Etihad Melbourne to Abu Dhabi
I’ve been fortunate enough to fly the A380 Business Class product with three airlines: Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Etihad. This review focuses on the Etihad experience, and I can say that having flown this service twice, it is my favourite Business Class product on the market. Whilst the other airlines are not far behind, I think Etihad’s combination of hard and soft product really hits the mark. In future reviews I’ll explain why I think Qantas and Singapore are not at the same level and this mostly just comes down to their seating products. Given that both Qantas and Singapore have confirmed they are revamping their A380 seating in the near future, this is a space to watch, and the lead could easily be taken back.
EY461 departs from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi at 10:10 pm. I arrived on a delayed Virgin Australia flight and so only had 20 minutes to enjoy the new Etihad First and Business Class Lounge in Melbourne before being called to board.
The lounge is among the nicest Business Class lounges I’ve visited in Australia. There is a solid selection of hot food and drinks on offer, with the warm and welcoming Etihad staff. The tarmac views, and those of the Etihad A380 waiting diligently to be loaded with passengers, really help to create a memorable pre-journey experience. I really wished I could’ve spent more time here relaxing and will make sure my next visit is longer.
Boarding an aircraft straight onto the upper deck never gets old. Some A380 carriers have installed their First Class cabins downstairs, however Etihad has devoted the entire upper deck to their premium cabins, starting with First Class at the front, followed by Business Class.
The Etihad Business Studio really is a wonderfully designed product. The cabin features soft and inviting mood lighting matched with equally pleasing fabric colours and patterns. It’s a much more refined elegance when compared to the harsh bling of Emirates, and I would probably go as far as saying it is the best designed Business Class cabin I’ve flown in.
All that style is not without substance, and the seat offers a very comfortable and customisable experience. I am not a fan of seats that fold forward to turn into a bed (Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand) as they generally don’t offer a very deep recline, which is my preferred seating position for watching movies and (eventually) dozing off.
Toilets are well designed but are fairly small. Thankfully enough are installed to prevent queues.
A unique feature of Etihad’s A380 is The Lobby, a hybrid lounge and bar for passengers in First and Business Class. I didn’t actually try out The Lobby on this flight but it looks like an excellently designed space that I am keen to give it a test drive in future.
Shortly after arriving in my seat, I was offered a pre-depature beverage. I can’t remember the exact selection they had available, but I believe one was an exotic blend of juice, water and Champagne. I gladly accepted the Champagne.
Etihad’s ‘Dine on Demand’ service and its distinct lack of food trolleys really helps to create a personalised and enjoyable dining experience. Given it was an evening departure, I opted for a rather traditional three-course dinner, not haven’t eaten in the lounge. Meal orders were taken prior to departure which helped to speed things up in the air.
Service throughout the flight was warm and professional. I wouldn’t say that Etihad’s service stood out as being better than its rivals, but I certainly couldn’t fault any of the interactions I had with staff and all requests were addressed.
As with most airlines, cabin crew service on different flights can vary wildly, and it would be great to see airlines evolve their recruiting, training and benefits program to ensure more consistent service is applied. I think an Uber-style rating system after each flight that is used to reward and motivate exceptional cabin crew could really transform the inflight experience.
The entertainment system itself on Etihad’s A380 is fantastic, and matches the quality of Singapore Airlines and Emirates, which all far exceed Qantas. Qantas has confirmed a mid-life upgrade of their A380s which will hopefully include similar entertainment systems to their new Boeing 787 product which looks great.
In terms of available content, I found enough content to keep me happy until I fell asleep. It was pretty cool being able to watch live TV such as sporting matches and news from the air.
I think overall Emirates has a more extensive library but Qantas’ content selection probably appeals more to my tastes than all of the Middle Eastern carriers.
In addition, the A380s have paid Wi-Fi which I didn’t use on this particular flight but have before and found it working fairly well but somewhat slow with some drop outs.
As of June 2017, I think Etihad’s A380 offers the best Business Class for Australians travelling to Europe or the Middle East. Stay tuned for future reviews of Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Emirates.