Etihad airways is the newest of the gulf carriers but perhaps the most aggressive in terms of expansion and innovation especially in the premium classes. They brand themselves as a classy and elegant carrier but reviews coming in from Economy passengers have expressed an overall disappointment in the on board service. AirlineRatings got on board Etihad’s economy class for a full 19 hours over two flights to see for ourselves how this airline, which consistently seems to offer amazing value for money really stacks up.
Seat and Amenities
Both flights were overnight and an amenity kit containing a pair of socks, toothpaste, toothbrush, ear plugs and eye mask were handed out in the headset package. Each seat also has a large warm blanket and an ingenious pillow that splits apart to make a neck pillow so you no longer need to drag one of those around with you taking up precious carry-on bag space. The funky eye mask, which does little to block out the light has two sides to it ” the green is “wake me for meals’ and the red is “do not disturb’. The 787 Dreamliner is an incredible aircraft with high overhead compartments and large windows that make you feel like you have more space even if you don’t. The 787 economy seats provide enhanced comfort with a unique “fixed wing’ headrest on each seat, adjustable lumbar support, a seat width of approximately 19 inches, and an 11.1” personal TV monitor. Seat pitch is 31-32 inch with a 6inch recline. The older style economy on the A330 has similar dimensions in terms of space but features the standard headrest. The Dreamliner features mood lighting at all times so you never have to board or wake to those bright white florescent lights.
Customer service on board
The Etihad cabin crew are presented immaculately and the uniform is one of my favourites. On Long haul flights, wearing an orange pinafore, you will find the brilliant flying nannies. The Flying Nannies provide an extra pair of hands to help get children settled for bed, keep them entertained or simply offer advice and support to parents. Every Flying Nanny is equipped with a goody bag of games and activities to help keep the kids occupied, easing the pressure on parents. Seeing one of the kids write an “I love you’ card for the nanny was very sweet I have to say. A lot of website visitors have commented that the don’t find the service on Etihad friendly and I have to agree. It was good, and I couldn’t fault it one bit but it wasn’t overly personal or friendly. However, most of the crew are of Eastern European or Asian origin and that “have a chat banter’ in this setting is not really in their culture. I have mentioned in other reviews that I am a westerner and I like the Australian, British, American banter you can have with the crew but Middle Eastern, European and Asian carriers are not like that and I think passengers need to be a little more aware of the differences between cultures and be grateful for the efficient service they are receiving. And on that point I must praise Etihad on the speed of their service - no airline gets the meals out, rubbish collected and lights dimmed as well as they do, which on a night or early morning flight makes a big difference. Also, you can forget those overbearing duty-free and customs announcements - everything is done through the in-flight entertainment system as a pop up on your screen.
As mentioned above, one thing I love about the Etihad catering is that they somehow seem to do it quicker than other carriers ” it doesn’t take long to get to all the passengers and they offer three choices of main so something for everyone. On the late night flights they simply hand around a snack bag which means within an hour the lights are off and you can sleep ” this is such a brilliant idea. Etihad also give their passengers a hot towel service on long haul flights and real cutlery which is appreciated. I’m a sucker for the hot towel service and would have loved one on the shorter eight hour flight too. What I didn’t like so much was the serving size and quality of the meals. It’s ok and I ate it all ” I’m really not fussy - but I did feel hungry and thought the actual quality was a bit poor. We asked for snacks on the 10 hour flight and all we could get was bags of salty crackers in between the official snack service which was a bag of popcorn. If Etihad could drop the third choice and make the other two bigger and better and offer better snacks I think they would perfect their economy product. The competitors do offer snack bars on long haul flights and the quality is better, Drink runs were frequent and crew were happy to serve you multiple things at a time.
The personal seatback screens on the Dreamliner are amazing. Large, clear and full of functionality. Etihad’s E-box entertainment system across its fleet features live news channels, hundreds of movies and TV shows, seat chat and games. Where Etihad really wins is its in-flight connectivity. Across most of the fleet you can simply connect to their system using your own mobile phone network and go about your business. Roaming fees apply as set out by your mobile carrier and in my case it wasn’t cheap but it was fast and reliable. There is also the option on some flights to buy a WiFi pass for a set amount of time. Each seat is equipped with in seat power and USB ports.
In summary, I found that while there are one or two things that Etihad could improve on, overall I have to say there is a lot, and I mean an awful lot, that they do very well and why they are perhaps one of my favourites fro economy travel. The modern fleet, in-flight connectivity and general efficiency make a long haul flight more bearable. Also look at the airfare - often Etihad come in cheaper than the competitor and they scream value for money. If the airline can only upgrade their catering they will be giving the best of the best a run for their money in terms of excellence in economy.