The day had finally come, our first ever trip with Etihad Airways was about to commence, but I had mixed feelings about the trip. Over the last year or so Etihad has been cost-cutting left right and centre in a desperate bid to save itself from a slew of bad investments (Alitalia, AirBerlin etc). To kick start the journey back to Australia I booked a mixed award of business and first class to review both seats and service.
How I Booked Etihad A380 Business Class
For Australian travellers, there are 3 main ways you can redeem flights with Etihad Airways in business class using miles and points.
In my opinion, American Airlines AAdvantage miles offer the best value proposition, but they are harder to acquire (unless you're buying them, which can also be a great way to travel at a better price). I wrote an extensive post on how I booked the complete trip (business and first class) which you can read here.
To book this flight with AAdvantage points, the cost is 42,500 miles + taxes (which are minimal). If you were to fly from Europe all the way to Australia the price would be 122,500 AAdvantage miles and around US$200 in taxes.
How to book Etihad Business Class With Velocity Points
Points wise, Velocity probably has the most compelling offer for those based in Australia. It's relatively easy to obtain Velocity points, and they also transfer 1:1 from your Amex credit card. The only downside is the taxes. Velocity charges per segment so if you're flying from Australia to Europe, that's 2 segments. The price in business class is US$205 per segment so you would look at paying a total of US$410 + points required.
The amount of points required to fly from Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane to Europe comes to 139,000 Velocity frequent flyer points (not bad!) in business class.
The third option is to use Etihad Guest miles; it's also the least attractive option as a business class ticket for the same route mentioned above will cost you 162,503 Etihad guest miles (easily transferred from your Amex card) + taxes.
Etihad Business Class Paris to Abu Dhabi
Thanks to an outstanding stay at the Park Hyatt Vendome Paris (booked for half the price thanks to a Hyatt points sale!) we were running late to the airport (CDG).
Check-in was quick; no one else was checking in for business or first at the time we pulled up. The agent informed us that bags would not be checked through since our layover exceeded the 24h mark which was annoying since there's nothing enjoyable about having to lug around with suitcases in the Abu Dhabi heat.
After speeding through security, we found ourselves in the Etihad business and first class lounge with about 15 minutes to spare before boarding was due to commence.
The lounge is located Next to all the other major lounges (Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, Emirates) and right opposite the escalator when you come out of the security screening area in Terminal 3 (this is where all Etihad flights depart from).
The lounge itself was "OK" by lounge standards but somewhat crowded with passengers for the Air Seychelles (yet another bad investment) flight departing before us.
I'd imagine it would be a more relaxed setting if there were half as many people. The lounge has a restaurant section where to my surprise they were still offering a-la-carte dining! Unfortunately, we didn't have time to sample any of the food and instead opted for a Perrier before our flight started to board from a nearby gate.
Boarding Etihad A380
Boarding was fast and through the upper bridge into the A380. Etihad seems to like boarding 1h before departure which initially looked like a great idea. Unfortunately after boarding we came to the realisation that none of the A380's AC's were running and it was sweltering hot inside, pair this with the Etihad boarding song on loop for a relaxing start to your flight…
It took 40 minutes before the cabin cooled down, meanwhile, the crew were busy distributing welcome drinks and hot towels… I mean; has no one figured out how Qatar Airways can provide both hot and cold towels?
The Etihad A380 Business Studio
The Etihad A380 business class seat is very much a refined version of Emirates business class suite onboard the A380.
Although the seat itself is very similar, the staggering is different and has some seats facing forward and some backward; it works. (Ps. If you're freaked out about the idea of flying backwards, don't worry! You don't notice it when you're airborne.)
The colour palette is spot on with light beige leathers, black surfaces and golden accents. Basically a grown-up version of Emirates with all its bling. Storage space is ample with a full compartment overhead and plenty of space on the window side of the seat.
A handy touchpad lets you customise your seat position, enable the massage function and operate the lights. Shortcuts to your seat are also available built into the side table.
The Best Seats On Etihad A380 Business Class
The seats in business class are somewhat of a puzzle, or at least it appears that way at first. If you're travelling solo or want to sit next to a window, go for the forward facing seats (they are all window seats) and offer slightly more privacy as they're furthest away from the aisle.
If you want to sit close to your travel partner, chose any of the forward facing middle seats, the ones facing backwards have the side tables positioned in the middle for more privacy.
The business class cabin has 70 seats and is divided into 3 parts. I would recommend staying in the main section since this does not have any bassinet seats; no screaming babies in your ear. At the front is a small lounge area for business and first class passengers.
Etihad IFE System
The Etihad in-flight entertainment system features an 18" touchscreen display and a good selection of new movies, TV series and live TV.
Although the selection was 'good', it's definitely not as extensive as what Emirates has on its international flights.
For some reason, the unit itself kept erroring out on me until takeoff which was annoying since I was looking for something to detract me from the heat whilst waiting for the air-con to kick in.
Etihad Business Class Dining
Etihad offers an a-la-carte menu in business class which is a step above Emirates who's business class fare I would compare to being closest to premium economy than business class.
The crew on Etihad will also ask you when you prefer to dine, so it's kind of on-demand although they do take your order as soon as possible.
I started off with the Arabic Mezze which was delicious and well presented on the plate.
For the main, I had the beef fillet with sautéed potatoes, green beans and cherry tomatoes and jus. The meat was cooked medium and very tender.
Overall I was very impressed with the food quality on Etihad; definitely no cost-cutting there. To finish off the lunch service I decided to go for the creme caramel which couldn't be faulted either.
Etihad A380 Bar/Lounge
The Etihad A380 has a nice little lounge area at the front of the business class cabin separating it from first class. Although it looks inviting, I think the Emirates and Qatar Airways business class bar is a much better-utilised space.
The proximity to the galley means you will be sitting right next to the crew who are trying to work or 'hanging out' when there's nothing to do during the flight, this makes it seem as if you're invading into their working area. On both flights, I didn't see anyone making use of the space.
Etihad Business Class Bed
Since we were on a daytime flight, bedding wasn't provided.
I found the seat to be wide enough to get comfortable as a stomach sleeper and the window seat adds some extra privacy. The area under the IFE unit is not huge but perfectly fine for most.
Etihad Chauffeur Drive
Unfortunately, Etihad has cut the free chauffeur drive for those on reward tickets, you can still get it if you're paying full price.
Etihad Acqua Di Parma Amenity Kit
Etihad recently launched a new amenity kit by Acqua Di Parma, it's a very nice faux leather pouch that folds open so you can access what's inside. The kit is stocked with all the basics such as lip balm, moisturiser, toothbrush etc. Unfortunately no pyjamas are offer in business class when flying Etihad.
Etihad A380 Business Class In Conclusion
Overall I had a very enjoyable flight with Etihad, the food was excellent, and a good selection of drinks and movies was on offer. On the other hand, I found service a bit rushed and impersonal, there wasn't really anything that stood out.
I would rate Etihad on par with Emirates when it comes to business class, but it's still miles behind Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines and even Hainan Airlines (my personal business class favourites).
What makes a business class great is the service and the food, I really enjoy when airlines go that bit extra to try to offer a first class experience in business class. It's going to be very interesting to see what happens next with Etihad, a few months ago there was talk that they would transform into a low-cost carrier (yuck!) but the most recent news is that a merger with Emirates is on the table (which would be amazing!). Only time will tell!