cruising towards perfection
“We want to be the world’s best airline," says Stephen Mahoney, head of corporate communications Australia and Asia at Etihad Airways, with a hint of determination and confidence. How apt it must have been, considering that Skytrax awarded the national carrier of United Arab Emirates the World’s Best First Class Airlines award this year.
If there were a split second’s doubt as to why Etihad Airways deserved the award, all would have disappeared the minute I boarded the flight at Singapore Changi Airport. I was ushered to the First Class cabin and served a cup of specialty Arabic coffee to go along with a trio of dried dates. The journey from Singapore to Abu Dhabi proved to be nothing short of perfect, my only gripe being that I had an hour less to enjoy the flight due to favourable tail wind conditions.
Of course, nothing beats having the home ground advantage, where the sky’s pretty much the limit. What this translates to is a specially dedicated terminal for Etihad Airways at Abu Dhabi International Airport, which houses its flagship First Class Lounge & Spa.
Resembling a private members’ club, the 1,600sqm First Class Lounge & Spa in Terminal 3 is open round the clock to select guests including by-invitation only members, The Residence guests, and first class passengers on Etihad Airways or partner airlines flying from Abu Dhabi. Of course, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to experience the lounge for myself when the time came for me to return to Singapore.
At the lounge, I’m welcomed by name, and the staff quickly stow my carry-on baggage away until I board my flight.
The space, designed with a modern-Arabic touch, is neatly divided into 16 zones and passengers are encouraged to enjoy the array of complimentary services and facilities provided, including a Style & Shave room, cigar lounge, fitness room with shower facilities, children’s play area, nail parlour and Six Senses Spa.
Most areas are for communal use, but guests of The Residence enjoy the added privacy and exclusivity with their own private lounge. The spacious room located at the far-end of the lounge comes with a sitting and dining area, bathroom with shower, separate prayer room, and services of a Savoy-trained Butler. Meals can be requested in advance.
Where drinks are concerned, you can choose between the showcase bar stocked with more than 75 premium spirits, and the cocktail bar, where bespoke’s the word. Developed in partnership with London-based Fluid Movement, the bar shakes up a storm using ingredients such as rose water spray, candy floss, and dehydrated rhubarb, and presents thirsty travellers with fancy cocktails inspired and named after the airline’s leading destinations. The cigar room also offers whisky pairings to go with top-of-the-range smokes, including unique Etihad-branded Cohibas.
The Relax & Recline area catches my eye and I ease myself into one of the plush Poltona Frau leather recliners and gaze into a seemingly endless galaxy plastered on a video wall made up of 27 screens. While the lounge lacks sleeping pods, you may request for a blanket and pillow and catch a quick shut-eye on the recliner.
While a buffet spread of small bites and finger food is available, the Etihad experience isn’t complete until you’ve had a multi-course fine-dining meal prepared by the head chef, Steve Tuchscherer. Set and ala carte menus include both local and international cuisines, but feel free to swap or request for more of a particular dish. Not sure which to choose? Staff on hand will gladly dish out recommendations based on your preferences, and suggest wine pairings to go with each course.
Ask for Elmar De Beer, food and beverage manager of the lounge if you can — his sincerity in service won me over as he described each dish with a level of enthusiasm and sincerity like no other, and brought about conversations with ease right until I reluctantly departed the lounge for my flight back to Singapore.
The brand is hungry for success, and its relentless pursuit of reimagining flying shows nothing less than what it’s pushing for. Apart from designing each first class cabin in a different colour scheme to provide the excitement of embarking on a new journey each time, it constantly partners the best around the world to bring about a new experience. Most recently, it collaborated with French fashion designer Christian Lacroix and Hungarian skincare brand Omorovicza for its first class amenity kits. The his and hers pouches — a convertible grey flat case for men, and a chic debossed fold-over clutch in plum for the ladies — comes with a dental kit, care and sleep pack (the men’s pack comes with a disposable shaver), along with a separate Omorovicza pouch containing moisturisers from the brand’s Gold collection. Currently available on the A380 flights, it’ll be introduced across all fleets in early next year, with a second set of kits in burgundy and black released at a later date.
And even with constant efforts to bring about new waves of experiences, Etihad Airways understands that its success by and large depends on a network of dedicated staff. And they’ve certainly found the right people. Take for example the crew who brought an uncanny sense of empathy into service by not just meeting my needs, but anticipating my wants — asking if I’d prefer to have the turndown service in the neighbouring cabin so that I could leave my work station as it was, offering a warm beverage before I called it a night, and placing a dry-cleaning bag in the lavatory before I’d even thought about changing into the given set of loungewear. Having that personal human connection that’s warm and soulful perhaps, is the secret to the brand’s winning formula for success.