16-hours is a long time to be stuck on airplane, but Etihad made the process painless aboard the 777-300ER in first class.
As a reminder, I’m in the midst of a “vintage” trip report to India/Maldives. But even though this flight review is three years old, it still captures what you can expect if you fly Etihad in first class today. In fact, despite overall cutbacks at Etihad, first class remains largely unaffected.
After a beautiful journey to India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, we had reached our final flight. By the time we boarded around 8:45AM, we were both exhausted.
We spent the night in the lounge rather than leave the airport and despite plenty of caffeine, I was just ready to crash. But how can you crash on a flight you have been looking forward to savoring every moment of?
First, let’s take a step back. Abu Dhabi (AUH) has a U.S. Pre-Clearance Facility, meaning that flights to the USA go through immigration and customs in AUH as if it is your first U.S. port of entry. Lines move poorly and passengers are encouraged to “enter” the USA two hours before their flight.
Well, we waited until 40 minutes before…which almost made us miss our flight. Heidi did not have Global Entry, so we both waited in line. It took about 25 minutes to clear, leaving us 15 minutes to board. As we reached the deserted gate area, we were told by a gate agent that we were among the final passengers to board.
Etihad Airways 171
Abu Dhabi (AUH) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Tuesday, January 12
Depart: 08:50 AM
Arrive: 01:25 PM
Duration: 16hr, 35min
Distance: 8,390 miles
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2K (First Class)
Onboard, we were welcomed by a flight attendant and directed to our seat.
Etihad Airways 777 First Class Suites
While not as spacious as the First Class Apartments aboard the A380, the 777 suites are quite spacious and have closing doors. The cabin is arranged in a 1-2-1 layout with a total of eight seats in the cabin. The suites are not as “blingy” as on Emirates, but do have gold accents.
Notice in the picture above a little latch to the right of the screen. Inside was a “minibar” with bottles of water and mixed nuts.
The seat was well-padded and recline adjustable by a nearby control. Even better, a personal air vent was present (tough cabin temperature was never a problem on this flight). A console included room for storage of small items like passports, phones, and wallets and included a USB charger and power port.
I do have a one complaint about the suite. Notice there are no overhead bins. While I understand that is a deliberate choice to give the cabin a more spacious feel, most carriers that skip overhead bins have closets either inside the suite (like 777s on Cathay Pacific and Emirates) or nearby (like Lufthansa or China Southern) for personal storage. Here, the bag had to be slid under the seat and it stuck out…I found it unsightly, though perhaps that is just me.
I spent the majority of the flight, including two six hour blocks, sleeping. In lie-flat mode, the bed is extremely comfortable.
Etihad even provided a “sweet dreams” card with a quote from Dr. Suess when making the bed:
Etihad Airways 777 First Class Food + Drink
Meal service on this flight was totally on-demand. Sometimes airlines offer so-called “on-demand” service but still expect everyone to eat at the same time…not so here. The chef was not as friendly on this flight as Jackson from London to Abu Dhabi, but after examining the menu (note, this is the current menu, but nearly identical to my flight), my wife and I ordered food for the entire flight. Although Etihad has generally figured out its food shortage issue in first class, popular items do go fast so tell the chef what you want as soon as possible, so that your choices can be set aside for you.
Just after boarding, I was presented with dates, Arabic coffee, a cold towel, and glass of water (or champagne).
After takeoff, I was offered a choice of beverage (I chose orange juice...it was fresh), served with potatoes chips, olives, and mixed nuts.
Not long after, it was time for the first meal. Heidi ordered lunch while I ordered a second breakfast. She had salmon while I chose scrambled eggs on toast with asparagus and bacon. We opted to dine together in my suite and the table was carefully set. The cinnamon roll and puff pastry were delightfully flaky and buttery.
To conclude the meal, we split a plate of fruit and some cookies.
It was time for rest.
About six hours later, I awoke and noticed my wife was awake. No one was around (I’ll return to that below) but after ringing the call button the chef showed up. I ordered a steak sandwich with potatoes chips while Heidi ordered a steak. My “snack” began with some mint lemon juice and mixed nuts.
I know Heidi’s steak looks well done, but that was the way she requested it. My sandwich was just okay…the bread was not great and I’ve had better sandwiches on other carriers.
And then we went back to sleep…
Before landing, we enjoyed one more meal together. I started with butternut squash soup, then enjoyed a beef filet cooked medium rare as requested and served over mushroom risotto with a small green salad on the side. It was an excellent main course.
Heidi ordered a chicken breast with ratatouille.
For dessert, we shared a cheese plate followed by some chocolate ice cream:
I generally don’t drink alcohol around my wife, so you’ll notice I ordered no alcohol on this flight. You can check out Etihad’s first class onboard wine list here. Overall, the food tasted great on this flight. I love on-demand dining, especially on a 16-hour flight.
Etihad Airways 777 First Class Service
Service was frankly disappointing on this flight. It was not bad…but it also wasn’t good. Take the chef, for example. I asked him for recommendations and he just sort of shrugged and said everything was good. I know he cannot read my mind, but what a contrast between him and Jackson, my chef from London to Abu Dhabi, who took such initiative in making our culinary experience onboard a great one.
The other flight attendants were pleasant, but not very engaging. The cabin was not proactively monitored and summons via the call button were not promptly addressed. In fact, the flight attendant and chef working first class retreated to the rear of the plane after the lights were turned off. Again, the issue was not bad service…just poor service relative to other flights on Etihad. Evaluating service is somewhat subjective, but I prefer a more proactive and engaging approach.
With the cabin dark and the first class passengers totally neglected, Heidi joined me in my suite and we had a nice chat, did some reading together, discussed the news, joined the mile high club, played cards and watched a movie together.
Etihad Airways 777 First IFE + Wi-Fi
I’ve never been on an Etihad flight where the wi-fi internet really worked. This flight was no different and 16-hours was a long time to be disconnected. The movie, TV, and game selection was identical to my A330 flight the previous evening from Male to Abu Dhabi. You’d think I’d at least watch a couple movies on a flight of this length, but the only thing my wife and I started to watch was The Intern, a movie I still love very much.
Etihad Airways 777 First Amenity Kit + Pajamas
An amenity kit and pajamas were delivered shortly after boarding.
Views From My Window
Here’s some views out the window I took before, during, and after the flight:
Notice something missing in the LA skyline? It dates this review!
We landed at LAX as if it was a domestic flight and found ourselves in a fairly quiet Tom Bradley International Terminal.
Writing this review reminded me so much of the potential Etihad had. You’ll experience a similar product today if you take Etihad first class today. But this flight review and my entire trip report is a bittersweet reminder that Etihad tried but has thus far failed…its investments have not paid off. That won’t stop me from recommending flying Etihad as much as you can, but it does worry me…now three years later…that Etihad has shrunken and not grown.