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November 9, 2014 / oneworld82

Back home, Part I – ALA-AUH on Etihad Airways Business Class (EY J)

In my mind, few companies (if any) are as aspirational as Etihad Airways. Constantly among the top airlines in the World according to Skytrax (and one of the only seven carriers in the World to currently have a five-stars rating), Etihad impressed me to a great extent when I flew its First Class last year between Abu Dhabi and Sydney. So, you can imagine how excited I was to be flying them yet again. I was especially excited because I would get to try business class as well this time, as first class between Almaty and Abu Dhabi is not available (they fly an Airbus 320 on many regional routes, a much more rational approach than Emirates’, which flies only widebodies).

My experience started at Almaty Airport. I had landed around noon from Shymkent on Air Astana. Overall, the experience was pleasurable on this fast-growing carrier. New planes, nice color scheme, nice (and good-looking) flight attendants, a sandwich offered in economy together with a drink of choice on a hour-long flight… I can foresee good success for this carrier.

I had to kill a few hours at the airport, since my flight for Abu Dhabi wouldn’t leave until 5.30pm. No big deal. I took a sit in the arrival area and watched the Godfather (which I had downloaded for the occasion the night before) on my iPad Mini. I picked this movie because, of course, it’s long. And extremely good. Almaty airport is small, and usually pretty packed. I believe the Kazakh government is working on expanding it, or in building a new one altogether. The current airport, by the way, has free and pretty fast free wifi.

About two hours before departure I proceeded to the check in area. The desks that on my previous visits on my way to Almaty were allocated to CSA were, this time, allocated to Etihad. There are perhaps ten check-in desks in total at the airport, so airlines have to share them.

It’s curious that, to get to the check-in part of the airport, in theory you have to go through a security check where you need to show your passport and itinerary in order to get through; yet, the checkpoint was unmanned and people were going back and forth freely.

Etihad had separate lines fro Coral Economy and Pearl Business Class customers. I lined up and after a few minutes I was checked in. The nice attendant handed me a lounge invitation and voucher – the airport has only one VIP lounge shared by all airlines and food/drinks are not free. The voucer was for 2,500KZT – approximately $15. I quickly went through immigration and security and then proceeded to the lounge. It’s a pretty basic area, with enough seats and tables to accommodate all premium customers comfortably. The menu at the bar was in Russian and Kazakh only, but on display there were a variety of pastries and some alcoholic beverages. I got myself a Bavaria beer and waited my flight out.

About half a hour before departure, boarding commenced.

I made my way through the plane and took my seat – 3K – aboard my Etihad plane. The first thing you notice of Etihad’s cabin is the green color scheme of the busines class. It’s very nice and different from usual corporate-like color schemes. The seat is a Recaro one, very similar to the ones found on US carriers but with a few enhancements. To begin with, you have nice reading lamps sticking out the backrest; then, you have an embedded TV coming out of the armrest. Third, you have an extendable footrest that makes the seat very comfortable in “lounging mode”. Overall, comfort and space were excellent, and I fell for the cabin instantly.

It wasn’t even one minute that I had sit down that the flight attendant – a tall and slim Russian woman – came by offering me a pre-departure drink. I of course grabbed a glass of champagne.

We left on time, and the captain announced a flight time of 4h30m. Shortly after the seatbelt sign was switched off, the service began. First, a round of drinks was offered together with some warm nuts. If you think that American Airlines nuts are good, try these ones. They are seasoned, for lack of better words, in an Indian way: peppery and slightly spicy. They are delightful. I of course had them with some more champagne.

The flight attendant set my tray-table after the round of drinks. I had selected arabic mezze as a starter and the lamb for main course. The menu read as follows:

A La Carte

Country Style Bread

Country style bread with house butter, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar


Arabic mezze. A selection of Middle Eastern hot and cold appetizers

Smoked salmon. Served with potato pancakes, horseradish cream


Moroccan lamb tagine in tomato and coriander sauce served with steamed potatoes

Braised chicken breast. Red pepper and sweet onion sauce served with steamed potatoes

Arancini. Filled spinach and rice parcels with grilled vegetables and tomato sauce


A selection of international cheese


Vanilla and pineapple custard tart

Seasonal fresh fruit

A selection of ice cream flavors

Arabic mezze are just what they are – a collection of hummus, tabbouleh, olives… your usual, hard-to-screw (at least for a Middle Eastern airline!) standard, tasty fare. What I give kudos to Etihad for is, though, the presentation. This (and the other dishes) were plated really restaurant-style, clearly on the spot and not in some industrial kitchen in Abu Dhabi. Having flown so much in premium cabins in the course of the last two years, I really came to realize that small things like this one make all the difference. Furthermore, a cute mini-loaf of bread (shaped like a muffin) was set on the table, together with olive oil and butter.


After finishing my excellent starter, it was the lamb tagine turn. I had this dish because 1. I love lamb and 2. I wanted to compare it with the lamb I had in First Class on Lufthansa just 10 days before. Unfortunately for Lufthansa, Etihad won hands down. The meat was flavorful, tender, rich in aroma; the couscous accompanying it was perfectly done and complemented the dish SO much better than Lufthansa’s tasteless pasta. I had a glass of Saint-Emilion Bordeaux with it, and it was just perfect.

The pace of the meal, by the way, was great. Not too rushed, not too slow. I skipped on the dessert but not on the cheese, which included two types of soft, Camembert-like varieties (one slightly blue-veined) and some sharp cheddar; even the cheese was beautifully presented, with grapes and two types of crackers.

To close the meal, I ordered an espresso followed by a glass of the excellent Granmp’s Botrytis Semillon dessert wine from South Australia.

For a business class meal on a 4-and-half hour flight this dinner was remarkable. Truly. Again, it’s not only the quality of the food that matters, but it’s the small touches like the olive oil for dipping or the cute little basked for the bread that make all the difference.

During and after dinner I played with the IFE system – e-Box as Etihad calls it. The selection of movies was extensive and varied, ranging from newly-released Hollywood blockbusters to Asian and Arabic fare. I watched the remake of RoboCop (that I liked) and then a couple of classic Monty Python episodes (The Spanish Inquisition one is so hilarious!).

I also had the chance to check out the restrooms – they were standard size but featured some basic but good amenities.

Time flew by, and we landed in Abu Dhabi on time but at a very remote stand. A bus was provided for premium customers only (we were handed an express immigration card as well), and within minutes I was officially in the UAE for my six hours layover.

One fact that I noticed was the number of workers waiting outside the plane to handle baggage and clean the plane once all people had deplaned. There were no less than a dozen airport employees – mostly for the Sub-Continent and Africa – waiting in the sweating, humid Abu Dhabi night just outside the plane. I noticed the same pattern along every other plane that had just landed. This brings me to another, sticky point here than many fellow travelers – including myself – often forget. Middle Eastern carriers have a huge cost-advantage compared to European and North-American airlines. being able to save so much on labour they are more easily able to offer a better in-flight experience at lower prices. It’s something easily forgotten but that should always be taken into account when judging and comparing carriers.

In any case, during my layover I went through immigration and briefly checked out the new Etihad Arrival lounge. It’s a nice little lounge that resembles the existing First Class lounge. It is very well staffed (I was the only customer when I visited), it has a decent selection of snacks and drinks, and most importantly it has showers and a barber (!). I believe it offers complimentary pressing service as well. From the lounge, also, you can easily access the chauffeur cars through an exit that leads directly to them.

Overall, my business class experience on Etihad was stellar. Matching already-high expectations isn’t easy, but Etihad managed, once more, to surprise me. At this point I was looking very much to my next segment to Paris in Diamond First Class.


Leave a Comment
  1. Moritz / Nov 9 2014 5:40 pm

    It’s almost crazy to see that Etihad offers such a good product even in the narrowbodies. I’m really looking forward to flying with Eithad to Jakarta (in Business as well) on Friday. Your trip report makes me a little more happy 🙂

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