Upgraded to First: Etihad EY17 AUH-LHR
This is a trip report from a recent flight between Abu Dhabi and London where I received a upgrade to first class. But was it a fabulous experience? You might be surprised…
Date: August 2015
As our flight from Bangkok was delayed and we didn’t make the time up in the air, deplaning was a mad-rush for the exits as a lots of passengers on this flight were connecting to onward flights. We moved to the new gate at a quick pace – after another security check of course. The gate wasn’t too far however the slow moving hoards in the duty free section made this people-dodging walk quite frustrating.
The gate area was empty and we congratulated each other on actually making the connection – another security check was in place before we could make our way to the aircraft.
This flight was originally operated by Etihad’s new A380, however some weeks before departure I noticed a change to the older and less impressive A340. I kept a close eye on the flight in the days preceding the flight hoping for a switch back to the A380, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Upon boarding, two things struck me. One was the heat in the cabin and I instantly got my sweat on. Second, the business class cabin on the A340 looked like as cramped as a lego set compared our previous flight on the 777 – it’s the same configuration, just miniature. I felt like a doll in a doll house, so this being my third leg in a long stretch to Europe, I was less than impressed. The IFE screens on this flight were much smaller than our previous flight too, similar in size to an iPad.
It was obvious as we sat down that the cabin wasn’t very full considering it was meant to be a full flight. While receiving a glass of mint water from the cabin crew we were told by the pilot that we were waiting for connecting passengers and luggage – a delay that would ultimately take an hour.
Upgraded to First
While my partner and I were sweating like pigs and staring blankly at a rolling loop of Etihad ads on the IFE (remember they don’t allow you to use the IFE before the safety demo) I managed to spy the purser running around the cabin in a bit of a huff. I made eye contact with him and he stopped by to say thank for flying Etihad and apologised for the delay.
We discussed our last flight and he asked how we liked it – “It was delightful” I said. He then lent in closer and whispered “I’ve actually got a problem and you two might be able to help me out. An older couple need to sit together and there just aren’t any free seats – however I do have a spare seat in first class, however it’s just the one seat so I can’t upgrade you both. If one of you want to be upgraded to first class, the other will need to stay back in business, however in a single window seat.”
It was at this point that I turned to my partner – I don’t know if it was the ‘Me Me Me!’ look in my eyes or if he wanted some serious relationship credit, but wow – what a gentleman!
From that point on, it was a bit of a blur. I don’t think I’ve opened an overhead bin to grab my hand luggage any quicker than I did at that very moment. Before I knew it I was following the purser to seat 1D, the left seat of a middle pair. Someone was sitting in the next seat, so the divider was raised and we were separated for the rest of the flight.
After taking my seat in a very lush large private first class suite, there was a flurry of activity with the F&B Manager and flight attendant stopping past to discuss menus, drinks, amenities et al.
I was presented with a Etihad first class kit and a pair of pyjamas to which the crew member said she had personally selected the size for me. I pondered at this presumptuous statement and confirmed with her that she had got me XL. Affirmative.
The first class amenity kit has some great items with hand lotion, lip balm, moisturiser, refreshing towelette, socks, eyeshades, earplugs, dental kit, mints, pillow mist and pulse point oil. Everyone needs a good pulse point oil don’t they?
Given we had been flying for so long by this point, and it was a very long day, the thought of more champagne made me gag – so I just went for a water which was promptly delivered on a tray with dates and a warm towel. I was also offered arabic coffee but I declined on the basis that I just wanted to sleep at the earliest possible opportunity. It was at this point that I also declined to decide on something to eat and drink after take-off, a decision I would regret later on in the flight.
It was at this point that I started to observe the demographics of the first cabin – it appears that most of the seats were occupied by a single family, presumably the head of which was an Arabic gentleman in seat 1A across the aisle from me dressed in traditional attire.
The flight finally pushed back and I was able to finally get into the inflight entertainment. For some reason I get quite nervous on the A340, especially with the very long roll down the runway – and I do like to have the noise cancelling headphones on listening to music or watching a movie when taking off so I can’t hear the aircraft struggle to get airborne.
POST TAKEOFF SERVICE
As soon as the seatbelt sign turned off I closed the doors to my suite, put the seat into relax mode and chilled out by nodding in and out of sleep. About an hour or so into the flight I was alerted to the amazing smells coming the galley and it sounded like the passengers around me had started feeding. It was at this point that I reviewed the extensive menu for something to eat and drink.
I was conscious that the cabin was full and the FA’s were running around like headless chickens, and as I felt like an imposter due to the op-up, I didn’t press the call bell initially. What I did was open the door to my suite and hold the menu waiting to make eye contact with a passing crew member. Unfortunately I waited for quite some time – my approach wasn’t working. I then waved down a passing crew member who said that they would be right with me. They weren’t.
So about 30 minutes had passed and I was getting frustrated. Maybe it was my fault for not ordering my meal before takeoff? I started to wonder if I would’ve had better service back in business class, as the responsiveness of the crew was lacking… Next step, I press the call bell. Nothing.
At this point I was quite irate, so I jump out of my suite and walk up to the galley. The F&B manager was busy preparing meals and a crew member was organising crew meals (I assume). I think I startled them. I mentioned that I knew they were busy but I was wondering if I could order something to eat and drink. There wasn’t much delight in receiving my request – it was as if I had put a spanner into the works and they looked frazzled at my request. It would be another 30 minutes for the food one quipped, and the other crew member said they’d bring the champagne to my seat.
To be fair, the champagne was delivered quickly – I decided on the 2005 Bollinger Le Grande Annee and it was delightful (retails for about $200 in the store). It came served with olives and some dried vegetables.
I quite enjoyed that glass, I mused – and I wondered when the next refill would come. None came. And then ensued another 15 minute dance of trying to catch the crew as they come down the aisle. This was again, an irritating experience. So I walk up to the galley once more, I smile sweetly and wave the champagne glass indicating I wanted more. They would be right with me I was told and I walked back to the seat. Nothing came. Gah!
Anyway I could go on about the blow by blow impact of being in a full first class cabin with a struggling crew but I’m sure you get the picture. Especially when I was technically the lowest on the pecking order when it comes to service – but I digress.
Today I had decided on a single main – the ‘Trio of Lamb’ with pea purée and potato fondant. I didn’t want to be greedy so that was the extent of my ordering (and clearly I didn’t want to overwhelm the crew). The F&B manager stopped past my seat and pulled out the table from the side panel – looking good so far. Then my meal arrives and its visually stunning. But wait – theres no cutlery! The crew member has since disappeared. I ring the bell but nothing happens. I then wait until he passes my seat again and I then ask for my table to be made up – oh and some more champagne please.
At least the lamb looked good – albeit a small serving. When I was finally flush with a knife and fork I went about getting stuck in to the delicious meal, and it was definitely yummy.
Not feeling entirely full from this entrée sized meal, I decided to go for the Biryani. Again I waddle to the kitchen because I know better – and i’m blocked by two crew trying to get something out of the cupboard. Time seemed to slow and my presence wasn’t noticed – finally i’m awarded a startled glare from both the crew, at which point I awkwardly ask for some food and i’m looked at as if i’m a nuisance.
The F&B manager stops past my seat. Apparently there is an issue with me ordering the fish biryani – I didn’t quite catch the reason, something about opening a packet and it being difficult. I would prefer the lamb he reckons, so I go for this.
The biryani arrives and it the presentation was very average – mind you, it’s hard to make fried rice look spectacular on a plate. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best meal – the chunky lamb was chewy and fatty/gristly, so I just ate around the lamb and went for the rice.
I mention this in my other trip reports but Etihad doesn’t have a massive selection of movies and television – so I ended up re-watching stuff I had already seen previously. After my champagne binge earlier, I was ready for another sleep rather than watching IFE anyway so not a bit issue.
I put the seat into bed mode and covered myself with the lush gold first class blanket. One thing that struck me was the leather from the seat made for one sticky hot sleep (especially considering the warm cabin temperature). I’m sure there was an option for the crew to make up a bed with a sheet and a proper pillow, but I wasn’t even going there. The pillow was too small for me, but I managed to get a couple of hours of patchy sleep in before our arrival in London.
After some quite unsettling turbulence over Germany (the crew had to be seated for about half an hour) we descended into London Heathrow. During descent I went to grab a bottle of water from the in-seat bar compartment and unfortunately it was scorching hot (presumably from the IFE and lack of airflow), so I asked for a bottle from the galley which was quickly delivered – a large almost 1L bottle at that! Just what I needed.
I was first off the aircraft and waited at the end of the aerobridge for my partner. After security we found our Etihad chauffeur and made our way into Covent Garden.
Yes, the upgrade was a nice gesture and I am torn between feeling grateful and feeling completely underwhelmed by the experience. My partner said that service in the business cabin was fine so I was left wondering if my experience would’ve been better back there. However the seat in the first cabin was a big upgrade on the cramped confines of the business cabin – and for this I was happy. I would’ve been disappointed had I been a paying first class passenger though, with that average service let alone the aircraft sub from the much lauded A380.
At the end of the day I was very lucky to be upgraded. It’s just a shame that I didn’t come out of the experience being a strong advocate for the first class product. This could’ve been a completely different review but i’m afraid it ended up being a very ordinary experience.