Etihad business class review
15.09.2011 - 15.09.2011 30 °C
It wasn't the best start to a holiday but we were eventually packed and on our way to the airport. In the back of the S Class Mercedes sent on behalf of the airlines to collect us I exhaled. Work would have to wait. The renovations are in capable hands. My thoughts were interrupted by Hugo's mimicking "You're going to cop a lot of attitude today. Please just shut up and take it. I'll be sorry later." He was looking for his apology and he found it.
Our family time has begun.
We checked in and made our way to the Air New Zealand lounge for dinner. Initially quiet, we easily chose a secluded spot to sit. It slowly became busier and we both marvelled at a couple who chose to sit on top of us rather than enjoy some privacy (as we had been).....ah people. If you've ever been to an almost empty movie theatre and had someone sit one seat away, I'm sure you'll understand our sentiment.
It was slim pickings on the food front but loads of drinks and NZ wines. I took my first sip of a red, the corners of my mouth began to turn.
We boarded our Etihad flight and settled into our business class flat seats. Again, drinks were plentiful and we took full advantage. Food was average, though in fairness I did not eat much. Hugo enjoyed himself, drinking way too much American Champagne (coke) and eating on demand. About two thirds into our trip from Sydney to Abu Dhabi we hit turbulence. Being a VERY bad traveller (I can fall ill to motion sickness even when driving myself!) I was so proud for not succumbing to nausea! The imaginary pats on the bag were give too soon....
The next pocket of turbulence was upon us an hour later and I slowly turned green. Not one to actually vomit (sorry) I began to feel really queezy and motioned to Hugo that I'd like a sick-bag "just in case". As he started to look around I ripped off my seatbelt (in direct contravention to the Captain's earlier orders and signage) and ran down the aisle into the bathroom. (Well, it's not really a bathroom, is it?)
I have never felt so utterly disgusting as I did at that moment. Kneeling on the floor, my head down an airline toilet could I be in any greater need of a shower? (Probably, but I do enjoy the art of slight exaggeration). The flight attendant's squeals had subsided and after doing my best to freshen up I slunked back to my seat. Actually, I should note that the hand cream and air freshener in the business class toilets were beautiful.
Equally, it's probably also worth noting that the amenities are rather dull. Not the usual lovely package of goodies Qantas passengers are afforded, it was a nice timber box presented by the flight attended for us to choose what we would like. A toothbrush and a pair of sleep socks were selected, after all it would be it greedy to take one of everything (however there was only one other item and it escapes me as to what it was).
We arrived in Abu Dhabi and I sling my new silk shawl around my upper body and we make our way through the express area. We're outside and into our next chauffeured car within half an hour. No customs or baggage checks, apart from a single moment of presenting our passports it really was no different to a domestic flight at home. Actually there was a difference, our luggage was on the baggage carousel before we got to it. Let's face it, at home you could stop off for a facial and latte and still be waiting at the carousel for what seems like ages....
We were told by the most wonderful flight attendant (a divine French man, and no it has nothing to do with his purring accent, he truly was lovely!) that the weather in AD was great right now. The humidity is gone, it's not too hot. The driver reiterated this as we pulled away from the curb. It made me smirk as I watched Hugo wipe condensation off his beloved MacBook Pro.
We zipped along a great road system and as we took a right hand turn the driver told us the main road we'd been on would take us all the way to Saudi Arabia if we stayed on it. Did you need help with the steering wheel? Indicate early, this is a turn off I don't want to miss!
Heading out to the desert to Qasr al Sarab we were fortunate to see a shepherd with his flock of camels leading them through the Arabian sand dunes. If I wasn't so keen to get to our hotel I would have insisted on stopping for a photo. We were there very quickly, less than two hours I believe. I did sleep a lot of it but it was well under the three to four hours were quoted. Speaking of quotes, I read that UAE had the highest road fatalities in the world. As we zoomed away from the city I couldn't help but think we had little chance of help getting to us if we were in an accident. All the travel insurance in the world we be of little use. Banish such thoughts!
Arriving at Qasr al Sarab was spectacular. We weaved our way over and around peachy coloured sand dunes to be presented with the vision of an amazing fort styled palace. We glided across the entrance bridge and swept around the circular paved courtyard to be greeted by a bevy of male attendants in beautiful cream robes. We were ushered into the stunning foyer and seated in the adjoining lobby. It has wonderful high ceilings, gold lounges and rich plush cushions all positioned around an enormous indoor water feature. The style of decor is me all over and I immediately begin to think we should leave early in order to shop at the markets before heading to France.
My thoughts were pleasantly interrupted by "some green tea with syrup" arriving, followed shortly by a platter of dates. Hugo's eyes rolled into the back of his head with delight as he took his first sip of the dark tea. "Mum, this is amazing" he manages to get out before the glass is back at his lips. Amazing it was! Sweat and cold. The dates were soft and delicious, not one for dates Hugo has been brought up with a "When in Rome" attitude and gave these local treats the thumbs up as well.
Our room wasn't ready so we headed to the breakfast buffet. This was the most splendid array of foods I have seen on a breakfast buffet! Beautiful breads with gorgeous jams and honey you scrape from the honeycomb (more on this later), yoghurts and creme brulees, pancakes, waffles and omelettes made to order, continental savouries such as salami, cheese, dried fruits. And not to forget the pastries! From three types of croissant Hugo chose a chocolate one and was over the moon at how buttery and flake-less it was (and yes, I realise flake-less is not a real word!).
I marvelled at a few other western women and their choice of attire. Tight singlet tops worn with shorts or slightly-above-knee-length skirts seems disrespectful in a place where locals (staff) are so over-accommodating. On our second morning one girl basically had a bikini top and the tiniest pinafore you could ever imagine on. I wore a maxi dress with a shawl and was cool and comfortable. To be honest, after my first day I began to think how freeing it was to be able to cover up and not worry about my body. I think I understand (at least a little) Muslim women who choose to wear Islamic styled clothing. It's not so much about covering up but about choosing to be unattractive. Think about it, we dress to be attractive all the time. Whether it's to be noticed by men or rivalled by women we care about what we look like. Imagine having a choice about when to care and when not to. I think there's something in that argument.
Our villa had a private, heated pool and gorgeous outdoor area. The inside was just as impressive. It was a buggy ride away from the main building and we were dropped off and picked up at a moment's notice. Hugo slept on the lounge as the difference between a one bedroom villa and two bedroom villa was prohibitively expensive. We're loving the hotel (Qasr al Sarab) and will review it in my next blog.
All in all, my thoughts on Etihad are this: For flights from Sydney to Paris it's one of the best options. Though this doesn't mean it's value for money! Etihad definitely needs to provide more table space and better amenities. They need to make it easier to book chauffeurs and accommodation. Their call centre is limited and refers you to the local office for anything specific. The local office has restricted operating times. Air New Zealand's lounge is used by Etihad in Sydney and it's quite pathetic when compared with Qantas. The female flight attendants were quite impersonal, it was clearly a job for them. I made a point of explaining to one lady that I had been sick as was sorry for ignoring her instructions to return to my seat. She brushed over it without so much as "Are you feeling better now?". I would have expected a bit of concern, if not for me at least to check what I had wasn't contagious to the rest of the passengers. As mentioned about there was one very attentive and caring male flight attendant. Observing him with other passengers I have to say he gave the same level of service to everyone and clearly enjoys his job and looking after his passengers.