There is no shortage of capacity flying from the United Arab Emirates to Dallas/Forth Worth. For a start, Emirates fly non-stop daily from Dubai (DXB) with an Airbus A380 aircraft. More importantly for present purposes, Etihad fly three times a week non-stop from Abu Dhabi (AUH) with a Boeing 777-200LR aircraft. At 8,072 miles in distance and scheduled for a whopping 16 hours 20 minutes, Etihad’s flight is the tenth-equal longest commercial flight in the world.
Skipping over the ground service at Etihad’s hub, which is the real weak point of Etihad’s offering (although it is worth noting that Etihad have very recently finished their lounge after US preclearance in Abu Dhabi), we were down the jetway into the first class cabin.
On-board we were greeted and generally made to feel welcome by the crew. Etihad’s Boeing 777 aircraft are generally configured with eight Diamond First Suites. It’s worth noting that this product does not have overhead lockers – while on past flights we have elected to store our cases in the overhead bins in the business class cabin rather than shove them under our ottoman, our flight had empty seats in First so we simply stored our cases in those instead.
We then sat and waited. And waited. The scheduled departure time came and went. We continued to wait. We sat for about an hour with no update as to the delay or the reason for our delay. During this time, the cabin crew provided pleasant service, including a hot / cold towel and nuts to go with our pre-departure drink. Pajamas and amenity kits were also personally delivered to our seat.
We used the time to contemplate our surroundings. Yes indeed, the Etihad Diamond First cabin is extremely elegant. Between the fifty shades of beige, wood trim and fine leather seats by Poltrona Frau, Etihad have done a great job.
The cabin design stands in stark contrast to close UAE competitor, Emirates. We’ve reviewed the Emirates first class cabin in the past, which is almost universally considered to be a very gaudy design. Of course, Etihad do have some similarities with Emirates – for example, they still offer a mini-bar (although it is smaller). As with Emirates, we tend to find the drinks stored in there to be too warm for our liking.
Eventually (and quite abruptly) the cabin doors were closed and we pushed back, taxiing out past Abu Dhabi’s rather uniquely shaped air traffic control tower.
Very soon after take-off, we were served drinks. We must say that circling out of the UAE with a plate of nibbles and a bottle of Champagne Gosset 2004 Grand Millésime Brut was very pleasant. Gosset is one of the smallest Grande Marque Champagne producers and we do like their product.
What really sets Etihad First apart is its catering. As is well known, Etihad have a crew member dedicated as a chef for the First cabin. And if you did not know that, you certainly would once onboard as a First passenger. On every flight we have taken in Etihad First the chef has always approached us and personally introduced themselves as the chef and outlined their background before the aircraft doors have even closed.
The chef onboard actually has on-the-ground experience as a chef in a restaurant or something like that, and so usually shares with passengers what their unique specialty is (which is often based around the cuisine of their home country). We find it great that Etihad so consistently tell the customer what to expect on board and don’t leave the customer to self service. If anything, as a repeat customer we would almost rather Etihad made slightly less of a big deal about the chef onboard. We digress.
Despite the ability to ‘dine-on-demand’ in Etihad First, we elected to eat as soon as possible after the flight departed (not that we were worried that the plane would run out of food).
We started with an hors d’œuvre, but we can’t recall what it was.
This was followed by the duo of Balik salmon and seared tuna. This was delicious. Etihad are also understood to be in the process of introducing caviar in First.
This was followed by arabic chickpea soup. We hit some turbulence as we were flying, hence the slight spillage of soup on the side of our plate.
A palate cleanser followed, before the main event…
… a steak from the grill.
This was followed with a barrage of desserts as we were flying over picturesque Iran.
Later in the flight, we also had ‘The Etihad Steak Sandwich’. This was exceptional, as it always is. We challenge our readers to find a better steak sandwich in the air. We really do. It is even better than the steak sandwich we were served in Qantas First from Dallas/Forth Worth to Sydney (which coincidentally is the longest flight in the world today).
We enjoyed our sandwich with a few glasses of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. The crew were very apologetic when the plane ran out.
For those interested below here are the key pages from the menu on our flight (click on any of them to expand).
And for those even more interested, here is the wine list.
When it is time to sleep, the seat is reclined to fully flat and the armrests fall to be flush with the rest of the surface…
… a mattress topper and bedding is added…
… and voilà, you have a bed. It is comfortable.
The current bedding is a huge improvement over what was originally offered in the Diamond First Suite, which barely separated you from the leather. If Etihad wanted to improve it further, it could consider thick memory foam as a mattress and adding another full size pillow.
The star-effect lighting in the ceiling is a nice touch.
As we mentioned earlier, Etihad have done a great job with the Diamond First Suite. We find the Poltrona Frau leather seats to be extremely comfortable (Poltrona Frau being the Italian leather supplier for Ferrari and other high-end marques).
We must say that we find the seat a little narrower than might be expected. This is because the aisles are quite wide and this robs from the extra width that the suites could have used. Although it is worth noting that the Emirates First suite is actually narrower again than that offered by Etihad.
The suite doors are held open for take-off and landing by the catch pictured on top of the door below. There is a cupboard located in the recess under the door for your jacket.
While it looks solid in photographs, the insets in the suite door dividers actually have a metal lattice pattern, which is about half open. The holes don’t photograph well and make it appear like the panel is solid, which it is not. We think the effect works well.
The seat is controlled by a touchscreen and is electrically adjustable at least seven different ways and has a great massage functionality. We keep searching (without success we might add) for a way to dim this touchscreen when the lights are off and you are trying to sleep.
Inside a magnetically held shut cubby, is the entertainment remote, headset jack, ethernet port, as well as S-Video and RGB ports (there is no HDMI connector). There is also a power outlet, which required no adapter for our Australian charger.
The suite has a sizeable 23″ screen.
We find that Etihad’s entertainment system, E-Box, isn’t great itself. In our opinion, there is not enough content that will be of interest to a western audience. Also, western options for music are all just a few options to produce one long soundtrack, rather than individual tracks.
We also saw this recently while flying Thai Airways, and wondered whether there is some financial incentive in the music licensing arrangements for doing that. It is extremely frustrating as it is difficult to know what the soundtrack contains or to skip tracks, so we opted to listen to our own tablet.
The flight also offered wi-fi with the following charges:
Of most interest in the amenity kits handed out in flight is the Le Labo miniatures contained inside.
Having left Abu Dhabi horrendously late, we didn’t recover a great deal of time en route, resulting in a delayed landing into Dallas/Forth Worth airport.
With all the press around Etihad’s ‘First Apartment’ and ‘Business Studio’, it can be hard to remember that the vast majority of the Etihad fleet isn’t yet ‘re-imagined’. Just as well then that Etihad’s ‘Diamond’ first class suite product is so good. We find the service excellent and what really sets Etihad First apart is its catering. Having a crew member dedicated as a chef for the First cabin really produces extraordinary results.