Sandy's Etihad Experience
I had the pleasure of flying with Etihad for the first time on my trip to Europe late May to June. I decided to go with Etihad as the journey with other airlines would either be too long (I.e. Includes long stop-overs) or out of my budget. The total journey time from Auckland through to Rome with a stop-over in Melbourne and Abu Dhabi was about 28 hours, which was not bad compared to around 35 hours with some other airlines. It was also a good opportunity to visit the Etihad lounges in Melbourne (which had only just opened). I was lucky enough to experience Economy, Business and First Class with Etihad on this trip (thanks to Daniel secretly upgrading two of the legs!) so will give a brief rundown of my experience with each Class and also of the lounges I visited.
Melbourne Etihad Business Lounge
My first flight was with Air New Zealand to connect to Melbourne. When I arrived at Melbourne it was easy to follow the signs to the new Etihad lounge which happened to also be conveniently right next to my gate, accessed via a door to escalators. I didn't get many photos of the lounge but this Australian Business Traveller article features good photos giving an overview of the lounge.
As you arrive, you are greeted, given an envelope which included a gift (it was a $10 in-flight shopping voucher) and then led into the lounge by one of their staff who asks you what you would like to do (I.e. Have a meal from their dining menu, a drink at the bar or just sit and relax). I only had about half an hour so I opted for the "sit and relax". I was shown to a reclined seat facing the window with a view overlooking the planes, then informed of the wifi password (which I thought was great as I usually have to look around or ask someone what it is) and told that a waiter will come and serve me. I was given the dining and drinks menu and asked for a mocktail recommendation. I was recommended the lime and mint, but it accidentally turned out to be a cocktail when I tasted it.
I knew I was in for a lot of food on my next leg of flight so I just had a small tart (definitely recommend eating less in the lounge before non-economy flights - you get way too much food), but it was heavenly! I asked the waiter how long I had before boarding and he said someone would come round us up when it was time to board so I had nothing to worry about!
As I was leaving I was sceptical that my luggage wasn't going to make it all the way to Rome so I asked the staff at the counter to check for me. Turned out indeed it wasn't checked in to go all the way and they kindly made some calls and fixed that for me. Overall very impressed with this lounge, especially the service!
Business Class: Melbourne to Abu Dhabi (flight time approx 17hrs)
This was a long flight, mainly over the night so it was important to get a good sleep so I had enough energy to kick off my trip when I got to Rome. I had one of the seats in the middle section. You don't get much privacy in these seats, but it was still spacious and you can lie down completely flat.
I settled in and watched a couple of movies (one being "The Room" - which was a good thriller!) while enjoying dinner. It was a three course meal and by the end of it I was so full.
For dessert I had a decadent chocolate fondant and it was amazing but by that stage my stomach could not take in anymore food!
On Etihad, you can buy wifi access using credit card, which ranges in price depending on how long you choose to use it for. I chose the 2hr access so I could use wifi for a bit before I went to sleep, it cost about 20nzd.
They offered a turn-down service where they prepare your "bed" while you can get changed into the complementary pyjamas. The pyjamas are comfy with a zip at the neck collar and they are still being worn at home. The ceiling even has stars which you may either find cute or tacky. Needless to say, I had a really good sleep.
Waking up hungry again, I ordered breakfast. The great thing about flying Business is that you can order anything you want from the menu at any time. There are no rules. You don't have to wait until they serve everyone their meals, and you can even order breakfast food for dinner if you wanted! I had a nice tomato frittata and sausages.
I enjoyed another good movie ("The Dressmaker"), used the vibrating massage function on the chair, enjoyed a couple of drinks and then it was about time to land.
Abu Dhabi Premium Lounge (Terminal 1)
Unfortunately I don't have anything particularly nice to say about this lounge. Especially after the great experience in the Melbourne lounge, this one was definitely a let-down.
There were a lot of people entering the lounge, and due to this, the staff seemed very frazzled and were frantically scanning boarding passes.
It was very full and busy inside. I don't know whether my experience would be different with this lounge if it was a less busy time, but maybe it is always this busy. The number of people using this lounge meant that it was difficult to find a seat (especially close to where the food is located), the bathrooms were busy, and it was impossible to get a chance to use a shower. I also could not find the wifi password anywhere and had to go back to the entrance and ask the staff at the counter what the password was.
They offered a "Style and Shave" and "Six Senses Spa", however you have to pay to use these services unless you are flying First Class or an Etihad Premium Member. When I went up to ask about the charges, the lady at the counter had a smile on her face, but it didn't seem very genuine. I "lined up" for the shower by getting one of those devices that light up when it's your turn - however I knew my chances were very slim.
I wandered over to try some of the food - but the selection wasn't very good, and there weren't any free seats with a table so I decided against it in the end.
I didn't have much time left so I thought I'd leave and try my luck with showers in the Al Reem Lounge. When I asked whether the showers there were busy, they asked me whether I wanted to pay to use the showers. I explained that I just came from the Premium Lounge, and wanted to see if the showers were less busy. Apparently it was also busy in that lounge, so I made my way to my gate instead.
First Class: Abu Dhabi to Rome (flight time approx 7hrs)
I was supposed to be flying Business for this leg of the journey, but as I handed my boarding pass over to be scanned as I was boarding, the machine beeped, and I was given a pass that said First Class instead. I was very lucky but tried to conceal my excitement.
The flight attendants on this flight were very friendly and welcoming. I enjoyed a mocktail before take off and we were given amenity bags which included slippers, pyjamas (seemed to be the same as Business Class ones but in black), and a toiletries bag. I definitely felt very underdressed in First Class, however there is the even fancier Etihad Suites and Residence.
I documented this flight pretty well with photos so I have used these with captions for this review.
Overall, I had a very enjoyable first class experience with Etihad. In particular, it would be great for couples to enjoy sitting right next to each other whilst enjoying comfort and privacy, which is something you can't do with the business class seating layouts.
Economy Class: Abu Dhabi to Brisbane
I flew on Niki (airline) from Vienna to Abu Dhabi for the first leg of my return journey. I had a pleasant experience with Niki, and they gave you a Mozart chocolate (typical souvenir in Vienna) as we left the plane, which was a nice touch.
I didn't have enough time to visit the lounge again in Abu Dhabi as there was a short time before I had to board for my next flight, and the airport was large. It was also interesting that they did another bag search at the gate, which to my disappointment meant that I could not bring any water onto the plane with me (usually I will fill my bottle after the checks where you need to empty your water so that I have enough on the plane without asking for it so often).
The seats in Etihad economy are very narrow, so if you are not so lucky to have an empty seat next to you like I did, I would imagine that it'll be a rather uncomfortable flight.
I found the meals to be tasty except for the three bean salad which I didn't enjoy at all, and felt bad about wasting. I think we were given a packet of Brazil nuts and popcorn as snacks. I saw another passenger ask for another serving of snacks which they were promptly given.
The service was pleasant, although not as friendly as on Air New Zealand (personally the friendliest economy airline experience I've had). At one point I pressed the service button to ask for more water but no one came to serve me, however I saw that they started coming around with water anyway so I turned it off.
I was only able to get maybe an hour or two of sleep (only because I simply fell asleep out of exhaustion), but I tend to always have a hard time falling asleep in economy seats anyway.
The entertainment system was good but movies on were the same as those on my flights to Rome so I mainly watched TV shows including "Fresh off the boat" which was hilarious.
No amenity bags were given out but I am unsure whether they had anything available if you asked for it - I didn't see anyone receive any.
Overall it was a smooth journey home, though obviously it is hard going from being spoilt in Business and First class to being back in Economy, however I still recommend Etihad Airways, particularly if you want to splurge on a business class fare and perhaps snap up a last minute upgrade to first class (if you're lucky!)