In a varied and complicated world of airline travel growth, standards and general industry ups and downs, it is nice to see an airline on the steady and strong rise. This is of course reflected in the numbers of Etihad Airways since its recent founding in 2003, but it is also noticeable in the person to person service one encounters on board.
One of the biggest complaints about the airline we have heard prior to having flown were space issues. In our experience of several economy flights, many of them long haul, the space is certainly manageable. As a point of comparison the planes may not have the generously proportioned sizes of a Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific, but it is certainly greater than the space provided by U.S. and European carriers. Overhead bins were abundantly accessible and the seats reclined at normal angles.
One gets the impression from first check in that this is an airline that offers excellent service and friendliness. The gate agents often speak English, Arabic and the language of the destination country with ease. The check in baggage allowance is a generous 30kg for the first bag which is complimentary. Carry on luggage is capped at 7kg, but we did not notice a strong effort to enforce this.
A general look around the economy cabin reminds us of a flight with Qatar, Emirates or Swiss. The presentation is clean, the space more than acceptable and the on board staff get you into your seats as quickly and efficiently as possible. In our experience they board the planes quite early, starting from an hour ahead of time so that take off is on time always. The staff possess a combination of serious elegance and friendliness in their demeanor. Little things like giving children coloring books and specialty pins make a nice difference. A hot towel is provided to all guests and water upon request.
Where Etihad really gets creative is of course in their First Class, Business Class and Residence living spaces. While such an experience might feel out of range for many, it is great in our opinion to see this kind of innovation. Raising food standards and levels of comfort for the highest tier of travelers will only raise the standards of every other class. First and Business class guests also have access to a luxury coach service with transfers to and from Dubai, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi.
On board services stand at the upper level of our in flight experiences. The food is good and there are a variety of options for those on restricted diets which must be booked ahead of time. In one case the meal reservation request did not go through and the staff were able to improvise something fresh on the flight. The food is not the best we have ever experienced on a flight but it certainly is much better than most of the competition. The in flight entertainment system is wonderful. Movies, shows, games and music are all up to date with thousands of media to choose from. The screens are well lit and the headphones provided are very good quality.
All things considered Etihad is an up and coming airline which in almost no time has established itself in the top tier of commercial aviation, it will be a pleasure watching them transform and customize the air travel experience in the years to come.