Recently, Etihad Airways had a very attractive sale on business class fares between its European gateways and Australia, including codeshares with Czech Airlines from Prague. This was simply too good an offer to pass up, being the AvGeek I am.
As I booked via the Etihad website, I was able to partake in the online upgrade auction system. This program is a fairly recent initiative introduced by Etihad Airways, along with other carriers. The program sends out an email approximately a week before the flight, inviting business class passengers to bid on unsold seats in the first class cabin, as well as business class seats for those in economy. Bids for a first class upgrade ranged from $600-$1500 (USD) for the Abu Dhabi-Sydney flight. I bid $1000, as I was celebrating my birthday and thought it would make a nice present. Bidders are advised of the outcome 48 hours prior to the flight. The system is still in the trial stage; I only got an email T-24 hours, advising that my bid had been accepted.
Upon arriving at the combined first and business class terminal at Abu Dhabi, I was greeted by a porter who took care of my luggage and escorted me to the first class check-in area. Unlike conventional check-in desks, the first class area is set up like a classy hotel, where you take a seat at a desk with an agent who processes your booking. The whole process took no more than five minutes and I was on my way to the first class lounge.
The first class lounge is located next to the business lounge, but has a separate entrance. Upon arrival, I was greeted by name and given a brief tour of the facilities, including the champagne bar, a la carte restaurant, cigar lounge, and spa. As it was still early morning, and in anticipation of the meals to be served on-board, I only went for a light fruit platter along with a glass of Bollinger champagne.
Boarding commenced 45 minutes prior to departure, with a priority lane for business/first passengers. Surprisingly, there was only one jet bridge, which led to a bit of congestion given the full load, as well as the additional screening/document checks required by Australian authorities.
Soon enough I was on board and personally greeted (again, by name) and escorted to seat 3A. Given there are no overhead bins in the first class cabin, the attendant placed my backpack in the front closet and I placed my roll aboard under the footrest in my suite.
Once settled, I was greeted by the purser who provided me with separate menus for the meal, drinks, and tea, as well as a personal welcome note and a Belgian chocolate gift box. The in-flight chef then made an appearance to take my drink order; I selected the mint and lemon juice which was very tasty and fresh. Upon completion of boarding, the chef made another appearance to offer Arabic coffee, dates, and hot towels.
Departure was on time. The Etihad Diamond First Class service philosophy is centered around the notion of “anytime dining” meaning that guests are free to chose any item from the menu at their pace.
Given my light breakfast in the lounge, I decided to go for a full three-course lunch, followed by a light mid-flight snack six hours in, and breakfast two hours before landing. To begin with I had a mojito (freshly-made) along with a nice amuse bouche, followed by an appetizer of Arabic mezze.
For my main course I selected the “surf & turf” with char-grilled vegetables. The steak was perfectly cooked to medium-rare, as requested. (Upon later discussion with the on-board chef, I learned that all steaks are cooked from raw on-board by first boiling them in vacuum pack to bring the temperature up and then finishing them off in the oven).
With the steak, I selected an excellent Nautilus Estate New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
For dessert, I selected a trio of options. The catering is truly the strongest part of the Etihad service; even with my numerous trips in business class it never disappoints. It is not just the quality of the catering, but also the presentation, which clearly shows the positive influence of having a chef on-board to assist the crew in the preparation and plating of the meals.
Following the lunch service, I decide to explore the Diamond First Class suite and its many functions. The suite is designed like a little hotel room, complete with mini-bar, closing doors, as well as a foot rest (which doubles as an additional passenger seat and can be used either for dining with a travel companion, or conducting a brief meeting). Once the doors of the suite are closed it gives a very private feel. The suite comes complete with the usual power outlets and USB connections, as well as a satellite phone and a 23-inch tv screen. The seat itself has a built-in massage function for the back and legs, all of which can be controlled by the multi-function display.
First class passengers also receive customized amenity kits, along with pajamas and slippers. Once you’ve got your pajamas, you can comfortably change in one of the classy first class lavatories, complete with windows.
Upon request, the flight attendants will convert the seat into a fully-flat bed, which comes with a very comfortable duvet and custom pillow (in addition to the standard pillow provided). Being a daytime flight, it was difficult to fall asleep but after numerous additional mojitos and plenty of Bollinger, I managed to get myself a very comfortable six hours of sleep.
The first class suite on-board the A340-600 is very spacious and comfortable and offers a high level of privacy thanks to the closing doors. The seat also comes with a mini-bar which contains water and a nut mix.
After my sleep I decide to explore the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system. While the system isn’t the fastest (there is a slight lag when making a selection) the content variety is more than enough for the 14.5-hour flight to Sydney. Along with a number of new release movies and TV programs, there is also a reasonable selection of classics too.
My favorite feature of the IFE was the map, which also has the option of viewing one of two cameras on the aircraft, making takeoff and landing much more entertaining for us AvGeeks.
As I requested, my breakfast was promptly delivered two hours prior to landing. I was still fairly full from the lunch and mid-flight snack, so I opted for a lighter breakfast. I had poached eggs, cooked just to my liking, some fruit, and an energizer fruit smoothie. I was ready for a full day of spotting in Sydney!
Arrival in Sydney was on-time. Thanks to fast-track immigration, I was through arrivals in under 20 minutes (including collecting my bags and passing through quarantine) which many of you know is no easy feat in the morning rush at Sydney.
You really appreciate the A340-600’s impressive length from the first class cabin.
Overall, my experience with Etihad first class was really second to none. From the outstanding and very personalized crew service, right through to the catering and overall comfort and ambience of the cabin, the flight was excellent. The other nice aspect of the cabin design is the cool and elegant nature of colors used, with browns dominating the design, and it was also nice to see an Arabic carrier that did not go over the top with faux wood or gold.
It is not hard to see why Etihad has won multiple awards for its first class product. Also, thanks to the upgrade auction system, it has now become a reasonably-affordable option for many who could only dream to travel in the luxury of first class.
I hope my bid next month is again successful when I return to Prague.