Etihad Airways A340 First Class Abu Dhabi To Los Angeles

As I mentioned over the weekend, yesterday I flew from Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles on Etihad Airways’ inaugural flight.

I’m a big fan of Etihad Airways, and was especially excited about this flight. Not only is it Etihad’s longest route in the world, but it’s also the longest nonstop flight into LAX (beating Emirates’ Dubai flight by about 50 miles).

While a full trip report will follow, I figured I’d share my initial thoughts on the flight:

Etihad Airways Diamond First Class Suite

Etihad Airways’ A340-500s are configured with 12 first class suites. They’re spread across three rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.

The cabin is simply gorgeous. Unlike Emirates, the cabin is somewhat understated (well, minus the “diamond” on the bulkhead) and soothing.

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Etihad Airways A340-500 Diamond First Class cabin

Each suite has a door, and the seat is plenty wide and bed plenty long to spread out comfortably. The entertainment selection is also impressive, and ranks among the best out there.

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Etihad Airways A340-500 Diamond First Class seat

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Etihad Airways A340-500 Diamond First Class seat

Purely in terms of hard product, Etihad’s first class cabin ranks as one of my favorites. And on a 16+ hour flight, that’s pretty important.

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Etihad Airways A340-500 Diamond First Class bed

You know you’re on a long flight when the airshow can’t even capture the whole route on one screen. šŸ˜‰

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Etihad Airways airshow

Etihad Airways Diamond First Class Food

Etihad Airways is so, so close to having the world’s best first class catering. So close.

They have an onboard chef in charge of the first class cabin, and when they introduced the concept I thought it was mere puffery. However, over the years they’ve really fine tuned the chef service, whereby they can customize just about anything for you.

There’s a huge menu with a “freedom dining” concept, whereby you can eat what you want when you want.

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Amazing ability to customize on Etihad Airways

And you’re not limited to what’s on the menu. If you want something else they can most likely custom make it for you as well. For example, I asked the chef what she recommended for dessert, and she said she’d make her “specialty,” which wasn’t on the menu.

For the starter I had the arabic mezze.

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Etihad Airways A340-500 Diamond First Class arabic mezze

Then for the main course I had a beef tenderloin with vegetables and fries (the novelty of having them on a plane hasn’t worn off for me yet) and a tomato concasse. It was prepared exactly to my specifications. Amazing.

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Etihad Airways A340-500 Diamond First Class main course

And then for dessert I had the chef’s specialty, which wasn’t only beautifully presented, but also delicious.

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Etihad Airways A340-500 Diamond First Class dessert

Now Etihad’s catering concept is absolutely brilliant and I love being able to eat what I want when I want how I want. The only slight problem is that apparently none of that applies more than halfway through the flight.

The flight time was 16hr15min. I had a three course meal after takeoff, and then about four hours out of Los Angeles I was hungry again and wanted to have a pre-arrival meal. I was really excited, since I had been eying the biryani on the menu, which sounded delicious.

So I told the flight attendant I’d like to place a food order, and she sent over the chef to take my order. I had the menu out as she approached me, and she said “unfortunately we don’t have anything on the menu left, so let me tell you what we do have.”

So after telling me what she had, she suggested she just bring it all to me, which she did. That consisted of:

  • A pastry basket
  • A breakfast “starter” with smoothie, yogurt, etc.
  • A bagel
  • Chicken and beef satay

I had no interest in having anything “breakfasty,” given that the flight departed Abu Dhabi in the morning and at this point it was afternoon in Los Angeles and late night in Abu Dhabi — certainly not breakfast time anywhere.

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Etihad Airways A340-500 Diamond First Class pre-arrival potluck

C’mon, seriously? So it seems that you can eat what you want when you want… as long as it’s in the first half of the flight. For what it’s worth this isn’t the first time this has happened to me on Etihad. On my outbound flight in Etihad business class they didn’t have my preferred starter or main course on a half full flight when I ordered it even before takeoff, and on my past flights in Etihad first class they also ran out of food.

So while I love the “dine when you want” concept, I almost wish they didn’t offer it if it means you simply can’t eat before landing and have to “front load” all the good stuff.

Etihad Airways Diamond First Class Service

This was probably the best Etihad crew I’ve ever had. The purser, Andrew, was incredibly hands-on, friendly, and attentive. Then the first class flight attendant and chef were great as well.

That being said — and maybe this is just me — service on Middle Eastern airlines (and this applies across the board) is just different than on the top Asian airlines.

When I fly Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines first class, I have to beg not to be served a dozen glasses of champagne before takeoff. They’re so attentive, and the moment your glass is more than half empty they’re there to proactively refill it.

I’ve just never received that level of attentive service on a Middle Eastern carrier. For example, we sat on the ground an hour before pushback, and I got offered one glass of champagne the whole time.

So service was good — the best I’ve had on Etihad — but still on a somewhat different level than Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines, for example.

Etihad Airways First Class Amenities

Etihad Airways has wifi. Woohoo! $21.95 for a 16+ hour flight is cheap, if you ask me. And aside from a brief service interruption over the North Pole, service was consistently available.

In terms of other amenities, Etihad offers first class passengers nice pajamas and amenity kits. The pajamas are improved over the ones they offered a few years back, in my opinion.

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Etihad Airways first class amenities

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Etihad Airways first class amenity kit

And then I received chauffeur service on both ends, including in Los Angeles, which is always a nice perk.

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Etihad Airways chauffeur service

Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles Inaugural Festivities

This was my first inaugural flight in over five years, so I was kind of curious to see what the experience would be like.

At check-in I was given a really cool “prop” in celebration of the new service — what a cute idea!

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Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles inaugural flight “prop”

I was a bit surprised that there was nothing special at the gate, and not even a mention of it being the inaugural flight. That may have to do with what a disaster the US immigration pre-clearance experience is, or maybe that’s the norm. I’m not sure. There were a couple of guys in suits standing around observing things.

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Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles inaugural flight gate

Aboard there were a couple of mentions of it being the inaugural flight, and prior to landing I was offered an inaugural flight certificate — now that’s awesome!

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Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles inaugural flight certificate

After the gate experience in Abu Dhabi I wasn’t expecting much on the ground at LAX, but boy, was I wrong. As the plane pulled up to the gate there were quite a few people on the tarmac taking pictures, as the pilots held out the UAE and US flags from the cockpit windows.

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Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles inaugural flight arrival gate

As we deplaned, there must have been 50 people there to greet passengers, from ground staff to Etihad PR people. Very impressive! They were handing out some goody bags as well.

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Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles inaugural flight arrival gate

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Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles inaugural flight arrival gate

On an unrelated note, the guy seated across from me was interesting. He was traveling either with his granddaughter or girlfriend, I’m not sure which. And while he didn’t know it was the inaugural until he boarded the plane, once he found out he thought he was making history. How do I know? Because every five minutes for 16 hours I could hear him say “we’re making history” in one context or another. He thought he was Buzz Aldrin. I mean, I guess he had the “buzz” part down…

More to come with the full trip report!

If you’ve flown Etihad first class, what has your experience been? Have they run out of most food options like on my flights, or am I just consistently unlucky?

Comments

  1. @ Lantean — Because they’re gas guzzlers. Not efficient at all. That’s the downside to using four engines on a plane that’s no bigger than a 777.

  2. Hard to see this route being profitable with a A-340. That is a long flight with an inefficient plane. Do you think they have pideas of switching to a 777 at some point or are they planning keeping this an A-340 flight?

  3. @ Chris — Not sure! I’m all for the crew eating well, though hopefully that’s not the reason they ran out of food.

  4. @ Dan — When the route was announced they actually said it would be operated by a 777-200LR, though they’re short on aircraft so for the first couple of months it’s being operated by an A340. In a couple of months it will be a 777, though.

    And you’re absolutely correct, if there’s one thing history has shown it’s that there’s no way to make money flying A340s on ultra longhaul routes (just look at Singapore and Thai). 777s are a different story, of course.

  5. Thanks for the detailed review. It’s abit unusual that Etihad ran out of menu meals, and what was left was pretty bland (compared to the original menu). Maybe the man who was ‘making history’ had most of it šŸ˜‰ I love Etihad’s service, most of the time it’s very attentive without being obtrusive.

  6. Lucky – my fiancĆ©e and I are traveling EY F on the first leg of our honeymoon in a few months; we both like the window but it sounds awkward sitting in 1A / 2A – what would you recommend? The middle section? Those don’t look that much better for two together except that you can lean forward to see each other with the partition down.

    Given your experience in the cabin, any insight would be appreciated!

    Thanks!

  7. The running out of options is definitely a consistent problem. Similarly annoying, if you choose not to eat the full meal at takeoff (if you want to sleep instead), not only are your options going to be limited later in the flight, but some of the basic stuff like the breadbasket seem to have disappeared by that point.

  8. I flew EY F from AUH to JFK a couple of years ago, and had the same experience. They had no
    “real” food left in the second half of the flight.

  9. Would you recommend making an order in the beginning of all the foods you want so the chef will at least save those for you? 16 hours is indeed a long flight.

    In addition, how many other people were in First Class (other than you, the Buzz Aldrin guy, and his gf/daughter)? Before this flight, what was the longest flight you’ve taken by a Middle Eastern carrier? I’ll admit some of the best service I’ve had from any airline were from ultra longhaul flights.

  10. @ Joey — Yep, in retrospect I would have probably tried to order all my food at the beginning of the flight, though that kind of defeats the purpose of having what you want when you want.

    The first class cabin was fully. Previously I’ve flown Etihad three times between the US and Abu Dhabi, so those were also longhaul flights.

  11. Was first class full? Did you see a lot of food going out? Just curious what the circumstances were for them to run out of food. That’s pretty unacceptable for first class, in my opinion. If they run out of 1 or 2 options, or a specific wine, I get it. But to have nothing left other than some random items with more than 4 hours left in flight is pretty bad.

  12. @ C Diddy — Cabin was full, and didn’t seem like more food was being eaten than usual. Like I said, love Etihad, but running out of catering is par for the course with them in my experience.

  13. Thanks!! Love the ex-LAX reviews.

    So for my next lax-mle trp, should I choose CX or Ey?

  14. @ Beachfan — That’s a toughie! Virtually same distance flown. On Etihad your longhaul flight is longer so you spend less time in business class, though on Cathay the business class is fully flat.

    Six in one hand, half a dozen in the other. How about one in each direction? Only consideration is that Cathay Pacific is marginally more expensive, since it requires two award tickets.

  15. Lucky do you not think it is a bit of a cheek charging for wifi? Fair enough if you are flying in economy.

  16. @ Pat — Keep in mind that wifi is offered by a third party, so it’s not the airline directly that’s processing the transactions. Would it be nice if premium cabin passengers got complimentary wifi? Yes. On the other hand, $21.95 is a small price to pay to be productive on such a long flight.

    For that matter, Turkish offers all passengers free wifi, and it’s *so* slow as a result. I’d rather pay a bit for semi-fast wifi than get really slow wifi for free.

    Just my two cents…

  17. I’ve had a somewhat similar experience with EY in F regarding catering. They only carried a limited number of each entrees, so that if more people than expected (in my case two!) wanted a particular item, they’d run out quickly, and you have to make do with second choice.
    And they’d also run out of a particular wine; seems it had all been drank on the inbound flight, and no plans had been made for stocks to be replenished for the outbound.

  18. For what it’s worth they’ve never run out of food on me, and I’ve flown them in F JFK-AUH, AUH-DUS, IAD-AUH (x2), AUH-IAD over the past 2 years.

  19. Nah, you misunderstood the other guy. They were trying to make history by eating the entire supply of catering in F!

  20. Lucky, have you *ever* begged not to be served a dozen glasses of champagne before takeoff?

  21. As far as I am aware not many civilian flights have over the Ural mountains towards the North Pole. For that reason alone I should take this journey. Not fond of LAX, they should move to SFO šŸ™‚

  22. My partner just flew F CDG-AUH and I flew JFK-AUH three months ago in F. Neither of us had problems with food running out.

    I do love the pajamas they have. Bedding was very good too.

    One of the funnier things I saw on my flight was the female flight attendants almost ran through the cabin when providing any kind of service. Something that was a “first” for me.

  23. That “film clapper” is a good indicator for my 10,000 ft + 10 inches funding idea…

  24. “…service on Middle Eastern airlines (and this applies across the board) is just different than on the top Asian airlines…When I fly Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines first class…Theyā€™re so attentive…Iā€™ve just never received that level of attentive service on a Middle Eastern carrier.”

    Ben, based on the following quote it sounds like you got all the attention you needed. Hands on? Oh my!

    “The purser, Andrew, was incredibly hands-on, friendly, and attentive.”

  25. Besides SQ’s A380, which other carrier and aircraft has the two center F seats that turn into one single bed?

  26. Nice review Lucky. Too bad about US Pre-clearance though, as it certainly detracts from a nice product.

    BTW why do we always have to have some wanker comment here about his gay fantasies?
    @ DaveX – It’s getting old buddy. Grow up. You’re an idiot!

  27. Great reviews, lucky. I’m flying my first EY flight in October, and reading your reports gets me excited.

    Did the amenity kit change? I thought EY handed out the cuff link boxes. Also, would it be a big deal if I asked for a woman’s kit to bring home for the wife?

  28. My spouse is travelling in F and me in C for an upcoming flight. Is it possible to:

    1. Enter the FC lounge with him?
    2. Dine with him on the plane?

    FYI it’s his birthday so the upgrade is totally worth it.

  29. @ Kevin Yen — Yep, they sure did. You can certainly ask for a women’s kit. If they have enough I’m sure they’d give one to you.

    Enjoy your trip!

  30. @ Gee — First class passengers are allowed one guest in the lounge, so that’s fine. That being said, aboard you can usually only visit a “lower” cabin, so he could come to business class, but you couldn’t come to first class. Maybe the crew will make an exception, but that’s the rule.

  31. Just out of curiosity, did you get a special invitation to this inaugural flight or just got lucky? Great review!

  32. @ Lydia — I redeemed 90,000 AAdvantage miles for the ticket. I booked the day that the schedule opened for the new service.

  33. Lucky – really appreciate the reply! We’ll work on getting the two centers together. Thanks again!

  34. Lucky — any knowledge of what the premium airlines such as Etihad, Singapore, Cathay etc. offer for vegetarians in their first class cabin? None of them seem to offer a veggie option on the menu. Would a “special meal” request get anything other than the business or even economy special meal option?

  35. @ Paul — Yes, a special meal request for a vegetarian meal should be fairly good, and better than what you’d get in business or economy. For what it’s worth I’m generally a fan of ordering Indian vegetarian food, as I find it’s usually well executed and tasty. I’ve found other vegetarians meals to be pretty bland at altitude.

  36. Lucky — Thanks, that’s good to know. I’m hoping to get an SQ suites redemption in the summer, so I might try the Indian vegetarian option.

    BTW, avid reader for a while now, but first comment I think — keep up the good work!

  37. We flew Etihad biz class ORD-BLR a couple years ago (stopover in Abu Dhabi) and loved it and had no issues with food. I put my parents on the same flight (but to BOM instead) and my father was very annoyed that they ran out of food because he’s diabetic. They want to go back to India this year and I’m in two minds about whether to book them on Etihad again because of the food issue.

  38. Great review Lucky, I thoroughly enjoy your reports. However, I am disappointed with the whole ‘running out of food’ situation on their ‘premium’ product. Since you’ve witnessed it in different flights, do you feel it may just be an airline ‘policy’? Or you just had bad luck? Which I really doubt, since it seems there’s a pattern here.

  39. I think Etihad PR’s response to food shortages would be that they are demonstrating strong commitment to health & well-being of their most-valued passengers by limiting their caloric intake šŸ˜›

  40. @Amol

    Wow, that’s one of the douchiest pictures ever. I mean, hey, good for her, but some people take social media pics way too seriously. The second picture was a much better one.

    Running out of food class is very embarrassing if it’s just a regular flight. On an inaugural flight? Ouch. If ANA can afford to have extra catering for it’s FC passengers, then I’m sure Etihad could as well. God only know what the poor slobs in economy ended up having to deal with…

    “And youā€™re not limited to whatā€™s on the menu. If you want something else they can most likely custom make it for you as well.”

    Lucky, how far does that go, exactly? I mean, could they whip up a fresh pasta dish that isn’t on the menu, or…I mean, if they barely have enough catering for all the passengers, I can’t see them having extra food for that as well.

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