Etihad’s new A350-1000 took flight yesterday for its special inaugural trip from Abu Dhabi to Paris.
With state-of-the-art aerodynamics and fuel-efficient engines, the A350-100 has economy and business class cabins, but notably no first class cabin.
It is also the first plane to showcase Etihad’s new business class offering.
“For many who might be less familiar with first class cabins and business class cabins, they would be forgiven for coming on board and seeing a personal studio like this with an individual privacy door as being a first class product … we think it’s that good,” said Etihad's chief executive Tony Douglas on-board the inaugural flight.
But what’s it really like to fly in the airline’s business class cabin? The National flew with Etihad to find out.
16.7 million colours and the industry’s highest ceilings
Boarding flight EY37, we’re greeted by a smiling Etihad crew member who directs us towards our seats. Before getting settled, we take a quick tour of the aircraft to get a sense of the entire jet, which is 73.79 metres long.
The plane has the industry’s highest ceilings at just over 2.4 metres. They help to create a sense of space, and will undoubtedly be a plus for taller travellers.
Etihad’s traditional sand-inspired colour scheme features on this aircraft, but has been paired with darker elements, a sleek contrast that gives the plane a more modern feel.
A black slate-coloured carpet runs the length of the jet, dotted with gold and silver details. Ambient lighting in each cabin is provided via LEDs with 16.7 million colours that allow the jet to mimic different times of the day or night. These have been set up to create a warm, welcoming ambience as passengers board the flight.
An all-new business cabin with 44 individual suites
Settling into seat number 7G, located in the centre of the 1-2-1 configured business class cabin, we immediately feel an increased sense of space.
Etihad has ditched overhead luggage bins for seats in the centre aisle. Instead, we're advised to use the overhead bins above the window seats. There's plenty of space for both our bags and our fellow passengers' — the luggage bins are the largest in the sky.
We have direct access to the aisle, and so do all 44 seats in the cabin. Each also has a sliding privacy door. When we close this and slide the panel shut between our seat and the one next to us mid-flight, there's the sense of being in an individual suite, something that you’d typically find in more premium cabins.
Wide seats and sliding tray tables
Seats in business class are more than 50cm wide, and have an adjustable arm rest on the exterior, under which you’ll find your bottle of water. Reclining to a lie-flat position is easy — it’s done via a small touch panel on the side of the chair and the beds stretch out to more than 2 metres when fully flat — long enough for even the tallest passengers.
A green light on the panel turns on to indicate that your seat has fully returned to its upright position for take-off and landing.
Double-folding 45-centimetre wide tray-tables are fixed on a sliding ramp, and can be set at various heights by pushing a release-latch underneath.
There’s also plenty of storage and little details like Arabian-inspired light columns and gold reading lights to remind you that you’re flying with the UAE’s national airline.
Bathrooms in Etihad’s new business class cabin feature black panelling. There’s an adjustable, illuminated magnifying mirror inset into the main mirror and a hands-free flush system where the toilet lid closes automatically when you hold your hand over a sensor.
Etihad’s in-flight amenity kits continue to be provided by Acqua Di Parma, and we have a black washbag with a sleep mask, lip balm, body lotion, dental kit and a tiny bottle of the luxury fragrance.
Wireless phone charging and bluetooth connection
“The functionality that’s on offer is something that for us is the next step in the evolution for what the Etihad brand presents as being a unique product proposition,” said Douglas on Etihad’s inaugural A350 flight.
These include the ability to connect Bluetooth headphones to the in-flight entertainment system and, one of our favourite features, a wireless charging dock, located on a shelf to the side of the TV screen. Placing your phone here means it starts charging automatically and we disembark with a fully charged battery despite not having our charging cable with us.
Food and drinks: dine any time and digital ordering
The inaugural A350 flight featured a curated menu of traditional Emirati dishes and flavours inspired by France, the home of the A350.
After an early morning take-off the crew served breakfast. We opted for seasonal fresh fruit served with hot, flaky pastries. We followed this up with lobster eggs benedict on brioche, which was tasty and served with tender asparagus and vine tomatoes, although we did find the eggs a tad overdone.
There’s also an a la carte menu and, on this flight, it featured dishes including French onion soup, quiche Lorraine and Arabic baklava. Guests flying on longer A350 routes can opt to dine at any time from this menu.
Another new feature is a digital menu built into the aircraft’s in-flight entertainment system. You can use this to order drinks and food directly from your seat. Unfortunately, it was unavailable when we attempted to use it during our flight, but being able to order a cappuccino at the touch of a button is something we’ll look forward to when flying on the A350 in the future.
In-flight entertainment: Dark mode and a cartoon interface
The jet has the latest generation in-flight entertainment on high-definition screens that are a good size for watching movies, 46.7 centimetres wide to be precise. There’s touch screen capability and handsets, which are stored away in one of the side compartments.
A new user interface is set to dark mode, and this helps us drift off during the flight without the glare of a bright screen. Background visuals of the Empty Quarter and its night sky are a nice touch that subtly nod towards the airline’s Abu Dhabi home.
An award-winning collection of films, television shows and audio choices remain and there’s also a new e-library where you can read your favourite newspapers and magazines in digital format.
Videos pause when headphones are disconnected from the screen, which we appreciate when pulling them out to talk to the cabin crew. There’s also a new video-sharing option whereby you can share videos with other people that you’re travelling with.
Children have their own section in the entertainment system that has been set up as cartoon-style interface. Here, they can scroll along an animated street to find kid-friendly movies, music and games. There’s also an interactive flight map where you can follow the path of the flight through the eyes of a flying dinosaur.
Is the A350 business class cabin quieter than other aircraft?
One of the main boasts for Etihad and Airbus is that the A350-1000 is 50 per cent quieter than previous generation aircraft and cabins have four times less noise.
We’re pleased to report this isn’t just promotional speak — it is noticeable when you fly on the plane. In fact, it is probably the quietest cabin we’ve ever flown in — despite business class being completely full. This means passengers should be able to rest more and will feel less tired after a long-flight.
One thing to note is that the lack of engine noise means you notice other sounds more clearly — whether it’s the crew chatting, luggage bins opening or a noisy neighbour. You may still want to make use of noise cancelling headphones, and Etihad has you covered by providing the headsets to all business class passengers