This is the continuation of my 2 week/35,000 mile trip around the world which includes Lufthansa First, Etihad First, Swiss Business & Turkish Business Class.
With Etihad recently announcing new service to Los Angeles from June 1st, I think now is an even better time to post my experience in First Class with them!
Using AA miles to fly Etihad is a great way to get to and from the Middle East. It’s an even better value for people who need to go to and from Europe because AA charges only 40,000 miles each way. One thing to know about Etihad is that they aren’t like Lufthansa or Cathay Pacific in the sense that award space isn’t released last minute. Whatever award space they release is all that they are willing to give. I looked at European destinations that Etihad flies to and the only one that had open space on the dates I needed was Abu Dhabi-Frankfurt. If you want to search for First Class space, you need to use Etihad’s website. Most open seats are to Geneva, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt. After finding space, I called AA to book the seats. The fees were 40,000 miles, $18 in taxes and a $75 late booking fee as I don’t hold status with AA.
Check In & Lounge
The day before departure, I scheduled the complimentary chauffeur service that was included in my First Class ticket. Etihad lets you get picked up from anywhere in the UAE (United Arab Emirates.) I was staying in Dubai, which was about 90 miles away so they actually scheduled to pick me up around 5AM for my 9AM flight. I didn’t get a picture of the car but it was a new model Lexus ES 350. The Chauffeur was courteous and I tipped him about 80 AED or $20.
It was pitch black when I was dropped off at the premium airport terminal at Abu Dhabi. Etihad has a separate terminal for their First & Business class passengers in Abu Dhabi and I have to say, it’s very basic after you get past check-in. I was brought into the check-in area and was seated while my boarding pass was printed. The check-in agent escorted me to the security line, which had no one in it and then directed me to the First Class lounge. Both the Business and First Class lounge are in the same place but separated by a wall and glass door. When walking into the lounge, my boarding pass was checked at the desk and I was let in. I immediately went to the spa to book my 15 minute treatment. Etihad offers a free 15 minute massage or facial to all First Class passengers and I chose to get a massage. There was immediate availability, which I wasn’t too surprised about given that it was about 6:30AM. To be fair, Etihad runs flights all night so I can only imagine that the spa should be full most of the time.
After my massage, I headed to the dining area and ordered some breakfast. I’m a fan of steak and so I ordered steak and eggs. It was absolutely delicious and the waiter working my table had outstanding service. In the process of the 30 minutes I was there, she came 6 times to refill my water, offer me newspapers and bring the coffee/tea menu.
After eating, I went and sat down near one of the windows to plane watch. I find Abu Dhabi’s airport to be pretty weird. Everything looks like it was transported here from another alien planet. The control tower is curved and the airport is the only thing in this vast desert. 15 minutes went by and I eventually started to head to my gate as no boarding announcements were made. Little did I know that my flight was leaving from terminal 2 and so I had to run pretty fast to catch my flight.
When I reached the gate, boarding was still going on because they had one line for everyone! It wasn’t a big deal but our flight was supposed to leave at 9AM and by the time I finally got onto the plane, it was 9:30.
Etihad Airways 7
6 Hours 30 Minutes
First Class, Seat 1K
Once I got to the door, the attendant promptly directed me left to my heaven for the next 6 1/2 hours. I got to my seat and was greeted immediately by the purser and chef. They instructed me that I could put my luggage under my ottoman and left the catering menus on my seat. The purser then proceeded to tell me that I was the only one in First Class today and that every seat was open for me.
The Airbus A330-300 has a First Class configuration of 1-2-1. Every Suite comes with its own closing doors and the middle seats have a very high automatic privacy divider. The cabin did feel a little cramped for First Class but it was okay. Behind First Class is a Business Class mini-cabin and then another Business cabin followed by economy.
As soon as I sat down, I was asked what pre-departure beverage I wanted and chose Coke. The chef brought it out in no time and let me take some time to get better acquainted with the cabin. Around the same time, the purser brought out my amenity kit and pajamas, which were some of the most comfortable pajamas ever.
Boarding finally ended and the captain was came on air to tell us of our flight time of 6 1/2 hours. We pushed back a few minutes late and were number 1 for takeoff. As we rocketed into the sky, I noticed that NOTHING was around this airport. It was all desert for miles until I saw a small glimpse of Ferrari World in the city of Abu Dhabi.
The seatbelt sign turned off pretty quickly and the purser sprung into action. He closed all the other window shades and also drew the curtains. The chef then came by to see if I wanted anything else and instructed me that I could order food anytime and with any combination. I cheerfully accepted that fact as I was super tired from being up since 2AM.
I quickly made my way to the lavatory to change into the pajamas and headed back to my seat. In the 2 1/2 minutes that it took me to change, the purser made my bed perfectly and even left a box of chocolates on the side. When laying down, I had a euphoric moment as I was able to close a door on a plane. It’s still pretty new to me as the only other flight I ever got to close a door on was the Singapore Airlines A380. Everything about this flight just felt luxurious and the crew was pampering me like none other. The bedding too, was very comfortable. A mattress pad went over the seat and the comforter was pretty decent as well.
After about a 3 hour nap, I woke up and decided to order from the menu. My selection was Mushroom Soup. I know it’s not that crazy but hunger hadn’t really hit me at that point. Even the chef questioned me again and said “that’s all? Are you sure?”
While eating, I looked into the entertainment selection offered. It’s safe to say that the Etihad E-Box system is one of the most technologically advanced systems out there. The entertainment selection is out of this world and it’s the first time I had a hard time choosing what to watch. In addition to movies and TV, Etihad offers Wi-Fi on most of it’s flights. They also offer the ability to send emails and text message people!
After watching some episodes of White Collar and Family Guy, I decided to walk around the cabin and take a few pictures. The cabin crew had already readied a separate suite for me to take pictures in. I don’t know why they did that but I guess they noticed my camera and proactively set up dining in another suite. All I have to say is that this cabin is stunning. I have never seen a more refined and beautiful First Class cabin in my life. The lighting and design made this cabin look like extravagant including the huge lit up circle on the ceiling. All the seat controls were controlled by a digital screen on the side of the seat. There was plenty of storage within the Suite but no overhead bins.
Inside the Suite, there was a private mini-bar which housed 2 bottles of water and a few chips. The most exciting option to me was the air nozzle! I love when airlines have their own private nozzle because it can get pretty hot sometimes.
The lavatory was also nicely decorated and colored in all black.
I now had about 30 minutes before landing and changed back into my clothes. While we were descending, the purser and chef came back around and thanked me for flying with them. I told them how pleased I was with everything and they were genuinely happy. I even got the pursers card to contact him in the future to see if he will be flying any routes I decide to fly with Etihad.
We eventually landed and taxied to the last gate in Terminal 1. From there, it was onto immigration and then to my awaiting Hertz BMW M5 Rental!
Overall, I cannot stress how pleased I was with Etihad’s service. I’ve always said that I wouldn’t fly Emirates anytime soon because I don’t want to be spoiled to the point of no return but Etihad really did spoil me. The amount of choices I received in the menu trumped any other First Class catering option i’ve ever had and the design of the cabin really made me feel like I was traveling in utmost luxury. That coupled with the outstanding service of the cabin crew really made me want to always fly Etihad. I really do believe that the new standard of service will be set by the Middle Eastern carriers and that Asian carriers will soon take notice. I just cannot get over what a great flight I had! I encourage anyone teetering between Etihad and any other carrier to choose Etihad. You will not make a mistake whatsoever.