In a complete departure from Our usual traveling habits, we found ourselves headed for Australia for a one-off trip to quite literally the other side of the world. We were quite excited to be trying out some airlines that were not the usual Trans-Atlantic fare we deal with regularly. The middle east carriers have some really great reputations and we were looking forward to some really good service and refinement.
We managed to bag some nice and cheap round trip flights on Etihad and got ready to fly almost literally halfway around the world with them. The first leg of the flight was on their absolutely brand spanking new Boing 787-10 Dreamliner. We are big fans of the Dreamliner so we looked forward o flying the extended -10 version that had just arrived in Etihad’s hands (they have been flying the 787-9 for a while).
The Booking was painless enough but the system is very clinical and unexciting and it crashed on the first attempt meaning we had to start over. Once booked we had a couple of unnerving flight alterations with the 2:30hr changeover in Abu Dhabi got cut down to a worryingly short 1:40hr, but the Abu Dhabi website claims a 1hr minimum turnaround so plenty of time in reserve, Any delays could prove exciting though.
Etihad also has a bidding system for business upgrades so we threw in a few cheeky bids to see if we could get lucky.
This is a major disappointment for us. The Seat selection is a charged service in Economy and while the Website states it is a “Small Fee” £20-£40″ for a standard seat is anything but small to us! There were three of us flying the two legs to Brisbane and for the entire round trip, it was £293.40 just to pick our seats!
There is the option of choosing to not book your seats but the way they go about this is pretty abhorrent!… A strong word I know! But a few hours before online Check-in opens, which is 30-Hours before the flight, all the passenger’s seats are auto-assigned. Then once Check-in opens you have the option of changing your seats for free. However, on busy flights, the auto-assignment of seats means there will not be any seats left to change to!
This meant on our flight we were assigned the worst seats on the plane. The middle row with our backs up against the lavatories with no recline, no window, and the constant “whoosh” of the toilet flush! This is simply the worst seat Selection Policy we have come across!
The Check-in window opened at 3:40 am so as a last-ditch attempt to get away from the toilets we set the alarm in the hope we could snatch the last couple of window seats available. Fortunately, there were a few spare rows so we could switch. however for our onward flight to Brisbane, there were no available seats to move to, we had however got lucky in the auto-assignment that time but others would not have been so lucky!
It is also worth noting that Etihad has a nifty app that allows you to check in by scanning your passports via your smartphone! This was really cool. Unfortunately, the app failed to work and after scanning all passports just got to a page with a greyed-out continue button and nothing else! It is worth trying though as the concept is great and saves all those nervous inputs of complicated passport numbers that could spell disaster if you type them in wrong!
Check-in, Airport, and Boarding
With an already sour taste in our mouths, we headed for the Chaos that is Manchester Airport. We can’t blame Ethiad for this, but really the amount of money spent on the airport to make it this BAD is staggering!
Check-in/Bag drop was thankfully very quiet. Chaos ensued when a family of 10 in front of us all attempted to check 3-4 cases each and held everything up but the Ethiad staff worked really well to contain that chaos and get us checked in around them. The only gripe we have is their strict hand luggage policy. The bag restrictions are pretty tight at 50cm x 40cm x 25cm and most small cases do not meet these criteria. We had purchased luggage especially to fit this so had no issues.
We then had time to relax, grab a coffee and wait for the flight. Although we were tempted by some really cheap Duty-free prices and purchased some spirits to enjoy in Australia. We were acutely aware that Abi-Dhabi is an alcohol-free country and made sure we were fully aware of the rules on bringing alcohol into the airport. As long as it is in a sealed airport bag complete with a receipt it is fine if you are only transitting the airport. However, it is always good to check as rules do change.
Boarding was done by zones and was quick and efficient with polite and well-dressed crew. We started to feel we were getting the well-renowned hospitality the middle east airlines are known for.
The Cabin was our least favorite layout of 3-3-3 meaning when traveling as a couple we always get a stranger next to us who instantly falls asleep meaning awkward interactions every time we need to get up for the toilet. Luckily this flight we had a third companion so it was not an issue, but we do wish airlines would stick to 2-4-2, of course, that’s a whole load fewer seats per flight so it’s unlikely!
The seat had an odd vintage feel to it. This was a brand-new aircraft only a few months old and yet it felt right out of the ’70s. It’s a bit odd as it is clearly an intentional design and everything was shiny and brand new just with an odd vintage feel.
The legroom was pretty tight. I am 5’10 and my knees just touched the seat in front, anyone over 6ft is going to be struggling. However, the seat design as a whole was quite nifty. There is a lot of foot space under the seat in front. meaning even taller people will be able to stretch out. The seat is also really supportive. After spending 24 hours getting acquainted back and bum pain was quite minimal.
The headrest is also quite a revelation. We were a little concerned it would impede conversation having the large side rest sticking out, but the reality is we didn’t notice it until it came to rest. It provided ample support to rest against and stopped the dreaded neck ache we usually get from sleeping on a plane. In all despite the cramped nature, it was actually one of the better seats we have flown in.
There is far to much recline available however and when the person in front fully reclines for the entire flight things get a little claustrophobic! The Seat comes with a 3pin plug for charging laptops and a USB port for mobiles etc. However rather frustratingly the headphone jack is a two-pin connection! We had no idea these were still in use anywhere and it was pure luck we still had some adapters stashed away from the dark days of flying where you were forced to buy headphones onboard! Ethiad did supply free headphones but the quality is not the greatest.
The IFE was top-notch. The E-Box as they call it is seriously undersold on the website and in-flight guide. The selection of the latest movies is quite small and as this is all that is listed on the website, it leaves you worrying there might not be much to watch on-board. However, the back catalog is immense with hundreds of great films from the last decade covering many different tastes and styles.
The screens were big bright and really responsive. Even with the windows clear, you could still watch the screen, something not always possible on some IFE Screens. The touch was as responsive as any Smartphone and overall was a joy to use. The 787-10 did lack the extra controller and screen most 787’s have though which is a shame as we like setting that screen to flight tracker so we can follow the flight without disturbing our viewing! There was a screen in screen function though so we could check the progress without stopping our film.
Another great function was Live-TV. Channels are very limited to a few news and one sports channel but it was nice to keep up with the day’s events and as we were flying on a Sunday we were even able to watch some live football as the flight went on! There were loads of games, TV shows as well but we felt the music library to be very limited.
Overall it was a very good offering with very few complaints.
Food and Drink
Ok, we know this is a middle east airline but the food and drink situation is not really acceptable in our eyes. The food was really poor, although admittedly there was a lot of it. The quality was not really the problem but the selection. There is no menu and you are left with the rather vague descriptions provided by the rushed Cabin Crew. The First meal choice was “Chicken or Beef”.
This was the first service of any kind and we received our first drink of the flight, a small plastic cup filled with your choice of drink. We do think things are far easier when miniatures are provided. The Beef dish was reasonable and had quite a lot of beef flavor along with a hearty portion of meat but the dumplings were vile lumps of tasteless flour. The Chicken was far blander, but it was a BIG piece of chicken. The claims that the meals are inspired by the destinations seemed a bold and strange claim!
After this, we had a drinks service of coffee or tea then nothing for several hours, no drinks, no food. Drinks were available at the galley but we were made to feel awkward asking for them. When we asked for a drink the second time we were told no as a service was about to happen. 45 minutes later we received a drink.
A final service happened before landing where we got received a Margarita Calzone along with a drink. Overall it was very disappointing. The food was ok but the number of drinks and service for a 7:30 flight was very low and the food was utterly disappointing. Airline food is rarely good but there was nothing there to get excited about at all. Apart from the really nice dessert pot! To be made to beg for a drink is really not what we expect on flights of this sort of nature. The whole flight had a very “budget” airline feel about it not the feel of a carrier with the sort of reputation and prestige Ethiad try to portray.
Things were even worse on our onward flight. During the course of this 14-hour nightmare, we received a total of 3 drinks (although cabin passes of water were frequent) and an astonishing 3 meal services. Food just kept coming and often at the most inappropriate times. We were woken from our slumber to be served a veggie wrap and chocolate brownie, and breakfast was a huge portion of teriyaki chicken? The whole service was odd and disjointed.
The Cabin Crew were all very polite, beautifully dressed and while their service runs were infrequent they were efficient and attentive. The need to had mix everyone’s drinks rather than providing minis slows things down but that is not the crew’s fault.
There was the disappointing incident mentioned above where we were refused a drink due to an impending service that failed to materialize for another 45 minutes while the people around us were being served! This was quite frustrating but we maybe just picked the wrong member of the crew to ask!
We never usually discuss the Flight Crew. We are aware f what an intense and demanding job they do and just leave them up front to do their thing. But we could not help but notice how appallingly bad both landings were on both our flights! On arrival in Abu-Dhabi conditions were mild and the impact on the runway was one of the worst we have felt in a lot of flying, even in rough conditions. The arrival in Brisbane was nothing short of a crash! The plane was literally flown into the runway.
We know that Pay-To-Fly Pilots operate on routes such as these and wonder if this could be the cause of these poor landings. The routes we usually fly have incredibly high entry requirements for trainee and inexperienced pilots, but in other parts of the world “would be” Pilots can PAY to earn their place in the cabin while they build the hours. Of course, we don’t know if this is the reason but it is a possible explanation for two very rough and ready landings.
We Started this Article by criticizing Manchester Airport, but Abu-Dhabi made manchester feel like a dream world. We had a short layover of only 1:40 but expected a fast turnover as we were only transiting. we followed the signs through the dull and bland terminal buildings until we hit a mass of people. Abu-Dhabi might prefer if we call this a queue, but it was like no queue we have ever seen just a wall of people filling the entire hallway. People were unable to exit the escalators coming down as there was no more room to stand.
The cause of this Crush in the making was the security checks. All our pre-scanned bags needed to be scanned again for reasons that were not made clear*. We attempted to navigate the mass of people as best we could until it sort of began to resemble a queue. eventually, we got the line and through the scanners with no issue.
The terminal 3 lounge was abysmal. While there were plenty of bling high-end fashion shops the food court was tiny and had an awful selection. The Whole area had zero atmospheres and was simply grey/white walls reminiscent of a hospital. It is such a shame as the old airport was a beautiful place and to be replaced by this dark, lifeless hole is a tragedy.
We would not usually criticize an airline for the airport they fly into, our arrival in Brisbane was an unmitigated disaster but that is not Ethiad’s fault. However Abu-Dhabi is their Airport, it’s their home their base and should reflect the airline just like Dubai is Emirates hun and Qatar is Qatar’s. The reflection, in that case, is a bad one.
Our eagerly anticipated flight on Ethiads brand new 787-10 was a bitter letdown. We struggled to find any real positives when compared to the usual level of service we receive flying the transatlantic airlines. The Plane was cramped the food was boring and unappetizing, drinks were a scarcity and the hub you are forced to fly through is a depressing and miserable place.
To top it all off just before boarding our flight to Brisbane the alcohol we had purchased at manchester, which was still in its sealed tamper-evident bag was refused to be allowed on the flight. They cited some Australian Aviation rules, which we have been unable to track down, and insisted any liquids over 100ml, even if bought AFTER security needed to be checked (Ethiad’s own website states this is fine). To their credit, this was done for free but still, it was a huge pain as we needed to remove certain expensive electricals from the case while it was rushed to the hold in time for takeoff.
This is a foreign land to us and we understand the need to respect and comply with their laws and really this isn’t a huge problem but it is part of what makes the Ethiad Experience so unappealing to us in the future. The airline wants to attract customers and fly people all over the world but making everything as difficult and unappealing as possible is not the way to achieve this.
Would we fly Ethiad again? Maybe, if the price was right as we did bag a real bargain for flights to Australia, But that price would need to be seriously low and we would happily pay $2-300 more to fly with another carrier and transit a different airport. When we booked Singapore Airlines was only $200 more each and really we wished we had flown with them instead.
Have Your Say
Have you flown with Etihad Airways? How did you find the experience? How was the food? Was the seat comfortable? Were you treated well? Let us know about your experience in the comments below. We love hearing about your flight experiences and travel likes and dislikes. If you have any questions about the Ethiad Economy experience just fire away in the comments below.