Review: Etihad Business Class, Abu Dhabi to the Maldives

After a night at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi — a gorgeous hotel on the beach, a lovely suite, and great service for a short stay — I headed back to the Abu Dhabi airport for the relatively short flight to the Male, the capital of the Maldives.

Previous installments:

I was already checked in for my flight and headed straight to the business lounge, which I won’t review as I’ve covered it several times before. After a quick breakfast it was time to head to the gate, and as usual the Male flight received a bus gate although Etihad does run a separate bus for premium cabin passengers.

The last time I flew Etihad to Male it was in a widebody with fully flat seats. This time I was flying a regional Airbus, but business class is still better than domestic first class on a US airline — foot rests, catering, leg room, and service. And Abu Dhabi – Male is 40 miles shorter than Charlotte – Las Vegas.

Business class seats are large and comfortable, albeit somewhat reminiscent of domestic first class.

Leg room is meaningfully greater, though.

Menus and predeparture beverages were distributed, and I settled in for the flight.

All the while more bused passengers continued to arrive at the aircraft and walk through to the back of the plane.

I’m pretty sure that (1) every bus gate departure I’ve ever had from Abu Dhabi has been late, but (2) every such flight has arrived at least close to on time at its destination. So it feels as though the process takes forever, but it’s captured in planning.

Once fully boarded we were on our way, and business class flight attendants were quick to begin service. Towels were distributed:

Meals were served quickly, in courses. My wife and I had different starters:

And we each had different entrees.

The tray setup had as many utensils as a Bangkok Airways flight.

After the meal I closed my eyes for about 30 minutes, and then I got up to get my laptop out of the overhead bin. You aren’t allowed to store anything at your feet during takeoff and landing in this configuration of aircraft. I plugged the computer into seat power (which I didn’t really need to do for the short-ish flight) and watched some downloaded tv shows and soon enough we were descending into Male.

The Male airport is unique in that it can handle only a single takeoff or landing at a time, you land and taxi to the end of the runway and then turn around and head to the terminal to park.

We were bused us the very short distance to the immigration hall.

All in all a pleasant flight, though immigration took longer than I’m used to and bags were already on the belt by the time I was through.

In Male you pick up your bags and then walk them through customers where each bag, including your carry on, is x-rayed. So don’t bring alcohol or pornography into the country.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Just returned from Maldives. If you go through “Nothing to declare” lane, your bags are not X-rayed anymore.

  2. So I can bring my hooch and porn? Damn, I was on the phone waiting to cancel my flight. Thanks for the heads up…..

  3. Gary, The reason there is no storage under the seat for takeoff and landing in the Ethiad A320s in business class is because the boxes for the video system (and maybe seat power) take up all the room. When I flew it to and from MLE, there was barely enough space just for my feet. But having a fold up video screen and power seats is another distinction from US domestic first class. I wish AA had this plane on four hour flights out of CLT.

  4. When I departed Male on Etihad for Abu Dhabi there was a widebody with the normal business class layflat seats. I assume Gary would agree and recommend trying to catch that flight if u can. I believe it was a 777 but maybe they have since stopped that service.

  5. @Brodie, I think you would be safe. I don’t know how an x-ray machine can ferret out porn.

    Bus gates like the ones common at Abu Dhabi and Male lack the convenience and protection from the elements that a jet bridge provides. On the other hand, a bus ride gives passengers a tarmac view of aircraft and airport operations that we don’t often get to see. Also at large airports a bus from a stand usually means a shorter walk to immigration than if the plane parked at a gate. For the Av Geek, even better than a bus ride is at small airports in the Maldives and elsewhere where passengers walk from the terminal to the plane and vice versa. I think it was Ethiad in the Maldives that gave out plastic rain coats in a pouch to business class passengers when we were deplaning in a light drizzle. I didn’t need to use it and now have light weight, emergency rain gear that I always carry in my backpack.

    @Brodie, I think you would be safe. I don’t know how an x-ray machine can ferret out porn.

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