Believe it or not, flying has actually never been something I’ve really enjoyed. The holiday adrenaline rush of waking up early and heading to the airport has, but once you can arrive, drop your bags off and get stuck in that long queue – the fun soon disappears. But what if there was a way to change all that and turn travel into an experience in its own and not just a method of transport.
The word ‘experience’ has never been more true after I recently experienced flying with Etihad Airways. An Airline that prides itself in offering its customers a totally reimagined flight experience from the very moment you enter the airport and until you leave at the other end. Abu Dhabi Airport is a wonderful airport too. It’s rather small, but filled with all of the luxuries you could possibly desire. We did a spot of pre-shopping on the way back. Stocking up on our favourite toiletries, a new luggage bag and a watch which I didn’t need given my original purchase on the way out.
The business class lounge was a little further from our gate than we expected, but it was well worth the walk. A gorgeous entrance glowing with the Etihad Airways logo and a fleet of staff ready to assist. As soon as we walked in the smiled from the staff were infectious and our bags quickly transported to safe storage while we waited for our flight. We were also given a quick tour as this was our first time in the lounge.
I’m not quite sure what we did right, but the lovely staff transported us to not just the amazing lounge, but to our own private lounge. Complete with a spacious seating area, dining space, private butler (at least it felt like it), flat screen TV, newspapers and assistance with food. Before exploring what the rest of the lounge had to offer we sipped on a perfectly crafted Negroni and a Whisky Sour which packed a punch.
For those seeking pure relaxation – arrive early. There’s a fabulous Style & Shave experience to be had and the Six Senses Spa. The latter providing a sanctuary where guests can enjoy a range of express treatments to prepare for their long (or short) haul journey. There’s also a quiet desk space for catching up on office work with a very fast wired connection, however the Wi-fi single is also just as reliable.
The lounge itself as a whole is huge. Large enough that it never feels crowded and meaning staff can always attend to guest when they require something. From the two hours spent here we never had to ask for a drink or a refill once. There’s also two bars to enjoy cocktails and snacks at which makes a nice change of scenery if a little conversation with fellow travellers is what you’re after.
Depending on what time you arrive in the lounge will depend on the food being offered. We arrived at the start of the lunch buffet. It spans across two sections of the lounge and has a selection of both hot and cold dishes. I spent most of my time by the cakes and cheese selection – nibbling my way through the endless options. Hot dishes ranged from freshly made curries to pasta, depending on the time of day. Once it was time to board a member of the lounge team whisked us away and the Etihad magic continued…
Business Class is boarded from the speedy boarding area and through a separate gate onto the upper deck of the plane. The business studio allocation is slightly larger in terms of volume than I expected, but it felt like there was no one else around me and not a babies laughter (or cry) in sight. Each studio seat has a unique dovetail design with both forward and rear facing seats – meaning no one leaning over your shoulder and the aisle access seamless. The seat also converts into a fully flat bed.
Couples and friends can enjoy sitting together in separate studios, separated from an adjustable partition. Within moments of taking our seat the in-flight stewards and stewardesses presented us with a glass of Champagne – instantly relaxing in my humble opinion. Of course non-alcoholic beverages are offered to those not drinking.
One of Etihad’s most exciting features is its food. You can select from a carefully prepared a la carte menu which included three starters, four main courses, cheese and three desserts. As well as sandwiches, fresh fruit and ice cream. You can even order a selection of snacks to enjoy with drinks throughout the duration of the flight. I couldn’t resist before my main meal and ordered some warm baked cookies and madeleines.
Wishing we weren’t leaving the UAE, one final reminder to reminisce upon was this Middle Eastern meze platter. Filled with hummus, sambousek, moutabel, taboulleh and pitta bread. Washed down with a lovely glass of zesty Sauvignon Blanc while tuning into latest blockbuster La La Land. Expect to find all the latest releases when flying with Etihad and their range of in-flight entertainment options is quite astonishing.
As plane food goes, it really doesn’t get much better than this. Unless of course you’re in the Etihad Residence above us which serves guests a seven course menu created by an in-flight chef and served by Savoy-trained butlers. The authentic Gulf prawn biryani was very good. The prawns were still juicy, very large and the rice fragrant and fluffy – without being over spiced on a confined flight. Beef tenderloin with fondant potato, asparagus and peppercorn sauce was just as good and cooked to my medium-rare specification, something I wondered if they’d get right and of course they did.
Cheese course followed and included two very generously sized chunks of brie and cheddar, artisan crackers and grapes. We paired the dish with a glass of port (or two).
There is nothing more exciting than craving a dessert on a flight and opening the menu to find it being an option. I’d been craving sticky toffee pudding as soon as we left our hotel and that afternoon. It’s one of my favourite desserts and so I couldn’t ignore it. Very rich and very sticky – just as I hoped. Despite a certain someone next to me delving their fork into dessert before I could take a photo, I was reliably informed the lemon tart was very enjoyable.
Before we could watch all the films we wished we could, we were back on ground at Heathrow Airport enjoying that final glass of red wine while La La Land provided a well-timed celebratory fireworks display on the large in-flight TV screen. I’ve flown with my share of airlines now and I must say Etihad Airways just had that edge for me compared to others so far. The standard of service in-flight was extraordinary and the added bonus of exciting food, delicious wines and a large range of entertainment made our flying time feel as though it was cut in half. There was even a small lounge area to sit and stretch while sipping a cup of hot tea. If you’re looking for not just a flight but to add another experience to your journey then book Etihad Airways – you won’t be disappointed.