This post details my first class award redemption using American AAdvantage miles to fly Etihad, Los Angeles – Abu Dhabi … the third longest flight in the world.
After visiting the Star Alliance first class lounge, popping over to their business class lounge and outdoor deck, and returning to the first class lounge, the woman from Etihad who met us at the first class check-in counter came to collect us when it was time for boarding and escort us downstairs to the departures level of the terminal out out to our gate.
Once onboard I remembered that concomitant with the introduction of a new first class product onboard Etihad’s Airbus A380 (‘Residence’ and ‘First Apartment’) as well as on the 787 there were new service elements. The crew had new uniforms, there was new china, and also new pillows and blankets.
I love Etihad’s seats and color scheme. I find it soothing, and classy, very much not what you’d expect coming from a Middle Eastern carrier that does offer an over the top experience.
I’ve heard good things about the first class refresh although I’m not personally a fan on the new pillows:
Nonetheless it remains a gorgeous cabin overall. The seats are true ‘suites’ with doors that close. They’re comfortable, great for lounging and for sleeping.
One other cabin difference I noticed is that the old, giant ornament of a diamond in the back of the first class cabin was gone (Etihad calls their first class product ‘Diamond First Class’).
This flight was operated by a 777-200 with 8 first class seats, two rows of four seats across (a seat at each window and a pair of seats in the middle perfect for couples but with a divider that allows privacy if occupied by passengers not traveling together).
The day before the flight had shown a load of 4 passengers, but first class went out full. No airline is as aggressive as Etihad in selling upgrades — they have a bidding process in advance of travel, and then for remaining seats there will often be a sign at check-in suggesting passengers ask about a cash buy up. As a result I’ve been on more Etihad flights that have gone out full than that haven’t (though I’ve had those).
And though they’ve been opening more award seats close to departure on some flights recently, in past months I’ve found that Etihad rarely opened additional award space as travel approached — probably because they had other ways to monetize those seats.
There was a bit of shuffling around of seats, as a man and woman traveling together were not seated together. The woman had a middle seat and was seated next to a different man. Drama was avoided when the ‘man in the middle’ happily exchanged his seat for a solo seat at the window in row 1.
A flight attendant came around to distribute the various goodies for the flight, and the onboard chef came around to introduce himself as well.
Etihad’s CEO used to run british midland, and brought over the concept of the onboard chef. At Etihad that’s a flight attendant with culinary training, usually one who used to work at a restaurant. He dresses as a chef and has primary duty for cooking and is available to take your order and offer suggestions. (I’ve only ever had male chefs.) The chef also acts as a flight attendant in the cabin.
I’ve had some great chefs and others who were more mediocre. The best will get createive, take the ingredients onboard and make interesting things off menu. Others put a bit less effort into it and just prepare your meals as any other flight attendant would (indeed, when they’re off duty other flight attendants do cook throughout the flight and in those cases you might not know the difference).
Here’s the noise cancelling headset at your seat:
The seat has a minibar with still and sparkling water — not as ornate as the offerings from Emirates (which has a variety of soft drinks). In the past there were salty snacks, but mine didn’t have those on this flight.
Pajamas and amenity kits were distributed.
Menus were already at the seat.
A tray was presented with dates and I had champagne poured. There was a hot towel and welcome note as well.
Afterward they came around with Arabic coffee as they always do.
We belted in for departure. Pushback was on time, and after an LAX standard taxi around the airport we were on our way.
Shortly after takeoff meal service began. Here were the new snacks to tide us over until the meal came out, followed by an amuse which you’ll see is on their new china.
I didn’t order a huge meal, I simply started with the prawns.
Now, since I hadn’t had several courses at this point but before the main the service standard includes a palate cleanser, so one was provided.
All that I wanted for my main was the biryani. It turns out they loaded only two for the flight and I got the last one. I had a fear that the plane was going to run out of food, something that Lucky from One Mile at a Time has had happen on Etihad several times and that I’ve never experienced. But this didn’t happen at all.
Etihad really does a nice job with their biryani, although I didn’t love this as much as the salmon biryani I had last year.
For dessert I ordered the ‘trio’ although I had asked what flavor the ice cream was so they brought that too unrequested. I also asked for baklava to go with coffee, so I had a veritable feast of desserts (which I did not finish).
Etihad’s baklava is interesting, I never know what I’m going to get. Some flights it is dense and gooey (my favorite). Other times light and flaky (in which case I’ll give it a miss). This time it was somewhere in between, though a bit closer to the dense and gooey end of the spectrum and quite good.
After the meal I changed into pajamas and had the crew make my bed.
About two-thirds through the flight I ordered up a couple of snacks, though didn’t have a final meal prior to arrival.
Soon enough it was time to land, and I changed back into my street clothes.
Though not the most ornate I do like Etihad’s first class bathroom. The 777-200 lavatory is a bit smaller than what I’m used to, but large enough to change comfortably.
We arrived in Abu Dhabi and deplaned. I was rather surprised not to get a gate, I’m used to nearly always having a bus gate when arriving and departing short haul but for long haul flights a gate is almost always a given. Not this evening.
I’ll admit to being a bit apprehensive about taking such a long flight. It isn’t really longer than flights I’ve taken before like New York JFK – Hong Kong. Nonetheless, it somehow seemed like it was going to be.
Instead it was pretty much like any other long haul flight in first class. Get comfortable. Eat a bit. Settle in, watch some television, nap, watch television, have s snack. Maybe nap a little more. Land.
And in some ways a 15 hour flight doesn’t feel all that much longer than a five hour flight. In fact, by the time the flight has just five hours left it feels ‘almost over’. Traveling in a comfortable seat, and taking steps to get comfortable like putting on pajamas, makes travel feel like a lazy day at home. Time passes, everything you need is handy. And in this case there was even internet on the flight. Five hours flies by orders of magnitude more quickly than a similar time and distance flying domestic first class.