customers and gathering inspiration from industry verticals.
Having had the honour of being a guest at the Etihad Airways Innovations and Training Centre in Abu Dhabi, I got to see for myself the resources that Etihad had invested in, to ensure that their vision was followed through with meticulous execution. (Special thanks to James Sanderson for the very informative and enjoyable personal tour).
The facility had state of the art replicas of the A380 and 787 interior configurations that allow for their crew to be trained as though they were in the real cabins. The centre was designed with both trainer and trainee in mind, some sections have huge windows so that assessments can be made from every angle.
To reach the high level of service you get onboard an Etihad flight, the crew must go through some pretty rigorous training. If business class travel has been reimagined to be this good, I can’t wait to try to the First Class Apartments.
Etihad flies direct to Abu Dhabi from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth airports, with the A380 available from Sydney and Melbourne. If you’re flying through to Europe, consider booking a stopover to break up the trip and enjoy some of the coolest hotels and sights that Abu Dhabi has to offer.