REVIEW: Etihad First Class Abu Dhabi - New York
In the aviation world, the first class cabins of the Big 3 Middle Eastern carriers (Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways) are often lauded as some of the finest methods of aviation transport available to the public. Having not even flown in one of their business class cabins, I couldn't help but feel like I was missing out in some way since so many of my aviation fanatic friends had made the trek at least once. The surest way to make someone do something is to make them feel like they're missing out, so there we were with me waving my hands in the air wishing I was like the cool kids.
I'd collected quite a few American Airlines (AA) AAdvantage miles over the course of my travels around the globe, and AA has had a partnership for award ticketing on Etihad (EY) for a few years now. As I recently outlined on the blog, for a trip to the Middle East with friends I'd flown into Jordan with Royal Jordanian in business class and we'd flown onward from Amman to Dubai on Emirates in economy class. I still needed a way to get home from the UAE though, and I figured this might be an ideal time to spend some miles to try out EY's notoriously posh first class cabin.
Luckily EY releases award space pretty decently, and I was able to find a flight from Abu Dhabi to New York City in first class, connecting home to Chicago on AA. The ticket cost me 90,000 AAdvantage miles, which is a lot but at the time I had quite bucketload to use and the outlay didn't seem too expensive at all.
At the time my relationship with AA and its free wheelin' contribution of miles to my account felt a lot like....
Now that I'm no longer consolidating all of my travel onto AA though, the miles are no longer plentiful and I have to be much smarter about how I redeem them. 90,000 AAdvantage miles could get me two full round trip tickets to Europe during AA's off-season in economy class, so if given the choice today I would definitely make a different choice.
Regardless, the miles were spent and my ticket was booked! I was flying home from the UAE in EY's First class cabin.
While a bit more restricted in scope now, Etihad offers a free chauffeur service to customers in their first and business class cabins (with some restrictions). The service will pick you up anywhere in the UAE for departures from Abu Dhabi and within a certain kilometer distance from your departure city in non-UAE locations. This was a great service from EY as I was staying in Dubai. While taxis are very inexpensive, the free chauffeur service ended up saving me a good amount of cash for the transfer to the airport as well as the time and effort needed to organize the transit on my own with the hotel staff.
I wanted to have a leisurely departure, so I had arranged for the car service to pick me up four hours prior to take off. I became a bit worried when the car didn't show up on time, but I held my composure and fifteen minutes later he showed up with no apologies but a smile on his face. My friends were flying home from Dubai on a mixture of different airlines (Royal Jordanian, British Airways, and Turkish Airlines) later that day, so I was the first to leave the hotel and bid everyone adieu after our adventures in the Middle East.
The car they picked me up in was clean and comfortable but by no means very luxurious. I wasn't expecting Cleopatra's barge but for some reason I had this idea that the indulgences of the UAE would spill into this area a bit, too. The driver promised to make up for the slight delay in picking me up by going a little faster than normal on the giant expanse of highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Normally I wouldn't be pleased with a driver indicating he intended to speed while taking my safety in his hands, but fast driving and empty freeways are pretty status quo in the UAE and it didn't raise any ire on my end.
The drive took about 50 minutes and before long I was being dropped off right in front of the Etihad First class check-in area at Abu Dhabi International. A row of doors set into a white facade with big letters in English saying "FIRST & BUSINESS CLASS" with smaller Arabic letters saying the same above it greeted me and I grabbed my luggage and marched through the doorsA luggage porter called to to me to offer to help with my luggage but I travel light in general and would have felt awful having him take the time to wheel my little bag around. The doors swished open and I was ready for the good times to begin.
But not just yet apparently.
The check-in process definitely didn't start me off in that direction. It reminded me of one of those days where you're walking through Target and see two employees chit chatting and you walk up to them like, "Oh hi there, sorry to bother, but would it be too much trouble for you to help me with something....." only for one of them to exhale loudly, roll their eyes, and reluctantly start helping you all the while shooting a knowing glance back at the other one that says, "LOLZ, this bitch, am I right Ellen!?!"
That's exactly what happened with my check-in experience except instead of Target it was Abu Dhabi International and instead of a middle aged American woman named Ellen it was a young, blond Polish man that I'm going to assume as named Pytor. Despite my interruption of their coffee-klatching time, I had my luggage checked and a boarding pass in hand in around two minutes. With a delicate, dismissive wave of her hand, the agent sent me on my way down a hallway that deposited me into the terminal and almost directly in front of the access point to EY's lounges.
The Etihad staff working the lounge desk were much, much more friendly than their fellows working the check-in, and I was welcomed in with a smile and upon learning that it was my first visit (bless her heart for thinking I'm a regular on Etihad's first class product) an offer to show me around was extended. I declined the tour as I'm much more keen to explore both lounges and new locations on my own and at my own pace. I walked past the desk and found a nicely decorated yet relatively small area within which I'd be relaxing for the next hour or so. After I settled into a seat a gentleman came over with a cold towel and a menu for me to browse.
As I mentioned the lounge itself was nicely appointed but surprisingly small in my very humble opinion. For some reason I was thinking it would be a grand space and yet it was relatively cozy. There was a heavy use of white in the walls and furniture with earthy woods used to bring a slight element of nature into the space.
I had skipped breakfast at the hotel as I had woke up that morning feeling a bit queasy, and unfortunately it hadn't seemed to have subsided by the time I got to the lounge. I debating trying to force myself to eat something, so I cracked open the menu and took a quick look at what was on offer.
I was actually pretty pissed that I wasn't feeling well, because there are quite a lot of items on this menu I'd have loved to sample. Mee goreng?! Get over here and let me make mouth-love to you. Despite my proclivity for making poor dietary choices, reason won the day for once and I declined any offerings for food while in the lounge. I was going to give my tummy a little more rest before our time on the plane. I did ask for some hot tea and a glass of water though.
There did not appear to be any self-service selections available any where in the lounge unlike most other locations I've visited, which may explain why the made-to-order menu was so extensive. This meant that the lounge, despite being fairly full, never felt crowded or busy. In other lounges people are constantly getting up to go get a drink, pick up another egg roll off the hot buffet, or grab some extra ketchup for their sandwich. There's a lot of movement. EY's made-to-order style meant that for the most part people stayed in their seats and all drinks and food were brought to passengers. Less need to get up, less foot traffic around the lounge, and consequently less emotions related to being in a place where there's frenzied activity. You're actually lounging while in the lounge, imagine that.
My water and hot tea were monitored from afar by various staff members and whenever either got down to the 25% full level someone would inevitably come around with a refill to replace the glass. I spent my entire trip trying to hydrate myself and browsing the internet using the wifi on my iPhone. Wifi connection was pretty weak when I first arrived in the lounge but the connection seemed to pick up significantly about 30 minutes before I left.
The only time I did get up during my stay was to hop into the restroom quickly. The bathroom itself was very nice - jewel toned tiles and rose colored marble. Real towels available for drying your hands and an extremely spacious shower area that could accommodate as many occupants as your dirty little heart desires.
It was located inside the Six Senses spa directly behind the lounge agent desks. Many lounges are co-located with spas to help passengers relax, but the previously mentioned queasiness kept me from enjoying any of the offerings.
Soon enough it was time to head down to the plane. Etihad has since opened an immigration pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi which allows customers headed to the United States to be processed through immigration prior to arrival in the US, but that was not active during my trip. Instead I meandered down to my departure gate and went through a very cursory security screening of my luggage before being funneled into the holding area. Pretty much as soon as I picked up my backpack full of junk from the security table they announced that first class passengers were welcome to board the aircraft, so I hurried over to the window to snap a picture of our plane and then headed on to the aircraft.
My first impression of the cabin .....
EY's competitor Emirates has a reputation for being a bit over the top with its glitz and glamour in the first class cabin. It's all shiny and glittery like a disco ball, and personally I find it quite unappealing. EY's first class cabin on the other hand is quite classy and understated.
The varied tones of beige and the dark wood features worked in tandem to create a calm, luxurious setting. The supple leather within the seats and portions of the walls invited your eyes to relax and your body to sink into them. I was very pleased upon taking in the view of the cabin for the first time, it fit my sense of style quite well. I started to make my way down the aisle to my seat when suddenly I saw it - the one decorating mistake Etihad makes within their first class cabin.
It hung at the front of the cabin like the purple butterfly tattoo peaking out from under the waist band of a pair of yoga pants just above the ass of a 34 year old ex-sorority girl. Or the pancake-sized Confederate flag belt buckle on that girl's boyfriend. The most flagrant of eye sores. I understand that this is called your Diamond First Class, but still, why Etihad?! WHY?
With my mouth scrunched up in a befuddled expression, I pushed the decal out of my mind and started to make myself at home and explore the Etihad first class seat.
Etihad calls this product a suite, and it makes sense considering the seat is encased with walls and a sliding door that allows you to hide yourself away from the rest of the cabin at your leisure. The suite-style is available on other carriers but is still not a common product among airlines so it still carriers a bit of uniqueness in that regard, at least for users of American miles.
One of the quirks of modern travel is that you can get just about anywhere in the world in just two flights, and the destination you're headed toward may have very different weather than the one you're leaving. This was the case on this particular trip, as the weather was showing a blustery 42 degrees Fahrenheit for my arrival in New York whereas the early afternoon temps in Abu Dhabi where just beginning to crack 100 degrees. I had dressed for the New York though, and consequently was already burning up in my sweater and trench coat. I ripped both of those off of myself and placed them in the closet located in the compartment on the left hand side of my seat - 1K.
The closet was narrow but sufficient for holding my coat and sweater, or if you are more like EY's more traditional suites class passenger, it will nicely fit a suit coat or suit bag. The hanger attachments are permanently affixed to the bar, but much like some hotels you can remove the lower portion of the hanger with ease.
After I had hung my own coat the flight attendant (FA) that would be helping me throughout the flight made her first appearance. She was a Kenyan named Aluna, and much like the other foreign workers I'd met throughout my trip in the UAE, she worked with a smile but seemed quite distant and detached from the job. She welcomed me aboard, offered to show me the features of the suite, and then asked if I'd like anything to drink prior to departure.
This is about the time most people would rip into their first glass of expensive whisky or champagne, but not this card carrying non-drinker. Instead I requested a cold glass of water to help me replenish myself from all the sweating I'd done in the sweater that morning. She provided the glass immediately and even threw in a cold towel in what I'm assuming as a very polite way of telling me to get a grip and clean my disheveled face.
We were a good ways into boarding the aircraft at this point and I was still the only passenger in first class. I stood up to take another look at the seat and the cabin and really began to admire it. It really does touch on an aesthetic appeal within my inner interior designer. Even the bold black and white pillow provided just the right level of contrast to the complementary colors that bathed the cabin.
I was starting to get the idea that I might be the only passenger in the first class cabin on the flight, but as soon as I snapped another photo of the empty cabin a man and woman boarded the plane and took the adjoined seats in the second row of the cabin.
With an audience now, I became a bit more self-conscious about my photo snapping and I retired back into my suite to explore the seat and features a bit further. I did notice that the FAs had actived the mood lighting above the cabin though, which glowed a vibrant shade of pink.
The soft leather that envelopes the suite's seat is also used on the permanently fixed foot rest as well. It was here that a "wrapped for your hygienic pleasure" blanket was awaiting me. It was full-sized, much like yours truly, not of the smaller size you can often find on some airlines.
Directly above the ottoman was a very large screen for the in-flight entertainment (IFE). It was playing a loop of images welcoming passengers aboard. I can't recall whether programming was available while we were on the ground though.
The little cupboard to the right of the IFE was a mini-bar, chock full of goodies to keep you sated throughout the flight. I know others have reviewed business and first class cabins on various airlines that offer this mini-bar and wondered "why bother" since the ideal would be that FAs take care of these desires for you. To be a bit of a contrarian, I actually appreciate the option. Sometimes you wake up from a groggy nap over Iceland and just want to guzzle some water and nosh on Doritos without having to wake up the entire crew.
Sadly EY's suite's mini-bar had a pretty light selection - sparkling water and some trail mix. Better than a stick in the eye.
Aluna made another appearance and offered me the menus for today's flight as well as a little gift box with a ribbon tied around it.
As tempting as a present is to unwrap, I placed it to the side and continued my exploration of the seat.
While many seats feature a seat back pocket where the in-flight magazine and safety instruction card is stored, EY's suite has a built in magazine folder behind your arm rest.
Aluna makes her third appearance to quickly drop off the headphones for the IFE. While some airlines really go the extra mile with the headphones and provide Bose for use, Etihad opts for a lower quality product. This always puzzles me as it's an easy way to upgrade the quality of the service offered in business or first class. Even podunk American Airlines offers Bose in both business and first class, and that's an airline that serves cardboard pizza to first class passengers.
If you lift the wood panel directly in front of the magazine rack, you'd find an IFE controller as well as a variety of outlet options for your charging pleasure. You'd think that one of my biggest fears as a traveler would involve something like losing my passport, being involved in a plane crash, or to be kidnapped by Somali pirates, but you'd be wrong. All of those things rank below "my cell phone runs out of battery" on my travel panic scale, so needless to say I was happy with the outlet situation.
Set against the arm rest area and easily within reach of any passenger's hand was the seat control remote. While other airlines often have buttons built into the seat or IFE remove to control the seat, EY's suite has a touchscreen remote exclusively for that purpose. Again, not a feature unique to Etihad, but rare enough that it was an interesting feature to this traveler.
The majority of the seat features are along the cabin wall, but on the suite wall there was also a reading light and air nozzle fixture, which is a godsend on a long haul flight as many foreign airlines keep the cabin temperature higher than I prefer. A steady stream of air blowing in my general direction helps keep me sane and dry.
Feeling that I'd full explored the seat, I turned my attention back toward the gift that had been dropped off earlier with the menus. It came with a card from the cabin manager and it notified me of her name and wished me a pleasant flight. Inside the box were an Arabic date and a truffle for my chewing pleasure.
An announcement was made that boarding was complete and ground crew were requested to leave the aircraft. Aluna stopped by my seat again to offer me some Arabic coffee to go along with my date, which I happily accepted. When she dropped off the coffee she encouraged me to give the menu a quick perusal and to think about when I'd like my meal served as food was presented to passengers a la carte and at any time during the flight. No set meal service times, it's truly dining on your leisure.
As we pushed back from the gate the cabin manager stopped by my seat to give me a personal welcome on board and also hand over an amenity kit. While I always appreciate the personal welcome from staff, it really takes a certain type of personality to walk up to people you don't know very well and engage them in conversation that isn't centered around providing set service. Most of the time I end up feeling super awkward talking to people in these settings, and that's saying a lot since generally I do not struggle meeting new people at all. I think it says a lot about how important sincerity is when engaging in this type of customer service activity, and many FAs lack the ability to seem genuine when talking to customers casually and setting them at ease. It's much easier when there's a set script about drink service or seat functions, but much less so when they're asking you about your stay in the UAE or why you're traveling. I suppose it may not be so much that they lack sincerity, but it is probably difficult to be so interested in the interaction when it's done repetitively day in and out.
Sadly this cabin manager definitely had me hoping the conversation would end quickly.
I started the conversation off on the wrong foot though as I started unpacking the amenity kit immediately due to my sheer curiosity, which I think made the CM think I was a bit odd. The amenity kit was to date the nicest kit I've ever received. It was an upholstered leather box, matching the theme of the first suites, and was chock full of your standard amenity kit items - eye shades, ear plugs, etc. The real money portion of this kit were the La Prairie products, which are some of the nicest toiletries I've ever received while traveling across the globe. I was pretty stoked to get these, even if they were tiny samplers. The price these products normally run for is well outside my budget for skin care products!
As soon as the CM had stepped away from my suite Aluna reappeared and offered me some pajamas and slippers. Both were black, which is great in the sleek and slimming sense but awful in the "my dogs are going to get hair all over these damn things" sense for future use. The materials were breathable cotton and seemed like they'd be nice to wear. Later in the flight when I threw on the pajamas I was comfortable with the fit and material but it did make sleeping a bit of a sweaty affair once the seat is converted to a bed and you are no longer able to have the air nozzle sweetly caressing your face, so they're not as breathable as they appear at first blush.
The captain came on the PA and welcome us aboard. He informed us that our flying time was going to be as expected and that we were first in line for take off today at Abu Dhabi International. He said he'd be back on later in the flight to update us if our arrival times were expected to change.
Much like my previous experiences with airlines based in Muslim countries, Etihad plays a Muslim travel prayer on the IFE screens prior to take off. I'm not a religious person at all, but I kinda of like this traditional aspect of the flight. I don't think it has any bearing on the safety of our flight at all, but tradition and ritual are things that I fully support.
Soon enough we were rocketing into the sky over Abu Dhabi and the miles and miles of urbanization faded away into the nothingness of the Arabian desert. I always love gazing out the window during take off. Despite hundreds of take offs and landings, I'm still quite captivated by the beauty and magic of flight. A little spark and some jet fuel is all that you need to have your aerodynamic chariot soar into the sky for you to gaze down on the natural canvas of the Earth. It's never not one of the most amazing things I experience in life.
After a good bit of sky gazing, I turned back toward the cabin and noted that the IFE appeared to be activated.
Aluna swung by my seat and asked me if I had taken a look at the menu yet and made any decisions. Sheepishly I admitted I hadn't gotten around to it and promised to get right on it.
Etihad's beverage selection was first rate. I can't really say much about the alcohol selections as I don't drink, but in terms of non-alcoholic options it was a literal buffet. Though the breadth of options was great, the depth was a bit lacking on some options. A grand total of four pop flavors (Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mirinda, and Ginger Ale) seems a bit odd considering you can get about 12 on your average AA MD80. Still, the options were pretty varied for someone who doesn't want champagne or wine.
The wine list for those who are curious.
I've dropped hints here and there across the blog, so a keen reader would know I'm a bit of a tea aficionado. Not the exacting type that can discuss the delicate acidic content of two types of pu-erh tea, but a general fan that likes to sample various types of tea. So color me surprised that Etihad singles out it's tea selection for passengers by presenting them with a separate menu detailing the tea options.
While it featured all the same teas as those listed on the main beverage menu, it went further by outlining the types of food one might enjoy with certain flavors, like it was a wine pairing. The tea was all Dilmah brand, which is pretty decent in my book. Pre-packaged tea in bags is never going to be knock your socks off amazing, but Dilmah does a good job of providing a good product.
EY's first class dining is a bit unique as all items are served a la carte. Unlike many other airlines, you're not really tied to a set menu where you select the Western or local cuisine option and get presented a meal based on that single selection. You can literally select any item on the menu and it will be provided to you, assuming they still have some of it left. As you can see above, the menu offers a traditional listing of appetizers and entrees to select from. If none of those items sound appealing, you can always make use of EY's on-board chef who will grill up your selection of meat, sauce, and veggies as selected from the options below.
Even if you aren't selecting from the grill options, the on-board chef does make an effort to discuss the menu with you and make suggestions. Our chef on this flight was a Russian man named Dima who upon hearing I had not selected my items for lunch stopped by my suite to see if I'd like any input from him on the best options for today's flight.
The menu featured a "Taste of Arabia" page which essentially consolidated Middle Eastern food offerings from other ares of the menu into one convenient location.
A wide selection of desserts were available as well as alcohol traditionally sipped at the end of a meal.
To cap things off, a "Kitchen Anytime" list was included at the end outlining a variety of snacks one could select during the course of the flight. Overall it was a very comprehensive menu and unlike other travelers on Etihad I've heard about, I had no issues with food running out during the flight. That might be due to the very light load of passengers in first class on our flight though.
I'm not sure if it was the relief of finally being on my way home after a long trip away, or if the Etihad suite was lulling me into a sense of safety, but my stomach finally felt normal and I felt like I could eat an actual meal. Bring me my eatin' dress Aluna, it's time to do some damage! As a proper send off from the Middle East, I selected the Taste of Arabia menu for my lunch.
I placed my order and Dima informed me that he'd get started right away on preparing a meal for me. Aluna dropped off my requested Italian Almond tea, which was delivered with two lumps each of brown and white sugar as well as a truffle. The tea was good though in retrospect I should have saved it for after the meal - it's much too sweet to start a meal. Maybe I should have read that tea menu a little closer?
I started browsing through EY's E-BOX system, which was pretty comprehensive. It didn't carry as many options as I've seen on Emirates or Cathay Pacific, but the content was more than adequate to keep one occupied on many of the long haul routes Etihad operates to connect various points across the globe. It carried a wide selection of current films just out of theater as well as older fare that would appeal to a wider audience. Televisions shows ranging from dramas to comedies were also on tap, most of which featured full seasons. They actually offered a full season of BBC's Dr. Who, and I decided to watch that program for the first time in my life during my meal.
Let's see what all the hype was about - both the TV show and EY's in-flight dining.
Aluna returned to ask me how my tea tasted and to start setting up my table for dinner.
"Oh, the tea is good but I think I'll be switching to something else when I finish."
She smiled and said she thought that might be a good idea and mentioned how sweet the Italian Almond is. The place setting consists of a large white cloth that covers the entire tray table upon which they place a smaller, narrower table runner-esque black and white cloth. Again, the color schemes and design elements of this cabin all are really quite nice. It's almost as if Etihad purposefully saw the over the top nature of Emirates' cabin and decided to run as far as they could in the opposite direction - and I love it. Everything is of quality but understated.
I quickly finished up my tea and requested a Diet Pepsi (the champagne of soda, really) to accompany my meal. Aluna returned with it after a few minutes along with additional table settings for my tray. She put down my glass of Diet Pepsi along with some water, a full-sized cloth napkin with silverware, a bread plate, French butter, and a condiment rack featuring salt, pepper, and extra virgin olive oil. She also put down a small bread basket for me along with a quartet of amuse bouche that were not listed on the menu. There was a marinated eggplant strip wrapped around cream cheese which was really the only memorable item on the tray. The other three items were either poorly prepared or too sophisticated for me to appreciate, and being honest I'm going to bet it was the last of those two options.
Seeing that I wasn't too keen on the amuse bouche, the tray was quickly removed and replaced with the Arabic mezze appetizer I had ordered. American Airlines has recently started offering a similar dish on some of their long haul flights that has disappointed many travelers, but a Middle Eastern carrier should be doing it right and indeed this was a tasty starter. With small samplings of tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed pastries, along with other tidbits, I was perfectly content to mindlessly stuff my face while trying to figure out how Dr. Who was indeed capturing my interest despite having the special effects budget of a 4th grade science fair project.
Next up was the spinach and green lentil soup, which interestingly was quite black/brown despite having such green ingredients. It looks pretty nasty when it was dropped off but I'm a big fan of giving everything a chance, so I popped a spoonful into my mouth and was quite happy with the flavor. A level of chunky grittiness from the lentil permeated the soup and the blended spinach helped add an earthy punch to the palette. Despite advertising labneh (yogurt) the soup didn't come with any, which was disappointed as the tartness it would have brought would have been just the thing to take the soup from great to phenomenal.
Once my soup and mezze plates were taken away, a lychee sorbet was dropped off as a palette cleanser. I fully understand the purpose of the sorbet, but I'm not particularly sophisticated so in my mind I'm always like, "HEYYYYYYY FIRST DESSERT."
Almost everything had been delicious so far, so I had high hopes for the entree. I had stuck to the Middle Eastern courses and often that bodes well as it was being catered out of the hub airport in Abu Dhabi.
I was sorely mistaken though.
What a disappointing mess this dish was. The chicken was dry and stuck to your teeth, like chewing a clump of peanut butter with sand mixed in. Being Japanese I'm very picky about my rice, I can say with full conviction that the rice was so overcooked it almost qualified as a hate crime when they served it to me. When stray pieces of rice are rattling around the plate sounding like the beginning of an intense game of Yahtzee, it's game over son. Womp womp.
Etihad did redeem themselves a bit with the dessert offering. Keeping with the Middle Eastern theme, I was brought the honey nut cake with pomegranate syrup. It's difficult to see but this was an A+ offering - warm, gooey, sweet. Everything you want and more in a dessert.
With the meal wrapped up, I hopped into the lavatory quickly to change into my pajamas so I could rest up a bit before our arrival into New York. The flight is schedule for a little over 14 hours, arriving in the late afternoon. If I could manage to sleep for a good chunk of it I would arrive in the US already beating some serious jet lag, and considering I head immediately back to work when I finish a vacation being adjusted is a good thing.
I passed Aluna as I headed to the lavatory (located directly in front of my seat) and she asked if I'd like my seat turned into a bed. I was hoping since no one was using the suite across the aisle from me I could set up shop there for sleeping and use my original seat for lounging, but Aluna wasn't up for my shenanigans and said I had use of just my booked suite. No big deal I thought, and asked her to please make up the suite for sleeping before hopping into the lav.
Stepping into EY's first class lavatory was like walking into a German sex dungeon - everything is dark and dank and there's a good chance you're going to accidentally pee on yourself. Even with the lights full turned on I found myself straining to keep my footing. God forbid there be any turbulence, that would be game over. Note to Etihad - add a lamp or something to your bathroom.
While it's not the biggest bathroom in the sky, it's sufficient space for passengers to take care of business with a smidgen of comfort. The lateral space available was the real key here, as it allowed me to comfortably change out of my remaining street clothes and into my pajamas with minimal bumping of the walls.
The sink was motion activated and featured a push feature that allowed the user to control the temperature of the water, so you can have hot water for sanitation but cooler water for shaving. Paper towels were no where to be seen but a platter of cloth towels was placed on the counter next to the hand soap, lotion, and hand sanitizer.
In addition to the standard mirror, the lavatory featured a magnifying vanity mirror on the wall - ideal for a business man to use for shaving prior to arrival or a business woman to add some finishing touches of make up. Being neither of those things, I just spent ten minutes looking at how big my pores were before heading back to my seat to see it had been converted into a very comfortable looking bed.
Apparently the blanket and pillow provided to you when you board the plane are only for use while lounging, as the bed set-up used entirely new linens and pillows.
Aluna did leave the comforter folded at the foot of my bed (foot rest) though. I climbed into bed and took it for a test run. It was quite comfortable at first, but eventually I decided that the seat was a bit firmer than I would ideally like while traveling. It caused me to toss and turn a bit while trying to fall asleep. The bedding served as a mini-sleeping bag, wrapping you as a blanket on the top but an additional layer of padding below you. Overall it wasn't my favorite bed in the sky, but it's still light years ahead of trying to sleep in economy class.
Thinking I'd soon be able to fall asleep, I tested out the privacy feature of the suites and closed the doors. It took me a good ten minutes to figure out how to actually close them though. It's not very intuitive, in my very humble opinion, though it's easy enough to ask an FA for assistance and save yourself some time. I, on the other hand, have way too much pride and leaned up against the suite's walls pretending to be stretching whenever an FA walked by while I was trying to solve the mystery of the sliding doors vs. just asking since I'm generally an idiot about these types of things.
Despite all the peace and quiet afforded me by the empty cabin and the more than spacious area to lay down and relax, I simply couldn't sleep. I ended up lounging about in my suite watching the latest James Bond flick for a bit before I finally dozed off.
As best I can tell I fell asleep somewhere near Israel and woke up over the Atlantic, so that's a solid 5-6 hours of sleep right there.
I felt like I could sleep more but was feeling a bit peckish. I decided to have a bit of a snack before attempting to sleep again, so I hit the call button on my IFE remote. I forgot that I had closed the doors on my suite, so that led to some awkward moments where the FA couldn't decide if I needed help with something or had simply rolled over in my sleep and hit the button on accident. She ended up very quietly knocking on the door which I quickly opened and apologized for not remembering to open.
I requested the Etihad steak sandwich and was told I had made a good choice and it would be ready in about 10 minutes. Counter intuitively I also ordered a cup of coffee for some reason, just to make it that much harder to stick to my plan of adjusting to the jet lag on this flight.
A few airlines actually offer steak sandwiches as mid-flight snacks on their long haul routes, and Etihad offers a pretty solid take on this classic dish. Qantas still offers what I consider to be the best steak sandwich in the sky, but Dima's sandwich was warm and crunchy in just the right amounts. I'm a big fan of having comfort foods as mid-flight meal offerings, and there's little else in the world more comforting to me than a properly grilled sandwich with caramelized onion jam and herby arugala hanging over the sides.
Aluna brought over a small dish of vanilla ice cream after clearing my plates on the off chance I was interested in something sweet, and how am I to decline such gracious hospitality?
Despite my best efforts to sabotege my own jet lag cure with that cup of coffee, I was still able to fall right back into slumberland after I polished off the ice cream. I snoozed until we were entering US airspace and were about an hour and a half from landing.
I hopped back into the lavatory to change back into my normal clothes, excited to back home but still a little disappointed to leave another travel adventure behind, both the countries I had visited and the lovely experience here on board.
I figured I should have a little something to eat prior to landing, as I would be heading to my standard transit hotel when I stay overnight at JFK - the LaQuinta. As I'm sure you can imagine, the hotel offers no food at all and I'm not the biggest fan of the dining establishments in the immediate vicinity of the hotel.
Again my tray table was set for dining, this time the smaller table runner-sized accent cloth was white with black lines, which gave a nice contrast to the earlier setting and physically shows a transition from the service at the start of the flight with the end.
I started the process of waking up with a cup of English Breakfast tea and a platter of Arabic baklava. It was afternoon in New York already, but I was still in breakfast mode. The baklava was a nice alternative to pastries with my tea.
I wasn't too hungry but still wanted something of substance, so I had ordered the creamy turkey and mushroom pie. Stuffed with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, it was almost like an eggless Thanksgiving quiche. The crust was flaky and the mashed potato filling was as creamy as promised. Much better than the truly awful chicken entree I had at the start of the flight.
Soon enough we were starting our descent into JFK. My table was cleared, my bedding removed, and I was asked to prepare for landing. Usually at this point the FAs or cabin manager thank you for flying with them, but that didn't happen. I was left to my own devices, trying desperately to get a view of New York City as we landed, but the weather was extremely overcast so it was literally clouds and fog until we were wheels down.
Our taxi to the terminal was quick and soon enough they were opening the doors to herd us into the immigration queues. Neither Aluna or Dima came out of the forward galley where they'd sat during our descent upon arriving at the gate, so the business class flight attendants held back the business class folks as myself and the two other first class passengers deplaned and headed into the terminal to fight for our place in line. This Etihad flight arrives around the same time as a lot of other international flights, so the queues at US immigration and customs were quite bad, especially for foreigners. The lines for US citizens were much shorter, though I still ended up waiting for about 45 minute to get through. I can imagine wait times of over two hours for foreign visitors though.
I don't regret spending my 90K miles on this experience, though in the end I felt like it was a bit overhyped. The interior is beautifully appointed and the privacy afforded from the enclosed suite is a huge bonus for those who enjoy a bit of solitude even when 35,000 feet in the air. On the other hand the service always seemed distant and robotic from both Aluna and Dima, though I can't say they didn't do an effective job of taking care of me. I'm not sure "effective" is the adjective one wants to walk away with when discussing a premium experience though. Catering was on point except when it wasn't, and that miss was quite catastrophic. I still talk to my therapist about that chicken dish and what it did to me.
If you have 90K to burn and then some in the mileage bank, I say go for it - EY's first class suites (and their even more luxurious Apartments now flying on the A380) are a great way to get from North America to just about any other corner of the globe. If you're mileage account isn't overflowing with miles to burn though, I'd recommend giving this a pass. You're better off leveraging those miles for trips in economy to Europe or a first class award on Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines which have less private seats but much better service and catering.
But then again, keep in mind that I took but ONE flight with Etihad. There's a huge likelihood that the service and catering I experience will not mirror the one I had in my sample size of one. There are certainly others who have experience with this product and give it rave reviews, and those are just as valid as the experience I had. If it appeals to you, give it a shot for yourself.