Etihad Business Class Review Los Angeles (LAX) to Abu Dhabi (AUH) 777-300ER – A skeleton operation
Etihad used to be a force to be reckoned with from the US West Coast featuring daily flights from San Francisco (Review) and Los Angeles. Two years later Etihad has just a 3 times weekly flight from Los Angeles left. I felt the whole operation was just a shadow of its former self and employee morale was minimal. I arrived quite a bit early for my flight and was hoping I could check in online or use the check-in desks early (i.e. more than three hours) before my flight. No such luck - online check-in did not work for my reservation and the counters opened three hours early on the dot with long lines for First/ Business and Economy. After about 45 minutes I had my boarding passes finally and made my way upstairs towards the Etihad lounge.The lounge certainly looks beautiful though it is small with just about 30 seats. It looks like it has seen much better times. The bar just had the standard one red and one white wine on offer. There were some cold dishes (i.e. hummus and mezze) and two warm dishes. The quality was good though it was certainly far from excellent food - solid, edible lounge food for sure. LAX has a number of high quality lounges like the Star Alliance lounge LAX (Review) and the Oneworld Lounge at LAX plus the Qantas First Class lounge as well as the Emirates lounge. Etihad must have had big plans for Los Angeles but the recent cost cutting efforts may make it more feasible for Etihad to buy access to a different lounge at some point. The friendly host came by when boarding was announced and had a friendly 'board at your own convenience whenever ready'. This sounded like an empty Business Class but it would be completely full on this flight (with Economy just about 50%). Etihad's Business Class isn't bad but seem pretty old by now. I was never a big fan of the seats though my particular seat was much better this time. It went fully flat (without the annoying hole in the back support I dealt with last time) and was set back from the aisle and provided a lot of space. Etihad had recently cut pajamas from Business Class but there was still an amenity kit - better than nothing! The flight attendants seemed to run a skeleton service as well and it took them a long time before they appeared along my seat. The Pieper Heidsick champagne retails for around $40 - it does the trick but does not feel luxurious at all. The flight attendants seemed more akin to WizzAir than Etihad with rather minimal English skills and clear signs of being overwhelmed. They were friendly but felt more like recent trainees than experienced flight attendants. At this point I wasn't sure if we would have cash to get enough fuel all the way to Abu Dhabi or stop along the way and raise funds from passengers' credit cards to buy fuel. Well eventually we got the 'all clear' and took off towards the West after no taxi or runway wait. After flying straight for about 5 minutes to the West we did a full 360 degree turn with our fully loaded 777 and went back over the airport and headed straight east towards Nevada and later changed to a slightly more northernly direction. I never had a departure path like it this from LAX. After some initial turbulence we settled in for the dinner service. The flight attendants had no idea what the dishes consisted of and wouldn't make any effort to check. They simply repeated what was on the menu - oh well. They simply replied with 'Choose one!' and it will be served. They were not snobby but stern and ill-informed. Again the Ukrainian train operation has better customer service. The Indian dish I chose was a surprise - not what I expected; but it was pretty good though a small portion (and I skipped the overly salty mezze and the chocolate based deserts n\and just had fruits). Good thing I had eaten plenty at the lounge earlier! Etihad used to sell WiFi for the whole flight for $21.99 as unlimited access- now you get just 180 MB for the same price. There isn't much I can do with 180 MB so I gave up on work. I wasn't surprised to see this - Etihad wants to make sure the hue of luxury is gone. I still wasn't sure if we would make it past Iceland or the pilot would defect their employer in a neutral country. No such thing happened and we trundled along the North Atlantic. I reclined my seat and fell asleep quickly. The seat is too narrow and too short compared to other models but the blanket is warm and cozy. I had no trouble falling asleep. The cabin was experimentally quiet despite being full. My seat neighbor kept rummaging in the overhead bins a few times but no crying babies anywhere.... I woke up over Southern Iran - just about 45 minutes outside Abu Dhabi. I rang the call button. After nobody responded so I walked up to the kitchen. Clearly I would have missed breakfast service - right? I had not the flight attendants replied ;and I double checked the menu and you now what - there is only ONE meal for a 16 hour flight. Bummer. You can order unlimited snacks (sandwiches and more) and there were some breakfast items like cereals listed under snacks but really no breakfast service on a 16 hour flight? Will we have to purchase food on Etihad Business Class next (that certainly would be innovation). Oh well land was in sight and we had perfectly soft landing. Now Abu Dhabi has often too many planes for its limited jet bridges and our 777 wouldn't fly for a while so we got a apron position and waited for the buses.... In Sum Etihad is serious about dropping any Premium image and it is coming apart quickly. The airline went from a fantastic carrier (almost too good to be true) to a low-cost carrier level quickly. Now I like low-cost carriers and 'cheap Chinese airlines' just as much because, as they post low fares and make it clear what you can expect. Etihad is playing a dangerous game with high expectations and under-delivering in a spectacular fashion. It would be much better to announce complete un-bundling and sell low fares that are competitive but the current muddling through will just destroy the expensive brand equity the company has built with some many billions. If Etihad is the cheapest Business Class by far - I'd still go for it but otherwise I'd try to avoid it.