Abu Dhabi to Barcelona, launched in November 2018
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Etihad Guest. Members of Virgin Australia Velocity can earn points on Etihad flights.
Business, seat 11F
7 hours 20 minutes
Abu Dhabi's departures hall is surprisingly busy at midnight, but the dedicated entrance for first- and business-class travellers eliminates the usual jostle. The fast-track through security helps, though the priority queue is long. So jam-packed is the business-class lounge, there's little space to sit; we arrange ourselves on a large ottoman while a colleague checks into the in-house spa for a massage.
Seats are a comfortable 185 centimetres (73 inches) long and 51 centimetres (20 inches) wide, and convert to flat beds. They're arranged in a 1-2-1 layout and staggered in forward- and rear-facing formation. There's no partition between the two rear-facing seats in the middle of each row, but they're reasonably spaced, allowing for some level of privacy from one's neighbour.
Business class passengers are allowed two cabin bags weighing a maximum of 12 kilograms, one personal item such as a handbag, of up to 5kg, and 40kg of checked baggage. Checked baggage shouldn't weigh more than 32kg apiece. Luggage dimensions are stipulated on Etihad's website.
For complete privacy, window seats are best because they're arranged in single file along the length of the cabin. My forward-facing middle seat can be shielded from my neighbour with a manually-operated partition. There's a curved table to the side of the seat, a cubby hole in which to place my belongings and an easy-to-reach water bottle holder. The fold-out table is a good height for laptops, and can be pushed forward should I wish to leave my seat during mealtimes or while working. Seat adjustment dials are within easy reach no matter one's position and are a breeze to operate. Sleep comes easy in business class; however the cushions would benefit from a padded sheet and a larger pillow so they feel more like a bed than a chair while sleeping.
There's an endless range of entertainment on the inbuilt touch screen – movies, documentaries, podcasts, e-books, albums, news and immigration and customs information about countries with strict requirements such as Australia and the US. I plug my phone into one of two USB charge points in my cubicle and lull myself to sleep with an audiobook.
The staff are friendly and efficient, from check-in through to landing. The general warmth and hospitality, I notice, isn't confined to business class passengers; this is important to me, since I travel most often in economy and expect good service to be extended to all passengers, no matter their status.
Drinks are served upon boarding; despite the ungodly hour – or perhaps because of it – I accept a flute of Piper-Heidsiek Champagne. There's an all-day selection of snacks and meals to choose from such as the steak sandwich, artisanal cheese platter and Etihad's signature Arabic baklava. I'm not hungry just now, but the flight attendant takes my order for breakfast – somewhat disconcerting, for who knows what I might feel like eating in five hours' time. I order the smoked salmon oat bagel with spinach and creme fraiche and find, when it's served a few hours before arrival, that it's disappointingly dry. The brie and onion omelette might have been a better choice; I order it on my return flight and confirm this suspicion.
ONE MORE THING
Water is served in glasses at mealtimes but in plastic bottles for the rest of the flight – not ideal in this age of plastic pollution. I suggest passengers take along a reusable water bottle and replenish it in the plush galley bar at the front of the cabin.
The 2am departure is eye-curling, but my business class seat and the crew's gentle, no-nonsense service soothes the cruel interruption of sleep. After the initial 14 hour 40 minute flight from Sydney, the onward leg is a breeze – especially when one can assume the supine position.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
Catherine Marshall travelled as a guest of Etihad.