Let’s see if the newest cabin on Etihad’s newest plane lives up to all the hype.
Etihad’s first A350-1000 to enter revenue service took off today from Abu Dhabi bound for Paris. Onboard was the airline’s CEO, along with other VIPs and select media, as well as a good number of regular, paying passengers.
Simple Flying had the opportunity to ride along in the business class seat. The product is brand new, officially revealed for the first time today. Here’s what we thought.
The business class experience
The business class experience begins as soon as you leave your hotel, with Etihad’s chauffeur service collecting passengers from their locations and taking them directly to the bespoke check in facility at Abu Dhabi airport. Away from the bustle of the main terminal, bag drop, and security is quick and painless.
Passengers are then directed to Etihad’s onsite lounge. The Terminal 3 business class lounge reopened some months ago, and is situated next to gate 36. The lounge is huge, and offers a multitude of options for seating, eating and working.
Business class passengers get priority boarding, of course, and boards in the lounge let waiting guests know when it’s time to head to the gate.
The new seat
The new product is certainly a step up from Etihad’s offering on its Dreamliners, and that in itself is a very strong product in the market. The extra wide body of Etihad’s A350-1000 allows it to adopt the popular herringbone configuration, giving all passengers direct aisle access and plenty of privacy.
The seat itself is the Collins Super Diamond, the seat of choice for Qatar’s A350 as well as for the new British Airways Club Suite, also debuted on the A350. While the shape and functionality of the seat is somewhat familiar, Etihad has put its own spin on the colors, materials and finish.
From top to toe, the seat is all-Etihad.
The seat itself is finished in a hard wearing yet comfortable woven fabric, with soft chocolate brown leather on the head rest. A three-point harness ensures passengers stay safe for taxi, takeoff and landing, but the shoulder strap can be unclipped for more comfortable safety in lie flat mode.
The main seat controls are in the side wall of the suite. The panel allows for a quick change between sitting up, reclining or going fully flat. There are more adjustments, however, giving passengers the option to alter the leg rest without changing the back, or to raise the seat pad to suit their needs.
The cubbies are big enough to store all the essentials, and are finished in a faux marble veneer, adding to the sense of luxury on board. If all that storage wasn’t enough, there’s another nook hidden in the armrest, which itself can be raised or lowered for comfort.
Etihad has brought its iconic lamp onto the A350 too, although this one is slightly shorter and fatter than the ones seen on the Dreamliner. Whereas the Dreamliner has a reading light built into the main lamp, the A350 has a separate unit next to the passenger headrest in gleaming gold.
Next to the lamp, a handy hook for hanging your noise canceling headphones when not in use. Photo: Joanna Bailey | Simple Flying
One feature I really appreciated with the new seat was the tray table. This wood veneered table pops out from under the IFE monitor, and can be folded or unfolded to serve as a drinks shelf or dining/working space very effectively. Even better, it can be locked in position in your lap for work and food, or at a higher position, closer to the monitor, making it ideal for reclining. Moreover, when locked in the higher position, there is enough room to get out of your seat and visit the bathroom, even while you’re waiting to have your dinner tray cleared away.
The new plane brings with it a new amenity kit. The A350-1000 kit is in a square washbag, rather than the folded kit found on the Dreamliner. Small hand cream has been replaced with a large body lotion, and a lip balm has been added. Still present are the cologne, tooth care kit and sock and mask bundle.
There are plenty of options for charging devices too. Wireless charging is available on the shelf, and inside the larger of the two cubbies is an AC outlet for charging laptops. But where is the USB charging? If you’d rather spend ten minutes hunting for it like I did, look away now.
It’s down where the safety card is, on the footwell side surface of the unit. It’s quite tricky to get to, and not easy to get the plug into the socket.
We asked Asif Kahn, Senior Manager of Guest Experience IFE at Etihad, why it was these were placed in such an inaccessible position. He explained that, due to the need for the AC outlet to be ventilated, there was not space to put them in the cubby. On the upside, the airline offers both USB-A and USB-C charging… if you can find them.
Inflight WiFi is provided by Panasonic and promises to be very good. During our flight, all guests had been given a symbolic 350 MBs of free WiFi access, so at first it was very slow. However, as people got stuck into their movies and meals, I found it more than adequate for messaging and even uploading photos to Simple Flying.
IFE is, naturally, provided by a large 18.5” HD screen. This can be controlled by touch, or via a remote control located in the larger of the two cubbies. Inflight magazines are gone, but Etihad offers a selection of around 50 premium magazines in digital format via the IFE. There is also live TV, live news updates, games, movies and in-seat ordering for food and beverages.
The screen is fixed, not stowed and released as is the case on Virgin’s A350 suite. This means you can enjoy the IFE from gate to gate, the downside being a slightly smaller screen size than on some stow-and-release options.
At present, the ‘Shopping’ app which gives passengers access to the Etihad duty free shop is non-functional. It was confirmed by cabin crew that this was a COVID safety measure, and that it will return in the future.
Passengers can, however, order food and drink directly from the IFE, which is a nice touch.
Food and beverage
Shortly after take-off, we were welcomed with a glass of champagne and a bowl of nuts. As this was a rather special flight, we had a special menu on offer too. It was breakfast food with a luxury twist, with menu items like caviar on offer for this special flight. I skipped the entrée and went straight to the lobster eggs benedict.
As expected, the meal was delicious. The presentation was stunning, and the food was incredibly tasty. If I had one criticism, it would be that it took an awfully long time to come out. Whether that was a side effect of the crew being new to the aircraft and galley or a result of the media littering the aisles and slowing things down I don’t know, but let’s hope they can kick it up a notch when it’s a regular revenue service.
Having made the most of the meal, I settled in for a rest ahead of our descent into Paris. The seat was easy to put into lie flat mode, and super comfortable too. Combined with Etihad’s luxury bedding and soft pillow, it wasn’t long before I began catching up on a lot of missed sleep.
As I returned with Etihad to Abu Dhabi on the same aircraft, I have to shout out to the main meal service too. I chose bouillabaisse, duck leg and a chocolate fondant. All were expertly prepared and much swifter coming out than the inaugural breakfast had been.
Etihad’s A350 business class is a very competitive product. It’s not particularly groundbreaking in terms of the base seat – the Super Diamond is one of the most well used products out there, and is pretty much representative of the modern standard expected from business class. But the little touches the airline has made in color, materials, finishes and amenities make for a truly excellent all round hard product.
Etihad has taken the decision not to add any first class on the A350. Douglas said this this was partly a symptom of the difficulties of making first work from a revenue point of view, but also because the business class, in his opinion, was so good. He said at one point that it was almost ‘business-plus’ and that he wouldn’t be surprised if some people did think it was first.
It’s good, but it’s not that good. Anyone who is familiar with the business classes being rolled out today will know this is definitely just regular old business class and wouldn’t think for a moment it was first. It’s not quite up there with the closed suites of Emirates first, or the luxury of La Premiere from Air France. Nevertheless, it’s a solid product and a healthy upgrade from the dovetail arrangement on the Dreamliners.
Add on top of that the soft product accompaniments and it’s looking pretty good. The WiFi works well, the IFE is extensive, covering more than just movies and TV, and the service and food is of a high standard.
If I had to pick holes in the experience, here they are:
- Luggage space: Doing away with the central overhead bins certainly gives the cabin the wow factor, but on my flight, there was some issues with finding enough storage. As Etihad has a generous carry on luggage policy for business class passengers, this could end up being an issue in the future.
- Temperamental wireless charging: The installation of wireless charging is a thoughtful addition, but it can be a bit temperamental. I had to take my iPhone out of its case and really press it down to begin the charging. I wonder if it’s the thickness of the rather tacky looking sticker that was interfering with the connection.
- Inaccessible USB ports: If the AC outlet required ventilation, I would have thought it better to put this down by the safety card rather than the USB chargers. Perhaps this is an effort to stop people shutting their charging devices in the cubbies, something which is against aviation safety regulations.
- Narrow aisles: As with any A350 flying the 1-2-1 layout of a Super Diamond, the remaining aisle is incredibly narrow. It was impossible to pass other passengers or crew without someone stepping into a passenger’s suite. With all the suite doors closed at night, you just had to pray there was no oncoming traffic between your seat and the bathroom.
- Lack of air nozzles: As with Etihad’s Dreamliner business class, the airline has opted not to add air nozzles in the passenger service units overhead. When flying, I do like to have the nozzles blasting me with chilled air (yes, I’m that passenger) for most of the flight, getting cozy under the blanket while my face freezes. The temperature was well maintained with the general air circulation, but I do miss that chilly blast.
In all, please forgive my very first world complaints. This is a super product, and I would highly recommend flying it as soon as you can. Over the coming weeks, the A350 will be making appearances on some shorter routes such as Abu Dhabi to Cairo and Istanbul before embarking on its permanent, much longer routes. It’s a great opportunity to catch this fabulous product for yourself without the commitment of a very long-haul flight.
Source: Simple Flying