Airline review: Etihad Airways, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner economy class, Dubai-Abu Dhabi-Melbourne

THE ROUTE

Flight EY460, Abu Dhabi to Melbourne

THE AIRCRAFT

The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

The Etihad Guest loyalty program partners with Virgin Australia, so I add my points to my Velocity account. In a recent win for Australians, Velocity members can now also use their points on Etihad flights, too.

CLASS

Economy class, seat 34K (window).

DURATION

13 hours 25 minutes, non-stop.

CARBON EMISSIONS

Calculated at 2.0 tonnes for an economy class passenger. There's an option to pay to offset emissions at co2.myclimate.org. Alternatively, passengers can offset carbon emissions by paying or donate their frequent flyer points to climate change projects with Etihad. The airline also reminds me that 5 kilograms less luggage means a 5 per cent drop in my carbon footprint.

FREQUENCY

Etihad currently flies from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne five times weekly, and will return to daily flights from March 27, 2022. Departing after midnight and arriving at 9pm the same day is good for those who don't sleep on flights, because you fall off the plane tired and ready for a good night's sleep. Hey presto, no jetlag!

HEALTH

I receive an email to check in online 30 hours ahead of the flight with an invitation to complete my 'Verified to Fly' form, uploading my vaccination certificates and negative PCR test taken in the last 72 hours. Only then can I download my boarding pass, and the paperwork is re-checked at the airport. Neither my Australian Travel Declaration nor my Victorian declaration get a glance – not in Abu Dhabi, not in Melbourne, either. There's tears at the counter beside me when a woman on the upcoming flight to Seoul is refused boarding because her PCR test was taken outside the 72-hour window, and I can't help feeling that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

CHECKING IN

Staying in Dubai but flying home with Abu Dhabi's carrier, Etihad? The airline runs a free shuttle bus free from a bus terminal in Dubai to Abu Dhabi airport. The trick is to make sure your flight 'departs' from Etihad Bus Station – the IATA 'airport' code is XNB. The bus station is a gloomy car park on the edge of downtown Dubai – a little signage wouldn't go astray. It takes two hours to travel the 160km between the two cities, with a stop at the border between the two emirates, where our PCR tests are checked – it's not only in Australia that the states are not aligned. The bus drops me, my young daughter and way too many bags outside Terminal 2 two hours before our flight. Sending thanks to the kind airport worker who finds us a trolley and escorts us on a short cut into the Etihad's Terminal 3. Compared with the bustle of Dubai Airport, Abu Dhabi airport is a ghost town, and I walk straight up to a bag drop counter for my fastest check-in ever.

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THE SEAT

I've heard it said that everyone is too scared to travel, but an almost full plane shows that to be patently untrue. Economy seats are 17.1 inches (43 cm) wide and have a 31-inch (79 cm) pitch, with a seat configuration of 3-3-3. On a flight that's 95 per cent full, the two of us get lucky, and the third seat in our row is vacant, so we can stretch out for some shut-eye on this night flight. That's the plan, anyway. Before we even begin to taxi, I've heard Baby Shark seven times from the row ahead of us. It's going to be a long one…

BAGGAGE

30 kilograms of checked luggage, cabin luggage of 7 kilograms and a handbag of up to 5 kilograms.

ENTERTAINMENT

Thanks to the Baby Shark baby, who is inconsolable and wails unhappily for several hours, sleep is impossible, so the entertainment system gets a workout, with all film fans - Marvel and non-Marvel – catered for in the film section. Top-tier Etihad Guests get free Wi-Fi, everyone else has to pay. I don't need or want it, so I'm ok with that. For buffs of airline safety videos, Etihad's latest is an arty shoot at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

SERVICE

Service is businesslike and prompt, and meals are delivered and cleared away quickly. Masks are compulsory during the flight except at meal times, as the masked flight attendants are quick to remind people who let theirs slip. Etihad used to train some attendants as nannies, but those skills seem to have been lost: I would have hoped the flight attendants could have stepped in much earlier to assist the exhausted parents of Baby Shark baby, who started roaring again on the descent, obviously unable to equalise her ears.

FOOD

With take-off at 00:40, most passengers are already snoozing by the time it's wheels up. So it's a surprise when the lights are kept on and we're rattled awake for a late-night meal, which turns out to be a white roll and processed cheese and unpleasantly flaccid capsicum. We're woken again with the lights switched on, six hours before our arrival for the first of two hot meals, a breakfast of omelette and those curious white chicken sausages so beloved by airline caterers. The third meal comes four hours later, a comforting chicken dish, easily the best meal of the flight – if first impressions last, why not lead out with the hot meal before a sleep, and pop the snack in mid-flight, when everyone's snoring?

ONE MORE THING

Unlike many of its more parsimonious long-haul competitors, Etihad is offering full refunds and waives the admin fee if you have to postpone any flights booked before 31 May, 2022. You'll still have to pay the difference between the two fares: having had to change my flights twice already on this trip, it's a definite plus for me. The fare also includes COVID-19 insurance during your trip, which covers medical expenses and quarantine costs. Available until March 31, 2022.

PS: your Etihad ticket also lets you claim a free ticket to the world fare, Expo 2020 in Dubai, which runs until the end of March.

VERDICT

On a high-traffic route, this is not a lavish flight, but it gets you from A to B efficiently with minimal fuss. The COVID-19 insurance is an absolute winner.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★★

The writer flew at her own expense, see etihad.com 

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