In December 2022, my wife and I headed to the United Arab Emirates for an end-of-the-year break. It was a fast-paced year, and she had some days off at the end of the year, so we figured why not. The UAE has a good mix of things to do, both rest and socialisation-wise, for both of us. However, I wanted to cross off another thing pending on my list, the Louvre in Abu Dhabi this time around. So, we agreed that we could fly from Delhi to Abu Dhabi and then, on the return, fly back from Dubai. We’d just flown the Etihad A350 in August 2022, and it was time to book it again. Hence, an Etihad A350 Business Class Review follows.
As a part of its strategy reset, Etihad decided to put its future in the hands of the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787 and is gradually taking away most of the other long-haul aircraft in its fleet.
The A350-1000 is Etihad’s newest aircraft, with 371 seats in a two-class configuration: 327 economy seats in a 3-3-3 layout in two cabins, including 45 Economy Space seats with four inches of extra legroom and 44 business class seats. Etihad has ordered 12 of these aircraft. The A350, which Etihad had stored for a while, was finally revealed in November 2021 at the Dubai Airshow and put into service in March 2022.
Currently, Etihad operates 5 A350 aircraft, and these operate long-haul flights to New York and Chicago, along with rotations to London from Abu Dhabi and, nearer home, flights into Mumbai and Delhi. I believe Mumbai and Delhi come into the mix because Etihad wants to offer a consistent experience to their Indian passengers who fly with them to the US. However, don’t take this as a given because, on certain days, your A350 could also be swapped with an A321 (if loads are too low or generally there is a scheduled swap).
Booking the Etihad Trip
We planned to be in Delhi at the end of December (before we decided to head to the UAE), so instead of shuffling plans, we figured we would fly to Abu Dhabi from Delhi. While Etihad flies twice daily from Delhi, I wanted to be on the 4:30 AM flight, which would arrive in Abu Dhabi early in the morning. This is the flight which also has the A350-1000 operating it. I checked out revenue fares, which were slightly expensive for the short hop. Also, because it was the Christmas long weekend, we were only planning this trip a few weeks out.
So, I turned to look for some redemption tickets on this flight. When it comes to redemptions on Etihad, I always make it a point to first look at Etihad’s website for redemption tickets using my Etihad Guest account. In this case, redemption tickets were available for about 28000 EY miles per head, but an INR 17,000 (USD 210) was levied towards taxes and surcharged on the ticket.
Fortunately, I still had a stash of InterMiles available as well, and as an Etihad subsidiary, InterMiles should have also had access to the same Saver availability. I looked up, and voila, I could ticket two passengers without fuel surcharges at just 56780 InterMiles per head. The INR 9000 collected is more like a service charge, and it goes to the InterMiles bottom line, not passed on to the airline. In the end, the redemption value looked like more than INR 1 per mile, which was a great outcome.
Etihad’s Business Class on the A350s is a 1-2-1 layout, and all seats have doors, just like the new British Airways Club Suites. Both of us liked a window seat, so we selected seats on the port side. I picked 8A and 9A for this trip, in the middle. Far away from the bassinet, if there would be children, and far away from the bassinet behind the L2 door at the back.
At the Airport
On the destined day, we arrived at the airport, having booked a meet-and-assist service for the both of us. Delhi Airport was in the news for all the wrong reasons, and we did not want to be at the receiving end of it, even though we were flying business and hence had access to the premium queues. Our concierge told us to alight at the last gate of Delhi Terminal 3 and meet him there.
From there, he escorted us back into the airport, where Etihad’s counters were open. In India, Etihad’s ground handling is with AISATS, and there were long queues for the roughly 300 plus travelling in economy, without any status. Our concierge brought us to the business class queue, and in a few minutes, we were able to get talking to an agent. We presented our passports and visa printouts and were handed out our boarding passes in minutes.
The agent also informed us that the Lounge was not available at the airport; hence, for Etihad status holders and business class customers, they would offer us 3000 miles instead. This was also informed to us via email a few days before the trip (see below). Other airlines have made “arrangements” with other service providers at Delhi Airport, but I guess this is also something we can live with on a short-term basis.
We bid adieu to our porter from Encalm (part of our meet and assist service), and only the concierge came along with us further. Fortunately, passport control was quick as we found an empty counter. Still, it took us more than 35 minutes to clear security because even the “premium” queue was interspersed by many people who “knew someone at the airport.”
After the security check, we headed to the Encalm Lounge that had recently opened at Terminal 3 International (only for bank customers, not airline customers). After more waiting there, we also spent some time inside to check it out. We called our concierge in a bit, who brought a golf cart to drop us at the gate. Again, as a reminder, these are not services offered by Etihad but by a company called Encalm Hospitality which runs the airport lounges and the “meet and assist” service at Delhi Airport.
We arrived at the gate just before the flight began boarding. Our ride for the night was already being prepped as we turned up. It is a pity that with Delhi Airport’s window design, one can never take a good close-up picture of aircraft.
Within about 10-15 minutes of our arrival at the gate, boarding was announced. After the pre-boarding of customers who used wheelchairs and families with infants, boarding for Business Class went first.
Etihad Airways EY211
Delhi (DEL) – Abu Dhabi (AUH)
Saturday, December 24, 2022
Departure: 4:37 AM
Duration: 3 Hours 46 minutes
Arrival: 6:53 AM
Aircraft Type: Airbus A350-1000
Seat: 9A (Business)
Meal Service: Breakfast
Etihad A350-1000 Business Class On Board Product
I am familiar with the Etihad A350-1000, having flown it just four or five months before. Etihad is one of my favourite middle-eastern carriers, mainly because of the subdued hues they put on board. Here is a shot of the cabin as we entered. Notice that no bins are installed in the middle of the cabin, adding to the feeling of space in the Business Class section.
The airline’s name was put up on both ends of the cabin, in the front and back.
The cabin might look familiar to frequent travellers. It is the same seat used by British Airways on their Club Suite fitments on the A350-1000 aircraft and is a Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seat with doors. Etihad Airways has done its refinements in terms of the colours and the look, and it is a look I like. All seats have direct aisle access, which are 20 inches in width and recline to a 79-inch bed. Here is a look at the seat unit by the window side.
And here is a look at the seat. Etihad has done a lovely dark hue on the headrest, along with a three-pronged seatbelt, which is becoming more common on most new-age business-class seats. Both armrests slide down in the sleep position, but the right-hand side armrest also pops up, and there is space for a water bottle to be stored inside.
A reading lamp is also blended into the seat.
However, one of the first things you notice is the facet light installed on every business class seat in a golden hue. Next to it is a literature rack, where only the menu is placed. The safety card and other literature go in a different seat pocket. A Wellness Kit was already placed on the seat, which includes masks, sanitiser and wet tissues. No amenity kits or Pajamas are given out on this route.
There are many storage units to store your personal effects, which include space built into the sideways panelling on the seat. These can be opened with a light touch, and they open upwards. The headphones are already placed in this storage.
One of the storage units also doubles up as the nerve centre, with the power adaptors and the Touch Screen of the control unit for the In-Flight entertainment Unit. The three-dot pin spot for plugging in your headphones is also here. A noise-cancelling headset was placed in the seat for use.
Etihad A350-1000 Business Class On-Board Service
Service started shortly after we were seated. An Etihad cabin crew member came around with welcome drinks, which included a choice of water, juice and mint lemonade, which is popular in the middle-east. I went with the mint lemonade. This was quickly followed by a towel service where hot towels were handed out to passengers. These were not flimsy towelettes but actual thick face towels.
Another member of the cabin crew came around shortly to take meal orders. Etihad has a dine-on-demand format, which means you can dine whenever you want during the flight.
Here is the drinks menu for those interested. Apart from the Champagne, there was a nice collection of wines from Australia and New Zealand.
And here is the dining menu. It was smaller than I expected it to be, just breakfast and no Mezze.
I informed the cabin crew that I wanted to try some of their champagne after take-off and that they should serve breakfast as close to the landing as possible. We closed doors and left on time, setting course for Abu Dhabi.
It wasn’t fog season yet, but here is a look out the window just as we took off from Delhi.
As we took off, I decided to watch a movie instead of going to sleep. Not sure why I wanted to watch a film at 4:30 AM IST, but I found Top Gun Maverick in the catalogue and went for it.
Etihad has a vast collection of movies and other content on its IFE. Going by the programming guide, there are over 240 movies, 370 shows, 750 music albums, seven live TV channels, games, and so on. There are over 10 Hindi Movies and another 5-10 in South Indian languages.
Additionally, on this IFE iteration, you can pair your Bluetooth headphones/earphones with the IFE. However, I did not try it out on this flight since I only brought my AirPods along and left the noise-cancelling headsets at home.
As soon as we were up in the air, the cabin crew started with the drinks service. I’d requested their Champagne, which I’d never had before, and while it was no Krug, it was pretty smooth for my palette, and I also had seconds. A ramekin full of nuts was served as well.
I must admit that watching Top Gun Maverick on an aeroplane hits differently.
After some champagne and movies, I decided to take a little nap. I made a quick trip to the lavatory before hitting the sack. The forward lavatories on the A350 are wide, and there was enough space to move around.
In line with the short flight, only sanitiser and hands were placed in the lavatory.
When I returned, the cabin was dimmed, and many folks had already settled in for a nap.
My co-passenger had been long asleep, missing out on the fine wine that was calling for her.
I also decided to nod off for a bit and got my seat in the lie-flat position.
After an hour or so of good sleep, I got up, and a cabin crew member came around shortly to check if I wanted to have something. I requested a black coffee to be served, followed by my breakfast choice. However, the crew brought along everything in one go. This morning, I was getting an omelette for breakfast.
I did miss that there was no Arabic Mezze on this flight, as Etihad’s catered version is one of my absolute favourites. The rest of the breakfast was pretty delicious though it was served a bit prior to when I was expecting to eat it.
The lights were brought back up in a bit, and more people started to ask for their breakfast. I was done by now. However, I did ask for another coffee, this time a cappuccino, which was brought to me in a paper cup.
Soon enough, we were ready for landing. Arriving in Abu Dhabi early in the morning gets you some great views. Most of the time, though, I am transiting this airport in the middle of the night. It was a welcome change indeed to see the iconic Ferrari World canopy in full bloom before landing.
We arrived about fifteen minutes before the scheduled arrival time and had a gate waiting for us. Again, a change from the usual midnight pattern where most folks should expect to be deboarding at a hard gate and being bussed to the arrivals area.
Etihad Business Class Ground Handling At Abu Dhabi
All business class passengers were distributed fast-track landing cards which entitled us to use the business class queue in Abu Dhabi.
However, as it turned out, in classic Airport Immigration Dilemma fashion, only one of the two counters was staffed when we arrived, and a tonne of clumsy passengers ensured it took us a while to clear passport control.
Once we got done, we headed to the baggage claim area, where our bags were already on the belt.
Etihad’s Complimentary Limousine Service
While Etihad Airways has discontinued its Limousine Service worldwide, in the UAE, they still offer its complimentary Etihad Chauffeur service to and from Abu Dhabi Airport for First and selected Business guests. First, Business Choice Plus and Business Choice guests are entitled to this service in the UAE. Also, Etihad Guest Gold and Platinum members are allowed a one-way transfer from Abu Dhabi International Airport to anywhere in the UAE and vice versa, even when travelling on redemption tickets. You need to book your limousine at least 12 hours before departure.
You need to head to the Lounge to find out about your chauffeur.
While we spent some time in the Lounge, I will write a separate note on the Etihad Arrival Lounge. We were assigned a BMW Limousine, waiting to take us to our hotel on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island.
Overall, Etihad’s A350-1000 is a beautifully done-up product and a legit successor to the erstwhile flagship product, the Etihad Airways A380. The business class cabin is comfortable and spacious, and I would love to try this out on a longer segment to the US. The hospitality is just right (not over-friendly and not underwhelming). With wifi, I can also get some work done if needed. The F & B offering is solid, except I found the short-haul breakfast to be less in terms of the offering.
Have you flown Etihad’s A350-1000? What has been your experience with the A350 for Etihad?
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