Back in March, I wrote about how to book partner award flights on Etihad Airways. We originally booked First Apartments both to Abu Dhabi from London and from Abu Dhabi back to London over the Thanksgiving holiday, but unfortunately, the airplane for our flight from London was switched from an A380 (which has First Apartments) to an A340 (which has Etihad's standard First Class). The airplane switch was somewhat devastating, but at least we will still experience the Apartments on our way home. We planned a whirlwind luxury long weekend in Dubai around these flights and I'll be covering all the details in upcoming posts.
Review: British Airways Club World SFO - LHR
Review: LHR Etihad Airways First & Business Class Lounge
Review: Etihad Airways First Class LHR - AUH
Review: Park Hyatt Dubai
Review: Afternoon Tea at At.mosphere Burj Khalifa
Review: Burj al Arab Part I: One Bedroom Suite
Review: Burj al Arab Part II: Grounds and Amenities
Review: AUH Etihad Airways Premium Lounge
Review: Etihad Airways First Apartments AUH - LHR
We arrived in London at 1:52 PM after flying British Airways Club World from SFO - LHR, which we had booked separately from this flight. This meant we had quite a bit of time to kill between flights and unfortunately had to exit terminal 5 and transfer to terminal 4 to check in for our Etihad flight. Because of this, and the fact that check in doesn't open until four hours prior to boarding, we had to spend a long while waiting around the Etihad check in area. We were first in line to check in and finally made it through to Eithad's First and Business class lounge for a rest prior to the flight. Before we knew it, it was time to board.
Etihad Airways (EY) #18
London (LHR) - Abu Dhabi (AUH)
Wednesday, November 25th, 2015
8:05 PM - 7:15 AM (+1)
Airbus A340-500 Diamond First Class
The boarding gate was conveniently located just across from the lounge entrance and we made sure to be the first to board so I could get some photos of the cabin without disturbing the other passengers. As I mentioned above, I was pretty devastated to have the equipment change, which resulted in losing the chance to fly in First Apartments out of London, but in the end, it was helpful to compare the two products.
On the A340, Etihad offers their "Diamond" First Class, which has a very similar layout and feel to Singapore Airlines "Suites" Class (I reviewed that here). The first class cabin has three rows of 1-2-1 configuration, with the seats designed very similarly to Singapore Suites, which offers doors that fully close and make your own private suite. We chose two middle seats so that we could lower the center divider and talk to each other during the flight. However, if I was flying solo, I would definitely prefer a window seat for maximum privacy and views.
The cabin is beautiful with very understated, neutral decor in shades of brown. As opposed to Emirates, which goes completely over the top with bling and gold, Etihad's only extravagances came in the form of signature brightly colored pillows on each seat and a large diamond on the center bulkhead (lest you forget you're flying Diamond First Class).
The seats themselves are very spacious and private with wide leather recliners and a foot rest that doubles as a second seat if you wanted to dine with a companion. Waiting on the ottoman was a fuzzy blanket, which could be used in addition to bedding or until the bed is made up. The television is large and stretches the length of the seat, which is excellent. Next to the television, there is also a small minibar, which was stocked with mixed nuts and water. The minibar seems to be mostly for show and wasn't something I used, but it's an extra feature that Singapore Suites didn't offer. Just under the right arm rest, a compartment opens which contains the television remote, two USB ports, the headphone jack, and a few other adapters. There's also a small screen in front of the compartment which allows you to control the seat position, control the massage options (also not offered on Singapore Suites), and control the lighting. Of course, Etihad also provides over-ear noise-cancelling headphones to use during the flight. Finally, each seat offers a closet to place your clothes in and the closet door has a mirror on it in case you need to straighten up.
Immediately after we boarded, a crew member came by to offer a "welcome drink". Chris, as usual, went for the champagne, which was Billecart-Salmon. Right after our drink orders were taken, the Cabin Manager came by and after finding out it was our first Etihad flight, showed us all the bells and whistles of our "suite", which was very nice. She was genuinely excited for us to experience our first flight and the sentiment was echoed by the rest of the staff, who all assured us we would have an amazing time.
The welcome drink was served along with Arabic dates, a hot towel, and a welcome note, all on a silver tray, which was a very nice presentation.
Shortly after, amenity kits and pajamas were passed out and the crew didn't even ask for sizing information. Even though they did it by sight, they were spot on and both of our pajamas fit perfectly. The amenity kits were not quite my style, but contained Le Labo toiletries as well as socks, eyeshades, a dental kit and the usual fare.
Not long before takeoff, we were offered Arabic coffee, which I declined, but Chris was all too happy to take, and the onboard chef came by to take meal orders and additional beverage requests.
The menu read as follows:
A La Carte
Caramelised Pea Soup
Buffalo Mozzarella and Cherry Tomato Salad
Biryani (lamb, chicken or fish)
Braised Beef Short Ribs
Fine Vegetable Tartlet
From the Grill
Grass-Fed Beef Tenderloin
U.S. Rib-Eye Steak
Catch of the Day
Steamed Green Beans
Oven-Roasted Mixed Vegetables
Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Turned Chateau Potatoes
Oven-Baked French Fries
Garlic and Herb Butter
All Day Dine
Breakfast Bakery Basket
A Range of Breakfast Cereals
Sandwiches (Made to Order)
The Etihad Steak Sandwich
Fresh Eggs Cooked to Order
Afternoon Tea (assortment of scones, sweets and finger sandwiches)
Fresh Fruit Platter
A Selection of Ice Creams
Potato Crisps in a Variety of Flavors
Freshly Baked Cookies and Madeleines
Swedish Crisp Breads
A Selection of Ice Creams
Cherry and Pistachio Clafoutis
Greek Yoghurt and Honey Mousse Cake
Etihad offers a dine on demand service, which means you can order whatever you want whenever you want. As such, the menu is pretty open-ended. Before beginning the meal service, we were brought another tray with our beverages plus olives, mixed nuts and vegetable chips to nosh on. Since Chris and I were together, two crew members set up our tables at the exact same time, which was kind of a cool touch. We were also brought an amuse bouche, which was some sort of shrimp dish (which I gave to Chris).
I had chosen to order the beef tenderloin with green beans, mashed potatoes, and Bearnaise sauce, and to start, I chose the Mezze. Chris chose roughly the same meal, except he wasn't too full for dessert and he chose the Dessert Taster, which included warm berry bread and butter pudding, caramel mousse and dark chocolate brownie. It was also impressive that we were presented a palate cleansing sorbet between the Mezze and the entree. Despite this, Etihad did not offer caviar service, which Chris will tell you is a big negative point against Etihad.
Overall though, the meal was excellent and was definitely one of the best I have had in the sky. The meat was cooked perfectly and was very much the same consistency that one would receive on the ground (which is tough to find on an airplane).
Etihad's in-flight entertainment system was great and had quite a few TV and movie selections, although I still haven't found a service that rival's Cathay Pacific's extensive offerings. I was extremely pleased to find Disney's Aladdin was available, so of course I chose that. I feel it really prepared me to arrive in the Middle East. ;)
Shortly after dinner, we were about 2 hours into the flight and figured it was time for bed. I requested to have my bed made up and went to the bathroom to change in to my pajamas. The bathroom was nothing special and wasn't extremely large, however it did offer a full-length mirror and Le Labo toiletries.
When I returned, my bed was set up. After closing the doors, we had a very private bedroom, although not that private and there's still the divider in the middle of the seats, so there's no funny business.
The bed was very comfortable and was plenty warm without the extra rolled blanket. My favorite feature was found once I laid down and turned the lights off - Etihad has stars on the ceiling! I loved that touch and smiled whenever I woke in the night and noticed them again.
I had asked to be woken for breakfast (although, of course, I wasn't actually hungry) because I wanted to make sure I got the most out of the experience. I ordered English Breakfast tea and scrambled eggs, which were served with several pastries, sausages, a potato cake, tomato and beans.
The eggs could have been cooked a bit more for my liking, but overall, the food was again wonderful and before I knew it, it was time to get ready for landing.
The service throughout the entire flight was wonderful and we really enjoyed our time - just as they had told us we would! We were definitely sad to be landing, but felt ready to take on a full day of sight-seeing once we got to Dubai thanks to the wonderful beds.
Etihad offers an arrivals lounge in Abu Dhabi, which can be found just after clearing customs and baggage claim. The arrivals lounge was absolutely packed when we arrived, but luckily, Chris was still able to get a shower room to freshen up. While he was showering, I read my Kindle and surveyed the room. The space is not very large, but has quite a bit of seating and was decorated in exactly the same style as the London lounge. There was also a small buffet with all kinds of pastries, fruits, small sandwiches, cheeses, yogurt and juices. I had just eaten, so I didn't partake, but it was a nice offering. The lounge offers a handful of shower rooms as well as a barber for men to get a shave.
Etihad Chauffeur Service
Once Chris was ready to go, we left the lounge and were directed down a walkway to the chauffeur desk. When flying First, you have the option to reserve a free chauffeur from the airport to take you anywhere within the UAE. We had reserved the chauffeur quite a few months ahead of time and had set our destination as the Park Hyatt Dubai, which was about an hour and a half away.
Our chauffeur was waiting right outside the desk and escorted us to his black Audi. The ride was uneventful for the first hour and a half. At one point after it seemed like we should have already arrived, I pulled out my phone and looked up where we were on Google Maps. We were still 20 minutes away, so I put my phone away. 15 minutes later, after driving in a circle, we ended up back in the same exact place. Finally, about 10 minutes later, the driver pulled over to the side of the road without a word and started making phone calls. After 15 minutes of this, I finally pulled up directions on Google Maps, asked him if he was lost and told him to follow the map.
We finally arrived about 25 minutes later and I was livid. After traveling all the way from San Francisco, we only had three days in Dubai, so I really didn't want to waste any time. The driver wasted more than an hour of our time and never once admitted that he was lost or tried to ask for help. It was very frustrating and I'm sure he was embarrassed, but I can't believe it was so hard for him to find a location we had set months in advance and while it wasn't in the center of town, it wasn't in the middle of nowhere either! Needless to say, we decided to forego a tip to the driver.
Nearly the entire experience was wonderful. With the exception of our chauffeur incident, the service was impeccable. I would absolutely say that Etihad's hard product is the best I've experienced so far and definitely beats Singapore Suites and Cathay Pacific First. The service was also top-notch and was really up there with Cathay Pacific. I can't decide which was best. Overall, it was an excellent experience and we really enjoyed it. It was also an amazing deal at only 40,000 AAdvantage miles (although that number is going up with the American Air devaluation) and some change!
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