Airpearl From Malaysia, joined May 2001, 977 posts, RR: 24 Posted (8 years 7 months 1 week 11 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
This couldn't have been a better year to abandon airline alliances. With airlines becoming more stingy with their miles and alliance benefits ever more superficial, my only new year's resolution this year was to stop chasing oneworld or Star status, and go for value instead. I haven't reached the stage of cutting up my frequent flyer cards yet (after all, some still give me lounge access...) but throwing caution to the wind, I find myself on all manner of new, wierd and wonderful carriers, and loving it.
A trip to London from Kuala Lumpur last month gave me the sort of opportunity which never would have materialised a year ago. Having been salivating over the pics and trip reports of Etihad's premium classes right here on a.net, I knew the only way to see if the reality matched the hype was to try it out myself. The fact that Etihad, as a relative newcomer to KUL, charges a fair bit less than some of my usual airlines made it a doubly attractive proposition.
Four sectors in close succession on three different aircraft types offer a decent sampling of the product to determine if "the national airline of the United Arab Emirates" (as Etihad so deliberately bills itself) is a long term commitment or merely another on the "flown that one" list.
This trip report is not a blow-by-blow account of the flights - there are already a number of excellent detailed reports on Etihad in this forum - but I thought some might appreciate the pics (mostly cabin shots) taken inflight. Unfortunately, you may also have to contend with quirky, random comments from me along the way - for this, I apologise in advance - but thankfully, they can quite easily be circumvented
Etihad Airways Flight EY 411
Kuala Lumpur-Abu Dhabi
21 Sept 2007
Dep 1521 Arr 1748 (on time)
B777-300ER Registered A6-ETD
One of the things I like most about KLIA is the clear, unobstructed view of one's plane from the gate area. This clean and shiny triple seven is almost ready to go after a relatively short 75min turnaround.
Etihad calls it the Pearl Zone - or Business Class with flat-bed seats. At the forefont of J class seating, this clever layout gives direct aisle access to every passenger without the need for anyone to be sitting at an awkward angle, or flying backwards. Aces in my book. Why don't more airlines adopt this type of configuration?
I settle in to 11K, the window seat in the last row of the J cabin for the 6h15min flight. Despite one blocked-out window here, I still have 3 others to choose from, so there's no reason to complain. Apart from possibly BA, I can't think of many other Business Classes that give one passenger almost 4 windows at a stretch... sheer indulgence!
This is my window(s) seat - or, is it really an aisle seat? You can truly have your cake and eat it on Eithad.
The emptyish flight - about half of the 28 J-class seats filled and no more than 50 pax in Y - makes sure we push back ahead of schedule and are soon on our way. The inflight service can be described as adequate - apart from a friendly f/a from Indonesia, it isn't especially attentive or warm. Not bad of course (it's J class after all), but just not CX or SQ. If your expectations aren't too high, then you'll be okay.
Although I love the configuration and the seats have a killer massage function, there are some little design features that bug me. Like the distance of the fixed PTV from my seat which makes reading anything on the screen difficult - or maybe it's just me needing new glasses? Some might consider the seat a little on the narrow side, and wonder why there's no surface on which to place a drink except precariously on the armrest. But all that is trivial compared with the big picture - lying flat out with a view like this...
About two hours into the flight, we are overhead India's Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Quite a stunning sight from 33,000ft.
The meal is almost over now. But if you want to indulge, you should go all the way
We land at a quiet late afternoon in Abu Dhabi and dock at gate 1. My connecting flight to Heathrow is not for another 9 hours so the airline offers me an hotel room in town. Immigration is fast and painless, and I am in a limo (also provided compliments of Etihad) speeding out of the airport just 10 minutes after touch down.
A hot shower, a decent buffet dinner and three solid hours of shut-eye makes my short stay at the Abu Dhabi Millenium Hotel a very civilised affair indeed. Boy, I can get used to this type of 'flight connection'...
My midnight wake-up call is followed by another five minutes later telling me the driver is downstairs waiting to whisk me to the next flight. Before I know it, I am back at the airport - strangely refreshed at this ungodly hour - ready to continue my journey to London. Immigration is, again, a breeze.
I nearly miss the Eithad Premium Lounge, located as it is around an obscure bend from immigration, but when I reach it, I wonder if I would have been better off missing it completely. It is crowded and cramped, and feels like a bus station with a buffet spread. I find a seat (at the edge of a table, better than some who had to sit on the floor) to savour live boarding calls from ground staff as they cut through the Louis Vuitton throng shouting "Beirut! Beirut!" Anyone for Beirut?"... "New York! Last call now for New York!"... and so on. It is rather entertaining for me to watch, but I doubt if many of the other passengers share the same twisted sense of humour to feel the same way! Between 1.30 and 3 am is peak departure time for Eithad with flights going east, west and south, and the lounge just isn't designed to accommodate so many - plain and simple.
I leave the lounge before they start shouting "London!" and meander slowly through the maze of blue/green tiles that is Abu Dhabi airport. At the epicentre, I sit and gaze in amazement at what must surely have been inspired from the mothership from some distant galaxy. Nobody can accuse Abu Dhabi of lacking in originality.
Etihad Airways Flight EY 011
Abu Dhabi-London Heathrow
22 Sept 2007
Dep 0305 Arr 0723 (on time)
A340-600 Registered A6-EHF
Diamond Zone is the name Etihad gives its first class cabin. The gate boarding is chaotic but once on board, I am escorted to my seat 3A, and then basically left all alone - no cabin crew in sight - for the next 10 minutes. If I were an ordinary (and thus reasonably demanding) F class pax, I'd be fuming; but luckily for Etihad, this is a wierd passenger who likes to sneak in a few pictures of the cabin when the crew isn't looking, so I'm over the moon. Thanks to what real F class connoisseurs must regard as an appalling lapse in service, you and I get these pics here.
Better still is the way Etihad keeps the whole cabin so well lit that even the flash on the camera doesn't pop up. Again, excellent for photography and absolutely no complaints from me, but this is nearly 3 am for goodness sake. Most airlines I have been on keep a much more subtle mood for late night flights, especially in their premium cabins, somehow making the experience a lot "classier".
The case of the missing crew is partially solved when I realise that the Diamond Zone on the A340-600 doesn't have its own galley. The space most airlines reserve for the front galley is taken up by a "lounge" - a nice touch, but at the expense of service quality in my opinion. Any service item - a drink, or your hot meal, for instance - has to travel all the way from the galley at door no. 2, past the Pearl Zone business cabin to reach you. And when there's only one cabin crew member serving the entire cabin, and he's busy in the galley, it seems like it's just you and the pilots on board.
A Scottish lad, whose name I now cannot recall, eventually comes round, hurriedly dispensing the usual welcome drinks, obligatory arabic coffee, menus (selections almost indistinguishable from J class) and toilet kits (Aigner, for those who care about these things) that are identical to those in J Class. He is friendly in an informal way, as a mate might ask; "so, what'll it be for breakfast then?" It's definitely not BA, and even if I don't mind the casual approach, it just doesn't quite feel like First Class. When no pyjamas are offered, this passenger is left with the feeling that apart from the larger seat and roomier surroundings, the Diamond Zone is really nothing more than a Pearl Zone for fatter, taller people.
When it's already the wee hours and service leaves much to be desired, the best thing to do is sleep - which is the big plus here. It's rather comfy, and I manage more than 4 hours of shut eye. I wake up once to go for a pee in the middle of the flight, but that too can be rewarding: the night sky is simply stunning then!
I cannot remember when I slept so soundly that I needed to be woken up by the crew. My table is already set and breakfast is on the way. I don't get to travel long haul First that often, but the "breakfast in bed" thing is one of its most rewarding pleasures. We are over a still sleeping Europe and have another 90 minutes to go, but the cabin is already glaringly lit up.
After breakfast, I lie back and try to get back to sleep in the remaining minutes before we reach Heathrow but that proves impossible with this light - looks like Etihad just wants me to get my camera out and take another picture.
A few unseasonably warm days in London pass by quickly and expensively. Etihad's contracted limo driver apologises profusely for being 10 minutes late due to the "even more hellish than usual" traffic, but delivers me with plenty of time to spare to the building site that is Heathrow Terminal 3. The ground experience at LHR is forgetable, at best, so let's skip it shall we?
Etihad Airways Flight EY 012
London Heathrow-Abu Dhabi
25 Sept 2007
Dep 1318 Arr 2308 (on time)
A330-200 Registered A6-EYK
The aircraft is towed late to the stand and we push back a couple minutes late, but make up time along the way.
The Diamond Zone on the A330-200 looks identical to that of the A340-600, only shorter with 10 instead of 12 seats. I am seated at the front window seat 1K and here's my view looking back.
The cabin seems immaculate and the crew is generally courteous. But like on outbound flight, the software fails the hardware cheapening the whole experience. Dirty rubbish is stuffed into a side storage compartment making it look like a dustbin. The amenities (like toilet kit and menu choices) are again indistinguishable from those in J. And the lapses in service experienced on the outbound is evident here too, despite the more practical galley location on the A330, behind the F cabin. When there are only 4 passengers in Diamond Zone, there's really no excuse not to remember their names, or take an order from one and serve it to another. (My fellow pax from 2K orders ice cream mid-flight, which I get to enjoy...)
The service isn't bad, per se, and I really hate to be picky, but if F class is a barometer of how good an airline can be, then Etihad is clearly not among the top. It may just be the little things but isn't that what first class is all about? This is totally subjective of course, but I get the feeling of indifference among the crew. On all three flights I have flown so far, almost everybody seems to be just "going through the motions" and no one putting their heart in it. I suspect management has a role to play in this.
After lunch, the bright lights policy finally succumbs to mood lighting, which is rather nice and varied on Etihad.
A word of advice on the choice of seats in Diamond Zone: avoid row 1 window seats A and K. While the rest of the cabin enjoys starlit calm, these seats located ahead of the rest seem to be designed for insomniacs who enjoy the glare of a mega bright flourescent strip. The curtain keeps the light out somewhat, but every couple of minutes, it seems, a cabin crew member decides I have had enough sleep and pass through leaving the curtain half drawn. After the third time of getting up to draw the curtains myself, I finally give up the notion that I'll ever get a nap and watch a movie instead. Ah, how I miss the service on CX...
Ahead of my seat is the Diamond Zone lounge. Quite a nice affair, reminiscent of the grand old days of flying. On this flight however, it becomes a crew gathering area. I catch it here in its "quieter" moments.
On arrival at Abu Dhabi, I take advantage of the free limo service into Dubai, some 130km away. After a full day's work, I am back in an Eithad limo at midnight bound for Abu Dhabi airport - incredibly we take just 55 minutes - and I survive to tell the tale.
Etihad's premium lounges are as crowded as ever and I am glad to be heading home. I board the same plane that took me here a week ago.
Etihad Airways Flight EY 418
Abu Dhabi-Kuala Lumpur
27 Sept 2007
Dep 0304 Arr 1408
B777-300ER Registered A6-ETD
Pearl Zone is less than half full and I am seated mid cabin at 7A. Here's the view ahead of me.
And this is what it looks like across the cabin and behind me.
A rather substantial late night snack is served after take off - probably to cater to Muslim passengers who may want to fast for the remainder of the flight during this month of Ramadhan. With 3 pillows loaned from empty seats around me, I am suitably comfy in my little cacoon and don't wake until close to Kuala Lumpur.
A last pic before bed - the reflections of the green "seat upright" light on the overhead panels add a subliminal dimension to the experience.
So how does Etihad stack up? Here's a quick, biased rundown:
Comfort - Tops. In Pearl Zone (J class), an innovative configuration and comfortable flat bed can't be beat. In Diamond Zone, a nothing special F class seat is nevertheless also comfy.
Inflight Service - Not really up there among the best and a major weakness of an otherwise decent product. Although there were exceptions, most of the crew seemed to be just doing a job, nothing more. One could even say some of the crew couldn't care less - and this was in the premium classes! Among Mid East carriers, I would rank Emirates and Qatar higher.
Meals and Inflight Entertainment - Okay, but not exceptional. Diamond Zone meals were almost identical those in Pearl Zone. The IFE was AVOD but I was bored with the movie and TV choices... maybe it was just a bad month.
Ground Service - Great, I loved the limo transfers; they were booked ahead of time and all went without a hitch.
Repeat custom? - Absolutely. Service isn't up to mark, of course, but the flat beds more than make up for it. The combination J and F fare to London from KUL on Etihad is still substantially cheaper than a plain old sloping Business seat on MH for instance, so there's really no contest.
Some final images:
Like something from the war of the worlds in Pearl Zone.
If you are bored with the IFE, you can plug in your own DVD player.
ThomasCook From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2004, 811 posts, RR: 7
Reply 1, posted (8 years 7 months 1 week 10 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Absolutely superb report! I am flying in Pearl Zone to Sydney in March and it should be great judging by your report!
No excuse of course but the crew are perhaps are little more lacking in service as with the airline being relatively young, so are the crew and therefore maybe not as experienced when it comes to providing great service and the little touches which can top a flight off. I flew UK Business with BA yesterday and the crew greeted me by name throughout the flight which I thought was a nice touch for such a short flight. After arrival, I asked a member of crew for information on reaching the Heathrow Medical Services centre and she asked me into the flight deck from where the Captain got out his GPS, found out the how long it would take for me to get there and also proceeded to give me the number for a local taxi firm which happened to save me a lot of money over the usual black cab prices charged at LHR. Was chatting to the crew for quite sometime after the rest of the pax had left and they where in no hurry for me to leave which I was really impressed by, so much so that I have wrote to BA.
Bofredrik From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 2, posted (8 years 7 months 1 week 9 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Maybe is this airline growing to fast and have to much international crew?
Many companies, in all type of trades, like to GROW! the problem that
can happen is that the quality control is forgotten. I hope that that this
airline and others have "secret agents" that fly to see how the service is.
That would be a nice job! I have done it myself for a ferry line and it was
very interesting to judge quality of service.
Just what i am thinking after reading this superb report!
Andrej From United Kingdom, joined Jun 2001, 1213 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (8 years 7 months 6 days 23 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
thanks for nice trip report. I guess that Ethiad has some more space to grow in regards to their costumer service for J and F classes. I have to agree with you that those small things make a huge difference and it does not really matter what class you are flying. If you have more personal crew the whole flight experience is much better.
But it seems that you managed well on this trip. And thank you for the pictures, as they are really nice.
Airpearl From Malaysia, joined May 2001, 977 posts, RR: 24
Reply 9, posted (8 years 7 months 6 days 14 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Thanks for all the comments guys; they're very much appreciated!
Quoting ThomasCook (Reply 1): No excuse of course but the crew are perhaps are little more lacking in service as with the airline being relatively young, so are the crew and therefore maybe not as experienced when it comes to providing great service and the little touches which can top a flight off.
Quoting Bofredrik (Reply 2): Maybe is this airline growing to fast and have to much international crew?
Indeed, I am sure it is a combination of factors, and the fast growth certainly doesn't help. The lack of experience clearly shows, particularly in F Class, but more worrying is many of the crew's indifferent attitudes (something you shouldn't expect in a newish airline) and that's indicative of more deep-rooted problems.
Quoting Chrisrad (Reply 4): there are no overhead bins in first class, where does one put their carry-ons?
No dedicated space that I can see except for a metallic barrier - I guess that's the best way to describe it - at your feet which can be used to restrain your carry-on. It's not terribly big and am not sure whether it is large enough for a roller/wheelie bag. There's storage compartments near the lounge but I only saw crew bags kept there.
Quoting Andrej (Reply 5): But it seems that you managed well on this trip.
SR 103 From United States of America, joined Sep 2000, 1748 posts, RR: 37
Reply 10, posted (8 years 7 months 4 days 2 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Nicely written report. Sorry to hear about your rather lack luster Etihad experience. I had the pleasure of flying them to New York about two months ago. I lucky enough to get upgraded to Diamond Zone. I wrote a trip report all about my experiences which seems to have differed quite a bit from your experience. Etihad: A Diamond in the Rough (pics)
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): toilet kits (Aigner, for those who care about these things) that are identical to those in J Class.
I received a "Bvlgari" amenity, which I found to be quite nice.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): The service isn't bad, per se, and I really hate to be picky, but if F class is a barometer of how good an airline can be, then Etihad is clearly not among the top. It may just be the little things but isn't that what first class is all about? This is totally subjective of course, but I get the feeling of indifference among the crew. On all three flights I have flown so far, almost everybody seems to be just "going through the motions" and no one putting their heart in it. I suspect management has a role to play in this.
I felt that the crew on my BOM-AUH were less than thrilled to be there, especially the flight attendant serving my aisle. However on the JFK flight, you could tell this set of cabin crew definately knew what the word "service" meant.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): Ahead of my seat is the Diamond Zone lounge. Quite a nice affair, reminiscent of the grand old days of flying. On this flight however, it becomes a crew gathering area.
As I said above, quite a difference from my flight to New York where the service was near flawless in my opinion. This lounge was used for a very different purpose on my flight.
I have to say I found Etihad to be slightly better than Emirates in terms of comfort, but I have had rather negative experiences with Emirates in the past. As far as Qatar, I'll be able to answer than question in a few months as I am flying them to New York.
Again, very well written report. Sorry to see you experienced such appalling service from an airline I had a very enjoyable time trying them out recently.
Airpearl From Malaysia, joined May 2001, 977 posts, RR: 24
Reply 12, posted (8 years 7 months 3 days 17 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Quoting SR 103 (Reply 10): I had the pleasure of flying them to New York about two months ago. I lucky enough to get upgraded to Diamond Zone. I wrote a trip report all about my experiences which seems to have differed quite a bit from your experience.
Yes, I did read your report before the trip, and it did create a certain degree expectations of my own - unfortunately, our experiences turned out to be quite different.
Even so, it wasn't so bad that it turned me away - just not what I expected. I will fly them again for sure. Thanks for reading, and your comments!
Ronerone From Jordan, joined Aug 2004, 1687 posts, RR: 52
Reply 15, posted (8 years 7 months 2 days 15 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Very interesting TR. I believe you have portrayed the most realistic opinion of what EY truly is. Some may have flown EY on their 'good' days, and others on their 'bad' ones. You seem to have flown them on one of their regular days.
EY, as you said, is fantastic on the hardware, however severely lacking on its software, especially on the ground.
They are expanding so quickly that they dont have time to look back and learn from their mistakes.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): nearly miss the Eithad Premium Lounge, located as it is around an obscure bend from immigration, but when I reach it, I wonder if I would have been better off missing it completely.
My thought exactly!
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): The case of the missing crew is partially solved when I realise that the Diamond Zone on the A340-600 doesn't have its own galley.
From what i have heard, EY is 'rumoured' to have recieved the A346's that were intended for EK. These A346's (also according to the rumour) were initially configured by EK to accomodate 2-classes. So EY, being in desperate need for aircraft, just added a Diamond Zone and left the galley configurations as they were.
In fact, it is so unorganized to the point that in order to serve you wine, you will have to fetch the glass from the front, go back thru Pearl into the back galley where the chillers are located, pour it, and go right back thru pearl to reach you.
Airpearl From Malaysia, joined May 2001, 977 posts, RR: 24
Reply 16, posted (8 years 7 months 1 day 19 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Quoting Ronerone (Reply 15): From what i have heard, EY is 'rumoured' to have recieved the A346's that were intended for EK. These A346's (also according to the rumour) were initially configured by EK to accomodate 2-classes. So EY, being in desperate need for aircraft, just added a Diamond Zone and left the galley configurations as they were.
That rumour makes sense. I thought the layout with a galley-less F class very strange, not to mention inefficient - more so for an airline that's selling itself on the quality of its premium classes. Given a choice between lounge and galley, the logical choice would surely have been galley. Alas, EY didn't think so, and service suffered as a result.
Thank you Roni for your very illuminating responses
BA319-131 From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2001, 8743 posts, RR: 53
Reply 18, posted (8 years 6 months 2 weeks 6 days 23 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Great report, really enjoyed the photo's.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): The inflight service can be described as adequate - apart from a friendly f/a from Indonesia, it isn't especially attentive or warm
- Agreed, think thats the biggest problem I had, lack of warmth and hospitality.
Quoting Airpearl (Thread starter): I get the feeling of indifference among the crew. On all three flights I have flown so far, almost everybody seems to be just "going through the motions" and no one putting their heart in it
- Again, true, such a shame as they could be really go, just need a bit of a 'polish' to finish them off.