You’ve come across these people – maybe you’re even one of them. They’ll settle into a seat near you ahead of a long journey and within moments are dozing blissfully, while you wrestle in frustration with a sudoku puzzle you can’t finish because … you’re just too tired.
I deeply envy these instant-sleep individuals. A few years back I endured a seven-hour Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow night flight hemmed into the window seat in economy by two well-built individuals who began snoring the moment they snapped on their seat belts.
So the chance to try the same journey again, only this time in Etihad’s much-trumpeted A380 business class, made an interesting assignment. For one thing there’s no chance of feeling claustrophobic on board. Each seating compartment has plenty of space to stretch out in and, for those who are inclined, desk space to work on a laptop along with a storage area to the side. Wi-Fi is available at $17.95 for four hours, $21.95 for 24 hours.
Cinema entertainment options included the Jennifer Aniston-directed Cake and a bulked-up Bradley Cooper in the tense thriller American Sniper. There are also vintage options like Die Hard and Top Gun, along with favourite TV serials like Game of Thrones and Broadchurch.
Towards the rear of the business class area is The Lobby, a tasteful six-seater area bathed in fret lighting where business types can gather to discuss the day’s events over a high-end mineral water or two. But not so much, I suspect, on the overnight flight.
So to the sleeping arrangements. At the touch of a button the seat reclines until the front part connects with the footrest, forming a single bed that’s a little narrow but definitely comfortable. I gave it a go – and woke up somewhere over Belgrade, about halfway through the journey.
The bed test was passed, but my tip would be to take pyjamas. You just can’t get as comfortable in street clothes.
Etihad business class flights from Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow currently start at Dh18,895. The airline also operates the A380 to Sydney, later in the year to New York.
How about boarding?
Pre-boarding more like it. Although you can expect to be whisked through quickly once the process begins, it’s worth arriving early to get settled and take advantage of the Premium Lounge. You’re issued with a Wi-Fi login and can take full advantage of the buffet which on my visit included a full Arab mezze spread plus Nile perch in lemon sauce. With CNN beaming in on the TV monitors and a wealth of international print titles available – in old-fashioned print form – you won’t be missing much.
What if I’d rather relax?
Then book in for a quick complimentary massage, which in my case given the overnight haul was the under-eye treatment, also incorporating the temples and back of head. You don’t know how well-rested you’ll be come morning but you might as well give yourself the best possible chance.
What about the return flight?
Pretty much the same thing in reverse. At the Heathrow lounge breakfast buffet was on offer, plus the massage treatments. But this time flying through the day once on board you can dip into the Dine Anytime menu, which enables passengers to select what and when they want to eat. On the F&B manager’s recommendation I tried two starters, the mozzarella with balsamic reduction and rocket leaves, plus an interesting Thai-style yellow pepper and lemon grass soup. For the main my choice of grilled sea bass was tender and fleshy. Among the mains there were also Arabic chicken biryani, lamb chop and ravioli choices.
Only that flight delays seem to be the norm these days for all airlines. And given the summer rush to London it’s unlikely to improve any time soon.
* The writer was a guest of Etihad Airways