Private suites with closing doors, an elaborate inflight degustation menu and your own chilled mini bar: welcome to Etihad's first class suites aboard its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, now flying daily and non-stop between Brisbane and Abu Dhabi.
What's more, the Virgin Australia partner even provides an inflight chef to customise and create meals to your personal tastes as you soar through the skies, complemented by an airport chauffeur service on the ground for the airline's high flyers.
Join Australian Business Traveller as we sample Etihad's first class suites on a recent flight home from its Abu Dhabi hub.
- Frequent flyer program: Etihad Guest, although Virgin Australia Velocity members can also earn points and status credits on Etihad flights.
- Chauffeured transfers: Complimentary at either end of the journey when booked at least 24 hours in advance.
- Priority check-in, boarding: Yes
- Checked baggage allowance: 2x32kg bags, plus 1x32kg bag for Gold and Platinum frequent flyers and 1x23kg bag for Silver-level travellers.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 2x115cm bags at a combined total weight of up to 12kg.
- Priority airport services: Access to separate passport control counters in Abu Dhabi and Express Path lines in Brisbane.
A first class boarding pass unlocks the doors to Etihad's new first class lounge in Abu Dhabi, complete with a well-stocked bar and an à la carte restaurant, plus a cigar lounge, fitness room, Six Senses day spa, a barber and a nail salon.
That's where first class passengers can enjoy one 15-minute treatment at no charge, and although the new lounge was still under construction when we flew through (having since opened), the barber team in the nearby business class Premium Lounge proved up to the task:
More photos: Etihad's new first class lounge, Abu Dhabi
After being shown to their seat, first class guests are greeted by Etihad's signature silver tray service: offering dates, a hot towel and a glass of Bollinger La Grande Année 2005 before take-off... ... joined by a signed welcome note from the cabin manager: Sougha amenity kits are also distributed, jam-packed with Le Labo balms and moisturisers, pillow mist, pulse point oil, shaving and dental kits, socks, an eyeshade, earplugs, a 'care kit' with cotton buds, pads and an emery board; and even breath mints. Ladies receive a similar kit in purse form, sans the face razor:
We should point out that unlike the Etihad A380s flying from Sydney and Melbourne, Etihad's Boeing 787s don't offer inflight showers in first class – although with a 5:40pm arrival time in Brisbane, they aren't necessary, as guests head straight to their home or hotel.
Sliding doors bring very high levels of privacy here... ... but even with those doors wide open, the only time you'll see other people is as they walk past. For couples, friends or colleagues travelling together, a separate privacy divider can be lowered between the centre pair of seats as well, or left in place if you're on your lonesome. The seats themselves are incredibly throne-like: crafted of Poltrona Frau leather and with large armrests on each side – sizeable enough to nurse your beverages or smartphone – joined by gold trim and lighting that's both stylised and dimmable: Each suite also provides an ottoman. You can use this as a footrest, a place to keep your bag mid-flight or even as a second seat to host a companion for meetings or a meal: Underneath: a space to store your cabin baggage, while the ottoman itself forms the end of your 204cm bed: The crew assemble the bedding for you as you change into the pyjamas provided, which were also hung up and waiting for us in the restroom.
A duvet and hotel-like pillow join a comfortable mattress on the bed and your statement pillow, with a plush blanket also at hand: The turndown service too comes with a fresh bottle of water, a spray of pillow mist and a cute 'sweet dreams' card which made us smile: If you wish to be left alone, just tap the 'do not disturb' button on the nearby control panel and you'll only be woken up prior to arrival. The control panel allows you customise other aspects of your suite, too, including lighting, seat position, massage functions and the firmness of the cushions: You can also now skirt your seat forward to make dining easier while otherwise keeping the seat in the same shape – an option we appreciate after observing its absence in Etihad's older Boeing 777 first class suites. Also pleasing to find is a chilled mini bar with both water and soft drinks available at any time during the flight: perfect if you want a sip during take-off or when the crew are preparing to land: A literature pocket is also available to house your dining menus, books and tablets or small laptops, while a second compartment proves useful for items like jewellery and cufflinks... ... and another, your smartphone: There's a multi-country AC power outlet for refuelling your larger devices, too, plus two USB ports to power smaller gadgets and a personal and adjustable air vent for maximum comfort.
As it happens, first class seats 1A, 1K, 2D and 2G all face backwards, rather than forwards – and while the sensation is certainly different during take-off and landing, the journey itself otherwise feels the same, so we'd not choose one direction over the other.
Following the silver tray service before take-off, the crew are quick to offer an apéritif after wheels-up: in this case, a classic Vodka Martini with the appropriate nibbles: You're then free to dine as and when you like – so if you'd rather get some work done or catch some shut-eye first, that's easily done.
When you are ready to enjoy a meal, there's a trained inflight chef at your beck and call who can work to customise plates to your liking, can create new and not-on-the-menu dishes from the pantry ingredients available on board and can even assemble a tasting menu just for you.
- Arabic mezze plate with pita, tabouleh, baba ganoush, hummus and olives (w/ 2008 Dog Point Vineyard Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc)
- Balik salmon with a new potato scallion and red onion mini-salad with a dollop of crème fraîche
- Duo of soups: paprika, chickpea and labneh soup, and a roast pumpkin soup, with garlic bread for dipping (w/ 2011 Tuscan Pietro Beconcini Chianti Riserva DOCG)
- Wild mushroom risotto with Parmesan cheese, a drop of dashi and truffle oil
- (Drinkable mango sorbet palate cleanser)
- US rib eye steak done medium well with garlic balm potatoes, leaves and mushroom sauce (w/ Californian Pinot Noir in the 2013 Line 39.)
- Trio of quail with baby carrots, parsnip purée, red cabbage and a grenadine jus (w/ 2011 La Croix de Beaucaillou Cabernet Sauvignon blend, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux)
- Melted yet still-cold ice creams: vanilla and chocolate, served in shot glasses with a pour of Amarula Cream
Meals are plated on Nikko Ceramics Silk Platinum place settings, while a broader menu also offers a variety of grills, sides, sandwiches, snacks, cheeses, afternoon teas and desserts.
Being a 14-hour flight which departs around 10pm and arrives at 5:40pm in Australia, we went to sleep after our degustation and awoke to a latte later during the flight... ... before enjoying more evening-appropriate dishes in place of the normal breakfast menu – such as the Asian snacks of radish cake, a prawn wanton, prawn shumai, tofu dim sum and a Thai fish cake... ... followed by a light dinner of the signature 'Etihad steak sandwich' with rocket, turkey rashers, red onion compote, melted cheese, mayonnaise and grain mustard which proved easy to eat rather than tough and chewy as you might otherwise expect on an aircraft... ... and a 'dessert taster' before landing with opera cake, a vanilla mousse with dried fruits and a spiced orange panna cotta:
Also available at any time: Chivas Regal 18yo Scotch Whisky, Glenlivet Master Distiller's Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey and Bollinger La Grande Année 2005 Champagne.
Other premium bites like caviar and lobster are notably absent from the menu, but if the above isn't enough to satisfy on a flight mostly geared towards sleeping, we daresay you're a very fussy high flyer!
Entertainment & Service
While the meal itself could pass as inflight entertainment, there's still plenty to watch via Etihad's newly-revamped E-BOX system on your 24-inch HDTV and with the supplied noise-cancelling headphones.Among your choices are movies, TV shows, music albums and games, but also live satellite TV channels including BBC World News, CNBC, CNN and Sport 24, among others: The inflight content is updated frequently, and while most newer titles were available in full HD, we noticed that an older movie, The Transporter, hadn't been encoded properly – instead with black bars atop, underneath and aside the picture: Nonetheless, the cabin crew on today's flight were incredibly professional, responded to call bells quickly, were friendly without being overly so and did whatever they could to better the journey.
Our bed was also seamlessly made and later packed away as we arose to get dressed, and requests only needed to be asked once.
Also impressive were the Dreamliner's dimmable 'electrochromic windows' – allowing you to glance outside and increasing your overall sense of space without filling the cabin with sunlight... ... and Etihad's inflight Internet, where you can browse without download or time limits for US$22 (A$29.10) for the entire flight, which also covers you on further Etihad connecting flights that same day at no extra cost.
Overall, while certainly the 'little brother' to Etihad's revolutionary Airbus A380 First Class Apartments flying to Sydney and Melbourne, the airline's Boeing 787 first class suites still represent an excellent first class product to rival the world's best, even without those inflight showers.
For an even closer look at Etihad's Boeing 787 first class experience, watch this two-minute video:
A return Etihad first class journey from Brisbane to Abu Dhabi in October 2016 costs approximately $16,700.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Abu Dhabi as a guest of Etihad Airways.
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