Airline review: Etihad Airlines economy, Sydney to Abu Dhabi

Our rating

4.5 out of 5

THE PLANE

Airbus A380-800 – Etihad has four of this aircraft in its fleet.

THE ROUTE

Sydney to Abu Dhabi, UAE.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Etihad Guest (Etihad Airways Partners alliance).

CLASS

Economy; aisle seat 62G, main deck (downstairs).

FREQUENCY

Etihad flies twice daily, direct, from both Sydney and Melbourne to Abu Dhabi; some services ex-Sydney are operated by Virgin Australia.

DURATION

14 hours, 20 minutes. 

THE SEAT 

The main deck has 417 economy class seats in 3-4-3 configuration. My seat, in the centre block, is forward of a bulkhead but still reclines; it has headrest wings to minimise head-lolling. At 18.9 inches (48 centimetres) width and 31 inches (79cm) pitch, the space is adequate although long-legged folk might opt to pay extra for an exit aisle spot. The touch screen, with power-point and USB port, has so many functions (even showing the distance to Mecca) that it is a virtual  entertainment/work station; wireless internet and phone access can be bought. The quality, noise-cancelling headsets are an audible pleasure compared to the flimsy cans offered by other carriers.

BAGGAGE

Checked baggage is a generous 30 kilograms, with one hand-carry item to seven kilograms. 

COMFORT

The cabin is well-maintained but the temperature is frigid. Blankets are distributed along with a good sleep kit. It is a fairly full flight but, other than the customary jam at boarding and disembarking, it doesn't feel unduly crowded.

ENTERTAINMENT

The E-Box system offers some 750 hours of on-demand entertainment.  These come at you on a sharp, 10.6" (27cm) touch-screen.  

SERVICE

An attentive multinational crew, speaking 13 languages, go about their tasks unobtrusively.

FOOD

About 90 minutes after takeoff the dinner wagons roll out. With the vegetarian option soon finished, I take an "Arabic-spiced" lamb casserole with eggplant, ratatouille and spiced potatoes – possibly the tastiest main I have eaten on an economy flight. Red velvet cake with passionfruit icing extends the pleasure. Breakfast (frittata with better-than-usual chicken sausage) comes four hours before landing. It's a long wait between meals but not drinks. Just ask and you receive at any time tea, coffee, soft drinks or alcohol, plus light snacks.

ONE MORE THING

The loos, kept impeccably clean, are a pleasure and feature good mirrors, low-glare lighting and a hushed flush. Which is a good thing because, upon arrival in Abu Dhabi's otherwise fine airport, WCs are few, far between and crowded.

THE VERDICT

Etihad is the national airline of the United Arab Emirates and has scored an industry gong for "world's leading airline" six years running. If this flight, my first on this obviously well-funded carrier, is an indicator, the title is deserved. 

Tested by John Borthwick who flew courtesy of the German National Tourist Office. 

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