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Etihad Airways A330-200 Pearl Business
First impressions Arriving at Terminal 3 London Heathrow two hours early for my EY304 flight at 2015, I quickly found the dedicated check-in area for Etihad, which had one counter for first (Diamond) passengers, and one for business (Pearl). The check-in was conducted by SAS, and around the corner economy passengers (Coral) were checking in with economy passengers for several airlines (SAS, Bmi, Air Baltic and so on).
The queue for economy was only around a dozen-strong and moving quickly.
From Abu Dhabi, Etihad serves some 30 destinations worldwide including Jakarta, Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore and Manila, with talks also under way to fly to Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai.
Etihad has direct flights daily from Heathrow Terminal 3 to Abu Dhabi, and double daily flights on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It also flies daily from Gatwick North Terminal and, since March 27, has been flying daily from Manchester.
The lounge Etihad uses the SAS London Lounge, which is on two floors close to Gate 2. It shares with several airlines including Eva Air (for a review of this lounge, see Business Traveller November 2005). Flights are not called from this lounge, and at 1930 I looked at the screen to see a last call for the flight at Gate 20. In fact, this was just to rush us all along there as there was still plenty of time before boarding.
Boarding Business passengers were called first. I was in my seat by 1940 and offered a choice of juices while staff hung up my jacket.
The seat We were flying on an A330-200 with a 2-2-2 configuration in business class. Out of Heathrow this is a three-class flight with economy, business and first. Business was about a third full and the flight time was six hours, 10 minutes.
Ina way this is a swan song for these leased planes, since Etihad's new product is gradually coming onto the London route: first as a two-class configuration out of Gatwick in a Boeing 777-300ER, from late March,then as a three-class configuration from Heathrow in an Airbus 340-500.
The flight The in-flight entertainment was sufficient, though for an overnight flight of this duration, there didn't seem to be much time to enjoy it,with sleep the main priority. At 2010 we left the stand and were airborne by 2030, only 15 minutes late (barely late at all for Heathrow).
The service was very friendly but a little slow with food not served until 2200 (2amGulf time). I ate a main course of chicken korma, which the staff warned was fiery but was pleasantly spiced (I was impressed to have been warned, though, as personal tastes do vary), and then with the cabin lights still on I pulled on the eye mask from the amenity kit and slept for three hours. I awoke as breakfast was being served, andhad some pastries, juice and tea.
Arrival We landed slightly early at Abu Dhabi and quickly cleared immigration. Etihad offers free transfers from Abu Dhabi to anywhere in the UAE if you pre-book by phone. Business and first have a limo transfer, while economy passengers are in comfortable liveried coaches. I managed to miss the Etihad desk, but a helpful Etihad ground handler pointed me in the right direction to find my transfer.
Verdict An excellent service, particularly with the transfer service throughout the UAE on arrival, and good onward connections for those wanting extremely competitive prices to the destinations served by Etihad. However, it is with the new on-board product and new planes that Etihad will really begin to compete on the world stage.
Price Return fares from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi in business class cost £841.However, Etihad's updated business class product is currently only available on flights from London Gatwick, with return business fares from £836.