A6-APC landing as EY454 in Sydney, and I’m in 4A! – Photo: Bernie Proctor
The Boeing 777 just can’t compete with the Airbus A380 when it comes to luxury, but I still enjoyed my previous 777-200LR flight on Etihad. You can’t even put a shower on a commercially configured one! Good thing Etihad ordered 10 Airbus A380s and they have five in service right now. I wanted to try the most supreme of airline products currently out there — the Etihad First Class Apartment — and I did. One cannot experience something like this alone. I had my friend AirlineReporter Senior Correspondent Jacob Pfleger along for the ride.
Jacob would, of course, take a photo of his future seat at the Dubai Airshow, but he did too good a job not to use it. Mine was a lighter brown over in 4A – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
My general rule of thumb for first class flying is “if it’s overnight, and you are paying with currency, fly business class.” I looked at AUH-JFK and that was out. So too were some of Etihad’s London flights. Besides that, seven hours on an A380 is nothing. Eventually, I realized the best way to maximize my enjoyment of First Class flying was to do a paradoxically timed “daylight” flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney. Which was good, because I needed to be in Sydney anyway.
American Airlines Airbus A321T business class – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
It is no secret that true international-style first class service is quickly becoming an endangered species. Airlines like American and United are either eliminating or drastically reducing the number of three-class aircraft they operate, but a few exceptions remain. On American, lie-flat first class can still be found on the flagship Boeing 777-300ER, unrefurbished 777-200ERs, and also the subfleet of Airbus A321T’s operating the premium transcontinental routes.
Occasionally, American will operate a three-class aircraft on different and unexpected routes. When that happens, savvy passengers in the know (that’ll be you in just a few minutes) can fly business class for the price of economy, or maybe even true first class if they’re lucky enough. That’s exactly what happened to me on a flight between Boston and New York’s JFK Airport.
The American A321T at JFK – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
Rather than have the aircraft sit all day (an aircraft on the ground doesn’t make any money), American occasionally schedules the A321T to operate between JFK and Boston or Dallas, and the 777-200ER between various hub cities. When I noticed one of my business trips to Boston happened to coincide with one of these turns, I immediately booked the flight.
When American operates a three-class aircraft on a non-standard route, business class is often available to anyone booked in Economy. The seats are right there on the seat map when booking, but how many people would even think about clicking on a business class seat when booked in Economy? Not many. At some point before the flight, Business Class was locked down to elite status passengers or full fare Y (economy) ticket holders, but I was in before the cut. Oh, I almost forgot to mention. If I wanted a Main Cabin Extra seat instead of my business seat, I would have had to pay extra.
A6-LRE, a 777-237LR, loading up at LAX for the long flight back to Abu Dhabi – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
“That was the bulliest experience I ever had. I envy you your professional conquest of space.”
Thing is, Teddy Roosevelt never flew Etihad. Guy missed out. If a small biplane could impress our only president to ever ride a moose, I think the sheer awesomeness of Etihad would likely have left him a gibbering fool!
AirlineReporter Senior Correspondent Jacob Pfleger flew Etihad’s first class product back in the days when it was still called “Diamond First Class.” It was amazing, but with the introduction of the Facets of Abu Dhabi scheme and removal of the word diamond, Etihad has taken it even further. Out of a sense of curiosity and jealousy, a need to travel to South Africa, and a desire to best Jacob, I found a good fare from Los Angeles to Johannesburg that would let me put Etihad to the test on their longest pair of flights. I flew from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi and back, the route that Etihad purchased their 777-200LR fleet from Air India specifically to launch.
The suite was too long to fit its entirety in my 14mm lens! – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
Now, when these planes came from Air India, they were in legendary Air India style. Missing parts, missing documents, pretty much close to the axe; the aircraft were not taken care of. Worse, Air India had decided to purchase the auxiliary fuel tanks from Boeing that were necessary for their dream routes to the U.S. West Coast that will only materialize this year (maybe). Etihad and Boeing worked for months to bring these aircraft up to scratch.
However, when you get on board, there is not a trace of the old horrors and neglect that these wonderful machines faced. The result is a first class cabin that is better than both Gulfstreams I have flown on.
The extremely wide seat extends into a bed well over six feet in length. Feeling exposed? Yeah, I would be too. Even though you can’t really see any other passengers when seated, that’s not the point – you have the ability to shut your doors and have ultimate privacy. When I fly, I’d rather not see anyone but the cabin crew. Commercial flights are not about socializing for me. Etihad understands.
One day I’ll have the guts to ask for a photo with him, as I may be his biggest fan – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
Look, I love His Excellency Akbar Al Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways. If he’s doing an event and I’m free, I’ll go see him. Thing is, usually someone else is paying when he’s involved. I am not saying that derisively or sarcastically. Most of the time when I see him, Qatar Airways has provided me with the tickets out of their extreme generosity.
One time it was Airbus and Qatar Airways in a joint venture, and it is hard to say no to that. Can’t appreciate it enough, but that said, a sedate press conference across the country isn’t exactly what Qatar Airways gathers people for on their dime. Even more so when most of the press contingent is based in DC anyway.
Alaska Airlines 737-900ER at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – Photo: Alaska
So, being the odd person that I am, I needed to find another reason to go to DC along with the press conference to justify the expense. I didn’t need to qualify for my AAdvantage account, since I already had nearly double-Executive Platinum planned for the year. There are times when all this goes out the window and one doesn’t need to really find an excuse to fly somewhere. But I just felt like I needed a second reason and I found it.
I am a huge fan of celebrity chef and Hannibal menu designer José Andreas. I’ve eaten at é, multiple Jaleos, Minibar, and, best of all, China Poblano. When I found out that José’s next restaurant was China Chilcano in DC…boom — reason established.