My Etihad Airways Diamond First Class Experience: The Good, The Neutral, and The Ugly

As I blogged about yesterday, I’m currently in Dubai and got here in Etihad Airways first class, having flown from New York to Abu Dhabi in Diamond First.

While I’ll have a full trip report in a few weeks, I figured I’d share a few quick observations for now. Let’s keep in mind that all of these observations are made within the realm of comparing international first class products, so all negative observations should be be tagged as #FirstWorldProblems. I’ve flown over a hundred segments in international first class, so it’s the little things that set airlines apart, and that’s why I focus on the details. Let’s break the experience down into four parts — the seat, entertainment, food, and service.

To make the post slightly more enjoyable, here’s Etihad’s boarding music, which I quite like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ph7HSepAVfo

The Seat

Amazing. Quite possibly the best first class seat in the sky. The seats are fully enclosed with sliding doors, and I really like the color scheme. There’s plenty of personal space and the seat has sufficient storage. I got over eight hours of sleep, which is probably a first for me on an airplane.

The Entertainment

Amazing. The entertainment system had as much selection as just about any other system I’ve seen.

The Food

Disappointing. The flight left New York at 10:45PM. While that’s a late night departure, I was expecting to at least have the option to have a “complete” international first class dining experience, given that the flight is 12 hours long. Instead the entire meal service was done on trays, which is an absolute first for me in international first class. There wasn’t even any bread. Beyond that, the food was actually not that great at all, with the exception of the bread pudding dessert. Hands down the most underwhelming international first class dining experience I’ve ever had.

The Service

This is what really disappointed me. The service I received was probably the worst I’ve had in international first class. Ever. It’s not that the flight attendants were rude, because they weren’t. They were just so indifferent and rushed that I would have rather had the folks working the local DMV staffing my flight. Just a few observations:

  • When I boarded it took 20 minutes before I was offered a beverage; I’ve never waited more than a couple of minutes on every other flight I’ve taken in international first class
  • As we taxied to the runway I was asked what I wanted to drink after takeoff and I requested a mimosa. Despite being offered nuts and an appetizer after takeoff, my drink was never brought out. My first drink was a Diet Coke, which was served over an hour after takeoff.
  • Not once was I addressed by name
  • Every time I was brought anything I said “thank you.” Not once did they respond with “my pleasure” (or the like), or for that matter even smile.
  • Etihad Airways has a “food and beverage manager” aboard that takes meal orders and is supposed to help with meal selection. To try it out I asked her which appetizer she recommended. Her response? “One’s hot and one’s cold, that’s what I usually tell people.” Happy to see she’s so well versed in helping with meal selections!
  • Instead of having napkins in the lavatory, they have “proper” towels. When I went to use the lav mid-flight, they had no more towels, so I had to dry my hands on my PJs. Compare that to Singapore Airlines first class, where they service the bathroom after every passenger (literally).
  • Upon deplaning the flight attendants weren’t even there to say bye

Anyway, those are just a few observations. Here’s to hoping the return flight is a bit better, both in terms of food and service. Otherwise I at least have a really comfortable bed to make the flight pass quickly in!

Comments

  1. Wow, bad food and bad service, AA domestic first is even better than what you received, ok the hard product isn’t the best but at least the FAs are attentive, and will serve you alcohol until you say stop.

  2. You’re clearly not a sheikh, Lucky. If you were, I suspect you would have received the royal treatment!

  3. Wow, that is pretty underwhelming! I recently did YYZ/DXB/JFK in the Emirates A380 First Class Suite and it was by far the best trip all-around. The seat was as you described here (a “perfect” bed), the entertainment was astonishing (literally weeks of entertainment), the food was everything you’d expect and more (Dom, Caviar, bread basket, everything is served plate by plate at the time of your choosing, table setting, no trays, no coke cans — yikes!! — but instead just the glass, which they’d pour in the galley and bring out, etc.), and the service was practically white-glove (addressing by name EVERYTIME), tips on arrival, small talk (if engaged), etc.. And of course the shower, which, although most consider it a gimmick, was actually extremely refreshing and very practical (no arrival lounge necessary!). The only thing I didn’t like about the entire trip (just ONE thing) was the interior decor, which I found a bit kitsch with gold and wood trim all over the place against a backdrop of white leather seats.

    Etihad portray itself as a competitor (head-to-head) with Emirates and calls itself “the” national carrier of the UAE. At this rate, though, there’s really no competition.

    I’m flying their same product on the LHR/AUH route in a couple of months and will report back on how it went.

  4. Ben,

    Is it possible you could list the following to add some context to your reviews:

    1) how many miles you redeemed;

    2) the ease of redemption;

    3) the value of the redemption;

    4) if there was an alternative to your current itinerary, what was it and why did you choose X; and

    5) whether you would redeem with this carrier again or for X miles, you would prefer U instead.

    I think if you incorporated these factors into your reviews, there would be a more real-world retaltability with your readers.

  5. Ben,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Do you believe it still a good way to get to Male for 180,000 AA miles, or would you say people should have some second thoughts?

    Cheers,

    PedroNY

  6. @ Michael, this may be a personal preference, but I’m turned off by TRs that get bogged down in milage redemption details. Part of the fun (if you’d consider taking such a trip) is to do some research afterwards and figure out the logistics, since all of that info is readily available online. In my opinion, just enough description to give a report that “wow, how did he do it” factor is perfect.

  7. @ Michael — This was more of an interim update. I’m reserving judgment of Etihad till after my return flight, and then I’ll write a full trip report with my “finalized” views. The award cost me 140,000 ANA miles and it was a very easy redemption, since at the time very few people knew you could even redeem on Etihad Airways.

    @ NYBanker — Actuallly… yes! United has hot nuts, bread, doesn’t serve everything on a tray, and the food was certainly on par with what I was served, if not better.

    @ PedroNY — Oh, I’d say it’s absolutely still a spectacular value. The hard product is amazing, and I suspect my outbound flight was an anomaly. Everyone seems to think Etihad is one of the world’s best airlines, and I have to assume it’s for a reason. If they consistently have the level of service I experienced I doubt they’d be in business!

  8. Sorry for the bad flight Lucky. I was thinking of doing the ANA transfer, but will reserve judgment until your trip report. It kind of sounds like Gary’s trip on LH to India. Perhaps a tweet to Etihad would make a difference.

    And in defense of UA, i have flown their int’l first class several times and always received excellent service, as well as good food. I will put their Narita based crews up against anyone.

  9. I feel sorry for Etihad because you are a tough customer and not an ordinary one from the crowd. Second, here you have compared the first class only. I wonder if they have a very good product for a commoner like me in cattle class. Third I am not sure if you are flying the same route back or a different one. I wish you come to Chicago or Washington DC to see if their service is different.

  10. @ caveman — Look at my criticisms and please tell me if you feel any of those aren’t reasonable given that this is first class on supposedly one of the world’s best airlines. I suspect that those paying full fare first class are at least as “tough” as me. Yes, this is just my observation from one flight in first class, and I’m not suggesting anyone draw conclusions based on it. I doubt the route matters, but more the crew. It’s the same crews that staff the flights to Chicago and Toronto, so it’s more about the crew working a particular flight on one day as opposed to anything else.

  11. “Amazing. Quite possibly the best first class seat in the sky.”

    Well, from the ones you’ve tried 😉 I’m still waiting to see your review of Singapore’s suite.

  12. This is an interesting example of a redemption better not on AA. 180k vs. 140k on ANA.

    I was seriously considering burning a bunch of miles on this so am really looking forward to your review of the return flight.

  13. Wow. If your return flight isn’t better, it looks like I’ll be cancelling my overpriced award ticket to MLE and returning to plan A — Cathay First.

  14. gosh!!!! such a twat….complaining over an award ticket, when rich kids fly in Etihad first on paid tickets and dont complain….

    Dont you think the FA could spot a “non-paid first class/ Award ticket flyer”??? Paying passengers are not there to observe every minor issue, they are there to rest and enjoy their trip. Pre-departure beverage is something some first class passengers believe are courtesy and not an entitlement.

    its illegal for United Airlines & Etihad to be in thesame sentence. United is trash,accept it.

    Dont hate on ETIHAD, they are better than all US based airlines combined…..hiss

  15. @Lucky

    Thanks for the sneak peak. You must be right about the service being an anomaly — CX F gets rave reviews, but from the pictures, the hard product doesn’t look *that* impressive.

    @Gene

    Thanks for the reminder. Somehow the wires in my brain got crossed, and thought that F to India cost the same as F to Asia 2. I’ve got (or will have) 300k easy in a couple of months. Getting another 60k isn’t going to be the most trivial thing in the world. I’ll wait and see if it’s worth it.

    But getting to MLE via Asia absolutely sucks. I looked at it as part of my upcoming CX F trip, and there’s so much time wasted because of the connections and timings.

  16. etihad was one of the worst experiences i have ever had on an international airline. i flew them two years ago to asia. service was HORRID, the staff was HORRID, the ticketing agents didn’t give a rat’s ass and the food was abysmal. i was in steerage even though i was told by the pr rep if i bought a steerage ticket, i’d be bumped to business. no dice. would never recommend them. ever…

  17. @rolling my eyes

    Geez, calm down. Do you or does your dad work for the company? This website isn’t just travel porn, it’s also a review. And useful at times, too, since it lets people compare airlines and see which they’d prefer. Etihad doesn’t offer pre-departure beverages? Has nasty food? Then that’s good to know, so we can always choose it’s competitors.

  18. @ Lantean — The flight attendants on Etihad are from all over the world, and on my flight they seemed to be mostly female. The three first class flight attendants were all female, and from Thailand, India, and Australia. My perception was that they didn’t have very good teamwork. I’m not sure if it’s a function of their different cultures, or something else, but they all just seemed to be stepping on each other’s feet.

  19. Coins,

    Were the FA’s treating all the pax the same way? Do you think the service you received was due to the age factor?

  20. @Dan

    That’s an interesting suggestion. I received very poor service on EK F and am 20. Maybe it’s an emirati thing? RJ J treated me better.

  21. I flew my first Etihad F flight a few days ago LHR-AUH. I share the blogger’s views. Hard product amazing, soft product underwhelming. After the initial meal service was over I took about a 2 hour nap and woke with about 2 hours of flight time left. I raised my seat to watch a movie and I expected to be immediately smothered with service requests. Instead … nothing. This went on for 30 minutes or so as inattentive crew members marched past me numerous times. After an attempt at a hand gesture contact didn’t work, I rang the call button. Nothing. A second ring a few minutes later. Nothing. Finally I was able to flag a crew member down by hand gesture and got a glass of wine. I wanted to get a piece of cheesecake but was so annoyed at the thought of going through the prior routine again, I didn’t bother. At the 28-minute mark I convinced another FA to refill my wine glass. So in the last 2 hours I got 2 glasses of wine, both with great effort, and was never once offered anything. I was, to be frank, a bit stunned at the lack of attentiveness.

  22. Ben–I am forwarding this post to Sheikh Maktoum;s assistant! I see 1001 camels in your future as a good will gesture for your bad service you received!! hehheh..

  23. regarding the posters who think an award ticket is free, and thus worthy of poor service, they are sadly mistaken. Etihad, just like any other airline, gets paid for the first class seat from the mileage issuer.

    And for the airlines, mileage programs are cash cows and large profit centers, in some cases dwarfing the profits (or offsetting the losses) of their core business.

  24. Thanks for your report, Lucky. Although some people might think you to be overly critical, you’re doing a fantastic job of helping people make smart choices regarding the use of their hard earned miles. For some people who will only make a once-in-a-lifetime award redemption, making sure that it’s perfect is an important thing to do and your reviews are key to making that all happen. I for one am glad that you’re observant and truthful in your reporting.

  25. I really don’t get the negative comments either. I have never perceived a difference in service whether I was on a paid ticket or an award ticket. Granted my F class experience is much more limited, but you would think that the airline and crew would see an award redeemer as either a valuable customer using his miles to fly with them or as a chance to show some one using miles from a partner how great their product is so he will come back to them the next time he flies.

    I have flown UA international F twice. Once on an older 777 and once on the 763 with the new suites. Service was excellent both times. And their F suite is certainly more than competitive and a much nicer experience than LH’s old style F seats.

  26. I just stepped off the first two of four flights I have booked in Etihad J. As you found with first, the seat is excellent, at least in it’s second generation iteration (the tan shell, rather than the green original). I have to say the food and wine were also of a high standard and the lounge they’ve built in London is excellent.

    The service is a little odd though. Everybody was friendly enough and seemed eager to help, but everything seemed very slow.

  27. I’d like to add my comment not to defend Etihad, but just to highlight that this trip was quite likely the exception rather than the rule.

    I travelled from Abu Dhabi to Tokyo in October on an ID90 ticket (business class). Simply put, I was expecting to be treated like a thief who sneaked his way into the high-roller suite, but it was the total opposite.

    I was asked for my name the moment I got into the plane. I was asked for my preference of drink to have before we took off (and received my drink within a few seconds). I was also asked for my preference for a drink after take off (I said ‘surprise me’, and I was pleasantly surprised indeed). I was addressed by my name, with utmost courtesy. I was presented my food in proper cutlery, no trays. What I liked most was that when I attempted to sleep and experienced some heartburn, the cabin crew lady took initiative on their own without waiting for me to ring them, by asking me if i needed something (I didn’t.).

    All in all, thats a summary of how I was treated in business Class going to and coming back from Japan (in fact, my return trip was even better as they served the most delicious steak!). I have travelled ID 90 before (AUH-JFK-AUH) and it was a crappy flight. My ID 90 to France was slightly less crappy: but then again, these were economy class tickets, so there’s not much more to be said (but the seats were VERY comfortable).

    Thanks for your time.

    M.

    ps: ID90: 90% discounted ticket, for friends/family of staff.

  28. Lucky:if you wanna have the best experience and stop being grumpy, buy your own airline 🙂

  29. I fly very frequently in First Class with Etihad and generally this is a very good product. I rate the seat higher than Emirates First Class Suite but below that of Singapore Airlines A380 suites which are extremely impressive. The Etihad lounge in Abu Dhabi is also great, very intimate and great service including a six senses spa service.
    The food is normally better than what you received but is certainly far behind both Emirates and Singapore. E.g. Emirates serve both Dom Perignon and caviar on their flights while Etihad has Bollinger and eliminated the caviar (which was only available AUH-NYC) a few years ago. On my last flight to NYC we were only 3 passengers in First and still I didn’t receive my meal of choice since I wanted the same dish that the other 2 passengers had already eaten and therefore it wasn’t available, disappointing and it happened to me before when there was only one other passenger in the cabin. The service I agree with is a little bit hit and miss but most of the time it’s very good. The limosine service is also great particularly in London where they only use premium cars such as S-class, 7-series or XJ. On the balance I rate Etihad highly and I think that even very seasoned and picky travellers should on a normal day in First Class be rather happy with their experience…

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