Etihad First is a highly respected, envied and sophisticated experience that focuses on refined service, customisable cuisine and continuous comfort. Etihad Airways, however, is undergoing a transformation as it moves away from being a general long-haul, global airline to targeting certain routes. This makes most sense as the carrier flies a relatively small fleet and network. Its First Apartment concept - available on the Airbus A380 - is endangered, as the fleet contracts with the retirement of its Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 fleets.
Etihad Airways still retains a subset of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners equipped with First Class that it plans to fly on targeted routes. If you want to experience one of the Middle East’s best First Class options, there is still a way to do it.
The cabin and seat may no longer be as glamorous as before, but the focus on service, style and substance remains. Etihad is not a member of a global alliance but does enjoy partnerships with other airlines including Air New Zealand, Air Canada, Air Serbia and Malaysia Airlines, allowing reciprocal earning and redemption of miles. Etihad Guest, the airline’s own loyalty program, has its fans, especially if you live in the United Arab Emirates - the airline is based in Abu Dhabi - or travel through often.
If starting your journey in Abu Dhabi, First Class travellers have sit-down check-in areas and a private entrance - with bellman service - to assist with luggage. They are then escorted through dedicated security lanes through to the lounge. This is all after being collected by a private chauffeur - this service is only available in Abu Dhabi, London, New York, Paris, Seoul and Sydney - from your home or hotel and driven to the airport. This service is also available to Business Class passengers.
The Etihad First lounge in terminal three has a Middle Eastern-inspired menu, well-stocked wine cellar with premium vintages, a fitness room and quiet places to relax or work. There is also a spa facility with complimentary treatments and even a cinema room. In Abu Dhabi’s terminal one, the First Class lounge is a cordoned-off area of the Business Class lounge.
A new terminal at Etihad’s primary Abu Dhabi hub is under construction, and is expected to boast new lounge facilities. For now, some connections require long walks between terminals, and there is only one official First Class lounge at the airport.
When Etihad First passengers travel from other airports, they are treated to lounge facilities with airline partners or one of the few Etihad-branded lounges in select airports including London Heathrow or Washington Dulles.
A unique feature of Abu Dhabi’s airport, when compared to other Middle Eastern departure points, is that U.S.-bound travellers complete pre-clearance formalities while still in the United Arab Emirates. They undergo U.S. customs and immigration before takeoff. On landing in the United States, they deplane as if it were a domestic flight. While this is especially convenient, it does mean that U.S. bound passengers must allow plenty of time before the flight or while in transit to undergo these checks. Once completed, there is a separate Business Class lounge for U.S.-bound travellers to enjoy.
First Class is only available on some of the airline’s Boeing 787-9 aircraft - as well as 777s, but these are soon to be retired - and always designed in a 1-2-1 configuration. Those travelling together should opt for the centre section as there is a divider that can be lowered to make it a private cabin for two. Solo travellers will enjoy one of the single seats at the window. Doors slide closed to provide greater privacy for resting or working.
Plush leather seats recline via electronic controls to various positions as well as fully flat to create a bed best enjoyed with a large pillow, mattress pad, day blanket and thick duvet. When passengers are ready to sleep, flight attendants turn down the bed - upon request.
Small storage compartments provide a place for reading material, spectacles, laptops and mobile devices. Power and USB outlets are easy to reach, storage as well as a private closet to hang a jacket or place small items.
On the 787-9, the first row of First Class window seats faces backward while the centre section faces forward. In the second row, window seats face forward while the centre section faces rearward. Full privacy dividers surround the seat making it seem like a small room, but if you prefer how you like to sit, be sure to reserve a seat before departure. There is no charge to do so.
Gigantic and sturdy tray tables fold out toward the seat with plentiful space to dine or work. They can be pushed forward and backward to allow for easier access to the aisle. On the 787-9, window dimmers allow different amounts of light while still being able to see out rather than a traditional window shade to lower.
An ottoman in front of the seat has a seat belt of its own so that two travellers can dine together as they might in a restaurant on either side of the tray table. The ottoman also opens to reveal a storage compartment underneath, which is helpful as Eithad removed overhead bins from First Class to make the cabin feel more spacious. The crew can store carry-on bags in a closet if needed. Each seat also has a wardrobe closet to hang a jacket or other small items.
Another perk of these seats is that they come with a small, non-alcoholic minibar with sodas, juice and water.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes images, videos and seat maps for most airlines and aircraft. Search results also include details such as seat pitch, width and recline. This way you can see the seat and cabin configuration of the flight in which you are interested, before making your choice.
Etihad offers dine-on-demand service for First Class passengers. You can eat what you want, when you want. The airline discontinued its onboard chef program, but the flight attendants work hard to prepare and deliver food with restaurant-style presentation.
Tables are dressed with starched linens and silverware, salt and pepper shakers, olive oil dishes and bread plates laid out carefully. Meals begin with a beverage from the bar plus a tray of savoury snacks like wasabi peas and nuts.
The menu features a variety of starters including Arabic and Western choices. Try the Arabic mezze for one of the airline’s signature appetisers. In between some courses, flight attendants offer sorbet palate cleansers to prepare your taste buds for the next course.
Main course options include beef, chicken, lamb, pasta, fish and Gulf-style biryani dishes. These can be paired with accompaniments including French fries and vegetables. There is also an option to order from the grill menu – complete with dishes including sea bass or filet of beef served with different sauces like thyme butter sauce or rosemary jus. This allows you to pick and choose your favourite things on the menu to prepare a customised meal rather than stick to the pre-organised menu choices. Be sure to place an order for your preferred menu early as the crew can run out of popular items.
Dessert consists of decadent pastries, cakes, ice creams and cheese platters. Cordials, coffee, tea and other after-dinner drinks round out the service.
In between meals, passengers can order from a snack menu including everything from burgers and salads to baklava and crisps. There is also a chef’s special that changes regularly. Another warm towel and a box of chocolates complete the first meal.
In addition to a lunch or dinner menu, there is usually a breakfast selection including bakery items, cereal, fruit, eggs cooked to order and smoothies. Passengers can dine according to their own body clock, which helps reduce jet lag.
As guests board, they are welcomed by name from several flight attendants and offered their beverage of choice, which include Champagne. The selection can vary, but in First Class, it is usually Charles Heidseck Vintage Brut or Rosé. This is delivered on a silver tray with a warm towel and some dates. Soon after, small cups of Arabic coffee are served at each seat.
Printed menus outline what is available throughout the flight including Champagne, four white wines, four red wines and a dessert wine. There is a long list of cocktails using an impressive array of liqueurs and spirits and mocktails plus a wide assortment of soft drinks and juices. International beer selections are available as well as tea and coffee served many ways - cappuccino, espresso and macchiato are just some of the preparations.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on which Champagne is served in Business Class and First Class on many airlines. We do our best to keep track of any changes, but feel free to let us know if there is something we missed.
Flight attendant service is attentive and friendly from an international crew that speaks a variety of languages. In First Class, expect name recognition and plenty of attention to detail to remember particular preferences.
Noise-reducing headphones plug into the side of the seat and an enormous selection of international movies including options from the Middle East, Europe and Asia, dozens of short subject features like comedies and documentaries, and world music selections are available via the large touch screen or extendable remote control. In addition, there is a 3-D moving map display showing details of the route of flight and destinations the plane is passing along the way.
Wi-Fi is available with fees based on data usage. First class passengers receive a complimentary voucher, but it is only for a limited amount of data.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on inflight entertainment and Wi-Fi.
Pajamas and slippers help to make the flight more comfortable, and amenity kits are stocked with Acqua di Parma toiletries. Lavatories feature face mist, lotion and eau de cologne.
First Class is only available on certain long-haul flights, and passengers booked in Etihad First will travel in Business Class on the airline’s flights. The experience is also excellent with a wide variety of food and drinks available.
The airline is focused on recycling and efficient ground operations. In addition, the airline is working to reduce single-use plastics and plans to operate at a net zero carbon emissions level by 2050. It is also committed to the illegal trade of endangered wildlife and has conservation programs in place to monitor for potential problems.
More than 300 cabin crew participate in the airline’s Green Ambassador program and wear green scarves on flights. Their role is to share information with passengers on how Etihad is focused on more eco-friendly operations. They also share details with the airline on how to operate more efficiently by suggesting changes that can be put in place to support the environment. For example, the airline now uses a paper seal on blankets rather than wrapping them in single-use plastic.
Etihad has a partnership with Boeing to trial new initiatives covering everything from noise reduction to sustainable bio fuel using its own planes as test flights. There is even an Etihad Dreamliner painted in a green livery and dubbed the “Greenliner.”
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on CO2 emissions for each flight. Our quality algorithms also give a higher score to flights operated by the most modern and environmentally friendly aircraft.