Review: Etihad Airways First Class A340-500 Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles

Introduction
US Airways Club Tampa
American Airlines Premium Lounge Miami Airport
Airberlin Business Class A330 Miami To Dusseldorf
Airberlin Lounge Dusseldorf Airport
Etihad Airways Business Class A330 Dusseldorf To Abu Dhabi
Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi
St. Regis Abu Dhabi
Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi Airport
Abu Dhabi Airport United States Immigration Pre-Clearance
Etihad Airways First Class A340-500 Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles


After a rather unpleasant experience with Abu Dhabi’s new US Pre-Clearance facility, I found myself in the “sterile area” for my first class Etihad flight to Los Angeles.

To my surprise there was nothing festive going on at the gate, and it was very much business as usual. Eventually boarding was announced at 8AM, without so much as a mention of it being the inaugural flight.

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Etihad A340-500

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Etihad A340-500

Etihad Airways 171
Abu Dhabi (AUH) ā€“ Los Angeles (LAX)
Sunday, June 1
Depart: 8:45AM
Arrive: 2:15PM
Duration: 16hr30min
Aircraft: Airbus A340-500
Seat: 2A (Diamond First Class)

I boarded through door 2L, where I was greeted by the cabin manager, Andrew. One of the other flight attendants escorted me to my seat in Diamond First, which is located to the left of the boarding door.

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Etihad first class cabin A340-500

The first class cabin on the A340 consists of 12 seats, spread across three rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. Here’s the seatmap, per SeatGuru:

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I find Etihad’s first class cabins to be gorgeous. While I like some of the features of Emirates’ first class cabins, aesthetically I find them far too blingy. Meanwhile I think Etihad’s first class cabins strike the perfect balance between understated and elegant while still throwing in a bit of local bling (like the “diamond” wallpaper on the bulkhead).

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Etihad first class cabin A340-500

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Etihad first class cabin A340-500

I quickly settled into 2A. Etihad’s hard product is as close to perfect as it gets. The seat is spacious and private (with a door that closes for total privacy), and the colors and finishes are beautiful.

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Etihad first class seat A340-500

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Etihad first class seat A340-500

Each seat also has a closet, which is pretty convenient. That way when you change into pajamas you can just toss your clothes in there.

There’s also a mirror on the inside cover of the closet, if you want to freshen up as landing approaches (it’s a bit more subtle than the Emirates mirror which is just part of the seat).

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Etihad first class closet

Then to the left of the seat was a compartment with entertainment controls, along with the power and USB ports, and headphone jack.

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Etihad first class entertainment controls

Immediately ahead of that were the seat controls, which are on a small LCD screen. The controls look simple to use, though I don’t find them to be especially intuitive, since you have to click through two screens to actually change any settings.

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Etihad first class seat controls

Fortunately next to that are slightly more intuitive controls which will either fully recline the seat or put it into the upright position.

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Etihad first class seat controls

Then at the front left of the seat is a minibar with a bottle of still and sparkling water, as well as a bag of trail mix.

I find it hilarious how both Emirates and Etihad have minibars onboard. The whole concept behind flying first class is that you shouldn’t have to serve yourself, and it’s not like I want room temperature water without a glass anyway. But that’s part of the local “style over substance” flair, I think.

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Etihad first class minibar

In terms of amenities, waiting on my ottoman were a blanket and pillow.

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Etihad first class blanket

They have separate pillows and blankets during turndown service, but these are great for lounging.

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Etihad first class pillow and blanket

Next to my seat were some noise canceling headphones. They’re not quite Bose quality, but still fairly decent.

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Etihad first class headphones

Waiting on my console was the “gastronomic literature” for the flight, including the menu, wine list, and tea list. In addition to that, the cabin manager always leaves his business card at each seat as well, along with a box with two chocolates.

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Etihad first class menu, wine, tea list, and hot towel

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Etihad first class chocolates

Anyway, once settled in Andrew came by to welcome me aboard and offer me a drink. I ordered some champagne, and was served Billecart-Salmon, which is quite lovely!

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Etihad first class Billecart-Salmon champagne

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Etihad first class pre-departure champagne

I relaxed for a while as boarding continued, which is easy to do with the great boarding music that Etihad has.

The first class cabin continued to fill up. The crowd in first class was interesting:

  • Seated in the first row was a family with a young child; I believe they were Emirati
  • Seated behind me was some Hollywood type wearing sunglasses
  • Seated across the aisle from me was an older American guy and his girlfriend (or granddaughter?)
  • Seated across from them was a guy from LA who commutes to Abu Dhabi every couple of weeks because his girlfriend lives there

It was definitely one of the more interesting crowds I’ve flown with!

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Etihad first class cabin view

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Etihad first class cabin view

Once all 12 seats were taken, the other first class flight attendant as well as the onboard chef came by to introduce themselves and offer me arabic coffee and a date. I love dates, and had a few — they’re much easier to get on Etihad than Tinder!

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Etihad first class arabic coffee and date

I was also then offered some pajamas, slippers, and an amenity kit.

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Etihad first class pajamas and amenity kit

The pajamas were different than they were the last time I flew Etihad, which I appreciated. They were lighter and a better material this time around, I thought.

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Etihad first class pajamas and amenity kit

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Etihad first class amenity kit

The amenity kit was also different than the last time I flew Etihad. While the previous bag was more unique, I thought it was more practical this time around, and appreciated that they had Bergamote 22 toiletries — dats some classy stuff!

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Etihad first class amenity kit contents

The boarding process was drawn out quite a bit, presumably due to people delayed at US immigration. The captain made a round through the first class cabin to welcome everyone aboard. He was a nice guy from Sweden, and explained that it was his longest flight ever as well. There were three other pilots upfront, including another captain, though he was Emirati.

Shortly after 9AM he made a PA welcoming everyone aboard and telling us we would be pushing back shortly, and that our flight time would be 16hr15min once airborne. He explained the route of flight, which was basically endless, as you’d expect for an 8,000+ mile flight.

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Jet bridge Abu Dhabi Airport

The airshow did indeed confirm our flight was so long that the map couldn’t do it justice. šŸ˜‰

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Etihad airshow

As we pushed back the safety video played, starting with a travel prayer (this is the A330 version, though I was flying an A340):

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Etihad safety video

I do love Etihad’s livery, so I always enjoy taxiing around Abu Dhabi Airport. There’s something about the livery that looks very “royal” to me.

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Abu Dhabi Airport traffic

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Abu Dhabi Airport traffic

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Abu Dhabi Airport traffic

After pushback we began our taxi to runway 31R. The actual taxi took only about 10 minutes, but once there we had to wait for a few planes to take off and land.

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Taxiing to departure runway Abu Dhabi Airport

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Taxiing to departure runway Abu Dhabi Airport

There was an Etihad A321 that took off ahead of us.

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Etihad A321 taxiing

Then an Etihad A340 that landed.

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Etihad A340 landing

Then an Etihad A320 that landed.

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Etihad A320 landing

Then two Etihad A340s that took off.

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Etihad A340 taxiing

And then it was our turn, ahead of an Etihad A330 and A340.

It really is amazing how many A340s Etihad has, given that the A340-500 is virtually “dead” otherwise given what a gas guzzler it is (though I guess that’s less of an issue for an airline based in the Middle East).

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Etihad heavies waiting for takeoff

Sure enough at 9:35AM we began our takeoff roll on runway 31R. It was a long, long takeoff roll. Etihad has a nose camera, so I could watch as we gradually rolled down the ~13,500 foot runway.

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Taking off runway 31R

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Taking off runway 31R

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Taking off runway 31R

We finally lifted off just a couple of thousand feet from the end of the runway.

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Camera taking off runway 31R

Our climb out was gradual, as you’d expect from an A340-500 with a maxed out takeoff weight.

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Shortly after takeoff from Abu Dhabi

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Shortly after takeoff from Abu Dhabi

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Shortly after takeoff from Abu Dhabi

The views on climb out were pretty cool, in particular as we flew over Ferrari World.

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Shortly after takeoff from Abu Dhabi

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Above Ferrari World shortly after takeoff from Abu Dhabi

I gazed at the airshow for a while, and couldn’t get over the fact that we had 16+ hours to go. That’s a long flight!

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Etihad airshow

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Etihad airshow

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Climbing out of Abu Dhabi

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Climbing out of Abu Dhabi

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Climbing out of Abu Dhabi

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Climbing out of Abu Dhabi

After takeoff I started to play around with the entertainment system.

Etihad’s E-BOX entertainment system is extensive. Perhaps not quite as extensive as some airlines, but you certainly won’t be bored if you’re into movies and TV shows.

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Etihad E-BOX entertainment system

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Etihad E-BOX entertainment system

I decided to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel, which several of you had recommended.

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Etihad E-BOX entertainment system

About 20 minutes into the flight the service began with drinks and amuse bouche. Andrew served me champagne, while the chef came by with the amuse bouche.

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Etihad first class champagne and amuse bouche after takeoff

At that point meal service became available.

As I’ve explained in the past, Etihad basically has a dine on demand program. Rather than having a lunch menu, snack menu, and pre-landing menu, they simply have one massive menu, and you can theoretically order what you want when you want.

I love that concept.

While many airlines let you “dine on demand,” they still usually have set meals, without nearly as much flexibility to mix and match things.

The a la carte menu for the flight read as follows:

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Then the wine and cocktail list read as follows:

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And the tea list read as follows:

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I figured I’d eat lunch ASAP, so as Andrew walked by I asked to place an order. He said he would call over the chef to take my order, and she appeared within a few minutes. I ordered the arabic mezze to start, and then ordered a steak from “the grill” section of the menu. I love the fact that the onboard chef basically custom makes your entree. You choose the type of protein, how you want it cooked, the sides, etc.

The meal service began with my table being set. I had champagne, Diet Coke, and still water to drink. I was also offered a bread basket, along with some “dips.”

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Etihad first class lunch starter

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Etihad first class bread basket

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Etihad first class lunch starter

Shortly after that I was offered a selection of arabic mezze. It was quite good, though Etihad’s arabic mezze isn’t as over the top as Emirates’.

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Etihad first class arabic mezze

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Etihad first class arabic mezze

I was then served a palate cleanser.

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Etihad first class palate cleanser

And then my main course. I had ordered the beef tenderloin (prepared medium), mixed vegetables, french fries, and a side of tomato concasse.

The beef itself was excellent and the fries were good, though the mixed vegetables were not really what I was expecting.

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Etihad first class beef main course

Once my main course was finished I decided to order dessert. The chef came by to ask what I wanted, and suggested her “specialty.” So I told her to surprise me.

It was great, both in terms of the presentation and taste. It had strawberry ice cream, some fruit, and what tasted and looked like cheesecake chunks.

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Etihad first class dessert

Then I finished off the meal with a cappuccino. I love Etihad’s hot beverage presentation, as they’ll serve hot drinks on a tray with a “rubber” surface so that the drink doesn’t slide in turbulence.

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Etihad first class cappuccino

The meal service itself was solid — not amazing, but very good. I think Etihad has a great concept and it’s cool that there’s some “substance” behind the onboard chef concept. It is worth noting that they don’t serve caviar, though, unlike their UAE rival Emirates.

The service was friendly though slow. The cabin manager Andrew was fabulous. He was British, had a good sense of humor, and was generally attentive. The first class flight attendant and chef were both reserved but reasonably friendly.

In my experience service on Etihad isn’t as attentive as you’d get on some Asian airlines. That’s not to say it isn’t good, but it’s simply not as over the top as Singapore. For example, your plate will sit empty for 10 minutes before it’s removed, glasses are frequently empty unless you ask for refills, etc.

I think part of the problem might be that the seats have doors, so they’re not quite as proactive in seeing if you need anything, but rather wait for you to ask.

We were about three hours into the flight when my meal service was done, at which point I decided to get a bit of work done on my laptop.

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Etihad airshow

Etihad has T-Mobile hotspots on their planes, and at $21.95 for a 24-hour pass with no data limits, it’s a heck of a deal in my opinion.

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Etihad wifi pricing

After a while I asked to have my bed made, and freshened up in the lavatory during that time. The first class cabin has two lavatories — one by the flight deck, and then a main one on the right side of the cabin that’s large and stylish, with Begamote 22 amenities.

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Etihad first class bathroom A340

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Etihad first class bathroom A340

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Wing view

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Etihad airshow

Etihad’s bed is extremely comfortable, with great bedding and plenty of personal space. You also can’t beat that you have a door for total privacy. I still like Cathay Pacific’s “open” layout quite a bit, but this is tough to beat.

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Etihad first class bed A340

I managed to get a solid six or so hours of sleep, leaving me with seven hours to go to Los Angeles. I was actually awoken by repeated flash photography. The couple seated across from me was thrilled when they found out it was the inaugural flight, and chanted every few minutes about how they were making history by taking this flight. I appreciated their enthusiasm, but just wish it hadn’t involved flash.

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Etihad airshow

After waking up I spent a couple of hours catching up on work on my laptop.

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Etihad airshow

About four hours out of Los Angeles I figured I’d have my pre-arrival meal. I had “only” eaten a three course meal in the first 12+ hours of the flight, so was browsing the menu to decide what I wanted, because it all sounded good.

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Etihad airshow

I figured I’d have the cherry tomato starter, biryani for my main course, and molten chocolate cake for dessert. Yum, yum, and yum.

I called over the flight attendant to place an order, and she said “oh, there’s no need to look at the menu, we have almost nothing left. Let me call over the chef to tell you what we have.”

The chef came to my seat, and explained she still had:

  • A pastry basket
  • A breakfast ā€œstarterā€ with smoothie, yogurt, etc.
  • A bagel
  • Chicken and beef satay

I love the “dine when you want” option, but if that means you’re serving a first class passenger what essentially amounts to a potluck four hours prior to landing, I may have to reconsider.

Nothing quite goes with satay like a pastry basket. And nothing quite goes with a pastry basket like a bagel with some random veggies on it.

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Etihad first class pre-arrival meal

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Etihad first class pre-arrival meal

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Etihad first class pre-arrival meal

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Etihad first class pre-arrival meal

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Etihad first class pre-arrival meal

The best part of the meal was the cappuccino.

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Etihad first class pre-arrival cappuccino

About two hours before landing Andrew presented me with an inaugural flight certificate, which was pretty cool. Between the “prop” and the certificate, I was a happy camper.

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Etihad inaugural flight certificate

About 90 minutes out of Los Angeles we were flying over Oregon, and I opened the window to enjoy the views.

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View on approach into Los Angeles

30 minutes out of Los Angeles the captain came on the PA to give us updated arrival information. Shortly thereafter we began our gradual descent.

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View on approach into Los Angeles

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View on approach into Los Angeles

We approached runway 24R, where we had a smooth touchdown at around 2:20PM.

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View on approach into Los Angeles

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Camera on approach into Los Angeles

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Touchdown Los Angeles

Since this was an inaugural flight, some plane spotters were at LAX to photograph and videotape the plane landing. Thanks to SpeedbirdHD for sending me a link to the video they took of the flight landing at LAX ā€” it captures just how smooth the landing was (though it sure felt like we flared a long time):

After landing we held short of runway 24L for about five minutes, and then taxied behind a China Airlines 747 to our arrival gate.

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Taxiing to gate Los Angeles

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Taxiing to gate Los Angeles

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China Airlines 747 Los Angeles

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China Airlines 747 Los Angeles

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Taxiing to gate Los Angeles

There was quite an array of ground staff and video cameras assembled on the tarmac to greet the plane.

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Taxiing to gate Los Angeles

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Taxiing to gate Los Angeles

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Ground staff Los Angeles

Upon arrival at the gate it took them about 10 minutes to get the aircraft door open. We were supposed to deplane through door 1L, though the jet bridge was broken, so eventually everyone deplaned through door 2L.

While there was no excitement on departure in Abu Dhabi, they had quite a welcome committee assembled, with local politicians, Etihad PR people, etc. They were handing out LA tourism bags.

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Welcome on arrival in Los Angeles

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Welcome on arrival in Los Angeles

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Contents of welcome bag

Since there’s a US immigration facility in Abu Dhabi, you land in Los Angeles as a domestic passenger. That’s a bit awkward, because as far as I know it’s the only flight at Tom Bradley International Terminal where that’s the case.

So there was lots of signage, and we were directed to exit through the side of the security checkpoint.

From there we had to exit the terminal and take the escalator down to baggage claim, where we re-entered the terminal.

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Etihad signage Los Angeles

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Arrivals hall Los Angeles

Etihad offers their first and business class passengers complimentary chauffeur service, so I proceeded to the desk, and was quickly direct to the car that was waiting to take me to my hotel.

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Etihad Chauffeur Los Angeles

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Etihad Chauffeur Los Angeles

Bottom line on Etihad first class

Etihad offers a really solid first class hard product, between the fully enclosed suite and entertainment options. I also love the fact that they have in-flight wifi.

The service on this sector was generally good. The cabin manager was awesome, and the rest of the crew was friendly though a bit reserved.

Etihad’s food concept is awesome, but basically only being able to eat leftovers as your second meal on a 16+ hour flight was disappointing.

Still, Etihad offers a solid first class product, and I was excited to be part of their inaugural flight!

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Comments

  1. Finally the trip report we have a been waiting for! As always, your report did not disappoint! Loved it.

  2. @ Simo — Thanks! Intended to post it over the weekend, but 72 hours of downtime killed the chance of that happening…

  3. Any sense of how often the dine on demand issues are seen? Is it super common to have potluck as the only option?

  4. Really enjoyed this report. Thanks!

    Personally, I appreciate the self-service bars or minibars some airlines have. Saves having to ask for something little every time. It’s just much more convenient to have a bottle that you can just reach for and take a small sip out of before going right back to sleep. Or if you just wanted to snack on something while watching a movie. I really hate being ‘disturbed’ in the middle of the movie, even if it is really me pausing the show to speak to the FA. šŸ™‚

  5. @ Neil S. — On past flight they’ve always run out of many options as landing approaches, but never this many. I know Gary reports not ever having run across an issue like this, and he has done quite a few Etihad segments.

  6. Oh and I just wanted to ask:
    Etihad vs Singapore. Which do you think has the better overall product?

  7. @ Charlie — That’s a toughie, really depends on route, crew, etc. I’d say it’s tough to beat a daytime Singapore A380 Suites Class flight, though…

  8. Love the trip reports.

    Meant to ask this awhile ago, but always forget. How do you take all the great pictures of the take-off and landing? Are things different in 1st class? I’m always told to put electronics away at those times and the FA seem to think that includes cameras.

    Thanks!

  9. @ Jim — I’m just discreet about taking pictures and take them once the crew is seated, so I’ve never had an issue.

  10. I dunno, their menu, with the exception of the Grill section, looks like a standard first class menu you’d find on other airlines (in terms of number and type of options). Then again, that Grill section alone makes their dining menu pretty unique and special.

    To run out of most food options in first class is pretty embarrassing. Running out while on an inaugural flight? That’s just beyond sad. And this is Etihad, deep pockets is something they definitely have…

  11. Thanks for the great report! Couldn’t help notice that the croissant in the pre-landing pastries looks like the Burj Al Arab. Wonder if that was on purpose, LOL.

  12. Looks like your plane didn’t have live TV as part of the E-Box system, unfortunately. Just had that on AUH-JFK recently – pretty amazing to be able to watch the World Cup live while in the air! I know the award space is widely-regarded to be excellent – does that apply for 2 passengers as well?

  13. Pretty hard to see what the value of pre-clearance is if it makes both the departure and arrival procedures overly complicated.

  14. I would have been furious to be told that they had almost no food left and would have escalated the matter to the cabin manager. I guess the lesson learned is to order what you want for the whole flight at the beginning and have them hold the later meal(s) in reserve.

  15. The suites look very similar to Asiana’s new A380 (but no more minibar) – must be the same manufacturer.

  16. @ Todd — I guess I should have asked, though not sure how good of a job they would have done “reserving” food. Hindsight is 20/20…

  17. Lucky, forgot to ask, which system do you prefer, ā€œdine when you wantā€ or “plating at your seat” (like Turkish or Austrian do it)?

    Also, maybe if Etihad hadn’t loaded all of this still that wasn’t on the menu (breakfast starter? satay? did they raid the business class for you?), they might have had more of the regular first class food…

  18. Nice report!!!

    Any comment on the middle seats for couples?

    Is there a buddy seat?

    Is it possible to order your second meal in advance? For such a long flight 2 real meals are needed .

    Thanks!!

  19. @ Beachfan — The middle seats are great for people traveling together, as it’s easy to talk. There is also a buddy seat, though if in the middle seats I prefer just dining next to one another.

  20. @ wwk5d — Can I choose dine when you want AND plate at your seat? šŸ˜€

    That’s a real toughie, I guess it really depends on the type of flight. On a quick overnight I’ll take the “plating at your seat,” while I prefer the “dine when you want” concept on a longhaul flight where I might not want to eat when they’d otherwise serve food.

  21. Great report as usual. I am booked in First on the Etihad B787-9 in December and I am curious as to if there will be any significant differences compared to their First Class concept on their current flights.

  22. Interesting. I went back and read the business class segment review from this trip. I think opting for it would be pretty defensible unless the mileage cost was close. The menu was basically comparable for the starters and snacks, and it was presented better. First definitely has more extensive mains and deserts, plus some premium alcohol, but the running out issue makes it hard to fully take advantage. The entertainment system is the same, and it sounds like the service and landing treatment was pretty similar too. Considering how private the business seat is I’m not sure the door merits the premium.

  23. Thanks for another GREAT report. May have to add this flight to the finalist for my first aspirational trip. A few thoughts:
    1. As I was reading the food and drink options, I kept thinking “how can they possibly have enough of ALL those options for everyone?” Well, I guess I got my answer to that. They don’t.
    2. I caught the coke/pepsi gaff myself. I hate to say it, but you lost a bit of respect in my book using those interchangeably. I’d drink toilet water before Pepsi. Okay, maybe not. But, I’d go thirsty first. I was so disappointed to see that they only had Pepsi on the menu, that the airline lost a bit of my respect, too. (Say what you will about Delta–and I do–but they do always serve COKE!)
    3. Thank you so much for the laugh: “opened my window . . .” was great. Maybe not intended to be, but the image was priceless. ; )

  24. Great report! I can’t image how someone could survive 16+ hours in economy, though.

    Out of curiosity, are you ever going to review Aeroflot?

  25. Three hour meal service sounds pretty long but I guess this is what happens when it’s a full flight and you can pick whatever you want.

    @ Lucky – would you say that Etihad’s service approach is kind of like CX where they expect you to ask for everything, especially if you are in first-class behind a closed door?

  26. @ Ivan Y — Yep, I’d say that’s pretty accurate, though perhaps Etihad is even less attentive than Cathay.

  27. Just came on this flight yesterday, they switched over to a 777-200 LR plane. And yes Lucky, they do serve cappuccino even in cattle class:-) But it is a damn long flight, love the fact that you can clear customs and immigration in Abu Dhabi.

  28. I’m now shaking in excitement for this flight, I mean the second food service is disappointing, but this will definitely be better then BA first or AA first, the two carriers I’m used to. Thanks for another great report!

  29. Hi, I want to ask that is it necessary to tip the driver of Etihad chauffeur service?
    And if so, how much do you suggest, I am not familiar with American custom….

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