Etihad is one of the three Middle Eastern carriers positioning themselves for your flight pounds, but recently their hype machine has died down and been replaced with stories of cost cutting and profit warnings. Does EY still cut the mustard in this crowded market? Let’s check out their A380 service from London Heathrow.
Etihad are based at Terminal 4 at LHR; a great fit for the Hilton London Heathrow with a tunnel connecting the two. After a 10 minute stroll I joined the one check in desk with a 7 deep queue for business class. First class check in had a queue of two and economy was running the usual snake system. There was a friendly member of staff to assist and make sure everyone was in the right lane, but another business class check in would be a good idea given the size of the Etihad A380.
Fast track security was available and working really effectively on this occasion, I was making my way to the lounge within 5 minutes. Etihad has recently been on a lounge disposal mission, with the Etihad lounge in Heathrow being taken over by No.1 Lounges. Follow the signs for The House by Etihad and SkyTeam, they’re both in the same location.
The lounge is almost the same as before, with a few magazines switched out for cheaper ones and some of the furniture rearranged. It’s quite a pleasant place to spend an hour or two before a flight, but its certainly not going to rival anything Qatar have or the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse over at T3. A few glasses of champagne later I headed just outside the lounge where the A380 gates are located. Compared to the check in area, the lounge was moderately quiet and plenty of seating available.
Boarding was very well organised by the ground staff, with zones clearly signed and announcements very clear. I was in my business class suite within minutes; complete with a glass of champagne and a hot towel, served on a small plate. A really super-soft fleece blanket and plump pillow were also on the seat, with a Aqua de Parma amenity kit in bright yellow also waiting to be explored on the side. It certainly didn’t feel like a cost-slashed experience here. The cabin manager came around to introduce himself and the team, at the same time as providing a menu and drink list.
Wheels were up on time and the hushed tones of the A380, combined with a high ceiling, really do make the cabin an easy place to spend 7 hours. As soon as the crew were released they took drinks orders; which were supplied with a warm ramakin of nuts. Dinner orders were then taken, with the option of eating at any time during the flight. After a quick consultation with my stomach, I decided to eat as soon as possible.
Around 30minutes later my table was laid; complete with bread basket, condiments and a crisp white table cloth. I also swapped my champagne for a glass of drinkable red wine at this time. The salad starter was fresh and well presented, the chicken main course rich and delicious and the lemon tart for dessert was well proportioned and looked fantastic.
Each course was presented at the same time as my partner, adding to the feeling of being in a restaurant – it really was flawless service. Once dinner was consumed I explored the seat further. A large touchscreen dominates the view line and this can also be controlled with a touch screen remote control; which can also independently display content. A huge range of content was available; films, TV shows, games, music and interactive features (including a menu with the option to order) such as the sky map and duty free.
There is also another touch screen control panel next to the TV which controls all the functions of your seat and the lighting. From a reading light to a beautiful lamp next to your shoulder, there is enough options to please the movie watcher and the book worm. The seat is wide, comfortable and well supported. Firmness is adjustable via the control panel as well as a basic massage function. It also fully extends into a lie flat, non-angled, bed without having to leave your seat. There is also a preset mode for comfortable suspended relaxing, ideal for watching a movie. The cubby for your feet in this staggered layout is of a decent size, even with my size 11 and 6ft 3 stature. Etihad no longer provide duvets or mattress toppers in business class; something BA just introduced, but the pillow and blanket was fine for a day flight.
The tray table is easy to release and very sturdy, and especially large compared to the Etihad business seat of the past. I also like the fact there is a great ledge for drink or phone storage right in front of you, just offset to the side. This means you only really need the table out for dinner or working and even then you can leave the seat, via direct aisle access at every seat, without having to stow it away.
Opposite to this is the lift up cubby hole where a bottle of water, noise cancelling headphones (of limited quality) and literature are stored. You could also fit an iPad, phone and other small bits in here.
The crew were present in the cabin for most of the flights, offering drinks and the option to dine from the snack menu. I took up their offer and sampled the infamous steak sandwich and a tub of vanilla Haagen Dazs. The sandwich was really tasty with crisp fresh bread and succulent steak. All washed down with some Diet Coke on ice, this made to a great end to a good flight.
The A380 product was designed in Etihad’s glory days, and the seat is probably the best in the industry, maybe pipped by the Q-Suite on Qatar, and the soft product is still a good offering. Sure, they don’t offer the personable charm of Virgin Atlantic or the service excellence of Qatar but from my experience the deep cost cutting has yet to really show in the business cabin.