I never thought the day would come when I looked forward to eating airline food. But this wasn’t any old airline food, but Arabic cuisine.

I flew to Europe Business Class on board Etihad Airways. And since I forked out the full fare of more than $10,000 for a return Business Class ticket to Germany, I had high expectations. Naturally.

On my flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi on Etihad’s Boeing 777-300, I dined on a starter of Arabic mezze with a selection of warm and cold appetisers of hummus, warak ebab (stuffed grape leaves) and tabbouleh. They were surprisingly tasty and fresh. The highlight was the main dish of chicken biryani cooked with basmati rice and spices topped with crushed cashew nuts, pomegranate and fried onions.

I was blown away, it was delicious and oh-so-fragrant. Besides the main meal, the airline also offers all-day top-up mini meals including steak sandwiches, chicken-and-tarragon pies and seasonal fruit platters.

On my return leg from Frankfurt to Abu Dhabi, I had the same Arabic starter. I chose lamb biryani which was just as delicious as the previous meals.

But unless you’re a confirmed gourmand, there are a few drawbacks to flying Etihad. For example, there is no complimentary WiFi for business-class passengers. I was astounded to be told I had to pay US$5 for internet access for the Sydney to Abu Dhabi sector. And I refused to pay an additional charge for the Abu Dhabi to Milan sector. It’s mean considering other competitor airlines offer free WiFi on long-haul flights.

The configuration means you will be looking at other passengers
The configuration means you will be looking at other passengers

Service and cabin crew

The largely female cabin crew were smartly turned out with an Italian-designed, deep mauve skirt and pants suit, and wore scarves and matching berets. But alas, they were about as friendly as a runway model in Paris. The service lacked warmth and empathy.

As a lone woman traveller, I expect help to store my hand luggage in the overhead locker. Only once was I extended assistance from a tall female cabin crew member.

The Etihad staff were smartly turned out
The Etihad staff were smartly turned out

Etihad Planes

On the long 14-hour leg to and from Abu Dhabi to Sydney, Etihad deploys its noisy Boeing 777-300ER jet plane. There’s a distinct lack of storage space for spectacles, toiletries and reading material. However, the Aqua di Parma amenities bag, with hand sanitiser, hand cream, toothbrush/toothpaste, socks with grips and eye mask, was a welcome relief.

The seats slide to a flatbed and the Armani-designed plush duvet and pillow are conducive to sleep on a long-haul flight. But there are seats facing the rear which look odd. You can see your fellow passengers clearly – not always a good thing!

Toilets are basic and stark – there is no hand lotion or skin refresher – only soap and hand sanitiser are provided. And on one long-haul flight, the toilet rolls were not replenished.

The airline deploys the much newer Boeing 787-9 on the Abu Dhabi-Milan and Frankfurt-Abu Dhabi legs of the journey. The plane looks refreshed. The feel of the plane is newer and more pleasant as the aircraft noise is not so over-powering.

Etihad Lounge

The House lounge which Etihad uses in Sydney Airport is adequate but not at all flash. While you can order a la carte food, the buffet offerings are limited, service is slow, and you have to go to the bar for a glass of bubbles. It is also not easy to locate, as it is tucked away next to the Amcal chemist. The good news is that the Business Class lounge we visited in Abu Dhabi has been superseded by an all-new lounge at the recently opened Terminal A. The Etihad lounge in Frankfurt is the worst of all – small, unimpressive and with a limited choice of hot food. But it does have free WiFi.

The food in the Etihad lounge
The food in the Etihad lounge


This is where the airline fails miserably in Abu Dhabi. When gates open and it is time for passengers to board the plane, there is a lack of clarity that priority boarding is reserved for first and business classes and passengers with children or those in wheelchairs. All passengers surge forward, and it is a struggle to push through the queues to get to the front. Proper priority lanes should be set up so that all passengers – economy and business class – are fully aware of when to board the flight.

Overall rating

This is my first experience of Etihad business class. The fare is expensive, the toilets are basic and business class does lack… well… class! Surprisingly, on the long haul from Abu Dhabi to Sydney, I managed to sleep for several hours – with noise-cancelling headphones. With so many carriers on this route, Etihad certainly wouldn’t be my first choice.