UAE Showdown: Emirates Business Class Vs. Etihad Business Class

Filed Under: Emirates, Etihad

Within the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to fly the “flagship” business class products of both Emirates and Etihad on longhaul flights. I flew Emirates A380 business class from Dubai to Los Angeles, and then Etihad 787 business class from Washington to Abu Dhabi.

These two airlines are fierce rivals, given that their home bases are just an hour-drive apart, so you can just as easily fly into Abu Dhabi if visiting Dubai, and vice versa.

So, which airline offers an all around better business class experience? I figured I’d share my thoughts, though let me add that my sample size is fairly limited, so I’m not suggesting my analysis is true across the board. Furthermore this doesn’t reflect the experience on all planes, but rather I’m referring specifically to Emirates’ best business class product (available on the A380), and Etihad’s best business class product (available on the 787 and A380).

Hopefully frequent Emirates and Etihad flyers can chime in with their thoughts. Here we go, in no particular order:

Seat — Etihad

Both airlines have staggered configurations in business class, though they’re vastly different. Emirates has traditional staggered seats, which are comfortable and private, assuming you can snag one of the seats closest to the windows. However, this is hardly an innovative product.

Meanwhile Etihad’s new business class product is essentially an evolved staggered configuration. The seats are more comfortable, stylish, and private.

Crews — Emirates

There’s an important distinction to be made here. Service procedures aside, generally I find Emirates crews to be more consistent than Etihad crews. That’s not to say that the overall service is better, but rather that the flight attendants themselves are generally more polished and consistent on Emirates.

On Etihad I’ve had fantastic flight attendants (as I had from Washington to Abu Dhabi), but I’ve also had some really lousy crews. So I have to give Emirates the edge when it comes to the overall quality of their crews.

Service concept — Etihad

This is an area where Etihad wins by a landslide.

Emirates should be embarrassed by the service procedure they have in business class on the A380. It feels like an assembly line, and there’s no dine on demand concept. They’d be hard pressed to make the experience less personalized, and the focus absolutely seems to be on efficiency over personalization.

Etihad’s service concept is the opposite. They have a dine on demand menu, and service is very much customized. That’s not to say that the execution of service is always perfect, but at least the concept is good.

Wifi — Etihad

Emirates offers free — or rather nearly free — Wi-Fi. Everyone gets 10MB of free wifi, or for $1 you can buy 600MB of Wi-Fi. The catch is that it’s unusably slow aside from texting and very basic functions, so they’re really doing a disservice to anyone looking to get any work done.

Etihad has some of the best Wi-Fi in the sky, on the other hand. For ~$21 you can buy a pass that will last you the whole flight with no data caps, and I generally find the speeds to be excellent. This is a great compromise, in my opinion.

Entertainment — Emirates

Both airlines have good entertainment selections, though Emirates’ ICE system is the best in the sky, and beats Etihad’s E-Box system.

Personally I care more about Wi-Fi than entertainment, though I know most people probably feel differently.

Amenity kits, bedding, and pajamas — Etihad

Bedding is roughly comparable on both airlines, in my experience.

Emirates has a superior amenity kit with BVLGARI amenities.

However, Etihad has the advantage of offering both an amenity kit and pajamas, so they win out in this category, in my opinion.

Onboard amenities — Emirates

Emirates has an incredible bar at the back of the upper deck of their A380s, which is one of the best bars offered by any airline. What a fun place to kill time.

Meanwhile Etihad has the “lobby” on their A380s, which is a bit of a boring concept, in my opinion. You can sit there if you want, but it doesn’t have nearly the fun vibe of Emirates’ onboard bar.

Food — tie

While I think Etihad’s service concept is significantly better than Emirates’, I actually think the food itself is roughly comparable. Both airlines have above average food and great cappuccinos.

Lounges & chauffeur service — tie

Both airlines offer first and business class passengers chauffeur service, with varying restrictions. Unfortunately neither airlines offers this service to passengers booking most partner award tickets anymore.

As far as lounges go, I also think it’s a tie, or perhaps more accurately, it’s highly dependent on the airport. In general I prefer the aesthetic of Etihad lounges to that of Emirates lounges.

However, when it comes to their hub airport lounges, I do think Emirates in Dubai has a slight edge to what Etihad offers in Abu Dhabi, as the Emirates lounge is massive, and also lets you board your flight directly through the lounge.

Bottom line

The experience you’ll have on either airline will be highly dependent on the exact flight you take, the crew you get, etc. However, in general I think Etihad’s new business class has the edge over Emirates’ A380 business class product. The seat and Wi-Fi are better, and I appreciate that they offer dine on demand, rather than the assembly line service offered by Emirates.

However, Emirates also has its advantages, like a great onboard bar, fantastic entertainment system, and superior lounge in Dubai. I can’t stress the awesomeness of Emirates’ onboard bar enough, so for a daytime flight that may very well make Emirates a better option than Etihad, depending on how you’re looking to spend your flight.

If you’ve flown Emirates and Etihad business class, which did you prefer?

  1. Although I live in Qatar, I have decided long time ago that I’d focus my mileage earning on Emirates and Qatar. I have never flown Etihad although was sometimes nearly tempted by their Apartment class prices. I agree with the service aspect on Emirates. I was seated in 20K in two recent A380 business class flights, which is the last true window seat in the first secrion of J class. it took almost 2 hours for the meal to be served, drink refills came around for water and wine but I asked 3 times to get a refill of my soft drink but that never came. Food quality and presentation reminded me of American domestic F class. OK it was not that bad, but I though I had significantly better meals on Emirates. To be honest I wasn’t much bothered as that was my level of expectation of the typical EK J class food and service. Still, the privacy of the seat, the amazing ICE system, and the convenience of Emirates Chauffeur service make up for the downside

  2. Missing a few points!! Fly the EY 777 – they have the same C class seats as EK – at least very similar. Its the same seat TG uses on their 777/350/380 and that seat is no fun at all. So again, you could have done some deeper research. Then again, EK has 2/3/2 on their 777, which is a shame too. Guess the best among the ME3 is the one you hate: QR!!

  3. Emirates lounges at peak times in Dubai have queue’s for all their toilets, that go into the corridors! Which can and often results in desperate things by desperate people. Tuesday morning was the last straw for me, people deficating in the urinals well it was either that or sitting next to them on a long haul. The non lounge toilets were the same, just to clarify this was the mens, business lounge. Never Emirates again for me, thank you.

  4. Really helpful and interesting to get this comparison. I was just wondering about your views on the difference between the two after reading the review about Etihad 787 business class. Thanks again for your wonderful blog.

  5. Hey Ben, I found your comment about the Emirates J seat not being “innovative” interesting…Let’s face it, there is absolutely nothing “innovative” about a reverse herringbone seat, they have been around for a long time now…Even so, they are the favorite of many business travelers, bloggers, and crews…I think that this drive for “innovation” [Polaris] vs using what works often runs the risk of just ending up with a weird product…I am loyal to UA [ I long for the pre-merger days] and I would have been THRILLED at a completely un-innovative, lack of creativity, traditional reverse herringbone J product vs the Polaris seat…I am not trying to criticize your comment, it just struck a cord with me and made me think, what would you prefer…??? Business cabins like CX across the board, or new, “innovative” J cabins that run the risk of not working and just being strange…

  6. Overall, solid.
    1)Some things to note: EY J seat on 777 and 330 – the vast majority of the fleet – is nothing like this, and, in my opinion, far less comfortable. Though the 787 and 380 are spectacular
    2) Amenity kit: EY has removed amenity kit on some shorter haul flights in J – not just flights to Oman, kuwait and the like, but on day time services to some places like BKK. Beware.
    3) Pajamas: Pajamas in J are only available on what they consider ultra long haul flights. Japan, Korea, Europe dont count, so beware and dont expect pajamas on these flights in J.

  7. After flying Emirates and Etihad, where do you think Qatar ranks amongst the three carriers? Or is there a need to try it again?

  8. I have only flown First with Emirates, but during my time in the onboard bar I have observed the assembly line of food service happening for business passengers. The crew have always been very efficient, but I am glad that in First they allow dine on demand.

    Etihad is my preferred airline. Whether it’s Business or First, I have always found the food and hard product to be outstanding. Surprisingly, they do a decent fish dish on their flights (as a new flyer years ago I was sceptical about fish on a plane, but if flying Etihad I order it if the type of fish is to my liking).

    One issue I have with both airlines is the lack of proactiveness of crews clearing plates. 99% of the time I have to call a flight attendant to clear the table. It’s certainly not the end of the world (#upperdeckproblems), but it always annoys me as the set up often means a lot of meanouvering to get out of the seat/suite.

    Thank you Lucky for posting so much Etihad/and now some Emirates material the past week. I am looking to book flights to Europe for next year in a few months’ time and have enjoyed being reminded of past flights. Given that next year is likely to be a family affair, the reminder about middle seats in business is helpful!

  9. Dear Lucky,

    While I loved this piece, I think there is one slight flaw in your comparison. The Etihad business class experience on the A380 and the 787 would be very different. When you are in a much, much smaller cabin such as in the 787, you are a preferred guest clearly paying a premium. However, in the A380, you become one of the lesser guests on the floor. In Etihad, it took an average of 10 minutes for a flight attendant to respond to me when I pressed the call button (only did it twice on three flights), and they ran out of food etc. bloody quick. Those experiences made me swear off the A380 at least in business class, since it is a rushed service that has no charm about it coupled with hard seats on a flight where I wasn’t provided bedding due to the duration (7 hours – Abu Dhabi to London). Another point to add, Etihad business class bathrooms on the A380 can get pretty disgusting after meal service.

  10. @Alvin I’d guess that he’d rank QR slightly above EK and EY since it’s got reverse herringbone seats and great food. Lucky has said several times that QR J on their A380/787 is the best all around business class product.

    It’ll be interesting to compare this to the new Qsuites when they become available, though.

  11. I wish you had mentioned how old each product has been as I think it’s almost unfair to compare an Emirates A380 business class seat that debuted back in August 2008 to an Etihad A380 business class seat that debuted in December 2014. One can argue Etihad had the advantage of already knowing what the EK product is in order to make theirs better. 😉
    I flew on Emirates A380 business class back in Feb 2009 for the first time and was simply in awe. It was unlike any business class experience I’ve ever had (from boarding directly to the upper deck to spending time in the onboard bar to the enjohing my spacious window seat with its own mini-bar, etc.)

  12. I think there are a couple of considerations that might have been good to add. Seat space is pretty important, so some numbers or comments on that might have been good. The big one though, is how easy and reasonably priced these awards are to book. You can talk about how amazing Qantas First Class is for two people until you’re blue in the face, but chances are that almost none of your readers will ever get to redeem miles for that, because the award availability is so horrible. Similarly, some mention about ease of getting and using the points to fly these products for free would be super helpful. After all, that dream of flying a great product for (nearly) free is why we read your blog.

  13. I completely disagree ICE is the best entertainment system in the sky.

    With all of the editing required to be compliant with the fuddy-dud conservatives in the Emirates, the movies are not even worth watching. I assure you Robert DeNiro isn’t yelling out “oh, go find yourself” in any of his films.

    Even SQ allows f-bombs!

  14. @Mark, agree completely. The editing is SO bad. I watch a lot of films onboard and can say my experience on Emirates was probably the worst IFE I’ve come across in recent times. It is a reason why I prefer to fly other airlines over them. That and their refusal one time to dim the lights on a 13 hour DXB-MEL night flight!

  15. Lucky,
    Flew emirates last week DEL-DBX-JFK and found the DEL 777 Crew to be much more attentive and accommodating then on the DBX-JFK A380, for starters their WiFi beyond sucks and although it’s only $1.00 for 600mb it’s give u jack (not even sure y charge the $1.00) on my DEL flight the FA came over and showed me a trick how to connect faster NY entering into my browser bypassing the login page, my JFK flight I was in shock that they had no PJ’s (heck even UA Crap-aris offers them, service was ok but definitely not what was expected (mind u BC was 65% empty) loved the quality of their IEF System and air shows, seats are ok nothing to write home about, all in all I would fly them again out of the US but in with the aggravation dealing with pre-boarding security and the Damm wait to get it tagged, never again, will just take UA direct from DEL or BOM and bypass this insane ban (had a nasty argument about a baby toy with batteries purchased in duty free for my grand baby that I left there in the G file)

    Surprisingly very little high end luxury shops in DBX that I found interesting too

  16. So it’s 6-5 to Etihad.

    I dis agree on the wifi. I found emirates wifi to be very fast on my recent flights to BOS and back. I did a speed test on 2 flights the speed was 6MBPS and 4MBPS which is fast enough for video calls etc. I was most of the time on Skype as the video was crystal clear. 13 hours just flew away thanks to the fast wifi. And it’s virtually free. I think Emirates has upgraded the wifi speeds on their flights recently as I agree a few months back it was pretty slow.

    Etihad also might have fast onboard wifi but just because it’s paid I think Emirates should get the rating on this.

  17. Whats the difference between a staggered product and an evolved staggered product. Both are staggered. Its only the frills which are different. May we ask for a clarification?

  18. So this is really interesting and helpful but for me the decision between these two airlines comes down to price and flight availability and transit layover time. Flying between Nairobi and Dulles monthly, Emirates is literally half the price of Etihad with a much more reasonable and manageable flight schedule. Perhaps there is less of a delta on other routes but not mine. But will have to shell out the additional bucks for the Etihad experience at least once. Thanks for the overview. Must have been a tough article to research .

  19. Hi everyone
    Well travelled business class on emeriates airlines using the airline often. I personally think its not worth it the meals instead of a choice there was only one meal you could have.
    Then leaving Sydney Australia to return to Malta the ground crew at Sydney internation airport were rude .they had upset me so much that I did not want to travel on that airline
    Resently I just came back from Dubai and went econ class which I can say was much better than business class.

    I wrote a letter and one response was sorry the other to the ceo did not even bother to answer me.
    Shame on you emeriates.

  20. Not trying to be ´that guy´, but your writing would benefit a LOT if you stopped using ´in my opinion´so often (counted over five times and in close succession).

    Of course it´s your opinion – these are essentially editorial reviews, not AP articles.

    Just a thought and mean it in as nice a way as possible 😉

  21. I think this ignores the point that Emirates 777 business class – half the fleet – is shameful and in 2-3-2 configuration that they apparently intend to retain even in the new generation of aircraft. At least Etihad has direct aisle access for their seats across the long haul fleet…

  22. I’ve flown Etihad in Business and First a lot – enough to be a Etihad Guest Platinum – and about the same on Emirates (on QF codeshare – enough to be a Qantas Platinum One). Equally I’ve flown a lot of Qatar Business Class (with some regional First and twice A380 First).

    None of them are perfect, but each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

    Firstly, with cutbacks (and all ME3 have had some, just some more than others), Emirates has had the least, while Qatar and Etihad have had the most (although Qatar started off with a much higher offering, bar chauffeur drive, which they do not offer but Etihad does).

    * Qatar is weakest as it doesn’t offer any. Emirates and Etihad are roughly similar, but Etihad tend to offer more free mileage
    **Winner** Etihad, by a nose

    * Qatar is the weakest here, in terms of what they offer Business Class (not unusual to have long waits at DOH, as QR rarely staff all stations and you can’t use First check-in unless in First). Both Emirates and Etihad offer enhanced check in areas that are well staffed, although Etihad has the nicer looking set-up at AUH. All three offer premium security and immigration channels (Qatar offers the most premium feeling here, by a small margin)
    **Winner** I’m going to call it a tie, all things considered, by Qatar could definitely improve its check-in staffing

    * Qatar, Emirates and Etihad Business lounges all have some good points but Qatar is the only one to keep high status Business travellers limited to the Business Lounge (keeping its First lounge for First travellers only). Emirates offers huge Business lounges with decent offerings (but limited toilet and shower facilities). Etihad has smaller Business lounges that now have reduced offerings, but still are better than American offerings (again limited amenities). Qatar has a very flash looking lounge, but in terms of F&B has less variety than the others (again, long lines during peak times for toilets and showers). All three deserve criticism for not having sufficent ventilation in their showers (hot boxes after a warm shower) and some don’t even have cold water (in the Middle East, your cold water tap will often not be cold, unless you install a chiller).
    **Winner** Emirates, although it’s a close call

    Onboard – Seat
    * Qatar has a very good Business seat on its A350, Dreamliner and A380. Emirates has some pretty decent Business seats on its A380 (but not all), but terrible ones on its 777s. Etihad has some fairly decent Business seats on its A380 and Dreamliner aircraft (but not all), although a bit on the firm side (even with the air cushions), but it’s older seats on other aircraft are not so good
    **Winner** Qatar

    Onboard – F&B
    * There is some variability here, Qatar can surprise and delight but not always, Emirates tends to be very consistent, but less likely to surprise and delight, Etihad can do well but also greatly disappoint (most variable). Only Qatar and Etihad offer dine on demand in Business, but most travellers rarely differ from dining after take off and before landing. Food service on Etihad on the A380 in Business can be very slow a lot of the time, which can also be a issue on the others but less often. Qatar has the nicest menus (particularly the wine menu) in terms of presentation. Wines tend to be better on Qatar and Emirates than Etihad.
    **Winner** It’s close, but I’m going to give it to Qatar.

    Onboard – IFE
    **WINNER** Emirates, by a wide margin. Qatar has a bad controller and interface, and butchers its IFE content a lot. Etihad’s E-Box lacks the polish Emirates ICE has, and content is less (they tend to be harsher on censorship too).

    Onboard – Other
    Things like amenity kits, PJs, quality of interiors, bars, toilet ratio, etc
    **WINNER** Emirates and Qatar tend to do better than Etihad overall, although Etihad deserves special recognition for the quality of its design motif on A380 and Dreamliner, which adds a touch of class.

    * Etihad is the weakest here, bar it’s arrival lounge (which is modest, but one up on Emirates) – transit processes are a bit scrum like. Emirates and Qatar do better overall, but Emirates lacks a arrival lounge.
    **WINNER** Because Emirates has chauffeur drive, I’m going to give it to them, even though it has no arrivals lounge. Qatar deserves mention for a premium arrivals/transit feel.

    Home Airport
    **Winner** Qatar definitely has the most premium looking airport

    * Highly variable, but Emirates Business crews tend to be the most consistent/polished. Etihad widely variable, but some are very good. Qatar tends to have less superstars, but not as many terrible ones as Etihad.
    **WINNER** No clear winner to be honest, but Emirates tends to be more predictable.

    Again, no clear winner, rather each have their own strengths and weaknesses. I always think Etihad comes off as the ambitious younger airline though, less experienced than Emirates, and less surprise and delight than Qatar (although Qatar don’t consistently achieve this). All three ME3 can have service orientation issues with their ground staff (often the weakest area for them all), but Emirates experience shows. Etihad has done some decent stuff though, but cost cutting has cut into that.

    For me, the quality of the Qatar Business seat tends to sway, but ultimately it comes down to where I want to fly in the end. I don’t mind Etihad in First, but tend to be underwhelmed in their Business Class offerings, preferring Qatar or Emirates instead.

  23. Small addendum – bus gates. Etihad and Qatar use them a lot, for both departure and arrival (annoying). Emirates tend to be a lot better with gates, but still use remote stands for some flights.

  24. I have just flown from Melbourne to London business class with Etihad last time I flew a similar trip with Emirates I found the bed to be uncomfortable. Overall I find there is only a minimal difference in the price between the airlines. At sixty five years of age my main consideration on a long haul flight is comfort based on this flight I won’t choose Etihad again.

  25. Thanks so much for the thoughtful article. My last trip to India was on Emirates on an A380 and the bar was the difference maker. I’m patient if I can go get my own drink or have a chat with fellow passengers. The seat was incredibly comfortable and I loved the non-alcoholic “bar” at my seat. Hey, if you’re on a 14-hour flight, who cares that it takes a little longer to serve dinner? Chill, everyone!

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