Living the High Life on Etihad’s Business Class
As a man who is abroad far more than I’m home—I make my living writing about travel, have visited 62 countries on six continents, and spend literally hundreds of hours and thousands of miles on airplanes every year—I feel that I’m qualified to make a bold statement. And here it is: Flying Sucks. But actually, that’s not quite true, so let me qualify my qualified statement: Flying Can Suck. I mostly find myself stuck in the back of the airbus, legs crammed, food inedible, baby nearby, crying. That sucks, but it’s a necessary part of what’s mostly a really cool job.
But you know what doesn’t suck? When you get the rare opportunity to make a long-haul flight seated—and reclined—in the business class section of one of the world’s finest airlines. And that’s exactly where I found myself one recent trip, flying Etihad Airlines from Toronto via Abu Dhabi to Mumbai, one of the world’s most hectic, craziest cities. The national airline of the United Arab Emirates, Etihad has carved out a consistent spot near the top of traveller rankings and fast become a favourite of those headed east.
Armed with this fact, I boarded my halfway-around-the-world flight and, happily, turned left, escorted to my seat by a smiling flight attendant.
Part of the terror of the long trans-continental flight is the uncertainty of who will be seated next to you. Is it the crazy old lady who won’t stop talking to you about her grandkids, despite the fact that you’ve put on your noise-canceling headphones and closed your eyes? Or maybe someone with an alarming (and probably contagious) respiratory condition that’s accompanied by uncontrollable coughing fits? But here, that’s not a concern. Every seat is its own little world, tidy little pods in a zig-zag pattern, providing some nice separation and anonymity from your neighbor.
I spent the first part of the flight just settling into my pod—putting my shoes on the shoe shelf, testing out lighting options (wall lamp versus reading light), seating positions (“upright” versus “relax,” versus “bed”) and the built-in massage options in the seat (“waves” versus “spot”). The flight’s young, beautiful, Asian food and beverage manager interrupted my series of experiments, handing me a long menu of dinner options, offering to consult on wine pairings, and advising that I can have “anything, anytime.” Sounds good to me.
A steady diet of fine things follows—some champagne, a warm towel, a nicely-equipped amenity bag (toothbrush, earplugs, socks, pen, eye shade, lip balm, lotion), then a choice of international newspapers. I enjoy a very civilized meal—carrot soup, veal, a selection of cheese and crackers, a nice Australian shiraz—and have a chat with the lovely food and beverage manager, who says her name is Judith. She explains that those in her position with Etihad go through rigorous training, consulting with chefs and learning how to deliver good advice and a human touch along with the food and wine. “It’s like fine dining in the air. We need to be creative for the guest—they depend on us,” Judith says, with what looks like a genuine smile.
After Judith rushes off to help another guest, I watch a movie on the E-Box, Etihad’s in-flight entertainment system, and then recline my seat down into a bed, sleeping six solid hours, almost all the way through breakfast. I’m glad I feel so good as I disembark for a layover in Abu Dhabi, all the better to enjoy the ridiculously comfortable business class lounge, which is outfitted with dark woods, stylishly long shag carpet, cushy leather banquettes and an honest-to-goodness Six Senses spa (the only one in the world located in an airport). I order up two of the complimentary treatments, a foot massage, then a back treatment, have a shower while my clothes are ironed (seriously) and then tuck into the huge international buffet.
For the first time in my life I actually want my layover to be longer, but, too soon, I board my short connection to India. I’m well-rested, energized and ready to take on Mumbai. The only thing that sucks? My next flight is on another airline, back in coach.
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