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Behind the Scenes: The Etihad Experience

Flying with Etihad Airways can be a pretty otherworldly experience. From Economy to The Residence, every “guest” (you’re never just a passenger with Etihad) who starts their holiday with the Abu Dhabi-based airline can expect a certain level of style and elegance – whether you’re dropping off your bag at check-in or requesting a beverage onboard. Indeed, Etihad prides itself on delivering an all-round wonderful experience and, on a recent trip to London Heathrow, I learned all about it…

On the ground

A journey with Etihad begins long before you board the plane itself. You’ll be welcomed to check-in by a team of friendly, beautifully uniformed ground staff at Etihad’s main UK hub: London Heathrow’s Terminal 4. Having flown from Terminals 2, 3 and 5, I was intrigued to see what was so special about T4 that had drawn Etihad to move here in 2009. The answer was simple: it’s probably the best laid-out terminal in Heathrow.

In Departures, all the shops are located along one convenient strip and, for Etihad guests, the relevant gate is easy to find. No danger, then, of getting lost amid a sea of scattered gate numbers! For Business, First and The Residence guests – as well as paying travellers – “The House” airport lounge, owned by No1 Lounges, is ideally situated opposite Gate 10, where all of Etihad’s flights to Abu Dhabi depart. 

Despite being recently acquired by the award-winning team at No1 Lounges, The House still maintains all the sophistication that Etihad is renowned for. The décor exudes style and opulence, with the airline’s classic geometric gold and black design. Once inside, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to the innumerable seating options – from cosy armchairs to laid-back sofa benches, and sleek stools next to the well-stocked bar. For travelling families, there’s even a dedicated playroom for kids.

Then of course there’s the restaurant. Here you can help yourself to food from the hot buffet – boasting a mix of English and Arabian drinks and dishes – or choose a fresh meal from the a la carte menu. I ordered the pumpkin tortellini, which was creamy and thoroughly delicious. Most importantly, it was delivered to my table in just 20 minutes – perfect if you’re tight on time. And, if you’re feeling a bit sleepy and in need of a refresh after dinner and a cocktail, head for one of the shower rooms to freshen up before your flight.

Onboard Etihad’s A380

Etihad’s A380 is something of a hotel in the sky. Indeed, each of its cabins are perfectly crafted with comfort and style in mind. Business, First and The Residence passengers need only step out of The House lounge and head straight across the concourse to Gate 10, from which guests are boarded through three doors across the upper and lower decks. For those of you who might hear the words ‘double decker’ and picture a London bus, that doesn’t come remotely close to the majesty of the A380.

In Economy, the innovative Smart Seat – with its movable head rest and adjustable back support – provides the ultimate in comfort, not to mention generous legroom, greater recline, and a large 11-inch seatback screen, for all your entertainment needs. You can even watch live TV channels – ideal for sports lovers – across all cabins. Meals and bar services are complimentary, and all guests on ultra-long-haul flights can make the most of free dental kits and eyeshades on request. Fancy stretching your legs a bit more? Chat to your Flight Centre Travel Expert about booking Economy Space for extra legroom (36 inches’ recline!) or bidding for an Economy Neighbour-Free seat.

Business, First and The Residence are all located on the upper deck of the A380, along with a communal bar area – otherwise known as ‘The Lobby’ – for relaxing and socialising with fellow guests. Super-comfortable and spacious Business Class seats recline into fully-flat beds, complete with seat and aisle dividers, so you’ve got a good chance of getting some shuteye (which is a rarity for this writer!). Onboard Food & Beverage Managers will help you make the most of menu options, as well as advising on the best wines, bubbles or cocktails, and, when you choose from the ‘Dine Anytime’ menu, you can do just that. Your experience is tailored to you.

The A380’s First Class offering is next level. Each private pod has enough space for a comfy leather armchair, not to mention a separate lie-flat bed that stretches for a staggering 6ft 8” – offering heaps of space for even the tallest of guests. A dedicated in-flight chef can conjure up tasty meals from the a la carte menu, or even make something bespoke using fresh ingredients from the onboard pantry. All this, of course, with a chilled glass of bubbly in your hand, while you binge-watch a plethora of on-demand entertainment on your 23 or 24” TV screen. Bliss.

The Residence

Touted as the ‘world’s most luxurious living space in the air’, Etihad’s The Residence offers up a unique flying experience. And – thanks to the airline’s VIP Travel Concierge Service – that experience begins before you even depart. For starters, a complimentary, chauffeur-driven limo will transfer you from your home to the terminal, where you’ll be met by a porter and a golden trolley; even your luggage gets the VIP treatment! From here you’ll be escorted straight through fast-track security, and onto The House lounge, where you’ll have access to an exclusive room to unwind in, pre-flight.

As for the onboard experience, The Residence is the only commercial three-room suite in the sky, boasting a living room, bedroom and en-suite shower room. Designed for two, the living room comes complete with a sofa, 32-inch flat screen TV and Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones, so you can dine, relax and watch TV at the same time. In the bedroom you’ll find a double bed, lavishly furnished with Italian linens, and another, 27-inch, TV screen. And then there’s the bathroom. With a toilet, sink, full-height shower, luxury toiletries and bathrobes, you can stay fresh throughout your flight!

The best thing about staying in The Residence though? Why, the private butler onboard of course! Trained at the Savoy Butler Academy, they’ll be there to cater to your every whim, so you receive a tailored experience from take-off to touch-down – not to mention personalised dining, with dishes prepared by the in-flight chef. Quite simply, you’d be forgiven for forgetting you’re on a plane. There really is no better way to start your holiday or business trip.

For more information on flying with Etihad Airways, or booking into The House lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 4, chat to your friendly Flight Centre Travel Expert.

Written by Alexandra Cronin (Gregg)

Once a roving local news reporter and now a travel-obsessed writer/sub, I'm head-over-heels for nature, wildlife and the ocean. When I'm not getting up close to animals and sea creatures, I'm seeking out the sets of my favourite TV shows around the world. Follow me @wonderg1rl89.