Etihad Airways unveiled a revamped Economy Class dining recently, as part of a fully-customisable Economy experience, in line with a refreshed "Choose Well" branding (see official press release here).
I was able to try out this new Etihad Economy concept, with a 4 hour 50 minute flight EY642 from Nairobi to Abu Dhabi (NBO-AUH), onboard the A330-200 aircraft.
Operator: Etihad Airways
Route: Nairobi to Abu Dhabi
Operating aircraft: A330-243
Departure from Nairobi: 2.00pm / 2.13pm*
Arrival in Abu Dhabi: 8.25pm / 8.03pm*
Flight time: 5h15 / 4h50*
(*denotes actual timings)
My flight started from Nairobi Jomo-Kenyatta International Airport Terminal 1C (ala Terminal 1Classic!). Definitely a terminal that has survived the test of time, which is seen on the tired and dusty duty-free shops (which happily accept USD), worn wooden furnishings and dimly lit high-school-of-yesteryear-style lavatories. Even though Jomo Kenyatta International Airport boasted of free Wi-Fi, the only barely connectable signal I had was by standing outside the VIP lounge.
Boarding was called early, and given Etihad's status as a transit hub, the check-in agents wanted to see the final destination boarding pass of the passengers and did thorough checks on visas, if any are required.
Thorough as the gate agents were, when it came to boarding call, after Business Class and status passengers, the agent shouted for passengers seated from rows 40 to 50 - seemingly clueless that this aircraft only has until row 45. No surprise there was just a small trickling of back-of-the-bus passengers for this call, yet the agent was very patient for the arrival of imaginary passengers #boardingcallfail
Finally boarding the aircraft, I was welcomed onboard by a Lebanese-looking flight steward who politely directed me down my designated aisle. Seems like the cabin crew have wholeheartedly embraced Etihad's relaxed policy on facial hair - with several of the male crew sporting nicely trimmed beards.
A soft teal-blue blanket and a pillow are already set on the seat.
Even though this particular aircraft is over 13 years old (it was delivered in 2006), its visionary product features, such as individual AC power ports for each passenger and USB charging port, are still appreciated to this day.
What I don't appreciate is its super reflective touchscreen - which is just to call a spade a spade, since it isn't exactly very touch-sensitive.
Entertainment headsets are distributed after the boarding, even though the entertainment system is only available after take-off (and is shut down again for landing).
The entertainment probably pales to Qatar Airways or Emirates, with a selection of recent-but-not-so-recent movies but decent enough for a tempered down movie-binge. Note Live TV with several international sports and news channels are available as well.
Inflight Wi-Fi is also available for purchase after take off, starting from USD5.95 (50MB) to USD15.95 (150MB) to USD29.95 (300MB).
A short taxi, we took off for Abu Dhabi. Since Jomo-Kenyatta International Airport is situated next to Kenya's first national park, Nairobi National Park, I was hoping to catch a bird's eye view of some galloping giraffes or grazing elands, I have to blame my failing eyesight for not being able to spot some wildlife before we ascended above the clouds.
A short video of the new Sweet or Salty menu refreshment service was played after the take off.
Lunch service commenced shortly after the take off. No menus were provided onboard, though the dining menus are available here for your reference before your flight.
Here's the menu for my flight:
I am glad Etihad has retained 3 main course options for their Economy Class dining for this revamped dining concept, including a vegetarian option. Note during the service, all 3 options are offered to passengers, "Sir, would you like beef, chicken or pasta?"
In this new dining concept, the cabin crew asks each passenger for his or her main course choice, then proceeds to assemble the meal plate from scratch: putting the main course, plastic utensils, bread and dessert. Another cabin crew offers the passenger a choice of drink, from juices to soft drinks to alcoholic beverages (including wines, beers and spirits).
and here's the new meal design:
Etihad has described its new dining service as a "larger, contemporary bistro-style meal which is higher in quality, with a focus on fresh seasonal ingredients and more destination focused choices". I am not exactly sure of the definition of bistro-style meal but the meal portion is noticeably larger, with generous chunks of juicy beef in thick gravy, pairing perfectly with thick bread dumplings and my choice of drink, Petit Rozier Cape Red red wine of South Africa.
It was a truly delicious and filling meal, even if The Good Life slogan plastered all over the cheap plastic packaging of the bread and dessert was not truly convincing of the quality of either.
Meal plates are cleared before the coffee and tea service is provided. Duty-free sales commenced around this time as well.
Lights were then dimmed. Even though it was not requested by the cabin crew, in unspoken cooperation, the entire cabin of window seat-ers chose to close their window shades to create a relaxed dark atmosphere onboard.
Even though buy-on-board Sweet or Salty menu was available, the cabin crew were happy to provide complimentary drinks throughout the flight, as I observed them bringing drinks to individual passengers after the meal service.
A water round using a tray of water was also offered to all passengers mid-flight.
Lights were turned on about 2 hours before landing for sales of the Sweet or Salty snacks and drinks. In line with the personalised Economy Class experience theme, passengers may choose from healthy to salty to sweet options to keep their tummies happy.
The prices are surprisingly affordable, starting from USD3/AED10 for light snacks to USD7/AED25 and upwards for full hot meals! Hand cooked potato chips (USD3) - with choice of Himalayan pink salt or Yoghurt with natural herbs flavours seem to be a popular choice for the peckish passengers on this flight.
It was then a quiet and uneventful rest of the flight until landing - except for that stunning sunset at 35,000 feet!
Note that the lavatory was sadly bare as the Arabian desert - no eau de toilette or hand lotion available.
We then landed at 8.03pm, with the glittering night lights of Abu Dhabi city and monstrous motorways greeting us as we descended into Abu Dhabi.
The aircraft arrived at a remote stand so passengers had to climb down a flight of stairs from the A330-200. This seems to be common for the Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, so be mindful of carrying huge carry-ons!
After a short bus hop to the terminal, it was a chaotic human mess for the security clearance for my next flight, but that's another story.
In all, it was a comfortable flight with Etihad Airways, with polite and nice cabin crew, excellent dining and a nice selection of entertainment.
In my view, it didn't feel at all like Etihad was shortchanging Economy Class passengers by cutting down complimentary meals and charging for snacks (yes! I was guilty of feeling this way before my flight, but was happy that Etihad has proven me wrong!), but simply offering passengers a bonus option of personalising their travel experience through affordable snack options. I thought this is a nice ancillary after-meal service, especially when the quality and quantity of the complimentary meals served were excellent.
We all love options, don't we!
Thank you Etihad Airways. after this flight, I am loving your Choose Well branding. If you have set this hybrid full-service with "customizable" ancillary options concept as the airline trend-setter and changed the course of our our aviation industry, why, thank you, Etihad!
See my Etihad experience and the full flight EY642 review here:
For more information on Etihad Airways new Economy Class experience, visit Etihad's Economy service page here.
Etihad Airways press release on their new customisable Economy Class can be found here.