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Friendly service, comfortable A380 and seamless transfer in Abu Dhabi.
Since all three of the major Middle East carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar) fly their superjumbo Airbus A380s to London, we at TPG UK were keen to get on board each one and see which provides the best experience in economy. We’ve already given our takes on both Qatar and Emirates, and last but not least it’s time to give Etihad’s coach product a full review on a flight between its hub in Abu Dhabi and London’s Heathrow airport.
You can expect to pay around £550 for return flights between Abu Dhabi (AUH) and London (LHR). If you’re looking to use miles on this route, a great place to start would be Etihad’s own Guest program, though it may not make sense to use miles for economy flights, given that you’ll need at least 65,000 of them for a round-trip flight between the two cities. If you do choose to redeem miles, though, remember that American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to Etihad at a 1:1 ratio, so it’d be easy to earn the points required for a redemption.
Many passengers flying on Etihad and the other Middle Eastern airlines transiting through Abu Dhabi Airport (AUH) to another destination.
My transfer and ground experience were excellent. I disembarked from my inbound flight from Muscat (MCT) and followed the clear signage for transfer passengers.
I reached the security area for a standard security check and was literally the only passenger in the area. I was on my way in 60 seconds.
Abu Dhabi Airport is not the most inspiring place in the world. It’s rather cluttered and boring, but with all the facilities you need. I hung around for the hour or so that I had spare and then headed to Gate 33.
Etihad ran a second security check at the gate, which was rather frustrating, as it involved pulling every single camera and electronic item out of my bag (I always carry a lot). My equipment passed the explosives test, and I joined a hefty queue to board the whale.
We were made to wait before the jet bridge for a short while whilst the queue ahead cleared, and the ground staff offered people to take a seat again, preventing a long wait in the jet bridge, which was nice.
The entire queue was for economy boarding, which filled the entire lower deck of the aircraft. A separate jet bridge was available for first- and business-class passengers upstairs.
Cabin and Seat
The economy cabin on lower deck of the aircraft felt spacious. The A380 is a wide beast allowing 10-across seating, in a 3-4-3 configuration, without feeling too cramped.
The seat itself was comfortable, with an adjustable headrest (a flap on one side only to support a sleeping head). I actually found the seat less comfy than the Etihad short-haul A320 seat, which may have been down to the extra legroom I had on that aircraft. (I was in the emergency-exit row then.)
Each seat had a USB point and additional plug point accepting any plug type.
The tray table split, allowing a shorter table for drinks and a wider version once flipped out to accommodate a tray.
My 15-inch laptop fit comfortably on the tray table, but once open, there was barely enough wiggle room to work on the computer, and when the passenger in front decided to recline, I was in trouble!
I found it best to pull the tray table out as far as it went and tuck those elbows into my side to work.
Legroom felt OK, definitely sufficient for me, and widthwise, even in a window seat with two people to my left, I didn’t feel too penned in (maybe that was because they were a lovely Welsh couple who were happy to go along with my furious photo taking, GoPro hovering and note taking).
There were a whopping nine toilets on the lower deck, with two in close proximity to my seat. These were relatively small but were clean and smart-looking. There were no special amenities, just a fixed soap pump.
Amenities and IFE
The full suite of inflight-entertainment fun was available: a wide selection of movies, TV shows, radio, live TV, moving map and my favourite, live cameras showing views out the front of the plane, from the tail and on the action directly below.
The film “Green Book” and a spot of BBC News were the order of the day.
Headphones, a pillow and blanket were provided, all in line with what you would expect from a long-haul economy offering and all acceptable, although I may have felt differently on a long night flight.
Supposedly, the aircraft had Wi-Fi, and there was a network available to select. The process of actually signing in took a full convoluted 15 minutes. The pricing was based on a data cap rather than time, at the top end costing $19.95 for 180 MB of data.
Once I finally got online, I managed to receive one WhatsApp message, send none, and couldn’t even run a speed test. Big thumbs down on that front!
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
The first drinks service reached me around 50 minutes after takeoff. I asked if they had Tabasco. Lols ensued after the cabin crew thought I wanted a shot of Tabasco, but they had it, and I went straight into my tomato juice. I was hugely impressed that they had a full size bottle of both Worcester sauce and Tabasco, something even BA don’t have in business class (Tabasco at least), and it was even nicer that they handed the full bottles over so I could drop in just the right amount. Crunchy snacks accompanied the tomato juice and sparkling water.
Lunch arrived around two hours after takeoff. Choices were chicken or penne. I chanced the chicken, which came in a tomato sauce with all the potatoes (mashed potato, sweet potato and potato salad on the side). This was quite tasty, although perhaps a little small.
The usual artificial bread roll was served (how to they even get them all like that?!) with standard-issue hard, tasteless butter.
Dessert righted the wrongs of the bread roll. The sort of cream-filled chocolate Swiss roll with custard sauce was really delicious.
A few minutes after I finished my meal, tea and coffee were served, and shortly after that was another full bar service.
The prelanding snack was either chicken or vegetarian. I took the chicken, which was a delicious shwarma encased in a doughy shell. It was a dry eat, but I managed the whole thing. Devastatingly, there was no more Diet Coke left. So I brought my cup of tea count up to three.
Every interaction I had with the crew was positive — they were always friendly and smiley.
The greeting was fun at the door, and the crew had a laugh about the cameras dangling off me, but on a full economy flight, tucked away in the middle of the cabin in a window seat, crew interaction was minimal! Though minimal, I found the interactions to be positive.
Midway through the flight, I gave the call bell a ring, and crew were at my seat in less than 30 seconds, which was impressive. A steaming cup of tea was on its way immediately to accompany my afternoon movie.
By the end of the flight, the FA who served me throughout and I had become pals. We chatted about photography and work, and I watched her make up the certificates for the new-baby first-time flyers (I was really impressed by the effort here). I even got my own sticker, which had a cartoon that looked suspiciously like she did. I proudly wore my great flyer badge!
I found my experience on Etihad very positive. The transfer experience at Abu Dhabi was seamless, and the flight itself was comfortable, even though the aircraft was packed to the rafters.
With a fantastic deal in front of me, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly Etihad economy again, and with relatively equal pricing, I would likely choose this product over other economy products of many European or American airlines.
All photos by the author.
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