Bling it on: Etihad Airways First Class Abu Dhabi to New York JFK

Introduction
British Airways Terraces Lounge Seattle
British Airways First Class Seattle to London Heathrow
Emirates Lounge London Heathrow (after a surprise!)
Emirates First Class London Heathrow to Dubai
Grosvenor House Dubai
Afternoon tea in the Skyview Bar at Burj Al Arab
Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island
St. Regis Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island
Qasr Al Sarab
Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi
Etihad Airways First Class Abu Dhabi to New York JFK
British Airways Galleries Lounge New York JFK
Cathay Pacific First Class New York JFK to Vancouver


I flew this exact route a little over a year prior, so I was really curious to see how this flight compared. Let me start by saying that one of my favorite aspects of flying with Etihad is their boarding music, which is extremely soothing, so feel free to listen to it while reading the report.

Etihad 101
Abu Dhabi (AUH) – New York (JFK)

Thursday, December 20
Depart: 10:30AM
Arrive: 4:30PM
Duration: 15hr
Aircraft: Airbus A340-500
Seat: 1G (First Class)

Upon boarding through door 2L I was shocked to be greeted by a flight attendant that seemed to have a “true” American accent. He escorted me to my seat, and as it turns out he’s one of only a handful of American flight attendants at Etihad (though sadly he was working business class and not first class).

I was escorted to seat 1G, one of the center seats in the first row.

Etihad’s hard product is phenomenal. Not only are the seats extremely comfortable, but I love the tones and finishes, which are much more low key than on Emirates. I’d actually say that purely in terms of design, they have among my favorite first class seats in the world.


Seats 1D & 1G


Seats 1D & 1G


Seat 1K


Looking towards the back of the cabin

The one hilariously kitschy part of the cabin is the diamond on the bulkhead. Etihad calls their first class “Diamond First Class,” though I think we would have gotten the visual without it being plastered on the bulkhead.


Diamond on bulkhead


Entertainment screens

To the left of the seat was a storage console with the entertainment control, headphone jack, USB/110v outlet, and room for storage.


Entertainment controls and power adapters

The seat’s functions are controlled by a small screen on the center armrest, which I found it easy to use.


Seat controls

At the front of the seat is also a ghetto-as-hell minibar. C’mon Etihad, what are you thinking? Learn from Emirates — you’ve gotta have classy stuff in there, like Pringles and Mars Bars!


Minibar

I hung my sport coat in the closet located at the side of the seat, which also features a mirror.


Closet

Waiting at my seat were a pair of headphones, a day blanket, a box of dates and pralines, and a “welcome” card.


Headphones

On the ottoman was a day blanket, and also the inflight entertainment defect log. Oddly it wasn’t until after takeoff when I pointed it out to the flight attendants that they removed it.


Day blanket and entertainment log

I could tell off the bat that the service on this flight was better than on the last Etihad flight I took, though not by that much. The flight attendant working my aisle was Noah, and she served in a way I’ve come to expect from Middle Eastern airlines — over-the-top expressions (“it’s my privilege to serve you”) with not much follow through or smiles. She did warm up a bit during the flight, though. It’s interesting, because usually you either get a feeling that the crew loves what they’re doing and is happy to be there, or you get the feeling that they couldn’t be bothered to care. The flight attendants on this sector didn’t fall into either category, though did seem a bit absent minded.

Within a few minutes of settling in Noah offered me a drink, and I requested a glass of champagne, which was Bollinger.


Pre-departure champagne

In addition to a glass of champagne I was offered an amenity kit.


Amenity kit

The amenity kit had La Prairie branded toiletries, though the selection was fairly sparse.


Amenity kit contents

I was also offered a hot towel.


This is what a hot towel looks like

At this point the chef came around to introduce himself. While I know Etihad has been advertising the whole chef thing for a long time, I didn’t have a chef on either of my two flights with them in 2011. This chef’s name was Karol, and he was an enthusiastic 30-ish year old guy from Poland. He was definitely the highlight of the crew, as he actually seemed to enjoy what he was doing.

He presented us with both the menu and wine list, and encouraged us to dine on demand.


Menu and wine list

After that the flight attendant working my aisle offered me pajamas and slippers. I’m not a huge fan of the materials Etihad’s are made of, so I instead wore my British Airways pajamas.


Etihad pajamas

Just before pushback the crew came around offering Arabic coffee and dates.


Arabic coffee and date

As the door closed the captain came on the PA to announce our flight time of 14hr5min and a final cruising altitude of 40,000 feet. Every seat in first class was taken, so I was curious to see how the service would be.

As we taxied to the runway the safety video played, starting with “A Travel Prayer From The Holy Qur’an,” which I wish they’d translate. You can see that in the first 20 seconds of the Airbus 330 safety video here.

The good thing about Etihad’s entertainment system is that you can use it on the ground, so I immediately started browsing the selection.


Etihad entertainment system


Airshow

As we climbed out I decided to watch “The Campaign,” which was hilarious.

Once we passed through about 10,000 feet the seatbelt sign was turned off and the cabin manager, Narinder, welcomed aboard each first class passenger individually. She was awesome and engaging, and seemed to love what she was doing. She used to work for Kingfisher, so we had a bit of a laugh about that, as she was happy with her airline move. ;)

Shortly thereafter Chef Karol took meal orders. The menu read as follows:

And the wine list read as follows:

The tea list read as follows:

There are no two ways about it — the menu was awesome. I loved the flexibility to eat what you want, how you want, when you want.

Service began with a Diet Pepsi with lemon and smoked chicken starter.


Diet Pepsi and smoked chicken starter

At that point the table was set, interestingly with both a tablecloth and table liner. There was also a bread basket, salt and pepper shaker, and olive oil/butter. I was then served the traditional Arabic mezze, which I found to be good, though not quite as good as Emirates’.


Table setup


Traditional Arabic mezze (cold)


Traditional Arabic mezze (hot)

After that I was served sorbet.


Sorbet

I was extremely impressed by their ability to literally customize the meal however you’d like, including choosing your meat, sides, and sauces. I had beef tenderloin with bernaise sauce and roasted baby potatoes. It was cooked perfectly (I ordered medium) and was delicious. A+ to Etihad on this.


Beef tenderloin

Meanwhile my friend had the lamb shanks.


Lamb shank

I then had the quattro of desserts, which consisted of cappuccino mousse, warm mango clafoutis apricot, a watermelon shot, and ice cream. It was brilliant.


Quattro of desserts

Meanwhile my friend had the warm winter apple pudding, which was only okay.


Warm winter apple pudding


Location after lunch


Dimmed cabin

After lunch I quickly popped back to business class to have a peek, which looked crowded by comparison.


Business class cabin

With about 12 hours to go to New York I decided to try and take a nap, given that the lights were dimmed and we still had a long day ahead of us upon landing in New York. I asked for turndown service, which was promptly provided. Etihad’s bedding is excellent, and I slept well for a couple of hours, before being woken up because the cabin was super-hot.


Turndown service


Turndown service


Turndown service

After sleeping for a couple of hours I decided to watch another movie, and decided on “Hope Springs.” It was probably the least funny movie with Steve Carell ever — wasted talent!


Hope Springs

Around the middle of the movie Chef Karol came by to ask if I might want something to eat, so I decided on a steak sandwich with fries. I don’t think I’ve ever had fries on a plane before, so for the novelty I couldn’t resist.

The steak sandwich and fries were good, though not amazing. I think Qantas still wins the award for best steak sandwiches.


Steak sandwich


Steak sandwich

For dessert I had the vanilla millefeuille, which was delicious.


Vanilla millefeuille

Lastly I ordered an iced coffee, which was served without hesitation or confusion, which is rare on a plane.


Iced coffee


Location after snack

At this point we had about six hours to go, so it was time for another nap. I slept for another couple of hours, and woke up with four hours to go. At this point I decided to start uploading my trip pictures onto my laptop.


Location after nap

With about 90 minutes to go to New York I wasn’t especially hungry though took one for the team and ordered the roasted pumpkin soup to start.


Roasted pumpkin soup

Then I had the portobello mushroom vol au vent, which was delicious.


Portobello mushroom vol au vent

Meanwhile my friend had the bagel, which was apparently hard as a rock.


Toasted bagel

Lastly, for dessert, I had the chocolate coated Um Ali, which I was intrigued by the whole flight. It didn’t disappoint.


Chocolate coated Um Ali

We were making good time and actually scheduled to arrive quite a bit early, though got put in a holding pattern on our approach to New York. We ended up touching down right on-time on runway 22L, and taxied to a remote stand, the same situation as last time.


Camera on landing

Fortunately they have a dedicated bus for first and business class passengers, so it didn’t take too long before it drive, and the bus wasn’t too crowded.

Seated across from me the whole flight was a young girl dressed in a hijab, who had an older American lady traveling with her. At no point the entire flight did they leave her suite “door” open, and even when they served her a meal it was shut again immediately. Interestingly upon arrival she received expedited immigration and was met plane side, so I’m kind of curious who she was.


Deplaning

My eyes were drawn to the beautiful Singapore A380 parked next to us.


Singapore A380 next to us

Once we got to the immigration hall queues were as bad as I’ve ever seen before. The line was so long that people were lined up way past the “ropes.” Fortunately with Global Entry we were through in a matter of minutes.

Global Entry also entitles you to expedited customs, so I asked the customs officer where the Global Entry customs line was. In typical New York fashion he said “just cut to the front of the line,” so I followed his advice, which results in us being yelled at in about 10 different languages, including New Yorker. I do wish they’d be more organized, as I’d rather not be called a “f*&#&^% a$$hole” for taking advantage of the expedited customs screening that comes with Global Entry.

On the whole the flight was great. I think Etihad has a winner with the “chef” concept, especially in conjunction with how flexible their menu is. The hard product on Etihad remains excellent, while the service is so-so. Compared to Emirates, Etihad is a somewhat more low key airline, which is good or bad depending on how you look at it. I will say that I did miss a shower on Etihad!

Comments

  1. nabeelj says

    Qur’an 43:13-14, commonly referred to as “The Supplication for Travel”:

    Glory to Him Who has subjected these to our (use), for we could never have accomplished this (by ourselves). And to our Lord, surely, must we turn back.

  2. says

    You’re getting to be very good at setting up your photo shoots so that they are both interesting and informative. While you took the time to unpack and lay out the PJ set so that we could really see what they look like, other bloggers will take a cell phone snap of them still in their plastic wrap. BTW-very enjoyable report, too.

  3. says

    Ben – I am stupefied by this post. Not just the amount of work to put it up, the fact that this is a “norm” for you, but the most unreal shocking park of the post that you travel with a BA set of jemmies to put on because you did not like the quality of this set of 1st class sleep wear. Oh my. I so need to step up my game! Oh my my! – Rene

  4. omp says

    @lucky great report !
    just a side note:found it funny that every time you mentioned someone’s name it was exactly the opposite gender that I thought he/she ‘s going to be…:)

  5. RakSiam says

    I’m not a big foodie, but those dishes look delicious, especially those desserts! Too bad I have no reason to go to Abu Dhabi. And I think I will avoid JFK as much as possible. Transferred through there on the way to Asia a little while back and it is just such a hellish airport.

  6. shears says

    Another impressive post Lucky! Wish I could fly one of those first class sometime soon. Do you know there is any airline I can use to redeem their miles to get a first class ticket in Etihad? Thank you

  7. lucky says

    @ nabeelj — Thanks for the translation.

    @ arthur — Hah, it’s something I get a thrill out of to this day.

    @ JetAway — Thanks! It can be tough with light conditions sometimes without using flash, but I do my best. :)

  8. lucky says

    @ Ken Y. — No clue who that is, sorry!

    @ Delta Points — Haha, thanks.

    @ omp — You’re not the only one. I was thinking the same thing during the trip.

    @ RakSiam — Every reason in the world to avoid JFK.

    @ shears — Thanks! The best to use would be American or ANA miles, both of which partner with Etihad.

  9. Jennifer S says

    Could “Noah” have been “Noor,” or did you see her name tag and get the spelling from that?

  10. AdamH says

    When you say line at customs, what do you mean? Were you declaring goods or was there a line just to hand the slip of paper to the guy who then lets you out of baggage claim and through the no goods to declare line. I have never seen that line deeper than a few people and the process is always super quick as all he seems to do is glance at the slip of paper.

  11. wwk5d says

    Lucky, now that you’re flown the 3 main Middle East carriers, I’m curious how you would rate them in the following catagories:

    Food
    Hard Product
    Service

    The novelty factor of the shower aside, if you had to chose between the 3 of the, which would you recommend the most overall?

  12. says

    Ben–my guess is the hijabi girl you mentioned was a member of the royal family coming to the states for school or something. Great trip report!

  13. says

    LOL at the minibar. In other news, I flew my first international biz flight this week. Not as fancy pants as you but definitely an enjoyable experience. And reviewing was harder than I would have thought. Kudos to you for making the reading so enjoyable!

  14. FlyingDoctorWu says

    Great trip report. The food looks fantastic. They though need some help on their whiskey list… Jack Daniels???? Glenlivet 12 in First? I shudder to think what they are serving to the poor business class passengers.

  15. Alan says

    Great Report Lucky. EY doesn’t have first class product from my city to AUH. Do you think it make sense for me to purchase another RT ticket from my city to the city where EY has first class? The RT fare would be around USD 200. In your opinion, is the discrepancy between J and F of EY worth the hassle and the cost?

  16. lucky says

    @ choi — I redeemed 90,000 American miles for the one-way. If you look at the introduction post I explain the process:
    http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2012/12/22/bling-it-on-introduction/

    @ AdamH — Right, the line to hand the agent your paper. 90% of the time the line is less than a minute, and in my experience for whatever reason 10% of the time it takes forever. This was the latter case.

    @ Heather — Congrats, next you’ll have to try first class! :D

    @ Alan — I do think first class is worth the premium over business class. Keep in mind that in many cases you can include that positioning segment on an award ticket.

  17. lucky says

    @ wwk5d — That’s a great question, and I had actually planned on doing a comparison of the big three Middle Eastern carriers next week after I fly Emirates again, as I’ll be able to sample their Dubai ground services (which I’ve yet to do, so I don’t think I can give a fair review).

    That being said, purely in terms of the onboard product here are my thoughts.

    Hard product in first class:

    I’d say Etihad and Emirates are neck-to-neck, with a slight advantage for Emirates. I prefer how Etihad first class is a bit more naturally colored, while I love the shower and “bling” factor of Emirates first.

    Food in first class:

    I’d have to say Etihad, then Emirates, then Qatar. The onboard chef concept really seems to work, though for routes where they don’t have that I’d give Emirates the lead.

    Service in first class:

    All three carriers are hit or miss and I don’t think there’s a clear winner on this front.

    Like I said, more detailed review after I flew Emirates again soon!

  18. Despina says

    Ben, any chance you know what the little red berries in the “Warm Winter Apple Pudding” are? They were served to us on LH in November but none of the FA’s knew what they were.

    Thanks.

  19. concorde02 says

    Ben,
    I have flown these 3 carriers but in J, only did Etihad in F. I have had different experience in term of chef and food. Other things seem to be the same as yours. I know you and I or other people may have different taste in food but what I experienced was something more universal. It showed that the chef on board could be hit and miss as well:
    On my flight I ordered the steak with asparagus and sides. I felt good and we can pick the meat and order it however we want but my steak wasn’t medium as request. It was well done and dry. Again the breakfast I had egg sunny side up and it was well done, not fresh, and felt like it was precooked. It was among my worst F food I experienced and I said to myself: what’s the point of having a chef when the earlier flight on CX did better steak (I flew YVR-JFK-AUH-BOM-CCU on CX F, EY F/J, 9W J) I remember the chef on Austrian air for J pax and the experience was super!

  20. lucky says

    @ Despina — Interesting. Asked my friend who had it, and he has no clue either. Odd!

    @ concorde02 — Interesting, thanks for the report. Sounds disappointing.

  21. Daftboy says

    Seeing the interior of that Etihad plane was such a relief after the décor in Emirates first! I haven’t flown either carrier, but for migraine avoidance reasons alone I would be veering towards Etihad from the get go!

    Great blog post, as are all of your TRs – keep up the good work and inspiring us all!

  22. randapex says

    Thanks for such a detailed report. We fly JFK/AUH Etihad F in June. They’re switching to a new 777 sometime this spring so, if it’s not too much to ask, could you fly that and give me a report? ;-)

  23. lucky says

    @ randapex — LOL, that might be pushing it! Fortunately it’s more or less the same product, so doubt there’s much value a new review would add.

  24. Acs says

    Hey Lucky,

    Do you know in which Asian destinations Etihad has first class service? I was able to figure out ICN and PVG, any others?

  25. Acs says

    Great, thanks a lot! If you had to pick to stay 24hrs in PVG/ICN what would you prefer?

  26. lucky says

    @ Acs — I would do Shanghai. I think it’s a more interesting city, and it’s also more easily accessible from the airport than Seoul.

  27. Acs says

    Got it. I’m traveling with someone else who’s pretty set on picking Seoul, but I’m also leaning Shanghai. Any tips on what to do there?
    (Sorry don’t mean to be asking you too many questions, really appreciate your help though)

  28. Tamerin Cofs says

    Wow. So incredible, much better than the States. well, most things are much better outside the states. We’re lucky if we get a tiny bag of peanuts and/or a hard rubber like sandwich in “first” flatch.

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