A business-class upgrade on Etihad Airways meant our reviewer could stretch out on the first leg of a flight home from Australia, flying Sydney to Abu Dhabi
Australia’s a long way to travel to do business. But, with a language in common, along with a similar cultural, legal and regulatory infrastructure – not to mention average annual growth of 3.3 per cent over the the past two decades – it’s partly why UK exports to the country have grown nearly 80 per cent since 2007, totalling almost £11bn in 2012.
And yet, as anyone who’s travelled to Australia will testify, the journey’s the hard part. Wishing to make the most of my 25 days Down Under I chose to fly direct both ways, with brief stopovers in Abu Dhabi to change planes.
Although I had no complaints with my outbound economy-class Etihad flights, the thought of repeating the long journey home filled me with sheer dread. Arriving at Sydney airport three hours before my flight I enquired about upgrading to business class.
My original flight was booked through a travel agent with Virgin Australia but operated as a codeshare by Etihad. (There’s no option to check in online or print boarding passes with either airline on the London-Sydney via Abu Dhabi route.)
Founded in 2003, Etihad’s the second- largest carrier of the UAE after fast-growing rival Emirates and owns 21.2 per cent of Virgin Australia. On this route it offers three levels of service – Diamond First, Pearl Business and Coral Economy.
Etihad Airways: Check-in and lounges
The Etihad enquiries clerk at Sydney confirmed there was space available in business class on the 14-hour leg to the UAE capital and that the upgrade cost A$1,348 (£750) each.
Thankfully, a fast-track card saw us swiftly through security and passport control. Disappointingly at the time of review Etihad had no lounge at Sydney but one opens this month. Fifty minutes before the scheduled departure, staff at the gate called for passengers needing assistance or travelling with young children to board first.
Only after a business-class passenger approached the clerk did the airline announce boarding for business and first-class passengers. We were held on the jet bridge for seven minutes while cleaning staff carrying vacuum cleaners disembarked.
Arriving at Abu Dhabi shortly after 5am for the three-hour transit stopover, I was also disappointed to be refused admission to Etihad’s business-class lounge on account of my onward journey being in economy. At Heathrow I waited 20 minutes at the luggage carousel, partly because my bag – which was checked through from Sydney to London – didn’t have a business-class priority tag. 5/10
The 40 business-class seats on Etihad’s B777-300 (three class) are split into two cabins of three and seven rows separated by a galley. Seats are laid out in a 1-2-1 (C, D, G and H) configuration, so every business-class passenger has aisle access. Privacy is key in the shell-like design of the seats with wrap-around wings at head level.
I was assigned Seat 8D, a comfortable bulkhead seat angled towards the centre of the plane. The seat was 21in wide, boasted a generous 82in seat pitch and extended to a comfy, 6ft 1in flat bed, while the seat cushion was finished in chocolate and cream stripes with caramel leather headrests and armrests. A shin-high plastic vanity screen separated me from my neighbour and could be raised for modesty.
I may have had an overhead bin to myself, but the at-seat storage was oddly lacking; a water bottle holder and magazine rack – but nowhere to store an iPad or iPhone. With my shoes placed on the floor in front of me, a cushioned alcove doubled as a footrest when the seat was in the 180-degree lie-flat position. 8/10
Male crew wear dark grey suits while female members are dressed in elegant, light grey jackets and skirts complemented with stylish cream veils. All were impeccably turned out. I couldn’t fault the attentive but friendly service. As the captain in the flight deck welcomed us on board, I was handed a hot towel served on a bamboo tray and asked if I wished to be woken for breakfast two-and-a-half hours before landing. 10/10
Facilities and entertainment
The 15.4in screen offered on-demand Hollywood and foreign-language movies, TV dramas and – most impressively – eight live television channels, including BBC World and CNBC throughout the flight. I imagine the Sport 24 channel, with extensive live and recorded Premier League games, will sidetrack many hard-working directors. On-board WiFi, text messaging and calls are also offered. The quilted blanket and large pillow helped me achieve a good night’s sleep, while the amenity kit bag, created by social enterprise Sougha and patterned in Emirati “Sadou” design, boasted products which included Korres shea butter lip balm and flight socks. 9/10
Food and drink
Within two minutes of boarding, I was offered a drink – I opted for a glass of Lanson Black Label Brut NV champagne and shortly after take off a pre-ordered glass of iced water and warm mixed nuts served in a china bowl.
From the impressive à la carte menu I selected a beautifully presented tower of smoked Baltic salmon with grilled Mediterranean vegetable salad starter, followed by the roasted chicken breast with grilled potato, broccolini, button squash and mushroom sauce – all served on square china plates with a cotton tablecloth laid. I passed on the country-style bread, cheese course and dessert, but the choice looked excellent and my partner indulged approvingly.
There were three white- wine choices, in addition to the champagne, and three red wines, plus a full menu of spirits, liqueurs and beers.
At breakfast I enjoyed egg soufflé with rosti potatoes, ratatouille and chicken sausage – again passing on the cereals, breads, yoghurt and smoothies served and not needing the ‘snacks on request’ service. 8/10
Excellent on-board service was let down by Etihad’s rules on admittance to the Abu Dhabi business-class lounge (pre-Sydney opening) and not assigning priority labels to passengers who split flights between economy and business. 40/50
Etihad flies daily between Sydney and Abu Dhabi departing at 2.50pm and 9.50pm, with business-class fares starting at A$4,789