I flew this exact route a little over a year prior, so I was really curious to see how this flight compared. Let me start by saying that one of my favorite aspects of flying with Etihad is their boarding music, which is extremely soothing, so feel free to listen to it while reading the report.
Abu Dhabi (AUH) – New York (JFK)
Thursday, December 20
Aircraft: Airbus A340-500
Seat: 1G (First Class)
Upon boarding through door 2L I was shocked to be greeted by a flight attendant that seemed to have a “true” American accent. He escorted me to my seat, and as it turns out he’s one of only a handful of American flight attendants at Etihad (though sadly he was working business class and not first class).
I was escorted to seat 1G, one of the center seats in the first row.
Etihad’s hard product is phenomenal. Not only are the seats extremely comfortable, but I love the tones and finishes, which are much more low key than on Emirates. I’d actually say that purely in terms of design, they have among my favorite first class seats in the world.
Seats 1D & 1G
Seats 1D & 1G
Looking towards the back of the cabin
The one hilariously kitschy part of the cabin is the diamond on the bulkhead. Etihad calls their first class “Diamond First Class,” though I think we would have gotten the visual without it being plastered on the bulkhead.
Diamond on bulkhead
To the left of the seat was a storage console with the entertainment control, headphone jack, USB/110v outlet, and room for storage.
Entertainment controls and power adapters
The seat’s functions are controlled by a small screen on the center armrest, which I found it easy to use.
At the front of the seat is also a ghetto-as-hell minibar. C’mon Etihad, what are you thinking? Learn from Emirates — you’ve gotta have classy stuff in there, like Pringles and Mars Bars!
I hung my sport coat in the closet located at the side of the seat, which also features a mirror.
Waiting at my seat were a pair of headphones, a day blanket, a box of dates and pralines, and a “welcome” card.
On the ottoman was a day blanket, and also the inflight entertainment defect log. Oddly it wasn’t until after takeoff when I pointed it out to the flight attendants that they removed it.
Day blanket and entertainment log
I could tell off the bat that the service on this flight was better than on the last Etihad flight I took, though not by that much. The flight attendant working my aisle was Noah, and she served in a way I’ve come to expect from Middle Eastern airlines — over-the-top expressions (“it’s my privilege to serve you”) with not much follow through or smiles. She did warm up a bit during the flight, though. It’s interesting, because usually you either get a feeling that the crew loves what they’re doing and is happy to be there, or you get the feeling that they couldn’t be bothered to care. The flight attendants on this sector didn’t fall into either category, though did seem a bit absent minded.
Within a few minutes of settling in Noah offered me a drink, and I requested a glass of champagne, which was Bollinger.
In addition to a glass of champagne I was offered an amenity kit.
The amenity kit had La Prairie branded toiletries, though the selection was fairly sparse.
Amenity kit contents
I was also offered a hot towel.
This is what a hot towel looks like
At this point the chef came around to introduce himself. While I know Etihad has been advertising the whole chef thing for a long time, I didn’t have a chef on either of my two flights with them in 2011. This chef’s name was Karol, and he was an enthusiastic 30-ish year old guy from Poland. He was definitely the highlight of the crew, as he actually seemed to enjoy what he was doing.
He presented us with both the menu and wine list, and encouraged us to dine on demand.
Menu and wine list
After that the flight attendant working my aisle offered me pajamas and slippers. I’m not a huge fan of the materials Etihad’s are made of, so I instead wore my British Airways pajamas.
Just before pushback the crew came around offering Arabic coffee and dates.
Arabic coffee and date
As the door closed the captain came on the PA to announce our flight time of 14hr5min and a final cruising altitude of 40,000 feet. Every seat in first class was taken, so I was curious to see how the service would be.
As we taxied to the runway the safety video played, starting with “A Travel Prayer From The Holy Qur’an,” which I wish they’d translate. You can see that in the first 20 seconds of the Airbus 330 safety video here.
The good thing about Etihad’s entertainment system is that you can use it on the ground, so I immediately started browsing the selection.
Etihad entertainment system
As we climbed out I decided to watch “The Campaign,” which was hilarious.
Once we passed through about 10,000 feet the seatbelt sign was turned off and the cabin manager, Narinder, welcomed aboard each first class passenger individually. She was awesome and engaging, and seemed to love what she was doing. She used to work for Kingfisher, so we had a bit of a laugh about that, as she was happy with her airline move. 😉
Shortly thereafter Chef Karol took meal orders. The menu read as follows:
And the wine list read as follows:
The tea list read as follows:
There are no two ways about it — the menu was awesome. I loved the flexibility to eat what you want, how you want, when you want.
Service began with a Diet Pepsi with lemon and smoked chicken starter.
Diet Pepsi and smoked chicken starter
At that point the table was set, interestingly with both a tablecloth and table liner. There was also a bread basket, salt and pepper shaker, and olive oil/butter. I was then served the traditional Arabic mezze, which I found to be good, though not quite as good as Emirates’.
Traditional Arabic mezze (cold)
Traditional Arabic mezze (hot)
After that I was served sorbet.
I was extremely impressed by their ability to literally customize the meal however you’d like, including choosing your meat, sides, and sauces. I had beef tenderloin with bernaise sauce and roasted baby potatoes. It was cooked perfectly (I ordered medium) and was delicious. A+ to Etihad on this.
Meanwhile my friend had the lamb shanks.
I then had the quattro of desserts, which consisted of cappuccino mousse, warm mango clafoutis apricot, a watermelon shot, and ice cream. It was brilliant.
Quattro of desserts
Meanwhile my friend had the warm winter apple pudding, which was only okay.
Warm winter apple pudding
Location after lunch
After lunch I quickly popped back to business class to have a peek, which looked crowded by comparison.
Business class cabin
With about 12 hours to go to New York I decided to try and take a nap, given that the lights were dimmed and we still had a long day ahead of us upon landing in New York. I asked for turndown service, which was promptly provided. Etihad’s bedding is excellent, and I slept well for a couple of hours, before being woken up because the cabin was super-hot.
After sleeping for a couple of hours I decided to watch another movie, and decided on “Hope Springs.” It was probably the least funny movie with Steve Carell ever — wasted talent!
Around the middle of the movie Chef Karol came by to ask if I might want something to eat, so I decided on a steak sandwich with fries. I don’t think I’ve ever had fries on a plane before, so for the novelty I couldn’t resist.
The steak sandwich and fries were good, though not amazing. I think Qantas still wins the award for best steak sandwiches.
For dessert I had the vanilla millefeuille, which was delicious.
Lastly I ordered an iced coffee, which was served without hesitation or confusion, which is rare on a plane.
Location after snack
At this point we had about six hours to go, so it was time for another nap. I slept for another couple of hours, and woke up with four hours to go. At this point I decided to start uploading my trip pictures onto my laptop.
Location after nap
With about 90 minutes to go to New York I wasn’t especially hungry though took one for the team and ordered the roasted pumpkin soup to start.
Roasted pumpkin soup
Then I had the portobello mushroom vol au vent, which was delicious.
Portobello mushroom vol au vent
Meanwhile my friend had the bagel, which was apparently hard as a rock.
Lastly, for dessert, I had the chocolate coated Um Ali, which I was intrigued by the whole flight. It didn’t disappoint.
We were making good time and actually scheduled to arrive quite a bit early, though got put in a holding pattern on our approach to New York. We ended up touching down right on-time on runway 22L, and taxied to a remote stand, the same situation as last time.
Camera on landing
Fortunately they have a dedicated bus for first and business class passengers, so it didn’t take too long before it drive, and the bus wasn’t too crowded.
Seated across from me the whole flight was a young girl dressed in a hijab, who had an older American lady traveling with her. At no point the entire flight did they leave her suite “door” open, and even when they served her a meal it was shut again immediately. Interestingly upon arrival she received expedited immigration and was met plane side, so I’m kind of curious who she was.
My eyes were drawn to the beautiful Singapore A380 parked next to us.
Singapore A380 next to us
Once we got to the immigration hall queues were as bad as I’ve ever seen before. The line was so long that people were lined up way past the “ropes.” Fortunately with Global Entry we were through in a matter of minutes.
Global Entry also entitles you to expedited customs, so I asked the customs officer where the Global Entry customs line was. In typical New York fashion he said “just cut to the front of the line,” so I followed his advice, which results in us being yelled at in about 10 different languages, including New Yorker. I do wish they’d be more organized, as I’d rather not be called a “f*&#&^% a$$hole” for taking advantage of the expedited customs screening that comes with Global Entry.
On the whole the flight was great. I think Etihad has a winner with the “chef” concept, especially in conjunction with how flexible their menu is. The hard product on Etihad remains excellent, while the service is so-so. Compared to Emirates, Etihad is a somewhat more low key airline, which is good or bad depending on how you look at it. I will say that I did miss a shower on Etihad!