What Is It Like to Fly in Etihad’s New A350-1000 Business Class Cabin?
Our review of the 14-hour flight from Doha to Chicago on the airline's newest wide-body aircraft
January 23, 2024
Less than a decade ago, Etihad Airways was at its pinnacle, setting standards of luxury and passenger experience that were unmatched by most of its competitors. The airline has recently transitioned to a more cost-conscious business model, with many believing it has lost its splendor and slipped well below the elevated service standards it helped set.
I recently needed to get to the U.S. from Doha, and one of the more convenient options was Etihad. Having flown my share of Etihad flights over the years, I was intrigued by the prospect of trying its new Business Class product on its brand-new Airbus A350-1000.
I arrived at the airport in Doha approximately two hours in advance and was promptly checked in all the way to Chicago. After a fairly pleasant 40-minute flight from Doha to Abu Dhabi on one of the airline’s A321s, I went through transit security to the departure levels.
I had the opportunity to experience a unique feature of flying with Etihad to the U.S.—the ability to use the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) preclearance facility in Abu Dhabi. My boarding pass was quickly checked, but I was asked to take a seat since my checked baggage had not yet arrived for screening. After a five-minute wait, my name was called and I proceeded through security and CBP. The process was smooth and efficient, taking no longer than ten minutes, despite two large aircraft departing within 30 minutes of each other.
Upon entering the Etihad U.S. Premium Lounge after CBP clearance, I was greeted with a cozy seating area. Although the space was rather small it was well-appointed, with several long couches and small coffee tables. A bar-like area with single seating options was also available, along with a buffet table in the middle, which was adorned with a delectable spread of Arabic mezes, ranging from hummus to baba ghanoush, along with fresh fruits, desserts and various prepackaged sandwiches. One noticeable thing missing was hot food.
I left the lounge as a boarding announcement was made. Business Class passengers were lining up as I arrived at the gate, which was a bit chaotic, but the agents were trying their best to keep it as orderly as possible. I was greeted at the door with a big smile and pointed toward my seat in the last row.
Walking down the aisle towards the seat, I could hear the traditional EY boarding music (one of my favorites) playing in the background. A cheerful crew member brought my requested classic lemon mint pre-departure beverage within seconds of greeting me at my seat.
Etihad introduced the Airbus A350-1000 in 2022 and went for a Collins Aerospace Super Diamond reverse-herringbone business class seat that differs slightly from the airline’s traditional yin-yang seating concept on its 787s and A380s. The seat is spacious in this 1-2-1 configuration. There was lots of storage space and a big screen at the front, together with a USB port and wireless phone charger on the side—a much needed enhancement. The signature EY reading lamp has been kept with this new seat design, which subtly reminds you of its consistent and thoughtful branding.
Etihad recently joined forces with Armani/Casa to create unique bedding for its Business Class cabin, which consisted of a gray mattress pad, plushy pillow and a silky-smooth comforter. Despite the refresh of bedding, the Etihad signature facets of the Abu Dhabi pattern remain a prominent accent piece, the mattress pad being wrapped in this faceted and colorful pattern.
Each seat also had a bright yellow amenity kit provided by Acqua di Parma (a staple over the last few years at Etihad), which offered the usual eye mask, signature scented lotions and socks.
The bedding did wonders when I put my seat flat later in the flight as I slept for close to seven hours. The IFE was plentiful, and the noise-reduction headphones provided great audio to accompany the crystal-clear screen.
During the 14-hour flight, the cabin crew was very friendly and informed me that I could dine anytime. As I had not had a proper dinner, I decided to have a full meal after takeoff.
I chose a poached salmon tartare, which was incredibly delicious. This was followed by braised beef short ribs, so tender that they fell apart with the slightest touch of my fork. I rounded off the meal with a slice of baked cheesecake, which was luscious.
After taking a nap, a flight attendant noticed that I was awake and came over to offer me something. I requested a cup of Moroccan mint tea, with madeleines and cookies for an extra treat. The flight attendant kindly obliged and even provided a small ramekin with mint leaves to add to my tea, a thoughtful gesture that I appreciated since no other airline in the Middle East offers this service.
Approaching the coast of Canada, I decided it was time to have breakfast and pressed the call button. A flight attendant appeared in just a few seconds and asked if I was ready for something from the “all-day” menu, almost as if she had read my mind. I chose vanilla pancakes with caramelized banana, strawberries and crunchy granola.
Usually I don’t enjoy breakfast on flights, but Etihad surpassed my expectations with this dish. The pancakes were still moist, and the combination of fruit and granola added a delicious crunch and flavor to this classic breakfast dish.
My interactions with the cabin crew were nearly flawless. Every flight attendant I encountered was always smiling and eager to serve and ensure that every passenger was well taken care of. This was one of the best cabin crews I have ever had on any Middle Eastern airline. Whatever Etihad is doing, it should keep it up, as it is doing wonders for crew morale.
I had a great experience on Etihad’s A350 flight to Chicago. The new reverse-herringbone seat was spacious and comfortable, and the sliding door provided privacy. The catering was impressive in quality and portion size, and the new Armani/Casa crockery and silverware were a nice touch. Despite not being as opulent as before, Etihad is still one of the best airlines out there.