We go inside Etihad’s new A350 – what’s it like?
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Earlier this week we were invited to a tour of Etihad’s new A350-1000 at Heathrow which had flown in as part of a promotional and crew familiarisation visit.
Both Rob and Rhys were away so we sent Jamie, who you may remember from the Bahamas trip he covered for us last year and some earlier Qatar Airways flight reviews. Here is his report, from an eerily deserted Heathrow Terminal 4:
Over to Jamie:
“I was asked to meet the other participants at Terminal 4 which is currently closed to passengers. It was a strange feeling as I entered the terminal. Apart from several security guards and high-vis vest wearing contractors, the ground floor was deserted and had an unfinished air about the place.
(Rob’s edit: I recently spoke with someone who had been inside Terminal 4 earlier this month, and they told me that the charity collection boxes were still unemptied from March 2020 and Spring 2020 magazines were still sitting on the racks by the gates!)
There was clearly work to be done before the touted reopening next month. Qatar Airways will be welcomed back first, followed by Etihad and Air Malta.
As we were heading airside, the usual security checks were in place. Whilst there were no flyers, there was certainly no complacency on this front. I received the most thorough and lengthy pat down I’ve had in a while. It made me wonder if we were test subjects for a new recruit in training. In fact I hoped we were and that Heathrow is ramping up its recruitment numbers to help avoid the chaotic scenes and huge queues seen recently at some airports due to a lack of staff.
From here it was a short walk to the plane which we got to see in all its glory through the window as we approached it.
The aircraft, named ‘Sustainability50’, carries a unique livery in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the federation of the UAE and Etihad’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Formed as a partnership between Etihad, Airbus and Rolls Royce in 2021, the Sustainability50 programme will see Etihad’s A350s (they have five aircraft) used as flying testbeds of new initiatives, procedures and technologies to reduce carbon emissions. The aircraft is one of the most efficient of its kind, with 25% less fuel burn and CO2 emissions than previous generation twin aisle aircraft.
We entered through the front of the aircraft to be warmly greeted in the business class section (there is no First Class) with Arabic coffee and dates. My first impression was good, it felt like a bright and well proportioned space. The daytime cabin lighting emulated natural ambient light well and produced a gentle calming effect.
There are eleven rows of ‘Business Studio’ suites in a 1-2-1 configuration at the front, each with direct aisle access:
The seat may look familiar. It is based on the Collins Super Diamond design and is the exact same ‘off the shelf’ business class seat as BA’s Club Suite – but with more money spent on it.
It was upholstered in a lovely choice of fabrics and colours, giving the seat a modern, comfortable appearance. I thought it looked classy with a touch of luxury. It is definitely a grade above Club Suite.
As you would expect, it was comfortable to sit in. The seat has a width of 20” and converts into a fully-flat bed of 6.6′. It has a sliding door to complete the studio and all in all created a warm, spacious and private environment.
Leg room for my 5’9” frame was more than ample:
Once sat down, I realised the surrounding design was rather sleek. To the side there is a good size table area which comes with various facilities.
Closest to you is a magazine holder and mood light.
According to the press release, Etihad’s signature lighting design is inspired by the shadows cast by Abu Dhabi’s palm trees. You can see this pleasant looking effect in the below press photo.
It was too bright to appreciate this on the day but it shows that Etihad is willing to add extra details to enhance your comfort. There are no such lights in BA’s Club Suite.
There were two compartments with lids which pop up at the touch of a button to reveal storage spaces.
The one closest is shallow and fairly minimal but will hold your phone with no issues:
The other is more generous and also houses a universal power socket. It also houses the inflight entertainment system controller.
This is the end section which also differs from BA’s Club Suite.
It is actually a wireless charging station for compatible mobile phones. All you need to do is place your phone on top of the symbol. I thought this was an excellent idea and eliminated the need to have a cable plugged in which always seems to get in the way. Finnair has a similar charging station in its new business class seat which Rob reviewed here.
Below this part was another storage compartment that could hold a bottle of water or a pair of shoes at a squeeze.
Just above the arm rest is an illuminated screen to adjust your seat position. This is functionally identical to the one in BA’s Club Suite.
It is also incredibly simple and speedy to convert the seat into a flat bed within 20 seconds at the press of one button.
As with BA, there is an 18.5” IFE HD screen. Under this is your pull out dining table. A quick glance at the new dark-mode interface (designed to reduce jet lag) showed a multitude of options including recent movie releases, arcade games and live TV channels.
Food and beverage menus are also displayed on the screen, although you cannot order from the screen – yet. There are no printed menus in use throughout the plane at the moment.
The IFE controller can be used to independently show different content to the main screen if you are really in need of a sensory overload.
There is also the option throughout the plane to connect your own Bluetooth headphones to the screen. This is great. No more pesky cable to get entangled in and no complaints about the noise cancelling quality!
Economy on Etihad’s A350s
Having explored the Business Studio seats, I ventured further back to check out the economy offering. There is no Premium Economy.
Perhaps it was because the plane was empty but the economy section seemed pleasant, well lit and spacious.
It is configured in a 3-3-3 arrangement and contains 327 seats. 45 of these seats (called ‘Economy Space’) have been enhanced with an additional 4 inches of legroom, providing a respectable 35” compared to the standard 31”. These seats are also upholstered to a high standard and are Crystal Cabin award-winning for their comfort and sustainability credentials.
They also come with a decent looking headrest.
IFE screens are 13” and bluetooth connectivity is available for your own headphones. There is a neat little fold down shelf to place your phone on.
As part of Etihad’s drive to improve sustainability they claim to have reduced single use plastics by 80%. They are also trialling metal cutlery in economy on some flights with a view to launching this on all flights by the end of the year. Some items, such as the trays, are on a closed loop recycling system. Any damaged / worn items are returned to the manufacturer, ground down and remade into the same item.
At the rear of the plane is one of the largest galleys I have seen. From a crew perspective this can only be a good thing, providing a better environment to prepare and fulfil the food and beverage services.
Having never seen the crew quarters before, I was rather excited to get a peek at where the relax and sleep. Situated above the galley and extending along above the back of economy class, there were eight beds in total which I trust provide a well deserved rest at the end of a shift.
I thoroughly enjoyed the tour of Etihad’s newest next-generation aircraft. Whilst my time onboard was brief, I was able to experience the accomplished tone of the design, ambience and seat comfort they have brought to the A350. Both business and economy sections were impressive, being well appointed and spacious. The crew I spoke with were knowledgeable, warm and welcoming which I believe reflects the excellent quality of service you would receive.
I didn’t get to experience the food and beverage offering (apart from the delicious signature mint lemonade) and clearly didn’t spend hours onboard. However I feel confident in saying that whatever ticket you are travelling with on this plane, the comfort level provided would match and quite probably exceed your expectation.
The airline’s new A350-1000s will be deployed from Abu Dhabi on a number of short to mid-range routes initially, including Mumbai and Delhi, before being introduced on long-haul operations to Chicago and New York from July. It is not yet clear when these aircraft will be scheduled to operate from the UK on a regular basis.
How to earn Etihad Guest miles from UK credit cards (March 2023)
Etihad Guest does not have a UK credit card. However, you can earn Etihad Guest miles by converting Membership Rewards points earned from selected UK American Express cards.
Cards earning Membership Rewards points include:
- American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (review here, apply here) – sign-up bonus of 20,000 Membership Rewards points converts into 20,000 Etihad Guest miles. This card is FREE for your first year and also comes with four free airport lounge passes.
- The Platinum Card from American Express (review here, apply here) – sign-up bonus of 30,000 Membership Rewards points converts into 30,000 Etihad Guest miles.
- American Express Rewards credit card (review here, apply here) – sign-up bonus of 10,000 Membership Rewards points converts into 10,000 Etihad Guest miles. This card is FREE for life.
Membership Rewards points convert at 1:1 into Etihad Guest miles which is an attractive rate. The cards above all earn 1 Membership Rewards point per £1 spent on your card, which converts to 1 Etihad Guest mile. The Gold card earns double points (2 per £1) on all flights you charge to it.