Before Niki airlines began flying to the capital in late November, Abu Dhabi residents heading to Vienna faced a long drive to Dubai to find a non-stop option.
The new daily flight — offered by the Austrian airline founded by the Formula One champion Niki Lauda and now part of the airberlin group with close ties to Etihad Airways — is a major pickup for the Abu Dhabi hub, which has a bit of a blind spot when it comes to central Europe.
The flight also represents something new for Niki, which is offering business class for the first time.
Let’s get something out of the way early: Niki is generally regarded as a short-haul, budget carrier. So in terms of luxurious style, it is not. But, surprisingly, in terms of substance, its new premium cabin is not far off.
Niki flies to Abu Dhabi on a small Airbus A320, which means that business travellers should not expect lie-flat seats. But with a flying time of just over five hours, its debatable whether that's worth being too disappointed about. The large seats are still plenty comfortable for a quick nap.
Food-wise, Austrian dishes and beverages feature heavily, and the quality is good. There was an abundance of goulash and apple strudel. They are pretty proud of the strudel (it was OK). More importantly, the food comes swiftly.
And the service is certainly another bright spot. Pleasant, efficient, hardly obsequious. Do not expect a half-hourly well-being check. Do expect a rapid-fire top-up upon request.
The only negative aspect of the journey came on the ground. Chauffeur service in Vienna was not available. I was reliably informed during check-in at Abu Dhabi that it would be if I could locate the correct desk in the arrivals hall (I could not, and neither could a handful of airport staff members). I took a taxi instead.
Niki, it turns out, does offer business-class travellers a limousine service — it’s spelt out plainly on the website. But until that is better communicated down through the ranks, it’s safe to say that some confusion will reign.
Prices for a business-class ticket from Abu Dhabi to Vienna next month run at about Dh10,000 return.
q&a entertainment by iPad
Spencer Davis-VanNess reveals the story behind Niki’s new Abu Dhabi route:
What’s the story of Niki?
Launched in 2003, it is the three-time F1 champion Niki Lauda’s second airline venture. The airline merged in 2011 with airberlin, which is 29.2 per cent owned by Etihad Airways.
So what is Niki’s relationship with Etihad?
Seemingly close, with the Austrian carrier signed up as the seventh member of the Etihad Partners programme. Flights to Vienna can be booked as a codeshare through Etihad, and business-class guests can use the Etihad lounges in Abu Dhabi. Etihad loyalists can also use their miles to book flights to Vienna and beyond with Niki.
Anything else notable?
Business guests are offered the use of an iPad, which connects to a large, streaming entertainment library using the jet’s Wi-Fi connection. This is a fantastic solution. It saves weight, the screen and audio quality are great and a malfunctioning tablet can be replaced far easier than a faulty seatback unit.
What about the competition?
None in Abu Dhabi, unless you’re OK with a layover. From Dubai, Austrian Airlines flies daily and Emirates offers a double-daily service.
What about the destination?
Aside from being a hugely popular holiday destination, Vienna is a major seat of international business. Perhaps most notably in the UAE, it is the home of Opec. OMV, the Austrian oil and gas producer part-owned by Abu Dhabi, is also headquartered there.
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