Hello, Live From Etihad Economy!

Filed Under: Etihad

It’s no secret that I don’t fly economy often. I do fly economy once in a while on domestic flights when my upgrades don’t clear, but it has been over a decade since I’ve flown an international flight in economy (well, unless you count Seattle to Vancouver, where there isn’t a first class cabin).

It’s not that I’m unwilling to fly economy, but rather that there hasn’t been a need to. If I can figure out a way to redeem miles for first & business class at a reasonable premium, why wouldn’t I?

Well, today I’m flying from Male to Abu Dhabi in economy. We had a last minute change of plans (more details on that later), and there wasn’t even a business class seat available for sale when we booked, let alone an award seat. So we didn’t have much of a choice.

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While the flight time is only a bit over four hours, it’s the longest non-domestic flight I’ve flown in economy in over a decade.

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What do I make of it? I’m actually impressed, surprisingly.

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Okay, so the seats themselves are quite tight. I’m trying to work on my laptop, and it’s extremely tough to do that with the seat in front of me reclined. My laptop basically has to be at a 45 degree angle in order for me to do that, which isn’t so great (on the plus side, at least there’s wifi).

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While space is limited, the seat itself is well designed. On the seat in front of me is a coat hanger, entertainment controller, tray table, cup holder, USB outlet, and 110v outlet. That’s pretty impressive.

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There was even a menu in economy on the four hour flight, which is sort of awesome.

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I mean, hell, they have cappuccinos in economy. Many airlines don’t even offer that in business class (okay, in fairness the cappuccinos are powdered, but still). 😉

Was the food gourmet? No, but it was surprisingly edible. The bean salad to start was good, as was the dessert. The main course tasted like an average frozen dinner, which was better than I expected (after all, I’ve voluntarily paid for frozen dinners in the past).

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There’s even free wine and booze. I ordered a gin & tonic, which was probably the strongest drink I’ve had in my life. I’m actually not convinced there was any tonic in it. Maybe that’s the secret to keeping people happy in economy?

The flight attendants have been great as well. This flight actually gives me a new appreciation for the passengers they have to deal with. It’s not that any of the passengers on the flight have been especially bad, but my goodness the flight attendants are patient. Sometimes I think first & business class flight attendants have a tough job, but economy crews have it much harder.

Every time the flight attendants walk through the aisle there seem to be a dozen people who physically grab them and make requests. I witnessed at least a handful of people say “I’ll have the pasta” in response to the flight attendant saying “we only have chicken or fish, which do you want?”

Other thoughts? I didn’t realize people still travel with neck pillows. Every other person in the cabin seems to be using one. Aside from the lack of personal space, the only other downsides are the bathroom. They look as if someone just finished filming a scat play scene in them.

Bottom line

As I said, I haven’t flown economy on a non-US carrier in over a decade, and that’s not a function of me being unwilling to do so, but rather that there hasn’t been a need. This flight has been eye-opening, though. I guess what I take away from the flight is that the service is actually better than I expected (the crew have been friendly and food edible), while the seats are tight.

I don’t know what it is, but economy actually feels tighter on a longhaul plane than on a flight within the US. Perhaps that’s just a function of what I’ve become accustomed to. First & business class really does wonders in terms of arriving well rested. I’m not sure I’d travel to Asia nearly as frequently if I couldn’t do so in a flat bed.

  1. I wouldn’t use a neckpillow on a 4 hour flight but its def a lifesaver on a longhaul nightflight (or dayflight turned into nightflight becuase of anti-jetlag) for me if I want to catch some sleep.

  2. You actually gave me a good laugh 🙂

    Yes, there is entertainment, coat hangers, and cup holders “back there”. I never never never travel without an inflatable neck pillow in economy. Menus are not that uncommon – AF has them for example, and I think I even recall Delta on a transpacific flight having some kind of Menu card in Eco.

    And yes – getting slightly tipsy does the work for some of us lowly peasants who have to make do with traveling in the less glamourous three quarters of the plane. The main reason for drinks being rather stiff might be that the cups are too small….liquor comes in 50 ml bottles, while the cup might hold only 150 ml. Factor some ice in, and you have a VERY stiff drink with a 1:1 ratio 😉

  3. I flew LAX-NRT-SIN in Singapore economy and it honestly wasn’t bad at all.

    But try BA economy or Delta on a long haul. Ugh.

  4. Turkish do a good job of keeping economy bathrooms clean. Same as on a recent long haul I did on Saudia. Not sure if that reflects on the FAs or the passengers. Might have been a one-off for your flight?

  5. Hi Ben thanks for live update. Remember your on an Etihad flt if it were United American et al I dare say it would be different. My son raved about AA going to UK but based on what Ive seen here I would save my$ for Business. Good report ignore all the trolls who will insult you now

  6. Travelling economy as an Etihad Gold member is even better…on my last flight which was 90% full thry managed to give me a row if 4 (normally they block the adjacent seat ) personal welcome by purser at seat, brought champagne and water as pretakeoff beverage, meal choice taken first and delivered first, priority immigration before landing! Thats not to mention full 4 course meal in EY CDG lounge before take off!!
    As an aside, were the neck pillows the etihad pillows which convert to neck pillows by splitting them in the middle?

  7. Actually, Etihads pillows can be ripped at the perforated line in the middle to create a neck pillow, which is probably what you saw.

  8. Hi, I flew economy on Ethiad from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam two weeks ago. Enjoyed the experience.

  9. I will not fly economy on any flight more than 2 hours long due to how uncomfortable I find it – the downside to long legs (for clarity, I pay for all my flights, except when using miles, which is currently the rarity). However, even though I tend to therefore fly business and first, I still am surprised when I need to use a budget airliner to get somewhere, as it’s still a good product. The companies still need to compete on services and other facilities, even if they’re a budget airliner, as people can just go elsewhere. I’ve never had any issues with any airliner and when flying budget I just pay to sit in the front-row in order to get the extra legroom, which is comfortable enough for a short period of time.

    When you fly at the front of the plane enough, you start to think the back will resemble some dungeon from Lord of the Rings. It’s never as bad as you think.

  10. Get over yourself. I’ve never once in my life flown in business or first. Always flown in economy. Stop acting like economy is some sort of other-wordly experience. It’s how most people fly.

  11. 16 hours in EK economy, DXB to LAX, was not pleasant despite good service. This was mostly due to the many kids on board, at least one of which was crying most of the time. My personal cutoff is 6 hours for when I will do what I can to not be in economy. More than 6 hours in economy and I will take my neck pillow.

  12. Hmm, I think you’re enjoying slumming it for novelty’s sake. Try flying Economy regularly and it won’t seem quite so pleasant.

  13. I’m a big fan of economy seats that have the separate cup holder. Much more user friendly than having to open up the entire tray table.

  14. Lucky I agree. Literally arrived back in the US this morning after two weeks in Thailand. Flew back BKK-DOH-PHL on Qatar. 21 hours of airtime in Economy and feeling quite ok right now. Between the seat pitch, width, service and food quality, Qatar is hard to beat

  15. I always travel with a neck pillow in J or F. I get pretty bad neck strains if I sleep with my head in an awkward position, so I find it’s usually a better option for me than the pillow provided by the airline… I certainly didn’t need one when I was your age.

  16. @ Ben — I always travel with my TUMI PAX jacket, which can be converted to a neck pillow. Just in case.

  17. I reckon the A330, as you flew on, is probably the best plane to fly economy on. It has a 2-4-2 config, wider seats than pretty much anything else out there (except possibly the a380) and I feel like the aisles are wider as well. Infinitely preferable to the 787 in 3-3-3 and better even than a 777 in 3-3-3.

    If I have to be in economy long haul, this is the plane I’d rather be on.

  18. I did AUH-IAD (14.5 hours) about 2 months ago in economy. Walked past their new business seats and drooled. While the economy seat wasn’t particularly comfortable, the entertainment system was great and the FA’s kept bringing around water and snacks to keep us occupied. The food was also very good. While yes, its only economy, there is a world of difference between the better carriers (SIngapore, Emirates, Etihad, Cathay, etc) and US carriers.

  19. As I always say, the only way to truly appreciate flying J or F is to fly economy. 😉
    With a flexible schedule, there is no need to fly economy since one would fly whenever there is J or F availability; but for the average American, most times we have to travel on X or Y date…. And if economy is the only availability, then so be it.
    You’re very lucky, Lucky, to live the lifestyle you do. Enjoy and happy new year!

  20. This is something I rarely bring up to friends or family because it comes off as pretentious but I’ve never flown long haul economy. Most of my experience in economy had been old domestic US flights. Miserable to say the least. During my last few trips I’ve take some regional flights on non US airlines configured for international. I was pleasantly surprised. I was still fortunate since one flight was only two hours and the other was half full and I ended up with an entire bulk head row to myself (that was Singapore from Singapore to the Maldives where I’m currently at the Conrad. I don’t recommend it). Regardless it was definitely doable.

    My personal limit is 6 hours. Otherwise I try to look for alternatives. Worse case scenario I can take economy but the whole reason I got into points was so I could enjoy things like business class without breaking the bank.

  21. Perfect timing Lucky, now you understand the pain my body feels having just gotten off a 22.5 hour journey from Los Angeles to Jakarta in Economy on Cathay. Just got off last night, and after a prolonged wait for baggage and transport, I arrived nearly 30 hours after leaving my hotel in Los Angeles! Boy do you have a new appreciation for business class when that happens, but there wasn’t any space for travel over Christmas!

  22. Ben, I’ve been reading your column for the past few months and find it entertaining. As a perennial coach flyer I dream as I pass through J to Y. Maybe someday. I’ve flown 3 times to Europe from the USA/Phoenix in 2015, always going for the lowest fare. One each AA, UA, and Delta. All flights 767’s. You were ‘lucky’ on your coach experience because on the US Carriers inevitably either the entertainment doesn’t work or the headphone jack is 2 sizes too big for the plug. The food and service are acceptable except FA’s on UA. The old ’67’s are also known for their poor temperature control – hot spots and cold spots and I’m not talking about the Wi-Fi. Thanks again for the blogs and allowing me to envision what flying at the front of a modern aircraft (777/787/A380) is like!

  23. For me, it is 90% about the legroom. Most economy seats require me to stand up to cross or uncrowded my legs, so anything more than 2 hrs, I will do almost anything to get at least c+ (though that’s usually enough ).
    I agree with Allen-I think THIS flight was not very representative of what most of us fly most of the time in E.

  24. So how are you getting from Abu Dhabi to LAX? With the great last minute F flights over, if you can’t get back in at least J – that sort of negates the trip over.

  25. Ben, what was the pitch for those Y seats? I’m tall, and anything over about 4 hours and I start to get pretty miserable.

  26. Your article male to abu dhabu in economic reminds me of the FA penny from little britian.
    Ben did you resort to placing your silk pocket hankichief over your mouth and nose as you walked into economic.
    Omg slappig flew economic

  27. @ Susannah – “That’s how most people fly”

    You clearly haven’t read much of the tips and tricks on the blog haven’t you.

  28. @Alvin

    She obviously meant how the majority of the general population at large travels, not the people who read blogs like this. I mean, duh.

  29. @ Modern Day Sinbad – Well, I guess he was surprised that Lucky couldn’t AAFord to fly J! 😛

  30. Food looks much better than QR – felt like they were trying to starve us both on LHR-DOH and DOH-BKK. Flew them for the first time a few days ago in Y and was rather disappointed. Service was fine and IFE was stronger than BA’s, but everything else was a let down. There were very nice amenities in the first bathroom (upper deck Y A380 on both flights – same plane even), but they were gone by the second. Menus and amenity kits on the second, but not the first flight. Seemed to be a rather inconsistent offering. The OW Sapphire “lounge” at DOH was a joke. Guess this is how they can charge 1/2 what BA were charging for the nonstop. Seems from your trip reports that QR isn’t any better than Emirates or Etihad up front, either. Most of their “5 star airline” and “award-winning” touting seemed to be unwarranted.

  31. Thanks for the review! Our only economy leg of our upcoming SFO-IAD-FRA-AUD-DXB-MLE-IST-SFO will be the DXB-MLE portion, albeit on Emirates. Figuring it will be pretty close.

  32. I am glad you had a good experience on Etihad economy, but unfortunately not all experiences are good. I traveled on Etihad economy on both Etihad and Etihad-operated by Jet Airways and it wasn’t the product but the service – or lack there of – which was the real disappointment. The service was subpar on each segment and the attendants did not deliver any sort of customer service nor friendliness. In fact, some of them were disrespectful to other passengers (those with language or other barriers who were facing difficulties in obtaining their seats).
    The lack of customer service was not exclusive to the air, as the ground staff and customer service agents in and around the UAE were also not helpful and did not provide any level of customer service. To me, products can be changed but what is the real characteristic of a good company is the customer service provided. You can read the entirety of my experience with Etihad here: http://0504traveller.blogspot.com/2014/07/etihad-airways-needs-improvement-to.html

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