My Best Etihad First Class Flight Ever!

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Etihad. All things considered they’re a good airline, though in terms of the first class experience there are a couple of things they could change to make the product truly fantastic.

Up until now my beef with Etihad has revolved around two issues:

On Tuesday I flew from Seoul Incheon to Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways, and I was curious what was awaiting me aboard. This was actually my first time flying Etihad on a route that wasn’t to/from the US. It wasn’t off to a good start, given the 14 hour delay.

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Etihad airshow between Incheon and Abu Dhabi

The flight was operated by an Airbus A340-600 — what a gorgeous plane. Too bad they’re gas guzzlers, so we don’t see many of them flying anymore.

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Etihad Airways A340-600

Etihad Airways First Class Suite

Etihad’s hard product is fantastic. The suites are fully enclosed, the finishes aren’t too over the top (I’m looking at you, Bling-master Emirates), the entertainment system is extensive, the bedding is top notch, etc. Purely for sleeping or staying entertained, products don’t get much better than Etihad first class.

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Etihad Airways A340 first class seat

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Etihad Airways A340 first class seat

Furthermore, Etihad has wifi on most of their longhaul planes, and at $21.95 for the entire flight with no data limits, that’s quite a good value!

Etihad’s A340-600s feature a total of 12 first class suites spread across three rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.

I assigned myself seat 2K, and I was one of only four passengers in the cabin. There was a lady in seat 2A, and then a couple in 1D & 1G.

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Etihad Airways A340 first class cabin

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Etihad Airways A340 first class bed

So you can’t beat Etihad when it comes to the hard product, though that’s not something I’ve ever criticized them on.

Etihad Airways First Class Service

This was really the big difference on this segment. Middle Eastern airlines have a reputation for good service, though I don’t think they deserve it… well, unless we’re just comparing them to US airlines.

I find the service is often forced and insincere, and the crew sometimes lacks cohesion, given how international they are (there are cliques among crew members, so they often don’t work as well together as a crew that has more cultural values in common).

Typically in first class on Middle Eastern airlines they greet you with the most over the top welcome (“It will be my absolute privilege to look after you, and if you ever need anything — anything at all — please don’t hesitate to contact any of us. We’re here for you.”). And then sometimes as soon as the door closes I’m left wondering what happened to that enthusiasm. It’s not always the case, but many times is, in my experience.

Fortunately that wasn’t the case on this sector. This crew — or more specifically the flight attendant and chef taking care of me — were S-P-E-C-T-A-C-U-L-A-R.

After a 14 hour delay, the senior first officer was at the door and chatted with the four people in first class for at least 10 minutes to apologize for the delay and say how embarrassing it was. The guy was awesome — clearly an aviation geek based on how he spoke.

Then there was one Romanian flight attendant taking care of me (I forgot her name, unfortunately), and then the onboard chef, Alejandro.

They were both fantastic. I’m not sure if it was in part because the cabin was just a third full or what, but they were top notch.

The flight attendant was constantly smiling and extremely attentive, and the onboard chef was the first onboard chef I’ve had that actually added value to the experience, in my opinion. I’ll cover that more in the section below, though.

Etihad Airways First Class Food

The flight was delayed 14 hours — initially it was supposed to take off at midnight and land at 5AM, while instead it took off at 2PM and landed at 7PM. The issue, as you might expect, is that the flight was catered as it was originally intended to be.

They had a “kitchen anytime” menu (aka a snack menu), given the late night departure, figuring most people want to go straight to sleep:

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And then they had a more extensive breakfast menu, including options “from the grill:”

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During boarding Chef Alejandro came by to apologize profusely for the situation and say that he tried to get catering to change up the menu, but there was nothing they could do.

But that didn’t stop him from being awesome. He said “forgot the menu, why don’t you tell me what kind of food you like, and I’ll prepare something just for you.” I explained I love everything except veal, pork, and lamb.

And he created one heck of a meal based on that. To start he made me a nice Asian noodle dish — it was surprisingly flavorful and spicy.

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Etihad first class appetizer

Then he made me a lovely salad with some salmon.

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Etihad first class salad

And then most impressive was the main course he made me. A surf & turf and mixed grill, as he called it. Seriously, it was un-freaking-believably good, and that’s despite the fact that this wasn’t even something on the menu. It would seem he got the shrimp from the kimchi, the steak from the steak sandwich and breakfast menu, and then the chicken and potatoes from the breakfast menu as well.

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Etihad first class main course

The craziest part? He apologized to me that he couldn’t do better. It was hands down the best main course I’ve had on an Etihad flight, even though he pieced it together using ingredients from various parts of the menu.

Then they forgot to cater ice cream, though I was perfectly happy with baklava and cappuccino. Mmm…

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Etihad first class cappuccino and baklava

Then before landing he said “we don’t have much left, but I’ll get creative and make you something good. What do you feel like?” Oddly I actually felt like having breakfast since my body clock was in some weird, imaginary timezone. Alejandro was such a pro that I didn’t even order anything, I just told him to bring me whatever.

He made me an amazing fruit appetizer with blueberry yogurt drizzled on the top.

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Etihad first class breakfast appetizer

Then for the main course I had the breakfast taster.

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Etihad first class breakfast sampler

I just can’t say enough good things about Alejandro. Even with a fully stocked kitchen I’ve found Etihad’s chefs to really lack creativity, and wondered what the point of having them onboard was if they can’t manage the food supply and do anything truly creative.

Alejandro really changed my perception of onboard chefs. And I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, because thanks to him I have higher expectations going forward.

Etihad First Class Tarmac Transfer

I’ve never arrived at a remote in Abu Dhabi stand after a longhaul Etihad flight in first class, so I was thrilled when there were three 7-Series BMWs waiting to take first class passengers to immigration — awesome!

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Etihad first class tarmac chauffeur service

Etihad First Class Bottom Line

It’s amazing how a few exceptional employees can turn what would otherwise be a disappointing flight into a great one. Chef Alejandro, the flight attendant, and the first officer were all top notch, and definitely made for my best Etihad flight yet.

Comments

  1. But they still seem to have run out of food….or am I reading, “We don’t have much left, but I’ll get creative and make you something good. What do you feel like?” wrong?

  2. Agree with Nick.

    Am beginning to think it’s just not practical to do the menu as they do. Yes, you finally got a great chef. Doesn’t seem like there are many of them.

    I’d rather have a set menu, like Cathay, with some choices – and know that I’ll be able to have meals when I want them.

  3. Perhaps the onboard chefs are just supposed to do a better job of “spinning” the running out of food. Or you are supposed to entrust them so much to make you something interesting that you don’t notice that they didn’t actually have your first, second, third, fourth or fifth choice, if you’d asked.

  4. Great to hear they didn’t run out of food this time! Hopefully Chef Alejandro will get some Savoy training so he’ll be eligible to work on the Residences!!! He’s quite resourceful to create all those meals for you!

  5. Good thing you didn’t have to settle for the “foul medames”. Never having had fūl midammis, I might have been tempted to try it. But not when forewarned that it was “foul”. Maybe because of the time it spent sitting around during the flight delay? 🙂

  6. Glad to hear it was an excellent flight.

    Agree with both Nick and Neil. If they “don’t have much left”, and the cabin was only 1/3 full. It’s apparent that the quantity of food catered has not improved at all, despite the publicity your last couple of posts on the issue have received, along with them reaching out to you.

    It’s a shame that an airline wanting to be considered as one of the top airlines in the world can’t figure out how to properly cater a plane for First Class.

  7. I would think with 3 mofos on board and a 14-hour delay, the better give you the best service of your life! No brainer there.. just sayin’ is all.

  8. “Etihad’s A340-600s feature a total of 12 first class suites spread across four rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.”

    For someone who calculates how much miles and points are worth, I expect better math from you, Lucky 😉

  9. Quite an impressive trip report! And I do not think I’ve read anything about Etihad on any of my favourite blogs.
    Have you seen any affiliations with MUC during the flight?? What camera do you use??

  10. Lucky – How many miles did you use for this flight and what was your itinerary like? I’m assuming 40K AA miles for GMP-AUH-CAI? Any legs missing? I’d like to take a similar trip sometime, it’s definitely worth the low miles for a flight that long.

  11. And while it’s great the chef was able to make some stuff for you…I do agree with the others, their meal plan seems to be such a mess.

    “we don’t have much left, but I’ll get creative and make you something good” seems to be “we ran out of items from the regular menu, so let me throw together some bit and pieces of whats left, spruce up the presentation, and voila!”

    I mean, good for him for being creative, but they really need to study how others like Emirates, ANA, etc, have a “dine when you want” menu and still not run out of food.

  12. If this is what you got in F I would love to see what J and Y received. The cabin and place setting looks amazing and I love that they picked you up in a BMW but that ramen noodle starter and wilted rocket salad leaves a lot to be desired! I would have walked off that plane either starving and/or drunk as that doesn’t look like enough food for 14h.

  13. interesting, so the takeaway from this post is that the best kinda food (big component of soft product) is one that a creative chef creates on the fly. that apparently makes for the best meals in F. and someone like me who often is a big proponent of saying “surprise me” rather than making a choice from a set menu, I think this bodes well.

    I look forward to onboard chefs like alejandro now (the next time I fly EY, although which other airline has OB chefs?) and because of that I really hope he doesnt move onto the Res, and instead more such awesome chefs join the ranks of the regular F cabin.

    lastly, not sure how exactly EY does its catering but obv something seems to be off if they’ve ‘almost run out of food’ in a cabin that was only 1/3rd full. not to mention your prev posts about the delay made it seem like you were the only F passenger for this flight, so dunno if the other 3 were last min (purchased) tix, upgrades or rebooked from another airline (that was having probs/delays at ICN at the time)… I mean I dont understand whoever caters for them (looks like LSG skychef in this case?) can not get more food or even after a 14 heads up, not get appropriate food for the new flight time to make for a more apt menu. but I suppose atleast one component of their incompetence worked in your favor.

    ahh soo many Qs to ponder, will someone from EY just set the record straight of how you run your operations?! 😉

  14. I’m beginning to wonder how much value I should put into your food reviews given that you pretty much only seem to eat airplane and hotel food.

  15. Staff like Chef Alejandro are gems. These are the people that will make the company/airline look good, even when things go bad, because they simply know how to make best use of the situation, no matter how gloomy or difficult it might be.

    Perhaps with onboard chefs, the catering strategy should be different now.

    But I am not sure if the onboard chef can cope with a full 12 pax F class, if the catering was like what Lucky experienced – mismatched meals for the delayed flight. Given that this is Etihad F class, and they have no flexibility in changing meals to suit the departure time for the delayed flight, I think the catering planning team needs to pull up their socks seriously. (and yes, they ran out of food twice when Lucky was on it. Serious embarrassment.)

  16. I’m glad your flight didn’t suck. It’s awesome that you had such an amazing chef, but it’s disappointing to see that they still ran out of food – at least that’s what I gather from Alejandro saying that they didn’t have much left.

  17. For people paying many $$$ for first class, you would think they would throw free wifi in as a feature…

  18. I thought the 12 hour delay was because they found out last minute that you were on the flight and felt compelled to bring in their best chef and flight attendant.

  19. @ Nick — Well they somewhat ran out of non-breakfast items, since they were just working with the snack menu, basically. But he still proposed some non-breakfast options, though I was fine having breakfast.

  20. Agree with Nick, Neil, C Diddy, wwk5d, etc that Alejandro sounds awesome but running out of food AGAIN is still a big negative.

  21. I’m sorry Ben but those meals look horrible.
    It just looks like the chef picked up some items from a (cheap) buffet and threw it on a nice looking plate.

  22. Just my 2 cents here… I flew EY F twice, and while the first time they were short of non-breakfast food before arrival, the chef improvised and came up with a great meal. In my latest trip AUH-CDG the chef was, once again, fantastic and this time they did not run out of food and I had two enjoyable meals.

    Secret is: place your orders soon enough to beat other customers 🙂

  23. One thought regarding the frequent comments about them running short on food when there were only 4 people in first. Maybe I’m wrong, but don’t they just put on enough food for the number flying? I understand that there should still be plenty, but I don’t think the “only 1/3 full” argument is valid. I would assume they have food for the number booked on the flight–give or take, not for the number of people the plane will hold if full.

  24. @ mbh — It depends. Sometimes they cater it full even when the cabin is mostly empty, while other times they don’t. But yes, you’re right, they don’t always cater the cabin full when they know the flight won’t be either.

  25. @ Lucky – it’s nice they took care of you a lot better this time but it seems very strange that they could re-cater given a known long delay.

  26. Lucky-
    I’m looking for Etihad space for an AA award, but I’m confused: is there any difference between “Guest Suite/Guest First” and “Open Seat/First Class Saver/First Suite Freedom”? It almost looks as if “Guest Suite” is actually Business and the other two are First class.
    And do you know which one would be available to AA?
    Thanks!

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