With fully-flat beds in Etihad business class, direct aisle access for every passenger on every long haul flight and an inflight menu that lets you dine on what you like, when you like, Etihad and codeshare partner Virgin Australia give the Qantas/Emirates alliance a real run for its money.
Join Australian Business Traveller as we put the airline's Airbus A330s to the test on a recent flight from Abu Dhabi to Munich, in the second phase of a one-stop journey from Sydney to Germany.
Connecting directly from Sydney made things easy in Abu Dhabi – all boarding passes were printed before we'd left Australia and all bags checked through to Germany, with no need to collect them while in transit.
Etihad's complimentary chauffeur service is also provided at either end of the journey if booked at least 24 hours in advance.
Business class travellers can fly with up to 40kg of luggage at no charge (max. 32kg per piece), along with 12kg in the cabin at a maximum of two bags.
Silver and Gold members of Etihad Guest and Virgin Australia Velocity can check an extra 10kg and 15kg, respectively, with Etihad and Velocity Platinums welcome to a 20kg boost on the regular allowance.
The doors to Etihad's new Premium Lounge in Abu Dhabi are open, with a fully-stocked bar, dining facilities and power points to recharge your travel tech. Business class passengers can enjoy a complimentary 15-minute treatment or massage at the in-lounge Six Senses Spa, so we'd suggest heading there as soon as you arrive to secure an appointment.
There's also a barber and nail salon, which both come at an extra charge to all but first class flyers.
The first thing you'll notice on boarding is a sense of space, as there aren't any lockers above the centre seats. But it's a double-edged sword: fewer lockers means less storage space, and those that remain are quite shallow and require larger bags to be stored side-on – only exacerbating the problem.
EY3 left the gate in Abu Dhabi 10 minutes behind schedule to arrive in Munich 28 minutes late.
Configured in a 1-2-1 layout, every passenger has direct aisle access – now the standard for modern international business class. Each seat transforms into a 185cm fully-flat bed, with the legs and feet of one passenger extending underneath the cocktail table of the guest in front. The space is fully-enclosed, and each row of seats alternates – with the traveller being closer to the aisle in one row and closer to the window or centre of the cabin in the other.
In the single seats, we much prefer sitting against the window as opposed to the aisle
There's less chance of being disturbed by other passengers and your seat is further away from the aisle and thus affords more privacy – especially when using your tray table as an added privacy screen: Aside the seat is a little nook to house your amenity kit, which contains Korres lip balm and moisturiser, socks, an eyeshade, ear plugs, a dental kit, and a 'care kit' with cotton buds, pads and an emery board. Once packed away, you can use that space to recharge your phone via USB power or to connect your own audio-visual device to the inflight entertainment system.
There's another USB port down by your feet, along with an AC power outlet and a document holder – which is a great place to keep the menu in between meals. Your water bottle and larger reading material live next to the seat, as does your reading light and wall lamp. The tray table is incredibly sturdy, supports a large laptop and pivots away from the seat to let you easily access the aisle during meal time... ... although Row 9 is missing a window on Etihad's A330s, which makes the seat a little darker on our daytime flight and renders the wall lamp a necessity – even with the window blind fully raised.
The menu offers guests both breakfast and lunch after take-off. Being 9am in Abu Dhabi and 6am in Munich, a light breakfast was an easy choice.
We began with warmed nuts and a glass of orange juice... ... and progressed to a latte and a fruit smoothie energiser drink atop a selection of breads and pastries for a little 'sampling'. The toast was dry, incredibly hard and impossible to eat beyond the first bite, although the croissant, snail bread (pain aux raisins) and the pain au chocolat duo were considerably fresher.
Other basics such as yoghurt with granola, cereals and fresh fruit were also available, along with a smoked salmon, tomato and cucumber bagel.
A second latte followed the pastries, yet both lacked any crema – instead arriving layered with the milk at the bottom, the espresso in the centre and milk froth on the top.
That's different to a traditional café latte with coffee and textured milk blended at the bottom and 1cm of froth and crema at the top, but for airplane coffee, it's more than drinkable after giving it a good stir. At noon in Munich local time – or around five hours into the flight – I decided to try the Etihad Steak Sandwich after passing it up on the first leg of the journey from Sydney.Served with red onion compote, cheese, mayonnaise and rocket leaves, the steak itself was incredibly tender and the combination of flavours was simply delicious.
The former were unfortunately quite soggy and tasteless until dipped into the tomato sauce and seeded mustard, and the crisps and crackers were as you'd expect.
Hungrier travellers can instead indulge in a three course lunch with bread on the side, matching wines and a choice of sweet or savoury desserts.
Entertainment & Service
Keeping you entertained is a 15" LCD touchscreen, packed with 120 movies, 290 TV shows, 16 radio channels, live satellite television including CNN and Sport24 and a selection of games and audio CDs: This particular aircraft also had Etihad's Wi-Fly Internet service available, which allowed this reporter to file the day's stories from 35,000 feet rather than making a mad dash for the hotel after clearing passport control in Germany.
Read our full review: Etihad inflight Internet
The entertainment system can also be operated using a remote control – perfect for clicking through classical music archives and choosing the next album while the tray table and laptop were open in front of the aircraft screen.Absent from the journey were pyjamas and a mattress to cover and soften the seat – which Etihad provides only on services of 10 hours or more – although these aren't a necessity on flight during daylight hours.
If you're planning to sleep on this shorter hop between the UAE and Europe rather than the longer journey from Australia to the Middle East, we'd suggest packing your PJs from the first leg to wear on the second.
The crew on today's flight addressed every passenger by name, promptly collected used plates and glasses, and were personable in a way that made the passenger/crew dynamic feel a little more friendly yet still entirely professional.
Although flying between the United Arab Emirates and Germany – where the primary languages are Arabic and German, respectively – announcements on board were also made in English.
The entertainment system was available in our native tongue, and all crew members we interacted with could speak the language fluently. Top marks for service.
Missing was an inflight bar as you'd find on Emirates' A380s between neighbouring Dubai and the Bavarian capital, but with an extensive list of apéritifs, spirits and liqueurs at the ready, your favourite drink is but a call bell away.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Germany as a guest of Etihad.
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