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Nose to Tail: The Anatomy of an Airline ETIHAD AIRWAYS AIRCRAFT.
SM King tries on three classes in one airline. The traveller finds the precision of the pointy end flows through the rest of the craft. new aircraft, just like pristine stationery, is full of spanking promise. Climbing aboard the newly-minted airline Etihad is every bit as thrilling as tearing open a fresh ream of embossed vellum paper. This flotilla of young planes is crisp and swoon-worthy. You’ll find no clumsy retrofitting of new features on old planes. Refreshingly, what you see on the Etihad website is what you get: a chic, consistent product throughout the fleet, no matter the route or the craft. The airline has three passenger classes. Or,
more correctly “zones”. Coral Zone, Pearl Zone and, at the helm, Diamond Zone each offer unswerving quality. Inside the cabins, there are no garish colours and loud happy-holiday patterns to cover the evidence of airsickness. The feel is muted and restful and a little like Armani-meets-Sinan. Fittings and textiles in all zones are effected in blue and beige tones. Simple and modern, the calm interior and carefully attenuated mood lighting soothed this anxious aesthete’s nerves. The entertainment is Audio-Video-OnDemand (AVOD) and packs a punch. In a refreshingly egalitarian gesture, all passengers
are provided with noise-cancelling headphones. These are usually the preserve of those who tipple on champagne while reclined at a restful 140° safely behind their curtain. Passengers in all classes enjoy the same access to 450 hours of films, TV shows, audio channels and games. I watched the first five episodes of the science-fiction drama series Jericho on progressive legs and became hooked. I’ve also become a little infatuated with this newcomer to Australian airspace. Allow me to introduce you to three zones:
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Goodies: Noise-cancelling headphones, toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste (25g), Colgate Plax mouthwash (50ml), earplugs in sturdy plastic capsule, eyemask, comb, flight socks, Aigner shower gel, body emulsion, refresher mist, eye gel and lip balm Voss water 330ml. Cuisine: modern Arabian mezze, mixed salad and herb leaves with vinaigrette, spiced Arabian lamb cutlets, stuffed marrow, vine leaf and rice, Mississippi mud pie, cheese, fruit.
A SEA OF SCREENS IN CORAL ZONE.
Coral Zone Seat: Adjustable headrest and footrest, 32” – 33” pitch with 30° recline, 10.4” touch screen in seat back, laptop power supply including USB port and RJ45 port. Goodies: Noise-cancelling headphones, earplugs in disposable wrap, eyemask, flight socks. Cuisine: Two Heineken beers followed by Asian glass noodle mixed seafood salad, Singapore hawker chicken dish laksa yong tao foo, ginger and kiwi fruit mousse with strawberry coulis, cheese. The Experience: The seat offers tangible lumbar support and head and foot rests provide more than simple decoration. I fiddled and found a comfortable arrangement. Then I fiddled again. A 33” seat pitch is generous for economy class and the extra few inches does make a difference over eight hours. A 2-4-2 seat configuration allows for easy aisle access. The meal service is friendly and generous. As a lager fiend, I was won over when offered another Heineken instead of wine with dinner. This rarely happens. Such a courtesy involves (a) an extra trip to the galley and (b) a memory by attendants of a particular herd member’s preference. I was duly impressed. The laksa was tasty enough to devour and overall the meal was of a good standard. I donned socks, eyemask, and earplugs and settled in. However, my sleep was hampered by the use of the touch screen by the passenger to my rear. I rename these devices iProds. I’m not a fan.
The screens are quite sensitive to touch, and the temptation to poke them like an ATM keypad needs to be kept in check for the comfort of the poor soul in the seat being thumped. If you’re going to create a personal audio play list from a 250-strong CD library, use the controller. That’s a lot of prodding. On overnight flights the airline really needs to request passengers use their controllers, or scrap the touch screens altogether.
Pearl Zone Seat: 88” pitch and 180° recline into a fully flat 6’1” bed, 15” personal LCD video screen, reading light and magazine rack, laptop power supply, two USB ports, RCA jack, massage controls.
The Experience: This business class seat is the business. Every seat has aisle access and is configured for maximum privacy. It’s a comfy cocoon and the fully flat bed is large enough to really get some sleep. I spend most of the flight being massaged while comfortably slouched at 130°. The amenity kit features welcome items like mouthwash and refresher mist. Such can be tricky to pack with the new LAGS regulations. There are plenty of stowage options. However, the magazine rack is too small to accommodate the two titles I had with me. These had easily stowed in the seat back of Coral Zone. They quickly became a bit of an albatross and I retired them overhead. This, however, is a minor quibble. All things considered, this is an exceptional product. Service begins before take off with Champagne Gardet N.V. There’s a well chosen flight of three red and three white wines with the meal service. The Arabian mezze starter to a three course meal is noteworthy. This is exactly the sort of fare that holds up well in the sky. And this is exactly the kind of product that will hold up very well against international
BELOW: LIE FLAT SEATS IN PEARL ZONE. BOTTOM: ARABIAN MEZZE IN THE PEARL ZONE. BELOW RIGHT: EVERY SEAT HAS AISLE ACCESS IN THE PEARL ZONE.
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competitors. The jaded business traveller or holiday maker will arrive at their port comforted, cosseted and refreshed.
Diamond Zone Seat: 6’8” 180° flat bed, 23” LCD screen, 6way adjustable headrest, remote control backrest, armrest, leg rest and footrest, pneumatic lumbar support and massage, reading light and desk lamp, mini bar, mirror, laptop power supply, USB port and RCA jack. Goodies: Noise-cancelling headphones, 100% cotton jersey pyjamas, toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste (10g), earplugs in disposable wrap, Salvatore Ferragamo Tuscan Soul body lotion, hand cream and lip balm, slippers, Voss water 330ml. Cuisine: Porcini cream custard, modern Arabic dips, tomato tarte tatin, granita, chicken fattee with Arabic chick peas, organic five leaf salad, lavender meringues, marscapone and fresh raspberries, Mafra aged cheddar, King Island triple cream brie, artisan breads, Duck River Tasmanian organic butter, Murray River salt flakes.
MOOD LIGHTING IN DIAMOND ZONE.
The Experience: I had barely settled into my throne when I was offered fresh dates, Arabic coffee and a glass of 2000 Jean Milan Cuvee Symphonie. I tried to sip slowly. I failed. The seat had more controls than the cockpit.
COFFEE AND DATES BEFORE TAKEOFF IN ETIHAD'S DIAMOND ZONE.
Juggling my bubbles, I set about using all of them immediately. The amenity kit is lacking when compared with the Pearl Zone gift. The mouthwash and refresher mist are absent and earplugs come wrapped in a miserable scrap of cellophane. It’s odd. Particularly on an airline that pays so much heed to the needs of its patrons. I comforted myself with pyjamas and slippers. The screen is a colossus. At 23” it’s bigger than the telly in my kitchen at home. Meal service was extraordinary with a choice of three starters and five mains. The seven course gala began with an amuse-bouche of porcini cream custard and ended with me begging for mercy. The sommelier knows his high altitude stuff. Drops like a 2002 Chateau Cantenac-Brown are full bodied on the ground and retain a complexity in the air where tastebuds are compromised by altitude. I’d always thought it a waste of time to drink a decent wine in the air, but soldier on regardless and bring it on home with a thirtyyear-old Armagnac. All the while wiggling my unobstructed toes and adjusting the massage settings on my seat. An “any time” kitchen service exists purely for the pleasure of pigs like me. Despite having eaten my weight in cuisine, I couldn’t resist dipping my snout in truffle popcorn with porcini salt. It wasn’t long after that I succumbed to the wagyu Reuben sandwich. Diamond Zone is like that. Etihad flies from Sydney and Brisbane via Abu Dhabi to the major European hubs. Niche destinations, including Dublin and Milan, are now directly served from Australia. www.etihadairways.com The writer was a guest of Etihad Airways