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Airlines

A Review of Etihad Airways: The national airline of the United Arab Emirates

Etihad Airways is the national airline of the United Arab Emirates based in Abu Dhabi. Employing over 8,000 employees of 127 nationalities, Etihad serves 71 passenger and cargo destinations in 45 countries with its fleet of 71 operating aircraft.

Etihad has won numerous awards since its commercial flights were introduced in 2003 and is rated among the best airlines in the world according to Skytrax’s World Airline Awards.

So does it stack up in person? We put it to the test.

Booking Experience

Etihad encourages passengers to book flights via etihad.com or via its Etihad Airways mobile app, the benefits of which include access to exclusive fares and the ability to book extras such as skipping queues at the airport, relaxing at Etihad lounges and even booking an Economy Neighbour-Free seat, which means you can get a whole row to yourself.

Both the website and mobile app are user-friendly with a clean interface and fast loading speeds. Booking a flight and making adjustments are a simple process, and the various extras are clearly laid out. When booking for busier flights Etihad shows the number of seats left. A calendar is also available for customers to compare flight prices on different dates.

Etihad Airways flight booking on etihad.com.
Booking with Etihad Airways is a user-friendly process with various options and extras clearly laid out.

Online check-in is a smooth process that opens 30 hours before your flight. Once check-in is open passengers can choose their seat for free, however if you’re particular about where you want to sit, it may be worth paying extra in advance to select your preferred spot.

The benefits of booking with Etihad Airways can be enhanced by signing up to its loyalty programme, Etihad Guest. Accrued Etihad Guest Miles can be used for numerous rewards such as upgrading your ticket to Business or First Class, cutting the cost of a flight and getting discounts on hotels. Even if you haven’t had a chance to collect Etihad Guest Miles, a major benefit of singing up to Etihad Guest is that you get free Wi-Fi during your flight (which we’ll talk about more in the Inflight Entertainment section below).

Seats

Etihad Airways offers several cabin experiences including Economy, Business, First and The Residence, which is a luxurious three-room suite in the sky. Customers can take a virtual tour of Etihad’s cabins before they book. For this review, however, we’ll be looking at Economy seats.

An immediately noticeable feature of Etihad’s seats is a head rest, allowing the passenger to rest comfortably to their left or right. It’s a feature they’ve had with their seats for a number of years and it’s a surprise that many other airlines haven’t adopted it given how comfortable it makes plane travel.

A head rest on an Etihad Airway's plane seat.
A head rest makes plane travel much more comfortable.

Seating doesn’t feel too cramped particularly when reclining but if one needs some additional legroom, there’s the option to book an Economy Space seat. Economy seats offer a blanket and pillow to keep warm and offer back support for added comfort. On other airlines the absence of a simple item like a pillow can be noticeable once you’ve experienced its comfort on long-haul flights.

An Etihad Airways plane seat
Etihad’s plane seats provide various charging outlets.
Charging outlets on an Etihad Airways plane
It’s useful to have fully charged devices after a flight.

Various charging outlets are provided so you can charge your mobile, laptop and other devices during the flight. After a flight the last thing you need is a mobile that’s running low on battery.

Amenity Kit

Along with a blanket and pillow you may also get an amenity kit. For an Economy flight this generally includes a toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs, sanitising gel and wipes, and a sleeping mask.

An Etihad Airways amenity kit for an Economy Class flight
The essentials one needs for a long-haul flight.

These items are useful to have if you want to shut out noise and light, and to maintain good hygiene. The bag can also be used later during your travels as a pouch to keep money, payment cards or other small items.

Cabin Crew

The cabin crew is one of the main highlights of flying with Etihad Airways. We’ve always found them to be professional, cheerful, polite and not feeling stressed or rushed. The crew appears welcoming and friendly, which makes a difference on other airlines where cabin crew behaviour can often feel more transactional or forced.

Etihad Airways cabin crew helping to load bags in overhead compartments
Cabin crew helping to load bags in overhead compartments.

In a recent flight a cabin crew member was overhead reassuring a passenger who had a potential issue that if there was a problem, they could “come to us anytime” and they’d get assistance. This considerate nature and reassurance was a nice touch.

Much like any other airline of this standard, Etihad Airways’ cabin crew takes safety very seriously.

Meals

Airlines have come a long way since the days ‘plane food’ was looked down upon. Etihad Airways’ meals on board are another highlight that consist of dishes with fresh and seasonal ingredients. Along with snacks and a variety of beverages offered during flights, Economy meal choices include various dishes with at least one vegetarian option, freshly baked rolls and desserts.

An Etihad Airways Asian Vegetarian meal
An Etihad Airways Asian Vegetarian meal.
An Etihad Airways Asian Vegetarian meal
Asian Vegetarian meal: Vegetable curry with rice.
An Etihad Airways Asian Vegetarian meal
Another Asian Vegetarian meal

If you have specific dietary requirements you can request a special meal, which should be done at least 24 hours before your flight. There are various special meals to choose from that fall within the categories of medical & dietary, religious meals and children’s meals. Please note that if you have an allergy, for example a peanut allergy, it’s important you check with your doctor first before flying as Etihad Airways cannot guarantee a nut-free environment on board.

For short-haul flights less than 2 hours, a vegetarian meal is served. For those with specific dietary requirements, you can request a diabetic, gluten intolerant, or low-lactose meal. Remember to request this at least 24 hours before your flight. Also children’s meals aren’t available on short-haul flights, so it’s worth bringing some snacks if you’re traveling with kids.

Quick tip: On long-haul flights, special meals are generally served before regular meals. If that’s of interest to you, order a special meal on Etihad’s Manage your booking section or on the Etihad Airways mobile app, and you’ll likely get it before regular meals are distributed to the majority of passengers.

Inflight Entertainment

Catching a good movie can be the difference between a good flight and a great flight. Fortunately Etihad Airways’ on-demand entertainment on E-BOX provides a wide range of entertainment options. But first… Wi-Fi!

Etihad Airways flights are equipped with on board Wi-Fi, and if you’re an Etihad Guest member you get a free Chat package for the duration of the flight. This allows you to use popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger and iMessage, which is a nice bonus if you want to stay connected with friends, family and colleagues during the flight. Bear in mind the free Chat package doesn’t allow you to send images or videos, but that’s a small trade off for free inflight Wi-Fi. If you want connectivity beyond messaging you can also purchase a Surf package that provides unlimited data for browsing and emails.

The Etihad Airways mobile app showing the free Wi-Fi option for Etihad Guest members
Etihad Guest members get free Wi-Fi.
The Etihad Airways mobile app showing the free Wi-Fi option for Etihad Guest members
A free text-only Chat package is a nice inflight bonus.

Now on to the entertainment. The headphones provided by Etihad Airways are good quality that produce clear sound and do an effective job in cancelling noise. They’re also comfortable to wear.

A pair of Etihad Airways headphones
A pair of Etihad Airways headphones.
A pair of Etihad Airways headphones
They’re comfortable to wear and deliver good sound quality.

Etihad Airways’ on-demand entertainment platform, E-BOX, provides passengers with engaging and interactive content and activities. These include movies, TV programmes, audio, news, games and more. The entertainment is sufficiently varied to accommodate for various ages, international tastes and language preferences.

Etihad Airways' on-demand inflight entertainment platform, E-BOX
There are many entertainment options to choose from on E-BOX.
Movies on Etihad Airways' on-demand inflight entertainment platform, E-BOX
Spoilt for choice…

To navigate through E-BOX, a controller is provided that works as a game pad and remote control. Some screens are also touch-sensitive so one can navigate through E-BOX without needing to use the controller.

Here’s a tip. Before a movie, an advert is played. However unlike YouTube where you have to watch at least a few seconds of an ad before viewing content, you can use the fast forward button on the E-BOX controller to speed through the ad or even use your finger to drag the marker of the video timeline to the right until you skip the ad entirely.

A downside of E-BOX is that it can be laggy at times. Let’s assume you have a flight with one stopover. You may have watched part of a movie on the first leg of the flight and decide to resume where you left off on the second leg. If you fast forward the movie to the point where you want to start viewing, you may notice that E-BOX doesn’t respond to the pause or stop button, and continues fast forwarding. As a result, several attempts have to be made to reach the desired point in the movie, which can be frustrating.

Etihad Airways Flight Path on E-BOX, Abu Dhabi to London.

Interestingly, Etihad Airways has incorporated a social element to some of its inflight entertainment. Content can be ‘liked’ similar to how one likes a YouTube video or likes an Instagram post, with the total like count on display. Also passengers can view what movies others next to them are viewing, if they’re viewing anything at all, and there’s even the choice to ‘join’ them in the viewing. To ‘join’ a fellow passenger in watching a movie means you’ll watch the movie at the same point on your individual screens. Perhaps the intention is to facilitate discussion among passengers sitting next to each other, either during the movie or once it has finished.

Etihad Airways inflight entertainment 'like' count for the movie, Babylon.
Etihad Airways allows passengers to ‘like’ content on its inflight entertainment platform.
Etihad Airways inflight entertainment platform, E-BOX, displaying what movies other passengers are watching.
You can ‘join’ a movie along with other passengers.

Screens can be slightly tilted to prevent glare and provide the best viewing position for passengers, however screens aren’t available in the Economy cabin of Etihad’s A320 and A321 fleet. An alternative is to access inflight entertainment via E-BOX Stream, which allows you to stream wirelessly to your device. Remember to bring your own headphones and a charging cable.

Abu Dhabi International Airport

If you’re flying with Etihad Airways, you may pass through Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). It’s certified as a 4-Star Airport by Skytrax and offers various shopping, lounge and convenience facilities. Despite its positive rating, we feel AUH is a bit of a letdown. It’s often very crowded and doesn’t have the spacious feel of 5-Star Airports such as Hamad International Airport, Qatar or Changi Airport, Singapore.

There doesn’t seem to be much space for work and seating is generally limited to those by gate areas. Air conditioning around certain dining outlets also leaves a lot to be desired. In and of itself, AUH is a good airport, however when comparing it with some of the best airports in the world, it does seem to fall a bit short.

Shopping and dining outlets at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH)
Shopping & dining outlets at Abu Dhabi International Airport
CNN Traveler café at Abu Dhabi International Airport
The CNN Traveler Café at AUH.

If you’re transiting through Abu Dhabi International Airport, it’s worth considering booking a stopover in the UAE capital. The city hosts a wide variety of attractions such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Ferrari World™ Abu Dhabi, which can be seen by going on city tours.

Booking a stopover at Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways
Booking a stopover at Abu Dhabi.

A benefit of stopping over in Abu Dhabi is that your Etihad Airways boarding pass will provide discounts in the city at participating dining outlets, theme parks, hotels and spas. Make sure you check visa requirements before booking.

Conclusion

Overall Etihad Airways is an excellent airline highlighted by a smooth booking process, an exceptional cabin crew, delicious meals and varied inflight entertainment. Abu Dhabi airport could be a bit better but if you’re passing through, you could take the opportunity to book a stopover and visit attractions in the city.

Etihad Airways Economy cabin
Etihad Airways Economy cabin.
Etihad Airways Airbus A388
Etihad Airways Airbus A388

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