Airline review: Etihad economy, Boeing 777-300, Sydney to Abu Dhabi

THE PLANE

Boeing 777-300; Etihad has 19 planes in the 777 family in its fleet of 103 passenger aircraft.

THE ROUTE

Flight EY 451, Sydney to Abu Dhabi.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Etihad Guest's airline partners include Air New Zealand, Garuda Indonesia, Malaysia Airlines and Virgin Australia.

CLASS

Economy.

DURATION

13 hours 20 minutes, covering a total of 12,052 kilometres.

FREQUENCY

Twice daily from Sydney (one A380 and one B777-300) and Melbourne, daily from Brisbane.

CHECKING-IN

Because I arrived even earlier than the recommended (three hours before departure), I was at the top of the queue and checking in was quick and easy.

THE SEAT

Seat 32D is an aisle seat on the left-hand side of the plane in a middle row of four seats – this means only one person has to climb over you to go to the bathroom, rather than possibly two when you're in a three-seat row. I also like to get up and walk around whenever I feel like it without clambering over anyone else. Luckily the man next to me moved, so I had a spare seat and could spread out a bit, even though the flight was pretty full. You can bid to pay for Economy Neighbour-Free seats and Economy Space (the emergency exit row) on some flights and also pay extra to secure preferred seating in economy.

BAGGAGE

The check-in allowance is 23 kilograms; you can take cabin baggage weighing up to seven kilograms (don't forget the maximum dimensions allowed: width 40 centimetres, height 50 centimetres and depth 25 centimetres), plus a personal item such as a handbag weighing up to five kilograms (width 30 centimetres, height 40 centimetres and depth 15 centimetres).

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COMFORT

My seat doesn't feel as comfortable or as spacious as the Etihad's A380 economy seats I've flown on before on the same route. In this aircraft, it is 17.1 inches (43cm) wide with a 6 inch recline and 32 inches of legroom. Reclining etiquette is strictly followed – you only lie back when the passenger in front goes first and you check it's OK with the passenger behind. The brown/white/yellow décor looks a bit dingy and the control panel in front appears to be a little worse for wear, but it works – sort of.

ENTERTAINMENT

The 10.6-inch touchscreen needs more of a hard smack than a touch. I've forgotten to bring my noise-cancelling headphones, but the headset provided by Etihad does a good job. There's a reasonable variety of movies and TV but nothing like the range that rival airline Emirates provides. However, I manage to watch most of Captain Phillips despite the TV constantly resetting itself, then revert to reading Michael Robotham's latest novel, Good Girl Bad Girl. WiFi is available for a fee.

SERVICE

I'm impressed that the drinks trolley arrives at seat 38D just 30 minutes after take-off. The crew are friendly and helpful, although no-one can fix the TV.

FOOD

An ad pops up on the screen for "Sweet or Salty" snacks, which I'm surprised to find you have to pay for. A 30-gram pack of olives is AED8, or $US3.I know this is the new normal on short-haul flights and hope this doesn't mean the quantity of regular meals are reduced in order to make you fork out more. Dinner (or is it lunch?) arrives at 5.45pm, a choice of chicken and rice or tortellini pasta. The honey soy chicken with rice and spinach is quite acceptable, as are the cheese, crackers and chocolate mousse. Shortly before we land in Abu Dhabi, the second meal service is wheeled round – offering exactly the same choice as the first one. A cup of tea or coffee would have been nice.

ONE MORE THING

Etihad's business-class lounges in Abu Dhabi are available to economy-class flyers, from $US100 for two hours. Facilities include a Six Senses spa, showers, bar, a great selection of hot and cold food, WiFi and business area.

VERDICT

3.5 OUT OF 5

Etihad's fares from Sydney to Europe are comparable to most major airlines. Flying the same route on Etihad's A380 is definitely better than the Boeing 777-300 in terms of aircraft spaciousness, décor and food.

Sally Macmillan was a guest of Etihad.

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