Airline review: Etihad 777-300 business class, Melbourne to Abu Dhabi

THE PLANE

Boeing 777-300

ROUTE

Melbourne to Abu Dhabi

CLASS

Business, 5A.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Etihad Guest. Virgin Australia Velocity members can also earn points from Etihad flights.

DURATION

13 hours, 35 minutes

FREQUENCY

Etihad flies from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi daily along with flights from Sydney and Brisbane.

THE SEAT

This is the first row of business class after the first class cabin, which I peep into before take-off. The aft curtain is closed. The 1-2-1 business cabin layout means all passengers have direct access to the aisle. The seat offers 185 centimetres (73 inches) of pitch with a width of 51 centimetres (20 inches) and converts to a fully flat bed.

BAGGAGE

In business class, up to 40 kilograms in checked luggage and two carry-on bags weighing up to 12 kilograms combined.

COMFORT

Etihad has upgraded its offerings in business and first class but this 777 still has the older product. Not that there's much to complain about. The interlocking layout, as found in many business class cabins, means every second seat puts the passenger close to the aisle, which some people might find disturbing as the crew go about their business during the night. I'm close to the window though, so have a feeling of my own private compartment. The amenity kit features socks, an eye mask, moisturiser and lip balm from Scaramouche and Fandango, toothbrush and toothpaste. There's also a Luxe city guide included (five are available – mine contains New York).

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SERVICE

A late Australian domestic flight, with about 30 connecting passengers, sees our take-off delayed a couple of hours. In the airline's lounge at Melbourne Airport, we're advised to stay on a bit longer. Once on board, the pilots and crew keep us informed and we're offered drinks and nuts to tide us over while we wait. The well-presented cabin crew introduce themselves before take-off and are friendly and attentive.

ENTERTAINMENT

The touchscreen is bright and sharp, but if you're reclined you can control it with a remote in the side of your seat without having to unbuckle to reach the screen. There is a solid selection of new and older movies. The TV selection is less impressive, with a handful of full seasons of shows mixed with random individual episodes of comedies like Friends and Family Guy. You have to sit through more than two minutes of ads before watching anything, including a long ad for the entertainment system itself, which is somewhat bizarre since you're already using it.

FOOD

Since it's a late-night departure, I forgo the heavier meal options (beef fillet, chicken kabsa or barramundi) and opt for a tomato and basil soup followed by ricotta gnocchi in tomato sauce with black olives, kale and parmesan cheese. The gnocchi is fine, though not among the better business class meals I've eaten. There's also an "all day" menu of items you can order at any time, including a steak sandwich, lamb and rosemary pie or a breakfast frittata with sausages. On my return flight I try the steak sandwich and it's very good.

ONE MORE THING

My connection from Abu Dhabi to Amman, Jordan, sees me switch to a newer Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. While the basic design of the seat is the same, significant improvements are noticeable, such as a sharper, larger screen and more in-seat storage space. However, every second row in the 787 business class cabin faces backwards, which some people may find off-putting (though it didn't bother me). From October 2018 onwards, Etihad will replace the 777 and only fly Dreamliners to its Australian ports, with the exception of Sydney, where an Airbus A380 is used.

VERDICT

After a $2 billion loss last year, Etihad has been cutting costs such as removing pyjamas from business class, reducing baggage allowances and closing its styling salons in the Abu Dhabi business class lounge. That said, the airline's business remains a high quality product. However, the replacement of the 777 with the Dreamliner in October will be welcome, given the design improvements in the newer seat.

Our rating: ★★★★

Tested by Craig Platt, who flew as a guest of Etihad Airways.

See also: Airline review: Etihad Dreamliner business class

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