In June, Etihad commenced service of their A380 to Melbourne and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try the product. This also coincided with the opening of their heavily delayed new first class lounge in Abu Dhabi so I’d get to try that too.
Etihad provides a chauffeur service for their business and first class passengers. We were picked up in a timely manner from our hotel in a spacious Audi and driven to the airport. Water and refreshing wipes were provided in the car. The drive to the airport was quick, smooth, and hassle-free.
We were met curbside at the first class check-in area by porters who took our bags and directed us to a check-in agent.
Our luggage tags and boarding passes were printed and we proceeded through the dedicated immigration channel which leads to security.
Right in front of security is the entrance to the new first class lounge (Hermes is strategically located right next to it). It had been open for less than a week at the time of my visit and still had that new lounge smell about it. A short walk through a corridor leads you to the first lounge attendant who scans your boarding pass and directs you upstairs to where the lounge is located, via a lift.
The lounge was very quiet with maybe only 5 or 6 other guests. I immediately dropped my luggage at the storage area and made a quick stop at the Hermes store just beside the lounge. They had a black Picotin 22 which I was tempted to get. That would have increased the total Hermes bags I was travelling with to 4.
Back in the lounge, we had a couple of drinks at the bar.
And then opted to have the 5-course Emirates Palace degustation menu. As nice as it was, in hindsight I would have opted for several of the many choices from the a-la-carte menu instead. At this point the lounge started to fill up, presumably due to all the evening departures.
Even though I was already quite full after the 5 courses, one of the lounge staff suggested I try the strawberry mousse cake. A good recommendation because it was absolutely delicious.
View from our table
I forgot to book an appointment for the complimentary 15 minute massage offered to first class passengers but they managed to fit me in at the last minute. The massage was good enough for a complimentary offering.
In addition to the large dining areas, the lounge has a cigar room, prayer room, TV room, 2 bar areas and also a fitness centre although they don’t offer any workout apparel like the Fairmont does for their President’s Club members.
There is also a separate area for passengers of The Residence, a small buffet dining section at the back as well as a dedicated children’s play area. There are also a couple of private rooms that can be requested on a first come first served basis. Guys can also get a shave or haircut at Style & Shave and there are several well-appointed showers, too.
Service was impeccable at all times, even when it got busier a little bit later. This was helped by the fact that cabin crew were seconded to the lounge during the opening week in order to ensure a smooth launch. One of my favourite areas was the relaxation zone. I really liked the lighting athough it’s a very open plan concept, there is no privacy between you and the person seated next to you.
Before we knew it, it was time to board. It was quite a walk to the gate as ours was at the very end of Terminal 3. Etihad could improve their ground experience by offering a buggy to their first class passengers who are departing from gates situated far from the lounge. That said, I didn’t mind the walk considering how much food I had just consumed, and it gave me the chance to use up my remaining small change to pick up a souvenir magnet.
There was another random security check at the gate and the staff were quite heavy handed with my carry on. I was worried that the bags I had neatly packed would be damaged as they made me open my carry on, ruffled though it then hastily closed it to keep the queue moving. They were very unprofessional in my opinion.
Boarding was also a shoddy affair. No announcement for first class was made and no signage for first class was visible, only for business class. It turned out that first class passengers could board at any time but this wasn’t announced or communicated and the entrance to the jetbridge didn’t look like it was open despite the fact that when I approached the gate agent she let me through. The whole gate situation was very poorly organized.
We were met at the door and were directed to our adjoining apartments, 3K and 4K. A delay of one hour was announced but I didn’t mind.
Cabin crew offered drinks, snacks, Arabic coffee and dates. There were only two other passengers on board, an elderly Australian couple travelling in 3A and 4A so the ambience was lovely. We were also offered pyjamas and slippers.
The crew then introduced me to the facilities. I’ll let pictures do most of the talking starting with the personal cloak storage area.
To its right is the mirror with amenity kit.
Under the mirror you will find a personal mini bar
And there is also personal storage for carry ons to the right under the television. You can even take a shower if you like. Toiletries and towels will be provided.
Etihad has a chef on board all of their medium and long haul first class flights. The chef is really just a member of the cabin crew with slightly more sommelier and culinary experience but is happy to go out of their way to make you something that isn’t on the menu. After boarding, the chef comes around to ask you for your meal preferences, provide recommendations and enquire about any dietary restrictions as well as the times you would like to dine. Etihad has a dine-on-demand concept in business and first class so you can eat what you want, when you want. The food was all very good although just about every other first class product serves caviar whereas Etihad choose not to, so this is an area where they could improve. I do have to praise Etihad for offering a palate cleanser as nearly all other airlines do not as part of their first class product. The chef on this flight was lovely. She was an Indonesian lady by the name of Fera.
I set out to explore the rest of the first class cabin.
I was so thankful to have so much space in the apartments as I had to hand-carry 3 bags. The luxury of having over 70 square feet meant I could take my bags out to “breathe” instead of leaving them stuffed in my hand luggage for 14 hours. The seat is very comfortable although it doesn’t recline a huge amount but then again there is a separate bed I can lay on.
We had dinner/breakfast. The crew made the beds after dinner.
There is a privacy divider in the middle that can be lowered if you’re travelling with a companion but it doesn’t run the full length of the bed.
There is also a small ‘lounge’ situated in the area just behind the first class cabin and in front of the business class cabin where premium cabin passengers can mingle but I didn’t see anyone. The TV can be rotated 90 degrees to face you whilst lying on the bed.
I woke up feeling peckish so I requested for cheese and fries (weird combination I know). It was too dark to take a picture and I didn’t want to wake my neighbor up with a flash (you can kind of see the plate in the picture above on the right). The bed was comfortable. I slept well and had a good rest. Breakfast/Dinner was served prior to landing. The cabin crew unmade the bed so we could dine opposite each other. I like the concept of being able to dine opposite someone rather than facing the television screen. Having said that, I was looking over his head at the screen most of the time so I could finish the movie before the IFE was switched off upon landing.
It was a wonderful experience and the 14 hours flew by (no pun intended). In Melbourne our bags took about 40 minutes to come out so it seems Etihad didn’t handle them correctly in Abu Dhabi as the other first class couple’s came out immediately and most of the economy bags had come out by the time ours did. We were met at arrivals by our Etihad chauffeur and driven into the CBD to our hotel.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for my post on the Melbourne trip!