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The comfortable seats, solid amenities, and variety of onboard food and drinks were not enough to make up for the ancient IFE and horrible arrival experience in Abu Dhabi.
Pros- Comfortable Seats, Variety of Onboard Food and Drinks, Very Friendly Service , Restaurant Dining Experience
Cons- Bad Airport Lounge Experience, Poor Boarding Experience, Non-Functional Wi-Fi, Ancient IFE, Poor Quality Headphones Horrible Arrival Experience
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Once we got to the airport we headed straight for the airport's only lounge called the Leeli Lounge. This is the premium lounge of business and first class passenger departing Male airport (MLE). The lounge had a large seating area with view of the runway which I enjoyed. The lounge was fairly empty but uncomfortably warm. The lounge had its own bathrooms but no showers.
The lounge had a wide variety of food options including snacks, fruit, rice, vegetables, and pasta. It also had a variety of deserts including chocolate biscuit pudding, cookies, and cakes.
Generally, the food looked and tasted unimpressive. We tried the egg salad sandwich and rice and found them to be dry. All of the food and drinks in the fridges were room temperature. We tried the cookie which was tough and the brownie which was the soft. The brownie ended up being the only good food item we tried in the lounge. We decided to skip most of the food and decided to wait to have a full meal until we were on the plane. The lounge wasn't impressive and I wouldn't arrive early to take advantage of this lounge.
Boarding took place exactly one hour before the departure time. The process was annoying since it involved boarding, waiting in a bus, then taking the bus to a plane parked on the tarmac.
We ended up waiting on the bus for about 30 minutes. When the bus arrived, we were the first passengers off and the first to board the plane.
The one cool thing about boarding via a bus is that we were able to get a view of the plane from the tarmac.
Plane and Seats
There were 16 business class seats on this plane arraigned in a 2-2 format. The legroom on the seats were incredible. I was able to cross my legs and not touch the seats in front. Each seat also had a reading light, headrest, footrest, and substantial padding. The seats also had universal charging at each seat and a screen in the armrest. This seat was a very comfortable way to fly for this approximately 3 hour flight and put U.S. domestic first class seats to shame.
When boarding was done there were a total of four business class passengers and economy was completely full. We were also informed by a flight attendant that one of the business class passengers was the Etihad CEO Tony Douglas' wife. She was very friendly and excited to greet us when she found out that we were Americans and spoke English. She gave us recommendations on site to see in Abu Dhabi which we appreciated. This is the first time that I have ever flown with a spouse of an airline CEO. Though I felt the flight attendants delivered consistent servicer in the business class cabin. We ended up departing at 6:30 pm 15 minutes early.
Shortly after sitting down we were offered a pre-departure beverage. Christina asked for champagne but was informed because the champagne was left onboard the aircraft overnight it was not yet chilled. Instead I had orange juice and Christina had red wine. I liked the orange juice while Christina found the red wine to have a sharp ending. The flight attendant also came around with a hot towel. Because of the warm weather it would have been nice if the towel were colder.
Once we leveled off the formal meal service started with mixed nuts. I did not like the that nuts weren't warm and thought they lacked flavor.
The three course meal service included choices between two starters, three mains, and three deserts. For the starter Christina and I both chose the Arabic Mezze. For the main I chose the Spinach Fettuccine while Christina chose the Spiced Tuna. For desert I had the pineapple tart while the flight attendant created a special desert for Christina with Amaretto and vanilla ice cream.
We both liked all of the Arabic Mezze with the exception of the bread. We found it to be quite fresh and flavorful. Christina summed it up well, simple but well executed.
I liked my main dish the Spinach Fettuccine and I found it to be very creamy, fresh, and healthy.
Christina thought the Spicy Tuna was too spicy and dry.
I found my tart to be too sweet while Christina loved her dessert. She thought that the Amaretto and vanilla ice cream tasted like an adult ice cream float. Also, with desert we both had the chilled champagne and really liked it.
Outside of the food itself I was impressed by the dining experience. For example, the service included white table cloths, printed menu, Etihad branded glasses, and Etihad branded condiments. This felt like restaurant dining and really drove the sense that Etihad was going for a luxurious experience.
Amenities and IFE
When we boarded the plane waiting at our seats were a pillow and blanket. The pillow was well designed and decked out in the Etihad colors while the blanket was soft and comfortable. The blanket and seat were comfortable enough for Christina to take a 30 minute nap.
In business class we also had access to a limited amount of complimentary Wi-Fi. However, even when we got into the areas where it should have been able to connect there was not Wi-Fi service.
The in-flight entertainment (IFE) system onboard this plan was call E-Box and was very old. The screen had bad resolution and the touchscreen was not very responsive so we used the remote. However, the remote was located next to my right hip which was frustrating since I constantly hit the remote while sitting. Despite having a decent selection of movies, the selection of TV shows was very limited with no full seasons. Additionally, the headphones provided by Etihad were really bad and at one-point Christina heard a hissing so we ended up using our own headphones.
We received a very warm greeting from the primary flight attendant serving our cabin. She asked where we from, recognized that we were American Airlines elites, and thanked us for flying with Etihad. She was from Ireland and was very friendly. When she saw that Christina and I we were playing with the seats she explained how the seats worked. She informed us that the seat power only worked after takeoff and that the screen came out of the armrest. Service was very friendly but slow given that there were only four people in business class cabin. Outside of meal service she spent most of the flight talking. She offered to give us recommendations on what to do in Abu Dhabi but forgot. However, she did send us on our way with a big bottle of water. Overall, I found the service very friendly but not as polished as Singapore Airlines.
We arrived at a remote stand 15 minutes early. I was surprised that even at Etihad's hub we did not arrive at a gate. We were reminded upon landing that it was Ramadan and that we could not eat, drink, or smoke in public during the daylight. We knew by this warning that our experience in Abu Dhabi was going to be different. Before we left the plane, we were handed Fast Track certificates for immigration. One improvement over the departure was that on arrival we had a business class-only bus.
Once we got to the terminal we had the strangest immigration experience I have ever had. While the standard immigration line was short we still stood in the Fast Track line but the immigration officers refused to serve us. Instead they made us get into the regular line and wait. Almost all of the immigration booths were staffed and we were the only people in line but they still refused to serve us. Instead during our wait of about 10 minutes they high-fived and chatted with their co-workers. When we were finally served the officer was unfriendly and dismissive. Our terrible arrival experience did not end there but continued as we passed through customs. As we passed through customs an officer tried to separate Christina and I. He stopped me and started to pepper me with question. When Christina stopped to intervene he told her to keep walking assuming that we weren't together. The questions finally stopped when he saw my American passport and let me go. After this experience I couldn't help but wonder if my skin color led to this prejudice and treatment. One thing I know for sure is that this arrival experience didn't make us feel welcomed in Abu Dhabi.
This flight felt very disjointed with a bad ground experience in Male and and Abu Dhabi contrasted with very friendly service onboard. While some of these are not directly in Etihad's control the airline does have direct control over the Wi-Fi, IFE, and boarding all areas where the airline needs to improve its A320 experience. Next time I find myself needing a short or medium haul flight in the Middle East I would probably try one of the other major Middle Eastern airlines like Qatar or Emirates.