Updated: Dec 31, 2019
We flew economy class on Etihad from Brisbane to Paris via Abu Dhabi departing on 9 April 2019, and what did we think? Honestly?
Okay, let’s start with why we chose Etihad in the first place. We’d never flown with them before, and when we’d asked around our networks those who had were generally happy with their experience, but the main reason we booked with them was price: at the time of booking they were several hundred dollars cheaper than the airlines we usually use to fly internationally, so we figured: why not?
So on the basis of price, we were off to a good start. They also seem to have a good rewards program – Etihad Guest – which enables the pooling of points among family members… something other airlines should consider for their reward programs.
Our first real engagement came with the check-in. Now I accept we probably should have read the small print as I’m sure there is something in there about the process Etihad applies, however as seasoned international flyers in our experience there has been a consistency across airlines regarding the check-in process and we clearly took a few things for granted.
Firstly, we could not check-in until 24 hours prior to the flight unless we paid $49.50 per seat. 48 hours is the norm for flight check-in, and to pay for the ability to select our seats? This started to smack of budget airlines, such as Ryanair or Easyjet. Anyway, we waited until the free check-in was live, but when we went to check in we had already been allocated seats and there were no other options left if we wanted to sit together. And unfortunately we were seated right in front of the toilets. More on that later.
Secondly, while we had been allocated seats, we were unable to check-in for the second leg of our journey still because it was over 24 hours away (unless we wanted to pay again ). I can understand that we might not have been able to check-in on the second leg if we were breaking the journey, but there was only a 2-hour break between flights. We found this process to be very unusual and have never encountered it before. Hopefully it doesn’t catch on. Surely when you check in for a flight from Brisbane to Paris, you should be able to check in for the entire journey – not have every leg treated as a separate flight…. big minus Etihad…
When we arrived at Brisbane International, we were a few hours early as we had some work to do which we could easily do at the airport and it was a good thing we did, as the check-in system was operating extremely slowly, something we were told was not uncommon. Not sure if it’s just Brisbane or elsewhere, but simply dropping off our bags took over 15 minutes – from when we were at the counter, not the line. Not a major issue, but again it certainly should be improved. (By the way, the staff at the counter were lovely and very helpful.)
Boarding was no problem, and the plane was relatively new and well-maintained, and there was plenty of storage room in the overhead lockers. The seats were reasonable, and the entertainment system had a large screen and sufficient choices, although if you were someone who was going to tune into it for the entire journey over, you may struggle to find different options on the way home.
The leg to Abu Dhabi was impacted by our location near the toilets. I was in the aisle seat and the aisle seemed to narrow just at my seat, meaning that anyone walking down the aisle would bump me as they passed, no matter that I was not extending beyond my armrest. Then as the toilets increased in popularity through the flight, I found the body parts of those lining up would invade my space – especially if people were squeezing past. I had several uninvited experiences verging on the intimate. I must admit, this really took the shine off this leg. My sleep was constantly disturbed – as it was by the recurrent flushes that come with sitting near the toilets, but that can occur on any plane - and it was simply uncomfortable.
The service was also somewhat perfunctory. The staff were efficient, and we have flown Middle Eastern airlines previously so we knew there were some cultural differences. Oddly, there was no menu provided for the meals and refreshments – staff would just appear and offer food. For the first meal we were offered chicken or pasta, but the fellow beside us was offered lamb. In the morning I had a chocolate muffin literally thrust into my hand before I could say anything, and the food options in general were average at best.
Our flight was delayed in Brisbane by a technical issue, so when we arrived in Abu Dhabi we had just under an hour to get to the flight for our next leg. Whilst we weren’t told to hurry, we certainly legged it and when we arrived we were met by some gruff staff who told us the gate was closing so it was lucky we didn’t stop for a toilet break.
Well this leg was on an A380 and our automatically-allocated seats were in a better position, so we breathed a sigh of relief and soon we were off. This leg was shorter and passed easier, but again – whilst the staff were generally pleasant - the food was not up to the standard we have appreciated on other international airlines. They appeared to run out of options and when ours arrived we were simply handed a tray and when we asked what it was we were told ‘chicken’.
No-one (except those sitting at the pointy end) goes on a plane for the food, but if you are on board for up to 14 hours at a stretch, the expectation is that the food is at least passable. Sorry to say, that wasn’t our experience.
In any case, we arrived safely – the most important criterion in rating a flight – and our bags did as well (that’s the second criterion) so please don’t think we had a flight from hell. It’s just that there is one important criterion we believe Etihad failed badly on: customer service.
From the check-in system that in no way is on par with other competitor airlines to the in-flight service, we were left with a bad taste in our mouths (and that wasn’t necessarily from the chicken).
Pluses: Price, Aircraft
Minuses: Check-in, Food, In-flight service
Verdict: For a couple of hundred $$$ more, there are plenty of alternatives. We aren’t likely to travel with Etihad again.