Return to the Maldives: Abu Dhabi – Male, Etihad Business Class

Trip Report Index:

  1. Introducing and Strategy
  2. New York JFK – Abu Dhabi, Etihad First Class
  3. Park Hyatt Dubai
  4. Touring the Burj al Arab
  5. Tea at the Burj al Arab
  6. Abu Dhabi – Male, Etihad Business Class
  7. Male – Kaadedhdhoo, Maldivian and Transfer to the Park Hyatt
  8. Park Hyatt Hadahaa Maldives
  9. Kooddoo-Male-Abu Dhabi, Maldivian and Etihad Business Class
  10. Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi
  11. Abu Dhabi – Dusseldorf – London, Etihad First Class and British Airways Club Europe
  12. London Heathrow – San Francisco, British Airways New First Class

With a planned 9:30am flight out of Abu Dhabi, and since we were staying in Dubai, I organized Etihad’s complimentary chauffeur service to pick us up at 6:15am. That would give us plenty of time — too much time — but I’ve heard stories of Etihad cars arriving late, I didn’t know what eventualities we’d hit on the road along the way, and I hadn’t ever flown out of Abu Dhabi before. So it struck me as wise.

The car arrived precisely on time, though, and I’ll admit to closing my eyes a couple of times on the hour long drive to the airport.

My itinerary information showed a departure out of Terminal 3, the newer part of the airport which has a dedicated first and business class check-in area at the far end of the terminal.

There are porters outside to assist with luggage and take your bags up to the dedicated checkin desks, which immediately precede a dedicated immigration queue.

The check-in agent confirmed that my Etihad Guest number was attached to my reservation. It was an award ticket, but as I mentioned earlier in the report I had taken a status match to Etihad Gold status — there were rumblings about changes in the car service benefit (which wouldn’t have adversely affected me in any case) and I wanted to be protected against that. I wound up earning miles for the segment, complete with class of service bonus, in my Etihad account, though I haven’t figured out exactly how that wound up being the case since I didn’t ultimately earn miles for any of my other segments.

I was also informed that my flight would be leaving from Terminal 1 though I could use the Etihad lounge in either location. Unquestionably the lounge in Terminal 3 is nicer, and I did pay it a visit — it is directly past the business and first class immigration and security checkpoint.

But once I had a look around upstairs I proceeded to walk over to terminal 3. While I remained in departure status, past immigration, I had to go outside of security and would have to be re-screened before the flight in terminal 1.

The terminal 1 business class lounge was small and crowded. I had to hover and wait for someone to leave their place and then swoop in in order to find seating. Internet in the lounge was barely functional. And the buffet was modest at best. Possibly better than sitting out in the terminal, but only just.

About 40 minutes prior to departure I decided to head to the gate. In terminal 1 there are several security checkpoints, one for each group of gates, which means that there wasn’t much of a line to speak of – I was through in just a few moments.

I approached my departure gate — sadly, a bus gate — and they were already boarding the buses. When the gate agent saw I was a business class passenger I was directed to sit down and wait. They board business class last, in a separate bus. In theory that’s great, you can arrive at the gate later. But I was already there so I was just sitting out in the terminal. Although I suppose it meant I didn’t have to ‘mix with the economy riff raff’ on the bus?

Actually I thought that business class was going to be pretty empty. Our bus had only a few passengers in it. The seats are like US domestic first class seats with maybe a few degrees more recline and a slight bit more legroom. I’d say there’s not dissimilar to what Cathay Pacific flies on their short haul Asia routes.

It turns out that the cabin wasn’t all that empty though. When I first booked my tickets it seemed as if Etihad was releasing two business class award seats per flight from Abu Dhabi to Male. More recently, though, I’ve seen better than half the cabin open up for points redemption. Judging from my two flights on this route where the cabin was full that seemed strange, possibly a mistake that won’t last, but then again Etihad also aggressively markets paid upgrades via an online bidding system so perhaps full paid demand for the cabin isn’t actually that great.

Just before the door closed the second half of the cabin filled up — a Princess and her female entourage boarded. They were transported to the plane separately and at the last minute, and were dressed in burkas.

Once we took off, though, they each took turns in the lavatory and changed — into what I can only term as ‘going out clothes’. By the time we were outside of UAE airspace they looked like they were wandering out of the clubs at 2am, even though it was more like 10 o’clock in the morning.

Menus were distributed and service began with towels and nuts.

The menu read as follows:

Country Style Bread
Onion and olive focaccia bread
House butter, extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Traditional Arabic mezze
A selection of Middle Eastern hot and cold appetizers

Smoked duck breast
Snow pea and fava bean salad
With raspberry balsamic vinaigrette

Lamb machbous
Lemon rice, fried onion and pine seed garnish

Curried shrimps
Steamed white rice, grilled courgettes, peppers and aubergine

Gnocchi and tortellini duo
Rocca pesto, tomato sauce and Parmesan wafer

Selection of cheese

Date and mandarin crumble
Vanilla sauce

Seasonal fresh fruits with black grape coulis

Providore natural ice cream – selection of flavours

    Traditional Arabic mezze

    Smoked duck breast

    Curried shrimps

    Date and mandarin crumble

    Providore natural ice cream

After the meal (I had the duck, shrimp, and ice cream) I settled in to watch a few television episodes on my laptop. We arrived in the Maldives after what felt like a very short period considering that the flight was nearly four hours. In the time leading up to the flight I was a bit disappointed to be flying on an award ticket so far in what looked to be something akin to domestic first class — and I do domestic US first class flights of that distance all the time, so it simply seemed like it was going to be ‘transportation’ rather than anything special — but I found the seat and service perfectly comfortable for a flight of that length, the time flew by.

When we landed in Male we did the usual touchdown, taxi to the very end of the runway, then turn around and taxi back. Then we pulled up near the terminal, they brought the stairs out, and we disembarked. A team was standing at the bottom of the stairs to greet the princess and her entourage.

Arriving in business class, we were among the first off the plane and into the terminal for immigration, thus there was no queue. The immigration staff weren’t quite ready for us, they had to be brought out and boot up their computers so that took a couple of minutes — which was fine because once through, bags were on their way up and onto the belt.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Great report, many thanks Gary. Really enjoying these installments. Do any airlines have a first class cabin to the Maldives, or are they all business class?

  2. Hi Gary. Mr. Silver Springer and I will be taking a similar flight in August and wonder how many AA points it would take for this award. Alternatively, did you see what economy looked like as four hours is a fairly short flight and we could purchase economy tickets instead.

    Thanks, Mary Anne

  3. Nice report. The burkas also immediately turned into dresses, skirts, makeup, perfume etc. when I flew former DHA-JFK back in the late 70’s/early mid 80’s on Pan Am. The reverse was true as well going the other direction. Funny stuff. Looking forward to hearing about MLE and The Maldives.

  4. Hi Gary

    Really looking forward to the rest of your TR, I am doing a west bound RTW on SQ and Etihad in feb with a stop the Conrad maldives, had to burn those HH points. Anyway my question for you is since we are stoping in SIN, MLE, and AUH do you need to get visa’s in advance for any of these counties? And a second question is since you have been to all 3 countries do you need any Vaccinations?

    Thanks, rob

  5. @rob – for a US citizen there’s no visa required in advance for SIN, MLE, or AUH. And I’ve not gotten vaccinations prior to visiting any of them.

  6. You didn’t try and get the Princess’ digits so you could hook up with her later?

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