Review: Etihad First Class, Dallas Fort-Worth to Abu Dhabi

I started a trip that took me all over the world in fairly quick succession with an old standby of an award flight, Etihad first class Dallas – Abu Dhabi using American AAdvantage miles.

Generally getting award space from Abu Dhabi to the U.S. is much easier than from the U.S. to Abu Dhabi (but there’s a trick that sometimes works). However one flight where it’s been quite simple to get first class award space has been the Dallas flight, especially since it’s gone daily.

And while Etihad operates a Boeing 777-200LR, rather than an Airbus A380 — which means no First Apartment — it’s a far more convenient flight for me to take living in Austin than flying up to New York (although since Etihad went double daily with the A380 out of New York JFK a few days ago it will be easier to connect there).

There are some evident cutbacks in Etihad first class, mostly the menu, the cabin remains gorgeous and the suites are comfortable so it’s still one of the top 10 first class products in the world.

Etihad’s lounge situation at Dallas Fort-Worth is weak so I was happy to head to the gate and onto the aircraft for the 15 hour flight to Abu Dhabi.

I was greeted on the jetway and escorted through the forward mini business class cabin to my first class suite.

Etihad’s business class seats are fully flat with direct aisle access, but they’re angled to pack seats tightly into the cabin. Despite all the talk of how over the top the Gulf carriers are, outside of first class (which is a reputational product that gives them a halo effect of sorts) they’re actually pretty economical.

Fortunately I’d be enjoying their suites for the evening.

There’s predeparture beverages, hot towels and a welcome letter.

Service on the ground involves distribution of an amenity kit, and pajamas as well.

The onboard chef will introduce himself to you — a member of the flight attendant crew with restaurant experience who takes charge of meal preparation, and really can offer fully flexible dining (I sort of use the menu as a list of ingredients, and then suggest what the chef might prepare). Generally the chef will come around pouring Arabic coffee prior to departure as well, and dates are distributed too.

The cabin had six passengers out of eight suites. Two of those had been buy ups at the airport, including one person who had been declined a mileage upgrade as ineligible on a ‘Z’ fare in the lounge (he may have wanted to use miles and ultimately paid cash).

The cabin is configured 1-2-1, with center seats great for traveling with a companion and a divider that suffices if traveling solo.

Of course it’s not close to being as private as one of the solo suites in the window.

The lighting in the cabin I think is pretty gorgeous.

Blankets at your seat are among the softest I’ve ever felt anywhere. I might have one of these at home from a previous trip.

One thing about the seat that’s always seemed strange to me is the built-in minibar. Emirates has an extensive minibar at your seat with soft drinks. I figure Emirates felt they needed to have a minibar also, though theirs has water. And it tends to get really warm during the flight. Emirates also distributes a bountiful snack basket (Mars bars, chips and the like) so on Etihad there’s modest snacks as well.

The reason this always struck me as strange isn’t just the “me too-ism” of it all, but because if you’re a first class passenger why are you having to help yourself to food and beverage?

The menu seems to have fewer items than it used to, which is actually fine because as I say I find that if you proactively work with the chef you’ll come up with something to like.

I used to feel that the onboard chef concept was uneven, some chefs really proactively encouraged you to do this and made suggestions while others just took orders. I’ve gotten more than comfortable though not relying on them to offer but coming up with the ideas myself.

One area where Etihad does lag in their first class cabin is their alcoholic beverages, from the wine list to spirits. I find that the wine selection is thoughtful, great picks in the $30 – $40 range but generally not the $100+ bottles you’ll find on other great carriers.

Once in the air there’s a beverage and snack service while the crew prepares dinner although of course the concept really is dine any time, so there’s no need to eat right away — however I hadn’t had much substantive for most of the day so I was famished, and wanted to get that out of the way before hading off to sleep.

For dinner I had the Balik salmon and a steak. Both were excellent.

You can do a much more extensive tasting menu so they offer an intermezzo before entree.

My wife had the mezza course which she always enjoys on Etihad. I didn’t capture her entree.

I skipped dessert and asked the crew to make my bed.

I slept for 6 hours, though I woke up perhaps 6 or 7 times along the way because it was so hot in the cabin (I woke up sweating) and because of significant turbulence — the captain made an announcement for the crew to be seated, and I woke up with the announcement as well.
The bed is comfortable, as is the bedding in my opinion, but the pillow isn’t really substantial enough.

I woke up for good with about 6 hours remaining in the flight so I decided to get work done. The internet connectivity worked really well, and was priced at $21.95 for the full 15 hour flight.

While I was working I ordered some more Balik salmon and eggs for breakfast.

The remaining hours flew by. It’s amazing what a comfortable chair, rest, food and internet will do to make the time pass quickly. I’m always struck by how I’ll think to myself that I have ‘only’ five hours left on a flight when flying long haul first class.

A little less than an hour to go to Abu Dhabi my wife and I decided to have a snack, we’d be getting off the plane around 8 p.m. and had a drive but probably not another chance to eat, and didn’t really want to eat again anyway. So we ordered the sliders.

Once on the ground and taxied to our gate, our crew bid us adieu. It was a lovely flight and a great use of AAdvantage miles even though it’s now 115,000 miles one-way (from the US to the Mideast or connecting beyond Abu Dhabi within the region or to countries surrounding India).

The walk to immigration was a quick one, we arrived at a close-in gate. There was no line in the premium lane, so we cleared quickly (which as usual involves having carry ons x-rayed entering the country) and were on our way into the desert.

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. On my Etihad 777 flight the cabin was kept nice and cold. I’m to the point where I’m done with Foreign carriers for the inconsistent cabin temp. I’d rather wake up and find the flight attendant to get a drink on a US airline that sweat like crazy on foreign carrier. Service and food don’t matter if you are uncomfortable the whole flight. It’s better to keep the cabin cool. Those who are cold and bundle up. Everyone gets a blanket.

  2. Wife and I are going back to the Maldives later this year to do some more scuba diving and are taking this flight, however we are booked in J (for now) instead of F. As many miles as we have, I just cannot seem to spend the extra 40k each for F on the 772 when that’s the same price we’re paying for apartments on the A380 for the way home (via JFK).

    Gary, did you really think that F was worth the extra 40k even with the sub-par drink selection? (yes, second world problem, I know, but always trying to maximize value of miles). We are both booked in window seats in J to avoid issues with the angled flat beds getting too close to the isle. Honestly we’re hoping to sleep on this flight more than usual since we go straight to a liveabord dive boat when we arrive and are not overnighting in AUH (1.5hr connection in AUH and 4hrs in CMB 3am-7am, ugh). Still may try to rearrange that later.

    I agree – I’m getting really tired of hot First/Biz cabins without air vents too (though Emirates F is the only exception I’ve found so far!). Make it cooler and give extra blankets to those that are cold… definitely seems to be more of an issue with foreign carriers.

  3. @Curtis it’s worth it to me but YMMV, as I say it’s still one of the best first class products, at 115k with no fuel surcharges seems like a decent enough deal for a long flight and i have LOTS of miles. if i were scraping by with a more modest miles balance it would be a different story. i do find the business seats fairly tight.

  4. I don’t mean this as an insult, but if you keep eating like that, you will not live to be 65.

  5. My wife and I landed this morning on their AUH – SFO flight on the 777-200LR. Had a strikingly similar experience as you and your wife Gary, although got to enjoy the cigar room and a massage at the Etihad First lounge in Abu Dhabi. Amazing and relaxing 16 hour flight, that was made even better by exceptional ground and cabin crew. Our flight attendant actually checked with us whether temp was to our liking. I don’t need showers on a plane and Etihad dining was first rate! Will happily spend 115k AA miles on this product.

  6. Gary …. late response/question here, but isn’t it possible to upgrade a Z fare with AA miles (to first)? Is it a problem only in the lounge or is it possible to do on reservation. Travelling DFW-SIN (rt) later this month. Company paying for biz, but would love to experience up front! (and should it be 110 r/t for the upgrade?)


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