One of the world’s youngest airlines, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates is based in the capital, Abu Dhabi. Although it was only established in 2003, it has rapidly become one of the industry’s fastest growing carriers, now serving 84 destinations worldwide. The airline is particularly expanding its footprint in Africa, with new routes to Lagos, Nairobi, Victoria (Seychelles) and Tripoli opening in the last year. Etihad also owns one-third of airberlin, Europe’s sixth-largest carrier, and 40% of Air Seychelles.
Etihad, like any decent global airline nowadays, has a sophisticated website that allows you to check-in up to 24 hours before your flight. As my red-eye flight from Cape Town required a quick connection, I selected my seat and printed out my boarding pass the day before, allowing me to breeze through passport control and security with my hand luggage.
Lounge & Boarding
Etihad Airways uses the Shongololo Lounge at O.R. Tambo International. It’s one of the airport’s better premium lounges with excellent food, free Wi-Fi and a good selection of newspapers and magazines (including this one) on offer. The friendly staff at Shongololo also announce when each flight is ready for boarding, so premium passengers can spend as much time as possible working or relaxing. Boarding was seamless, and the ever-efficient cabin crew whisked away jackets and had the cabin settled quickly. I also liked the way drinks orders are taken on the ground, to speed up service after take-off.
One of the reasons I always enjoy Etihad is that in ‘Pearl’ Business Class the seats are like private pods. Window seats in particular have excellent privacy, but still enjoy direct access to the aisle. With an offset 1-2-1 configuration, the centre seats form a rather cosy mini-suite, which is great for couples, but might be a bit too intimate if you’re seated next to a stranger. If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s that larger travellers may find the seats a bit narrow. If you’d rather swop a little privacy for personal space, the aisle is for you. The seats all recline into a fully-flat bed, and boast an impressive 15-inch screen, with a well-stocked on-demand entertainment system. There is also a power point at each seat for charging laptops in-flight. Etihad has also put plenty of effort into transforming their in-flight dining, with a dedicated Food & Beverage Manager available on each flight to answer questions and advise on menu options. Meals are all à la carte (with choices for starter, main and dessert) and I really enjoyed the ‘Taste of Arabia’ options, which offer a culinary tour of the Middle East. There is also a selection of lighter ‘Kitchen Anytime’ snacks on offer. But perhaps the best thing about it all is the flexibility – you can order anything off the menu, at any time. Although not yet offered on the Johannesburg route, Etihad’s ‘OnAir’ onboard Internet is currently available on flights to London, Frankfurt and Paris – all popular destinations for connecting travellers.
Our flight arrived bang on time, and we had an air bridge at the modern Terminal 3. Although my connecting flight to Tokyo left from Terminal 1, it’s an easy 10-minute walk and is well signposted. Although there are premium lounges in both terminals, it’s worth remembering that the lounge in Terminal 3 is a better option, with more seating and runway views.
It may be smaller than Emirates – its Dubai-based cousin – but thanks to its excellent food, comfortable seats and outstanding cabin crew, Etihad remains my favourite airline in the Middle East.