As part of last year’s summer vacation to The Maldives, my family and I had a chance to enjoy Singapore Airlines on the outbound from San Francisco. But just like the outbound, we were unable to all fly home together. On this occasion I got to fly with our seven-year-old daughter on Etihad while my wife flew solo on British Airways, and we all met back in California. Being that my work has me out of town a lot I get plenty of opportunities to fly solo, so I was truly happy that my wife had that chance. Plus, that meant I got to fly with my daughter solo, which I’ve only done one other time.
When our daughter was 13 months old, we made our first international plane trip as a family of three. We flew to Sydney, Australia on a United Airlines red-eye and during that trip she coined the words night night plane, what 13-month-old gets what a red-eye is? To this day, she still uses that term anytime we’re flying inquiring if she’ll get a chance to sleep on an overnight flight. My hart melts a little every time I hear it.
We’ve been very lucky to have flown Etihad several times up front and I really enjoy the hard product and, on most occasions, the soft product too. This particular trip was probably one of the better ones, but not the best, that still is hands down our first flight on EY back in 2016 when our in-flight chef was François, and he literally spoiled us rotten. Getting back to this journey, this is a morning departure from Abu Dhabi that departs at 8:50 AM and arrives about 17 hours later in LA at around 1:35 PM the same day. Yes, this is a very long journey but when you have a comfortable suite and bed it’s very easy to survive.
On this route Etihad flies a 777-200 LR aircraft, although today it looks like they now fly a 777-300 ER (which I’ve not had the pleasure of flying on this carrier). Our plane consisted of two rows of seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. The cabin went out full, which I’d only experienced one other time when flying on the A380 from Abu Dhabi to New York. It appeared that all the other guest knew each other and the crew too. That being said once we took off everyone else went to sleep till breakfast except for my daughter and me.
As soon as we boarded, the staff immediately took our luggage and stowed it for us under or footrest. The first-class cabin offers an enclosed suite with a sliding door. The suites don’t have floor to ceiling partitions, but the walls are about 6’ tall, so they’re very private. When you’re sitting or lying down, you’ll only see the tops of peoples hair as they walk by. If you’re traveling solo any seat will really do, but the windows offer the most privacy. For us, the middle seats were perfect because we could close the doors and have double the space and dueling TV’s. Which always makes for a fun experience when traveling with someone. The seat also has lots of storage a TV almost as wide as the suite and a seat belt on the ottoman so you can dine with a friend if so desired. There’s also a thin storage closet for your street clothes too but not much else.
Once we were settled, the purser came by and provided amenity kits and pajamas for the two of us. The jammies are from a company I’ve never heard of called A Friend Of Mine and the amenity kit (not pictured) is from Aqua Di Parmi. That being said, when will the airlines start making kids sized PJ’s? Kids want to wear them too, right. In any event I quickly changed into some super comfy sleeping attire and my daughter was able to wear the shirt as a long jumper. We were both happy and comfortable in short order. Once back at our seats we were provided the menu (book) and also a glass of their amazing mint lemonade, dates, a warm towel and a free WIFI card for 100MB of data. I don’t know what it is about the mint lemonade that Etihad serves, it’s just so perfect. The right amount of sweet and sour with a hint of mint. My mouth is just watering writing this.
Shortly thereafter the on-board chef came by to take meal orders. Yes folks, Etihad has an on-board chef whose primary job is to make you delicious meals and make sure your food is as amazing as you want it to be. Other airlines offer this kind of service too, and to some degree I feel like it’s just a gimmick. With the intent of trying to make the airlines sound swankier then they already are. If the concept is delivered as presented then it’s truly an amazing inflight perk. In this case, since the chef was just taking orders vs asking what your meal likes and dislikes are so he could customize your meal it was more a gimmick then a perk. Now don’t get me wrong their food is amazing, but in years past it’s been leaps and bounds better. I think it’s a combination of not finding the right personable staff to be chefs and Ethiad losing billions with a capital B over the last few years while making systematic cuts in their premium travel experience.
Frankly our first trip on Etihad spoiled us rotten, our chef was the head chef of the airlines, were spoiled from the start. He made sure that anything we asked for was done with gusto and went 1000% above and beyond. For example, when my wife told him her food likes and dislikes, he made her a gourmet meal that was off menu, and she loved it. When my daughter asked for chocolate ice cream for dessert, he came back with a chocolate trio and three years later she still talks about it. When an airline advertises perks like dine on demand, where you can pick what’s on the menu or have the choice of them making food based on your wants and needs then I’d expect them to deliver as advertised. On this trip where the food really was excellent, there was just no panache or surprise. I got what was on the menu as described and offered nothing else. I know this may sound like a complaint, which it’s not meant to be, just an observation of what they offer vs what they provide. These are the little things that separate a good airline from a great one.
Once we were airborne it was time to eat. Even though this was a morning flight, Etihad has an all-day menu. Meaning that they have breakfast, lunch and dinner options on demand. If I have my story straight it’s because the flight is so long and you arrive 5 hours later the same day in LA, so it’s conceivable to have any meal at any time. My daughter and I opted for linner (lunch/dinner) get it. Yes, it was a bigger meal, but it’s what we wanted, and I knew that we’d ostensibly not eat again till closer to landing when they serve breakfast.
Overall, I really enjoyed my meal. Every course was delicious and very flavorful. My steak was served as ordered (medium rare) and the au poivre pepper sauce was a perfect accompaniment. I’ve said this a thousand times, but I’ll say it again. I’m still amazed that an airplane can provide a steak at your desired temperature, this is truly a feat. I know that the staff have all the right tools to make this work, but seriously being able to serve a restaurant quality meal while flying blows me away every time. When airlines like Etihad, Lufthansa and Singapore can provide this level or food and service why can’t United or American do the same? I know why, but when there are times that the foreign carriers are cheaper in business or first over a US airline, color me confused.
Other highlights of the trip…
As I mentioned earlier, we had an enclosed suite and although not like Singapore or Etihad’s A380 suites this is still a very comfortable way to fly. The seat when set out in lie-flat mode is over 6’ long and plenty wide too. It’s not too narrow and not too small for my frame like some of the other products out there. The TV is large too! With all the extra storage under the ottoman, the coat closet and the cubbies between the armrests provide just the right amount of space for all your gadgets.
Turn down Service
It’s just one of those things. Why make your own bed when someone else will gladly do it for you. They provide a cushioned duvet to sleep on and then a blanket for warmth, plus a few plush pillows too. When it’s all set up you’re in a very comfy and private cocoon. Yeah!!
I’m not sure when they started offering this to their first class guests, but when we flew them in the summer of 2017 this was not a perk. Fast forward one year later and each guest gets a card for 100MB of data. Sure it’s not a ton, but it’s definitely enough to keep in touch with friends and light web browsing. I didn’t notice what the speed was but it was good enough for me.
Making sure my daughter is happy and enjoying her experience
You can tell a lot about cabin crew based on how they interact with kids. You know that if they treat them nicely and make sure they have a good time, then you know that they’ll do the same for adults. In this case they staff were amazing. They would talk to her and ask her what if anything she needed. They brought her games and toys too which is a nice touch. When they crouch down and spoke to her and addressed her by name it really provided that warm personal touch. Thank you Etihad.
Overall we had a great flight. The food and service were just as expected. The seats were just as comfortable as I remembered too. The movie and TV options were plentiful and I was not bored on a 17 hour flight. I’m not sure when I’ll be flying them again, but I look forward to my next opportunity.