Etihad Airways Diamond First Class from Abu Dhabi to New York: Interesting yet again

On Wednesday I wrote about my rather disappointing flight on Etihad Airways in Diamond First Class from New York to Abu Dhabi. Long story short the seat and entertainment were top notch, while the service and food were subpar. I was quite looking forward to my return flight, to see if the outbound was an exception or the norm for Etihad Airways.

While I’ll save most of the details for the trip report, I figured I’d share a few highlights.

First of all, Etihad Airways offers a chauffeur service for first and business class passengers, so I had prebooked and confirmed the service for 7:30AM from the InterContinental to Abu Dhabi Airport. I was in the lobby at 7:15AM, figuring the driver would be there early or at least on-time, though he ended up pulling up to the hotel at 8:10AM. That’s right, he showed up 40 minutes late and didn’t call me or the hotel even though they had my number, and didn’t even apologize when he made it to the hotel. Utterly unacceptable.

The lounge itself was quite nice. It wasn’t the Lufthansa First Class Terminal or Thai First Class Lounge & Spa, but it was nice. I mentally prepared myself for the flight by downing as many mimosas as I possibly could, figuring it would lead to a more enjoyable flight even if the crew was less than stellar.

The lounge boasts a Six Senses Spa where they offer first class passengers 15-minute treatments. I went for a back massage, which was honestly the best 15-minute massage I’ve ever had. I gave the guy all the Dirham I had left as a tip (~$20USD), which based on his reaction must’ve been the biggest tip he has ever received.

The flight itself was interesting. While all 12 first class seats were occupied on the outbound flight, only two of the 12 seats were taken on the return flight. That meant I had my own “personal” flight attendant. There were two flight attendants working first class. There was a Middle Eastern lady serving the other passenger, and then the food and beverage manager, a French Italian guy, was serving me.

He was friendly and professional enough, in his own way. He addressed me by my first name at every interaction, which I suppose is better than the outbound where I wasn’t once addressed by name.

Once again the service was a bit sloppy. He served me an amuse bouche and I asked him what it was (keep in mind he’s the food and beverage manager onboard), and he responded with “I think it has potatoes in it.”

On several occasions I ordered things and they weren’t delivered (drinks, dessert, etc.). Whenever I was served anything it also took 15-20 minutes after I was finished before it was cleared.

This isn’t Singapore Airlines where the flight attendants walk through the cabin every five minutes throughout the flight to see if anyone wants anything.

Instead, after the meal service the flight attendant told me to push the call button if I wanted anything and he’d be by immediately to take care of me. And that was indeed the case, which I have no problem with, since my expectations were at least managed well.

The meal service itself was much better than on the outbound, but still far from extravagant (no caviar, etc.). It’s odd that they have a menu for the first meal service, but after that only serve food from the “dine anytime” menu. I suspect the crew was well fed, because when I wanted to eat pre-arrival most of the options were already gone, despite there only being one other passenger. Just about the only option they had left was a chicken sandwich. Now that’s what I call gourmet international first class cuisine! 😉

The chocolate fondue dessert after the first meal service was pretty great, though.

So the seat and entertainment were again amazing, the food was good, and the service was fine. I think Etihad’s attitude can be summed up pretty well with the interaction I had with the flight attendant before landing. He came to my seat and mentioned there was a comment card and said that if I enjoyed my flight he’d appreciate if I could fill it out, though said that if I didn’t enjoy my flight I didn’t need to fill it out. Nice to see Etihad is looking for honest feedback!

More details to come with the trip report, of course. So I guess to sum it up, Etihad is awesome when it comes to their “hard” product, not so awesome when it comes to their “soft” product.

Filed Under: Awards, Etihad
  1. Thanks for the sneak preview. I must say, based on your photos from both segments, the food looks like total crap. And you take good photos, which makes me wonder how awful it really was.

  2. Sounds to me like Etihad’s whole approach to an “F&B manager” is little more than packaged hype.

    As for the feedback request, this is annoying. I too have had flight attendant’s ask me to fill out cards when their service has left much to be desired.

    Lucky if you were given the choice mid-flight, would you have swapped out your underworked First Class crew with the run of the mill AA or UA int’l FC purser?

    In a $10,000+ seat, I don’t care for the casual use addressing pax’s by first names unless you introduced yourself as such or insisted. This wouldn’t fly on CX or SQ.

  3. I agree with JRL.

    In my own experience, when I feel compelled to write comments about a staff member, I ask for the person’s name and am almost glowing with praise if they did things right. People usually respond well to positive feedback. If service was poor, I try not to use the employee’s name, and I try to be very clear about my expectations and why they weren’t met. Poor service could be a bad employee or bad training on the part of the company, so it’s best to frame it as an issue for improving future training sessions. Given that you had iffy service throughout, I think the company bears most of the blame.

  4. Not sure you guys should be comparing this airlines to Cathay or Singapore…better to compare to Qatar Airways or Emirates.

  5. Boy, I hope and pray someone from Etihad reads or gets wind of your experience. What a let down and totally unacceptable. Did you attempt to tweet them or send them an email about all this? They need to know what’s going on in upper management.

  6. “I think it has potatoes in it.”

    This so-called food and beverage manager wouldn’t be much help to someone with genuine food allergies, let alone an inquiring gourmand.

    Great photos and I’m trying to figure out the cabin configuration. The first shot above looks different from your “private” room. I’ll look forward to your full trip report.

  7. COINS,

    Food/service manager is probably like the Purser job on UA. They get paid a little extra ( one dollar an hour – reported a few years back) and they have all the responsibility. Sounds like your guy got paid about the same.

  8. Lucky,

    Given your experience with EY, what would you do in my shoes? (I’ve posed this on your other EY posts, but let me give you some more context.)

    I’ve got 285k AA miles, enough for two J tickets to the middle east, or two F tickets to Asia 2. It’s going to be an effort (or expense) to get the 360k needed for an F ticket to the middle east/indian subcontinent. (We ultimately want to visit MLE and India on this trip.)

    Is it worth going out of my way to accumulate the additional 80k miles to fly EY? Or, should I just fly in and out of Columbo on CX, which AA places in the Asia 2 zone?

  9. @ jimbo — I couldn’t actually find the comment card (he said it was in the menu “portfolio”, but I couldn’t find it there), so I didn’t fill anything out.

    @ JRL — Hmm, that’s tough to say. I think it comes down to managing expectations. The guy was probably on par with an average US flight attendant, but not more. So I’d definitely swap him out for a good US FA, though not necessarily for a “run of the mill” one.

    @ Andy — Why not? The Middle Eastern airlines’ business model is largely based off of wanting to build connecting traffic, not just for the Middle East, but between Asia and Europe. There’s a reason Qatar/Etihad/Emirates have very reasonable fares from London to Bangkok, for example — they have growth hopes beyond their own region.

    @ Jeremy — I didn’t bother. I kind of figure if they care enough there are things out there for them to read. Maybe I should, though.

    @ Dan — Nope, he actually wasn’t the purser. There’s a separate flight manager who has a different role. The food and beverage manager is supposed to be responsible with assisting first class passengers in their meal choices based on their experience int he industry prior to working for Etihad, supposedly.

    @ Dan — That’s a toughie. Despite all the negatives I did actually enjoy my flight on Etihad. If your destination was the Middle East/India/Male, I’d actually say fly Etihad for the convenience and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the flight too.

  10. You say: “He addressed me by my first name at every interaction, which I suppose is better than the outbound where I wasn’t once addressed by name.”

    If you weren’t happy with being addressed by your first name, what did you want him to call you?

  11. @ mark — It’s not that I personally have an issue with being addressed by my first name, but he started referring to me by my first name without permission. Like I said I don’t have an issue with it, though that’s a VERY bad assumption to make for first class passengers. Much like if there was a Sheikh aboard I doubt he’d be saying “Yo Mohammed, whaddya wanna eat today?”

    While the US culture is very informal, on an international airline where you have passengers of all nationalities it’s not appropriate to address passengers by their first name without the passenger being the one prompting it.

  12. Lucky, I was referring to reviews I have read of all 3 airlines…most seem to be mixed. On average, this is how I regard the 3 of them, based on reviews I have read online:
    Emirates: Not as good as it used to be
    Etihad: Very, very inconsistent
    Qatar: Good but not great

    Granted, all 3 are probably better overall than other airlines, but not quite up there with the big boys of Asia with regards to overall quality…

  13. another complaining free loader…..those that pay $10K for the seats dont notice all the crap u whine about….gosh…

  14. @Rolling my eyes,
    I think you’re dead wrong. Paid first class-ers might not pay such keen attention to these minor details but the overall “feeling” of a flight will stick with them the next time they have to choose a carrier. Those who pay for $10K segments do not have the level of loyalty a carrier that many Flyertalkers do. Also, someone with high net worth and enjoys the perks of (paid) luxury travel likely have higher levels of standards to meet.

    As for the sir name issue, while Lucky’s last name isn’t the easiest to pronounce by reading off a manifest, it is pretty lazy to just call him “Ben” instead of politely asking how he’d like to be addressed.

  15. @Rolling my eyes,
    – Awards are redeemed by miles and points, not free.
    – If you received a $500 gift card to a steakhouse, do the wait staff have the right to treat you with less respect and reduce the level of service because you’re a freeloader – by your own definition?

  16. I think Rolling my eyes is just upset that Lucky was criticizing this particular airline. He/she was pretty vocal about Lucky’s negative review of the NY-AD segment…

  17. Ben, you were able to book the limo transfer while on a points booking? I was told that this was not an option when I called ETH in the United States. How did you go about reserving the transfer? Did you pick you upin Dubai for no extra charge?


  18. @ Ryan — I sure was. I just confirmed it online which took care of it. Of course I booked this way before the American partnership started, so it could be that they cut the benefit on award bookings when their award reciprocity with American started.

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