Etihad recently unveiled its A350-1000 aircraft, and I was invited on the inaugural flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris before it begins routes to New York and Chicago next month. The A350 features an entirely new seat and cabin design, reflecting Etihad’s latest approach to the passenger experience. As well as being noticeably larger than the 787 the carrier also uses, it seems much quieter. But does the new aircraft stand up against the much-loved bespoke product the airline launched on its 787 and A380?
Etihad still uses Abu Dhabi’s historic passenger terminal, and while the somewhat delayed Midfield Terminal has yet to open, there’s a lot to be said about the existing structure as a hub. Being smaller than Doha and Dubai, it allows for easier and less stressful connections.
Etihad’s business-class lounge hasn’t changed much in the past few years, and while a little dark, it’s still spacious and well appointed, with a fully tended bar and buffet dining areas. Another benefit of Abu Dhabi is the U.S. preclearance, meaning that Etihad’s flights land in the domestic areas of U.S. airports, bypassing lengthy lines on arrival.
Onboard, the A350-1000 is spacious, with 44 business-class seats across 11 rows and 327 economy seats in a 3x3x3 configuration. In economy, the first five rows have additional legroom, while business now features doors and much larger seats, meaning more space and privacy.
The cabin is designed in muted desert shades of brushed gold, deep chocolate and sandy white, creating a sophisticated appearance. Unlike the rest of Etihad’s long-haul fleet, the A350 offers an off-the-shelf Super Diamond seat. It might look familiar—the same can be found on American, British Airways and WestJet, to name a few. However, Etihad has invested in customizing the seat, and the result is spectacular.
With brushed gold trims, white faux-marble table-tops and a monochromatic color palette, these seats mean business. The only trademark holdover from the previous incarnations is the Facets of Abu Dhabi table lamps, which add personality to the space.
Both USB and USB-C charging points are now available, along with wireless charging for the phone on every side table. For passengers who want to use wireless headphones there is Bluetooth pairing, meaning fewer cables and better sound. The seat extends into a fully flat bed, and as the Super Diamond is one of the best products on the market, it offers one of the largest footwells, a sturdy dining table, and plenty of storage both in the armrest and under the side table.
Etihad excels at dining, and the inaugural flight featured a special breakfast menu including lobster omelets and caviar or lobster eggs royale. But the airline’s standard menu is also lavish, with an “eat what you want, when you want” approach designed around the passenger. Some of Etihad’s classics include the meze starter and the steak sandwich, but often I’ve had a biryani dish that is full of flavor.
Another wonderful touch is Etihad’s “pour at the seat” wine and champagne service. The selection has never disappointed, with Marlborough sauvignon blancs always offering that mineral finish that works so well at altitude. Amenities include an embroidered fleece blanket, sumptuous pillows in Etihad’s geometric print, and Acqua di Parma kits featuring a spritz fragrance and body lotion. In terms of service, there’s less of a robotic, scripted approach like that found on other Middle Eastern carriers. Personalities are allowed to shine a bit more, with an emphasis on authentic friendliness. The crew on this flight was still getting used to the new aircraft, and because the aisles are tighter service was a little slower, but this will most likely be rectified before flights commence to the U.S. Etihad has finally found its feet over the past few years and is now firmly established as a larger-scale boutique carrier, focusing on passenger experience and quality.