Australia-Europe On Etihad

As anyone who has flown it will attest, Etihad Airways has an extremely impressive business class product in the highly competitive Australia-to-Europe market. The Gulf carriers have a geographic advantage in connecting passengers on the Kangaroo routes, but they also help their case with the quality of their in-flight products.

I recently flew in Etihad’s business class from Sydney to Paris via Etihad’s Abu Dhabi hub, which meant I got a first-hand look at its offering in an important long-haul market. Australia is a key piece of the international network for Etihad and its larger Gulf rival, and they both link multiple Australian cities to extensive European networks.
 
Etihad operates Boeing 777-300ERs and A340-600s on its Sydney-Abu Dhabi flights (twice daily in conjunction with partner Virgin Australia). The timing is such that connections are pretty painless for the European trunk routes – I had a three-hour layover northbound, and then about an hour southbound. The northbound flight times are 14 hr. 45 min. to Abu Dhabi and then 7 hr. 40 to Paris, while the return legs are 6 hr. 40 and 14 hr. 10.
 
One of the standout features of the Etihad business product is the seat. In lie-flat configuration, it is among the most comfortable I’ve experienced – in fact, that was the best night’s sleep I had during a week-long trip to cover an aviation conference.
 

Both aircraft types have Etihad’s version of the Sogerma Solstys seat. The lie-flat length is 74 inches, and width is 21 inches on the A340 and 22 inches on the 777. The color scheme was beige on the 777s I was on between Sydney to Abu Dhabi, and blue on the A340 flights between Abu Dhabi and Paris.



The cabin crew was nice enough to give me a tour of a suite in first class. These are almost like private compartments, complete with sliding doors. The seats and IFE are impressive, but one thing that stood out for me was the built-in closet space in the partition wall, with a long mirror on the back of the door. What a great idea.

Connecting in Abu Dhabi meant spending some time in the Etihad business class lounge. It was comfortable and stylish, and it did seem roomy (although admittedly when this shot was taken it was just after dawn when there were few passengers around). Services that I didn’t try include the spa, and having your clothes ironed and shoes polished while you take a shower. Apparently the children’s area is staffed by nannies, so you can leave them to it and go relax.

One of my connecting flights departed from terminal one, which is the airport’s original terminal and has some very distinctive design elements. From outside, the main gate complex comprises a series of air bridges radiating from a donut-shaped core. Inside, the circular central hall (below) is decorated with this mosaic-like design on the ceiling and the spreading center column.

Two other terminals have been added, and terminal one has undergone extensive refurbishment. Terminal three is exclusively Etihad, and most of the Australian and European flights typically use this one. With traffic growing rapidly at the airport, a massive new midfield terminal is scheduled to be completed in 2017.

Overall, it’s easy to see why the Gulf carriers like Etihad are proving to be such strong competitors to the establishment airlines on long-haul routes. This is one of the reasons the Australian airlines are taking an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach with the Middle Eastern giants. Leveraging their advantages makes more sense than going head-to-head with them.

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