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July 15, 2011

Etihad New Pearl Business Class Sydney to Abu Dhabi

Since I have moved to UAE, I have a lot of opportunities to fly Etihad. I have experienced all classes from First to Business to Economy on various length flights. Etihad have came a long way from my first ride with them in 2006. This report focus on things Etihad do well and things need improvements from my most recent long haul trip with them.

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I have pre booked Etihad Chauffeur drive in Sydney and Abu Dhabi. Their call centre in India couldn't understand any address in both city causing confusions. To my surprise, An Audi Q7 turned up (15 minutes delayed due to traffic) at my place in Sydney. After a comfortable 30 mins travel, we reached the Int'l Terminal one.

The first problem started at check in.

I have 10 kgs overweighted baggage despite my higher limit in Business Class. Etihad staff could not waive any of them but stick to the ticket baggage allowance of 30kg. I have experienced the same problem and same attitude last time in Sydney so I am well prepared to take the excess baggage in my hand carry as much as possible. Out of my 200+ premium long haul flights, only Etihad are firmed on baggage allowance without leeway. Emirates allows 10 kg extra regardless of travelling class. Not good impression by Etihad. The agent did come by later on the plane to apologize citing it is the policy they have to follow before door close.

Etihad use Air New Zealand Lounge. This lounge used to be one of the best lounge in Sydney but has also gone downhill during the last 2 years. There are still a considerable amount of food on offer compare to Qantas lounge but the quality has dropped. It was a stunning lounge with great staff, great food and great views!

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The spacious lounge are not full despite 2 United B747-400 passengers (plus GOLD members and Red Carpet members).

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The best thing of the lounge is the view. Etihad A340-642 A6-EHE is on duty today. One of two daily United B747-400 pushed back and taxi out for US.

We are boarding very early at 1350 despite a departure time at 1450. I have noticed all of my Etihad flights board early and depart before STD. They are very punctual indeed. The boarding process was hassle free.

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At 2:15pm I have boarded and discovered this plane features the new Business Class and only 12 passengers out of 32 seats on today's flights.

EY451 Sydney to Abu Dhabi

A6-EHE 14hr02mins

130/292 POB FL400 Mach 0.82

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A fully reclined Pearl Business Class aisle seat. The beige and cream colour created a warm and inviting atmosphere. The end product looks very sophisticated.

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With all onboard, we pushed back 10 minutes prior to the stated departure time and taxi to end of Runway 34L for takeoff on this sunny Sydney day.

I have chosen seat 9E (The middle pair seat aka love seat) knowing no one sit next to me will have extra space for myself and my legs.

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Route today: we're taking a more NW route instead of more W route last time I flew this flight. Total flying time is 14hr 02mins. Cruising FL400 and Mach 0.82

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Cocktails and canapes. (Beef Kofta). My choice of drink: Mimosa

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The calm atmosphere in forward Business Class cabin.

No more amenity kit even on this 14 hours flight. Sights of cost cutting appeared.

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Menu today: Etihad have a dine on demand, dine anytime concept. You can choose any item on the menu for dining at your own leisure.

I chose to dine around 5pm Sydney time with 2nd meal around midnight before sleep.

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First Course: Salmon Gravlax. Note now Business Class meal are served in tray and the bread has been reduced in size.

I have Pocari Sweat as drink. This help to replace electrolyte in your body and cure dehydration during flight.

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Main Course: Beef Fillet and Five leaf salad as side course. The beef was cooked well with ternderness. It wasn't dry at all.

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Dessert: Fruit and Ice Cream. Other option include Apple Tart. I skipped the cheese plate.

I always think Etihad's catering is of very high standard and presentation was fantastic. This is one area they score very well.

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After the meal service. I introduce myself to the purser, who kindly arrange a photo shoot of the First Class for me. There were 2 passengers in First Class.

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The purser turned on the moodlight to help me with photography.

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One thing Etihad's First Class don't have is a mini-bar. Instead passenger were given Voss water bottle and a bag of nuts. Not as good and comprehensive as Emirates. But the seats are much wider and more spacious then Emirates A380.

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Very wide and spacious First Class. The wall divider are very tall.

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All the light were turned off and the crew kindly made bed for more photo shoot. The crew were fantastic at my disposal.

I have noticed the crews attitude turned around from a very cold, unsure a few years back to more willing to engage with customer. Etihad onboard service is improving.

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After photography was done, I have some Green Tea and a bottle of Voss (only First Class customer receive this but the crew were kind to me).

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It is sunset time after 7 hours flying Westward. I spend some time watching the sunset over the engines.

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More Business Cabin photo. This is taken from the Aft Business Class cabin (2nd cabin)

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Not much difference in terms of leg room on the new seat to the old one. Notice the wall divider divide the two seats. This can be manually pull up and raised for privacy. For sleeping, I am 186cm tall and my leg cannot be fully stretched forward due to lack of space. The flat bed will work fine for anyone who is about 183cm or less.

The new seat does offer more storage room and are more padded for comfort.

Compare it with Cathay new Business class, Cathay wins by a long mile.

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We flew over Denpasar and track NW direction over Malaca Strait for Chennai.

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Note the star filled sky. Thanks to Emirates did not take up their orders of A340-600. I enjoyed the binless center ceiling.

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2nd meal before sleep: Roast carrot/ginger soup and more Pocari Sweat.

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Main: Fillet of Burramundi. (Fish) Again Etihad does very well in catering and presentation.

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With 5 hours to go and with Sydney as my bodyclock, I have now fallen asleep all the way until final approach into Abu Dhabi.

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This concludes my Etihad New Business Class experience. An exact (A6-EHE) photo here was taken by myself in Feb 2009. Here are a list of observations on Etihad from my experiences.

Great:

Food Presentation and quality, Generous Frequent Flyer Program and new planes. Abu Dhabi Airport is also very convenient and modern for transit and as a destination.

Not so great:

Check-in and ground crew standard varies. Very strict on baggage limit.

Inconsistent on crew. Purser are usually extremely friendly and can decide on things. Other crew member can't make decisions and have to go through a superior. There are some elements of "driven by fear of wrongdoings" in the staff of Etihad from what I have encountered.

Call center staff are simply disaster on fare quoting, changing dates and booking chauffeur drive.

However, with all the above negatives. This is a young airline with a phenomenal future. I hope all of the problem will be ironed out in due time. Many consider they are now in the phase of what Emirates has gone through a few years ago. Hope Etihad will be profitable by 2012. In'shall'ah