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Etihad A380 business class

Etihad Airways » 

Published: 14/03/2015 - Filed under: Tried & Tested » Airlines » News » Tried & Tested » Tried & Tested » Airlines » Etihad Airways »

LHR T4 to Abu Dhabi. Departed 09.15, arrives 20.15 local time

BACKGROUND

Etihad Business Studio

Etihad unveiled its all-new cabin products for its A380 and B787 aircraft in May 2014.  These include the Residence and First Apartments on the A380s and First Suites on the B787s, Business Studios and Economy Smart Seats.

I saw the three-room Residence when it was showcased at the GBTA Convention in LA last summer – complete with bedroom, impressive shower room, lounge, chef and personal butler.

This review is of the Business Studios cabin on the A380. The airline’s first A380 started on the London-Abu Dhabi route at the end of December 2014. It serves one of Etihad’s three daily LHR-Abu Dhabi flights, with a second planned for May and a third in the second half of this year.

CHECK IN

Etihad’s business class service includes complimentary chauffeured pick up within a 100-mile radius of Heathrow. So I was picked up at 05.30 in a BMW 5-series estate from Brighton, with the aim of a 07.00 check-in for the 09.15 departure on Flight  EY12. However the journey was quick and traffic-free, so I arrived at Heathrow T4 at 06.30.

I walked to Zone C, and was immediately checked in at the dedicated business class check-in desk (you can also check-in online 24 hours before departure).

I went through the Fast-track security channel, where there was no queue, which meant I was airside and at the Etihad first and business class lounge, opposite Gate 10, within 10 minutes.

THE LOUNGE

The Etihad first and business class lounge opened in 2009, and completed a renovation in December last year, which included extra seating – to provide for the increase in premium passengers brought by the arrival of the A380; up to 80 on a single flight.

The lounge was serving breakfast, both in the buffet area and in the a la carte full-service restaurant area. I ordered Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon (also served with turkey bacon rashers or spinach) from the a la carte menu. The menu also includes pancakes with berries, scrambled eggs and banana porridge. The buffet adds chicken sausages, sauté mushrooms, hash browns, fruit, cereals and pastries and muffins.

The lounge has a Six Senses spa with complimentary treatments – I booked a 15-minute neck and shoulders treatment. The lounge offers free wifi, and there is an enclosed children’s playroom, three showers in the spa area, and a private inner sanctum for The Residence passengers.

BOARDING.

The Etihad lounge is opposite gate 10, where most of its flights depart from.

A lounge stewardess in the lounge invited us to go to the gate at 08.40. The first and business class boarding channel leads to a separate air-bridge to the all-premium upper deck. There was no queue so I was onboard within five minutes.

I received a warm welcome from crew and cabin manager, my jacket was taken to be hung up and I was offered water, orange juice, carrot juice or champagne (I chose carrot juice as it was only 09.00), as well as a small selection of newspapers, including the Independent.

THE SEAT

The ‘Business Studios’ are in a dove-tailed 1-2-1 configuration, all with direct/undisturbed aisle access, 22in wide and between 75.7 and 80.5in long in full flatbed position.  To see a seat plan, click here

My seat was 11D, near the front of the cabin facing aft (backwards).

The first thing that strikes you is the use of space, and sense of generous width – my neighbor in the central bank of seats was about 5ft away. Between us (to my left), each had a wide (more than 15in) padded armrest and large table surface. This table together with the also generous fold down table in front gives plenty of space and options for eating and working at the same time.

The armrest opens to provide storage bins – not big enough for a laptop or A4 documents, but there is also a large shelf under the ottoman footrest in front, and further open space to the side. Plus the overhead bins have plenty of room in a cabin with relatively few seats.

The seat could be described as a semi-private cubicle, with a sliding panel offering some privacy from the aisle. But there is no screen between these middle seats (see below for more details), although as I said the neighbour is a good distance away.

The 18in screen is generous and sharp – both the main TV and the remote control panel have touchscreen controls, and noise-cancelling headphones with magnetic connectors are provided.  The seat has 2 USB ports plus a mains socket for UK, US and EU plugs.

The seat is upholstered in beige speckled fabric with tan leather headrest and armrests. It has a panel for seat positions, plus another touchscreen panel for further seat functions including massage, cushion firmness and moodlighting settings (see pics).

Seat position presets include a fully flat bed, and a silk-feel pillow and a soft chenille fleece-lined blanket are provided. I briefly tried out the bed, and it was comfortable with plenty of room to stretch out (I’m 5ft 10in), though the curved footwell narrows towards the end.

On ‘ultra long-haul’ routes such as to Australia and the US, slippers, sleepsuits and comforters are added in business class, with a turndown service. On other routes these are only for first class.  

The amenity kit includes Korres hand cream and lip balm, socks, eyemask and toothbrusk and paste. The windows have double electric shades.

Overall I found it pleasant and comfortable to work, eat, drink and watch TV, on occasion all at the same time. The AVOD system offers around 100 films including Arabic, European, Indian and Asian – though I found the choice of recent blockbuster releases was less than on other services. There are also more than 200 TV shows, and music and games. 

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

Though configuration is 1-2-1, dovetailing means the seats are labelled ACDEFGHK, so each row contains 8 seats. Travellers used to Club World will be familiar with this idea. In this case, however, AEFK face forwards, CDGH face aft (backwards)

Seats A and K are the forward facing window seats, furthest from the aisle and with a slightly more private feel, so would be the first choice for many passengers.

Central forward-facing E and F are good for couples or family travelling together as the seats are close – but there is a dividing screen if you’re travelling alone.

Aft-facing centre seats D&G do not have a dividing screen, but the seats are around 5ft apart, so you don’t feel too close to your fellow traveller.

Seats C and H have a window, but, like D and G, are nearer the aisle and face aft. It’s quite a strange experience taking off backwards while watching the forward-facing tailfin camera on your TV screen.

Row 8’s A & K window seats are nearest the communal lobby lounge, that sits between first and business class, so are likely to be near a bit of bustle and noise if passengers are using the lounge.

Further back, rows 18 and 19 are nearest the central block of toilets, while row 26 is nearest the rear galley.

However, the whole upper deck has 70 business studios, 9 first apartments and the Residence – compared to 417 economy seats on the lower deck, so it doesn’t seem to get hectic, even on an almost full flight such as ours.

THE FLIGHT

We pushed back at 09.20, and took off at 09.42.

Before takeoff, the cabin manager introduced himself, and a stewardess explained that meal times were at our choice, but I could pre-order from the menu now and then choose times later. She also took orders for a drink and breakfast snack to be served after takeoff. A toasted beef bagel from the ‘all day’ menu and a glass of Jaquart Brut NV champagne seemed a good idea.

The champagne was served at 10.25 – I realise now that doesn’t look good in writing! The bagel arrived some time later, at 11.10. The service is excellent, very friendly and helpful. But with 70 seats in business class, it’s not as instantaneous as some flyers may be used to in smaller cabins.

The All day menu also includes:

  • pastries
  • yoghurt
  • breakfast cereals
  • vanilla smoothie
  • scrambled eggs with potato rosti, asparagus and tomato
  • cheeses, fruit and ice cream

Logging on to the hotpoint wifi was a bit of a procedure, but the crew were on hand to help. I found it worked well for a while, although it appeared to stop working during the second half of the flight. It is currently free onboard the A380 for first and business class (though this promotion is not planned to be permanent), and available to buy in economy – an all-flight tariff is US$21.

For the main a la carte lunch, I ordered yellow pepper and lemongrass soup – very tasty with fresh herbs and sour cream, served with warm rolls and rosemary infused dipping oil as well as butter. Followed by pan-seared lamb loin – nicely cooked and tender – with vegetables, baked potato and  a flavoursome jus. Around 13.00, I asked for the lunch I’d chosen earlier to be served. It took around 30 minutes, as I’d been advised. The table is set with a white linen table cloth, chrome cruets, cutlery and glassware.

The a la carte menu also includes:

Starters: hot & cold Arabic mezze, and marinated buffalo mozzarella with rocket and balsamic reduction

Mains: grilled seabass with mashed potatoes, broccoli, beetroot and garlic herb butter; Arabic chicken biryani with aromatic rice; and artichoke ravioli with tomato sauce and black olives.

Afters: cheeseboard; orange bread & butter pudding; coconut panna cotta with passionfruit coulis; fruit and ice cream.

The wine list:

White: Louis Jadot chardonnay, Bourgogne 2013

Brancott Estate sauvignon blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand 2013

Weingut Kessler-Zink Rivaner, Rheinhessen, Germany 2013

Red: Saint Emilion Grand Cru La Fleur Laroze merlot blend, Bordeaux 2007

Franklin Tate Estates shiraz blend, Margaret River, Australia, 2012

Montenero primitive, Puglia, Italy 2013.

Desert wine: Domaine de Grange Neuve  Semillon blend, Monbazillac AOP 2012

There are also beers, liqueurs, aperitifs and a range of spirits including Glenlivet 12-year-old single malt, Hennessy VS Cognac

There is a lobby lounge between first and business class, with circular sofas around a coffee table. It seats around six, and staff serve drinks here. It didn’t get busy. The moodlighting is quite dark, but a it’s good spot to sit and chat with colleagues. It has a TV, and the armrest fold down to reveal connectivity, power and headphone sockets.    

The toilets also have premium feel, kept clean during the flight, with mosaic tiling and nice amenities including face mist and hand cream.

ARRIVAL:

We landed at 20.20, just after the scheduled (20.15), and started disembarking about 20 minutes later – again through a separate upper-deck airbridge. We were given fast-track invitations. A brand new landing card requirement has been introduced which nobody was aware of, which slowed down the procedure, so it took a half hour to get through immigration even in fast track.

Our priority tagged luggage was already through. There is a recently-opened arrivals lounge for first and business, which we didn’t have time to visit, but offers facilities including showers.

VERDICT

An impressive product and service, with clever layout to create a feeling of space – Etihad says it offers 20% more personal space than the earlier version of business class. All-aisle access puts it in the top league. Service is not as speedy as on some flights, but perfectly friendly and attentive. The all-premium upper deck feels tranquil and relaxed, even when nearly full. The quietness of the A380 helps this.

The good food, drinks and ease of working make it a pleasant, user-friendly experience.

With the turndown service and comfortable beds, this product will work well on the longer routes, for example down to Australia, when Etihad adds more A380s and Dreamliners to the network.

www.etihad.com

Paul Revel

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why do an article on the A380 and show pictures of a 777????

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