Hi Frugalistas! Towards the end of last year I had the opportunity to fly Etihad Airways Business Class Sydney to Europe on two separate occasions: initially on a solo trip Sydney to Zurich, and then later on a family trip Sydney to Madrid, and London to Sydney. I’ve reviewed Etihad Business Class a number of times now, and looking back at my old reviews, it was obvious that Etihad Airways had changed. But has Etihad Business Class 2020’s version changed for the better? Read my Etihad Business Class review and see.
Etihad Business Class review: Etihad Business Class 2020 on the ground
Etihad Business Class passengers have access to dedicated check ins at Sydney, Zurich and London. Generally the queues move quickly but on our family trip to Madrid it’s school holidays, so the Etihad flights are busy and large family groups slow the lines down. Passing through security and immigration is also a bit slow, but Etihad are not responsible – the airport is undergoing renovation and half the immigration and security area is closed.
Etihad Airways Business Class Lounge
Over my two separate trips I experienced a range of Etihad Business Class Lounge options.
In both Sydney and London, Etihad have rebranded their lounges to The House. It’s the same lounge in Sydney as the previous Etihad Business & First Class Lounge. Except now it is open to other airlines and those travellers willing to pay the entrance fee. So it’s crowded. Very crowded. As a solo traveller it’s not so noticeable, but travelling as a family we were lucky to get a table to have lunch before our flight. In London, it’s early morning and there’s not a table to be had for breakfast.
In Sydney we ordered from the à la carte table service menu rather than the buffet. My leek and gruyere cheese tart had a bit of a soggy bottom due to the pastry being undercooked, but the filling was very tasty. My accompanying chardonnay was delicious. Mr Frugalfirstclass went for the barramundi, which he pronounced dry but tasty (as did the table next to us). MissG’s chicken and brie burger was a winner.
In Abu Dhabi we also suffered from the busy lounge, despite the Etihad Abu Dhabi Business Class Lounge being huge these days. I always like this lounge because there is plenty of different food options no matter the time of day, the seats are comfy and then there’s the spa. I treated myself to a spa treatment on two out of the four layovers I had. And as usual it didn’t disappoint. While it’s been many years since the spa treatments in the Business Class lounge were free, they still are a moderate price and are a wonderful way to refresh after the 14 hour trip from Sydney.
Zurich is a small airport, so Etihad uses a commercial lounge rather than offering their own. The lounge was a typical European commercial lounge with a limited amount of food and drink on offer. But the staff were friendly, the seating was comfortable and we were afforded a good view of the run way and the nearby mountains.
Etihad Business Class Review: Etihad Business Class in the air
While ground services can leave you with a good (or bad) impression, it’s in the inflight offering that you are really buying in Business Class. Two trips to Europe in quick succession gave me a great opportunity to savour what Etihad Business Class had to offer. And it also gave me the opportunity to compare three different Etihad planes.
Etihad Business Class seat
Etihad Business Class Sydney – Abu Dhabi has two flights per day. An afternoon, and then an evening flight. The evening flight is an A380. In the afternoon the plane changes with the season. When I flew in May on my own, this flight was a Boeing 777, and in late June was an A380.
The Etihad 777 Business Class is the older style business class. It is now starting to look quite tired. But if you don’t like facing backwards, it’s a safer option (in the Etihad A380 Business Class and Etihad 787 Business Class half the seats face backwards). If your onwards destination to Europe only offers one flight per day from Abu Dhabi, it’s likely to be the only option from Sydney to Abu Dhabi unless you are travelling during the European summer. It still is quite comfortable and spacious, and the duvet and pillows are those of the more modern seating layout. It’s 1-2-1 layout so no stepping over.
The Etihad A380 and 787 offer the same Business Class seating with alternating forward and rear facing seats. We were able to secure forward facing seats on all our flights. MissG had a seat reallocation on the Etihad London to Abu Dhabi leg, but when the flight attendant explained it was due to a broken tray table she was happier, and said that once the plane had taken off she didn’t find it any different. Personally, I think the rear facing seats are quite “overlooked” by the forward facing rows behind when those people stand up. But the Business Studios are comfortable and quite spacious. Storage is adequate rather than exceptional. USB and plug in charges are a given.
Etihad Business Class menu and service
Etihad meals feature a range of Western and Middle Eastern dishes. Historically I’ve really loved their food, but this time around unfortunately it didn’t uniformly impress.
The Arabic mezze plate is always good, but never changes these days, so if you fly Etihad regularly it may not tempt. MissG’s chicken schnitzel sandwich was described as like cardboard (and this from the girl who had never met a chicken schnitzel she didn’t like until then). I find beef is always an excellent test and unfortunately Etihad failed theirs. It was hugely overcooked, tough and had a very stewed taste. Mr Frugalfirstclass’ white chocolate mousse looked exceptional – very impressive in fact, but was rubbery and tasteless.
On the upside, my chicken biryani was extremely tasty, although the chicken was a little light on. Mr Frugalfirstclass’ chocolate macadamia pudding was lovely. MissG’s breakfast pancakes served with walnut, cinnamon, poached orange and crème fraiche were a great success.
One positive is that the Etihad drinks list is still good. French champagne is offered on departure, as is their signature lemon mint drink (on flights out of Abu Dhabi only). A Bellini was offered as a special aperitif on our Abu Dhabi to Madrid leg, and while it came pre-made poured from a bottle it is delicious and a welcome change from the usual options. My Argentinian Merlot was very smooth, and made up for the disappointing beef. Mr Frugalfirstclass enjoyed the Remy Martin nightcap he chose before sleep time.
Now. Etihad Business Class service. My first observation is that there is a clear difference between the service on the Etihad A380 and the Etihad 787 Business Class. I’m not sure if it is the lack of a First Class on the 787 or the small cabin, but the service was definitely of a consistently higher standard on the smaller plane. The charming and smiling Lena on the Abu Dhabi to Madrid leg not only takes our order, but makes a point of confirming exactly when we would like to eat.
Meal service is always a way to measure service, and when you are travelling in a family it’s easy to see any inconsistencies. Sitting together in the centre of the cabin I noted a number of inconsistencies. At one meal service, Mr Frugalfirstclass and I ordered the same dish, and the same wine. Our meals arrived at the same time, and while Mr Frugalfirstclass got his wine poured immediately, I had to ask, and then wait some time for mine. His was poured into a tumbler style glass, whereas I received a red wine glass for mine.
Service during the flight was polite and attentive, but gone is the turn down service at sleep time. The service was perfectly respectable, but apart from lovely Lena none of our attendants stood out and really shone.
Etihad Business Class in flight entertainment and wifi
The Etihad in flight entertainment is usually quite good. With a big 18 inch touch screen monitor you are also guaranteed a good viewing experience. There is plenty of film and TV show options. Etihad also offers a live TV option, which includes CNN, BBC and a range of other options. Unfortunately on one of the legs from Sydney to Abu Dhabi neither the live TV or wifi was working on the entire leg. It’s normal to hit occasional black spots on such a long, isolated route, but not for the full 14+ hours.
Etihad offers a service to order duty free on screen. Noting they had an exclusive offer for one of my favorite cosmetics, I wanted to order on both my flights. Unfortunately the screen ordering didn’t work the first time, so I had to call the flight attendant and order the old fashioned way. When it worked, it was excellent – most efficient (and you still pay the flight attendant when they bring your order, so quite secure).
Is Etihad a good airline?
Having flown Etihad many times over a number of years, I now rate Etihad in the “fine” but not “great” category like it used to be. I had a sense that Etihad Business Class wasn’t as good as it used to be, but it was only when I went back over some old Etihad reviews I had written, that I could really put my thoughts in context. So much of the old Etihad Business Class service offering are gone – no chauffeur transfers, no pyjamas and now no mattress toppers and turn down service. While none of those services are “must haves” they start to add up against Emirates’, Qatar‘s and Singapore Airlines’ offerings. But the Etihad food is definitely not as consistently good as it used to be, and unfortunately I also found the service inconsistent. The lack of full entertainment options was also a let down, and not what should be expected in 2020 from a premium airline. And the shared lounge facilities in London and Sydney were too busy.
I will still fly Etihad Business Class but only if I can get it at a good price compared to its competitors flying from Sydney to Europe.