For my return journey from the United Arab Emirates, I used 45,000 Aeroplan points to book a flight on Etihad Airways 787-10 business class from Abu Dhabi to Paris, which would connect me onto a paid Air France ticket en route back to Toronto.
Having flown with Etihad Airways on their 787 First Class and A30 First Class Apartments shortly before the pandemic struck, I was now looking forward to sampling their flagship business class experience known as the Etihad Business Studio.
The day before the flight, I booked a GetTransfer car ride from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, entering the emirate without having to quarantine thanks to having spent 14+ days in Dubai previously. I stopped by the picturesque Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque for a few hours, basking in the views of the majestic mosque just as the sun was setting, before spending the night at the Premier Inn attached to Abu Dhabi International Airport.
The following morning, I was up bright and early for my 7:15am flight. From the Premier Inn, I headed straight for Etihad’s premium check-in zone, which is located behind a set of frosted glass doors.
The check-in zone was eerily empty despite Etihad still offering a fairly regular schedule out of its hub in Abu Dhabi, reflecting the depressed demand for air travel these days during the pandemic era. Only two out of the dozen or so check-in counters were manned, and I was helped swiftly by a check-in agent who printed out my boarding pass.
From there, I breezed through the dedicated premium security line and found myself in the airside departures hall. I didn’t have time to visit the Etihad business class lounge on this occasion, although I did stop by for a wistful glance at the entrance to the Etihad Airways First Class Lounge – rekindling some fond memories from early March 2020, back when the world was a simpler place.
There was little time to waste before my flight would begin boarding, though, so I proceeded to Gate 8 at the end of the airport concourse via a series of long hallways.
It turns out that there were only a handful of passengers in business class today, and I managed to snag a spot at the front of the boarding queue and quickly make my way onboard.
Etihad Airways | EY37
Aircraft: Boeing 787-10
Cabin: Business class
Route: Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Paris (CDG)
Date: Friday, December 4, 2020
Time: Departing 7:15am and arriving 11:50am
Duration: 7 hours 35 minutes
Business class on the Etihad Airways Boeing 787-10 consists of a single cabin of 32 business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. The seat type is known as the Etihad Business Studio, and you’ll find the same seat on the airline’s Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A380 aircraft as well.
The 32 business class seats are staggered such that the odd-numbered rows face backwards, while the even-numbered rows face forwards.
Along the windows, the forward-facing seats are closer to the windows, while the backward-facing seats are closer to the aisle; meanwhile, the forward-facing middle seats are directly adjacent to each other, while the backward-facing middle seats are relatively far apart.
For me, the forward-facing seats are strictly superior to the backward-facing ones on this aircraft.
As a solo traveller, I’d rather be closer to the window for the extra privacy and the window views; if I were travelling as a couple in the middle seats, then I’d rather be seated closer to my partner than farther away. Plus, having flown in backward-facing seats a couple of times now, I must say I still prefer the traditional forward-facing seat whenever possible.
All things considered, and my choice of Seat 10K for today’s flight was a pretty straightforward one.
The extra privacy of the forward-facing window seats also means that there’s a small “walkway” between the aisle and the seat itself. Perhaps reflecting the Boeing 787-10’s limited size, this walkway was definitely quite narrow, and could get a little uncomfortable for travellers with thicker thighs than mine.
Let’s take a tour around the seat. Straight up ahead is the 18.5-inch touch-screen entertainment screen, and the seat’s footwell and under-seat storage below it.
On your side is the seat console, which houses the footwell of the seat in front of you in this staggered configuration. Here, you’ll find a large surface space, the seat and entertainment controls, and the tray table.
The simplified seat controls are positioned along the rounded edge of the console, giving you easy access while in a seated or lie-flat position.
Meanwhile, the standard Panasonic entertainment controller is found adjacent to the LED lighting controls along the back of the console.
The tray table slides out horizontally from its holder and slams down into place in front of you. A rather hefty piece, the tray table can slide back and forth once it’s deployed in front of you.
Then, at the very top of the seat back structure, you’ll find a small coat hook.
Your armrest can be lifted to reveal an in-seat storage compartment, which is large enough for a set of headphones or a small tablet. There’s also a separate compartment for the bottled water, and a literature pocket against the vertical surface below.
First impressions of the Etihad Business Studio? It’s a solid all-round business class seat, if not quite among the world’s best; indeed, perhaps the business class product is one area in which Etihad’s stellar global reputation precedes itself.
The seat is functionally sufficient in most regards, although some little things could be improved, such as the narrow walkway to the aisle and the lower-resolution entertainment screen compared to the highest industry standards these days.
Plus, I thought that the orange-leather seat finishes would’ve looked much nicer in a darker shade (similar to what you’d find in Etihad Airways First Class), and the seat’s visual appeal could even be described as somewhat lacking were it not for the undeniably snazzy cylindrical light at every seat.
As we waited for the economy class passengers to board, the cabin crew and manager came by to introduce themselves. I was offered my choice of welcome drinks, and I opted for both the Piper-Heidsieck champagne and the lemonade.
One of the crew described herself as the in-flight “Wellness Ambassador”, and let me know that she’d be the point of contact if I had any questions or concerns about staying clean and virus-free during the flight.
To that end, Etihad also offered a wellness kit for each passenger, which consisted of a face mask, gloves, hand sanitizer, and… a snood, which could act as an alternative face covering in addition to being a highly questionable fashion choice.
There was also a more traditional amenity kit by Acqua di Parma, which counted body lotion, hand cream, and a cologne spritzer among its premium items.
As takeoff approached, a crew member came around to take my meal orders for the flight. On this morning flight to Paris, we’d enjoy a round of breakfast shortly after takeoff, followed by a light meal just before landing.
The menu read as follows:
There was also a drinks leaflet, which read as follows:
I chose the ful medames to start, and then both the tandoori chicken and the steak sandwich near the end of the flight. Still harbouring very positive impressions of Etihad’s onboard catering from my experiences on their First Class flights, I was looking forward to seeing how the business class dining service would compare.
Since I was running on very little sleep over the past few days, I ended up dozing off shortly after, and slept throughout our entire takeoff sequence from Abu Dhabi. I only awoke as we had already reached cruising altitude, and the crew was already getting ready to serve my breakfast.
Etihad’s business class meal service during the COVID era hasn’t been impacted in a major way, except for the fact that the plates are now served on a single tray instead of individually laid out on your table, in order to minimize touch-points by the crew.
The Arabic breakfast spread looked absolutely beautiful, and I ordered a much-needed cappuccino to wake myself up and fully indulge in the food.
The manakish and halloumi were smoky and chewy, combining well with the small but flavourful portion of ful medames. The pastries, yogurt, and orange juice helped to wash down the stronger flavours, and I found myself very satisfied by the meal overall.
After breakfast, I was still feeling very sleepy. Since I had my knick-knacks spread out all over in the place in Seat 10K, I decided to head to the back of the cabin and make my bed in Seat 12K to continue napping for a bit. (Plus, there was another passenger seated immediately across me in Seat 9G, so the social distancing wasn’t optimal either.)
In lie-flat mode, the Etihad Business Studio seat remains pretty comfortable. Some occupants might find it a little narrow to sleep in, although it’s no less narrow than, say, your standard reverse herringbone “pod”-style seats.
I also generally find that these staggered seats tend to provide a more acceptable amount of space in the footwell compared to the pods. Dimming my electronic window blinds, I napped peacefully for the next few hours, waking up with about four hours left of the flight.
I headed to the restroom to freshen up a bit. The main business class restroom comes with a window – perhaps surprising for a modest-sized Dreamliner aircraft, but then again, the 787-10 happens to be its largest variant.
There was also a baby changing table, while the standard Acqua di Parma amenities that you might find in the restroom has been replaced by a singular bottle of hand sanitizer during the COVID era.
Returning to the cabin, I now decided to take up residence in Seat 11H, between my “living area” of Seat 10K and my “bedroom” of Seat 12K – if only to try out these backward-facing seats that are closer to the aisle.
Sure, when the cabin is full, then these seats afford you less privacy; however, with only three business class passengers spread out across 32 seats, it was actually quite nice to be closer to the aisle and have some more legroom too.
These seats also have a sliding partition by you shoulders, which can give you a little bit of extra privacy instead of leaving you totally exposed to the aisle.
I worked on my laptop for a while, connecting to the wifi briefly at a rather steep cost of US$19.95 for 180MB of data. The wifi was very slow and choppy, though, so I was content to work offline once the paltry package had run out.
Before long, it was time for the pre-arrival meal. I asked for another glass of Piper-Heidsieck to go along with my steak sandwich.
I thought the steak sandwich was delicious, and I savoured every bite of the thin-sliced tenderloin strips and red onion chutney against the soft toasted bun, its deep flavours balanced perfectly by the fruity notes of the champagne.
I couldn’t resist the second portion of chicken tandoori kebabs. Despite still being very tasty, this dish wasn’t quite as well-executed as the steak sandwich, as I found the texture a little dry.
After my plates were cleared away, the crew came around to distribute landing forms for France, which are a new requirement for all arrivals during the pandemic. I was still asked to fill in the form, even though I was only transiting.
I also briefly browsed through Etihad’s onboard entertainment selection just before we landed, even though I didn’t get a chance to watch anything. There’s a wide range of movies and TV titles to choose from, although they may not be the most current in terms of new releases. If you prefer, you can also watch Live TV from a selection of global channels.
As we began our descent, I headed back to Seat 10K for the window views. The French countryside looked gorgeous under the sunlight, giving me a much-needed reminder that there was still so much of the world to see after the pandemic passes us by.
For now, our aircraft made an early landing into Paris, although we still had to wait on the tarmac for an eternity at the fairly chaotic airport that is Charles de Gaulle.
My hopes of enjoying a relaxed layover at the airport were pretty much dashed, and I had to disembark very hurriedly in order to pass through security and make the connection onto my Air France flight bound for Toronto.
Business class on the Etihad Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner can be described as solid and satisfying, if not quite spectacular.
The Business Studio staggered seat offers a pleasant enough experience if you can secure a forward-facing seat by the windows or in the middle with more privacy.
However, having been introduced in 2014, the Business Studio isn’t necessarily the most cutting-edge hard product, and some travellers may find it a little narrow for their liking. For travelling to and from the Middle East, I’d easily pick Qatar Airways Qsuites as the business class seat of choice above the Etihad Business Studio.
On the other hand, where Etihad does excel is the onboard food and drink, as well as the polished level of service that their crew consistently achieves, both of which were well-evidenced on this flight.
Combine that with the fact that Etihad Airways is easily bookable as an Aeroplan partner – whether it’s 45,000 points in business class to Europe or 85,000 points in business class to North America – and I think the Etihad Business Studio is a product that many of us will enjoy getting familiar with as travel resumes over the upcoming few years.