Today (February 18, 2015): Flight Review: Etihad Airways Business Class in Airbus A330 from Brussels (Belgium) to Male (Maldives) via Abud Dhabi (UAE).
On February 1st 2015, I flew Business Class on Etihad Airways from Brussels (Belgium) to Male (Maldives) via a stopover in Etihad’s hub in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates). Both flight legs were operated by an Airbus A330-200. As of today, Etihad has 26 A330-200’s in its fleet, mainly used for medium-range flights to secondary European cities and Asian getaways. Excellent seats (in a staggered layout), a good entertainment selection, and delicious food makes flying Etihad’s A330 Business Class (dubbed ‘Pearl Business’) a comfortable journey. The Business Class product on all of Etihad’s wide-body aircraft (Airbus A330, Airbus A340, Boeing 777) is identical to the one described in this trip report, although Etihad’s new planes (Airbus A380 and Dreamliner) are delivered with an updated, ultraluxurious Business Class (click here to read my trip report onboard an Etihad Airways A380 in First Class from London to Abu Dhabi).
Etihad Airways features in my top 10 lists of the best airlines for longhaul Business Class, the most luxurious First Class suites in the sky, the world’s best airline lounges, and the most delicious airline food.
(1) FLIGHT FROM BRUSSELS TO ABU DHABI:
- Trip: BRU-AUH
- Date: February 1, 2015
- Airline: Etihad Airways
- Aircraft type: Airbus A330-200
- Flight Number: EY56
- On time departure: yes (9.35 pm)
- On time arrival: yes (6.43 am; +1 day)
- Miles: 3214
- Flight time: 06:07
- Seat: 7K
- Class: Business
(2) FLIGHT FROM ABU DHABI TO THE MALDIVES
- Trip: AUH-MLE
- Date: February 2, 2015
- Airline: Etihad Airways
- Aircraft type: Airbus A330-200
- Flight Number: EY278
- On time departure: yes (9.42 am)
- On time arrival: yes (2.27 pm)
- Miles: 1876
- Flight time: 03:45
- Seat: 7K
- Class: Business
In this review (more information below my Youtube clip and slideshow):
- Etihad Business Class Lounges in Brussels and Abu Dhabi
- Business Class Cabin
- Business Class Seat (+ best & worst seats in the plane)
- Other experiences (crew, crew uniform, lavatory, flight path, views, chauffeur service)
- Comparison with other Middle Eastern carriers (Emirates, Qatar Airways)
- My verdict
1. ETIHAD BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGES AT BRUSSELS AND ABU DHABI
Etihad does not have its own lounge at Brussels International Airport, the departure point of my journey. Etihad’s Business Class passengers have access to the Star Alliance Lounge at pier B, managed by Brussels Airlines. Although this is Brussels Airlines’ flagship lounge, it is nothing to write home about. The lounge is too small but it does offer basic amenities: WiFi, business centre, complimentary magazines and newspapers, and restrooms. There’s only a very limited number of food items on display: some snacks (cheese & chips) and small, tasteless sandwiches. The contrast with Etihad’s impressive Premium Lounge at Abu Dhabi (see below) could hardly be more extreme.
Etihad’s new and spacious Premium Lounge at Abu Dhabi International Airport is located at Terminal 3, close to gate 35. When you walk into the facility, you will be welcomed by the friendly staff in a white, chic decor that you would expect in a boutique hotel rather than an airport lounge. After checking into the lounge, my first stop was the Six Senses Spa to add myself to the waiting list for a treatment before the next flight (lounge guests are entitled to complimentary, 15 minute spa treatments). Overall, I was impressed by the wealth of services and facilities on offer in the lounge, which includes shower rooms, champagne bar, cigar lounge, children’s play area staffed with qualified nannies, work and relaxation areas. It was morning time when I was in the lounge and there was several food stations displaying a huge breakfast buffet including a wide variety of meats, cheeses, pastries, fruits, and hot items. The food was nicely presented and replenished frequently. Truly an exceptional lounge!
2. THE BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
In Etihad’s A330-200, the 22 Business Class seats are located in one cabin in front of the plane, behind the cockpit and in front of a galley and restrooms for Economy Class passengers. The layout of the seats is staggered (1-2-1), which means that all seats face forward and that every passenger has access to the aisle without having to clamber over anybody else , even when all seats are reclined. Note that this seating pattern means that middle pairs and window seats have a few inches more length in bed mode than their aisle compatriots. For a seating plan of the Etihad’s A330-200, click here.
The Business Class cabin was full on both flights (from Brussels to Abu Dhabi, and from Abu Dhabi to Male).
3. THE BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
The Pearl Business Class seat has a generous pitch of 72 inches (183 cm). The seat width is 19.1 inches (48,5 cm), which can feel a little narrow for larger passengers. Each seat comes with plenty of storage space, an in-seat power supply (so you can use your laptop for the duration of the flight), and a large table to dine or work. The seat can be reclined into a fully and very comfortable – albeit narrow – flatbed of 6 feet one (186 cm), including the footrest. Unfortunately, no duvet was provided to enhance sleeping comfort on these medium-haul flights; Etihad only provides turndown service (including a mattress, cotton loungewear and slippers) on longer flights. For your information: Etihad’s Middle East competitors Emirates and Qatar Airways do offer turn down service on both medium- and long-haul flights.
What are the best seats on Etihad’s A330-200?
- The window seats in row 7 (7A and 7K) are furthest away from sources of noise and disturbance like the galley kitchens and lavatories. They’re also the longer version of the seats if you’re taller.
- The other four window seats (9A, 9K, 5A, 5K) in the cabin are a good bet if you can’t get the ones in row 7.
- While the middle pairs in row 7 (7E and 7F) are a little close to each other if you don’t know the person you’re travelling with really well, the extra length is a bonus, as with all middle seats.
What are the worst seats on Etihad’s A330-200?
- Right next to the lavatory, seat 5K this is one of the noisiest spots on the plane. Avoid it if you can.
- Many passengers dislike seats 10E and 10F because they’re all on their lonesome at the back of the cabin, right in front of the space where economy passengers congregate to use the lavatories immediately behind.
Each seat comes with an extremely comfortable blanket (my favorite airline blanket in the skies!), a decently sized pillow, and a noise cancelling headphone.
Before take-off, an amenity kit was offered to all Business Class passengers (only during the Brussels to Abu dhabi flight). The amenity kit was presented as small bag, its modern design and colorful tapestry reflecting a tribute to the rich heritage and artistry of the Emirati people. The bag contained a range of designer skin products including hand lotion and lip balm as well as essentials like socks, eyeshades, earplugs and dental kit.
Unfortunately, pyjamas are not offered on Etihad’s medium-haul flights. Of the 3 major Middle Eastern airlines (Qatar, Emirates, Etihad), Qatar is the only one to offer pyjamas on medium-haul flights.
Upon boarding in Brussels, I was offered the choice between a glass of water, orange juice or Champagn. I also received a refreshing hot towel with a nice texture. It took a long time before the plane degated (because the wings needed to be deiced), so I had plenty of time to go through the menu.
Soon after take off from Brussels, dinner was served. As as starter, I choose the Arabic mezze, a selection of Middle Eastern hot and cold appetizers, followed by a mushroom soup. As main course , I choose the poached cod, prawns and grilled scallops, potato stomp, mushroom, aspergus and dill cream sauce. It was delicious but there was no trace of the cod on my platter, which was kind of odd. As a dessert, I choose the lemon tart with crème anglaise. Overall, food was excellent, despite the missing cod.
About 60 minutes before landing in Abu Dhabi, I requested a light breakfast: passionfruit smoothie, yoghurt with granola and stewed apple.
On the second flight from Abu Dhabi to Male, a brunch was served shortly after take-off. I choose the seasonal fresh fruit as a starter, followed by the Arabic breakfast, which comprised lamb kofta, scrambled eggs, chickpea’s, roasted tomato, zataar, onion, and potato cubes. It all tasted very well.
Each Pearl Business Class Seat is equipped with a personal 15 inch (38 cm) LCD screen with plug and play feature that allows passengers to upload their own games and create personalised music playlists. In-flight telephony and WiFi is also available on newer aircraft. Etihad offers more than 750 hours of on-demand entertainment (so-called E-box) with a wide selection of films, tv shows, live tv channels, audio programmes and CDs. Passengers can create their own personal entertainment programme, or pass the time with 28 games – all operated by Etihad’s innovative touch-screen technology.
7. OTHER INFLIGHT & GROUND EXPERIENCES
#CREW: Etihad’ cabin crew is famous for the delivered onboard service and this was no different on this flight. Crew was professional and friendly (addressing me by name, presenting themselves individually before take-off). All requests were dealt with promptly and cordially.
#CREW UNIFORM: the crew was wearing the new and very stylish uniforms by Italian designer Ettore Bilotta, which were introduced last month in celebration for delivery of Etihad’s new A380 and B787 aircraft. The chocolate-brown, purple and orange colours are part of the “reimagined” Etihad which is headed by Australian James Hogan.
#LAVATORY: the 2 lavatories for Business Class passengers are located in front of the plane (behind the cockpit). Both lavatories were kept very clean during the flight.
#FLIGHT PATH: normally, the flight path from Brussels to Abu Dhabi goes straight over Syria and Iraq, but the plane detoured around the current ISIS conflict area by flying over eastern Iran.
#VIEWS: before landing at Male International Aiport, we were given some spectacular aerial views of paradise and its deep blue atolls. Other views during the flight included scenery from the Arab Peninsula.
#CHAUFFEUR SERVICE: one of the great things about flying Business (or First) class with Etihad is the complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers. Chauffeur-drive must be requested online, up to 24 hours prior to your flight. It is so nice to be picked up at your hotel and to be whisked away to the airport in a minimum of time.
8. COMPARISON WITH OTHER MIDDLE EASTERN CARRIERS
The 3 major Middle Eastern carriers (Etihad airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways) are known for their excellent Business Class. However, there are some differences that distinguish one from another (click here for more info):
- Chauffeur service: both Etihad and Emirates offer complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers, while this is not the case with Qatar Airways. A huge plus for Emirates and Etihad!
- Pyjamas: Qatar Airways offers pyjamas on overnight medium- and long-haul flights, while Etihad and Emirates only offer them in First Class.
- Duvets: Qatar Airways and Emirates offer duvets on medium-haul flights (to increase sleeping comfort), while Etihad only offers them on longhaul flights.
- Fleet-wide consistency: Etihad offers a consistent Business Class product across it wide-body fleet (with the exception of its superior Dreamliner B787 & Airbus A380 products, which were recently introduced), while Emirates and Qatar offer a more variable Business Class product across their wide-body fleets.
- Cabin interior & design: Etihad’s Airbus A380s & Dreamliner B787s feature an extremely elegant decor in their Business Class cabins (it doesn’t get any better at 30.000 feet), while Qatar’s A380, B787 and A350 cabins are very sexy with a red/white theme. Emirates features rather bombastic interiors, with lots of walnut veneer, gold trim and pearlised plastic, which is not to my liking.
- Cabin layout & seats: the best wide-body Business Class layout & seats are (in order from excellent to mediocre): (1) Etihad B787/A380; (2) Qatar B787/A350/A380; (3) Emirates A380; (4) Etihad A330/B777; (5) Qatar B777; (6) Emirates B777; (7) Qatar A330. So bottom line is to take the aircraft type into account when booking a flight on one of the 3 Middle Eastern carriers.
- Flat beds: Etihad Airways is the only carrier to offer flat beds (with 180 degree recline) across its wide body fleet. Contrary to their A380s, Emirates’ B777s have angled lie flat-beds (although they are still comfortable). Qatar Airways is currently replacing the (very uncomfortable) angled lie flat-beds on its Airbus A330 fleet by true lie-flat seats (after which the whole Qatar fleet will offer flat beds).
- Food: meals are delicious on all 3 carriers, but my best gastronomic experiences (so far) were always on Qatar Airways, followed by Etihad, and then Emirates.
- Number of meal services: on longhaul flights, all 3 carriers offer 2 meal services (one after takeoff, and one 90 minutes before landing). On medium-haul flights though, Etihad and Emirates only offer one meal; Qatar Airways used to offer a second light meal before landing but now seems to have skipped that as well. So there’s no difference here.
- Inflight entertainment: Emirates is the winner when it comes to the inflight entertainment product, with large screens and an extensive range of films, television shows, and audio options (but Etihad and Qatar offer plenty of choices as well).
- WiFi: onboard WiFi is offered by all 3 Middle Eastern carriers, but with a different price tag: Emirates offers the cheapest WiFi, while Qatar’s WiFi is just way too expensive, with Etihad somewhere in between.
- Amenity kit: Emirates has by the far the best amenity kit of the 3 airlines, with Etihad offering the least impressive Business Class amenity kit. Unfortunately, Emirates only offers them on longhaul flights, while Etihad and Qatar Airways offer amenity kits on both medium- and longhaul flights.
- Onboard bar: an onboard bar, exclusively accessible for passengers flying the premium cabins, is only present on the Airbus A380 aircrafts, which are now operated by all 3 carriers. But your chances of flying an Airbus A380, and thus socializing with other passengers in a fantastic onboard bar, are highest with Emirates, which has no less than 60 of these megaplanes in its fleet (Qatar Airways and Etihad own only 4 and 2 Airbus A380s respectively).
Read here our review of Emirates’ Business Class in a Boeing 777-300ER.
Read here our review of Qatar Airways’ Business Class in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Read here our review of Qatar Airways’ Business Class in a Boeing 777-300ER.
9. MY VERDICT
- Seat : 8/10
- Food: 8/10
- Inflight entertainment : 9/10
- Amenity kit: 7/10
- Service: 9/10
- Cabin atmosphere: 8/10
- Overall experience: very good: 8.2/10