I tried economy class on Etihad, the airline famous for its $23,000 apartment-in-the-sky ticket, and I was surprised to find it wasn't anything special

EtihadA320 9Shutterstock

  • Etihad Airways is the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, operating in 75 destinations all over the world.
  • Though the airline is only 15 years old, it has built a stellar reputation due primarily to its long-haul flights on new planes like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A380 superjumbo.
  • It is also well-known for its extravagant business and first-class offerings, like The Residence, a $23,000 ticket that comes with a literal apartment-in-the-sky.
  • With Gulf airlines like Etihad, Emirates, and others becoming more popular, I decided to try out Etihad on a recent flight from Abu Dhabi to Cairo. I was curious whether Etihad's reputation would hold up in economy-class on a non-long haul.
Gone are the golden days of PanAm, American Airlines, and the like. If you want to fly the best in 2018, your best bet is an international flag carrier - i.e. an airline owned or previously owned by a government, usually one from the Middle East or Asia.

Consumer aviation website Skytrax's list of top airlines in the world is dominated by flag carriers like Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Emirates Airlines, and Cathay Pacific, among others.

Coming in at #15 on the list is an airline that I've heard tons of about: Etihad Airways, the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates.

Read More: I flew 13 hours nonstop on the $446 million Airbus superjumbo jet and it's about as good as economy can get

Etihad has made a lot of noise over the years due to its ultra-modern fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A380 superjumbos and its extravagant first and business class offerings on long-haul flights. Those offerings include Business Studio, which comes with a massaging lie-flat bed, 18.5-inch touchscreen, and a lounge to hang out in, and The Residence, a $23,000 ticket that comes with a literal apartment in the sky.

But, let's be real: I'm not flying any of that.

As a regular joe - albeit one who travels quite often - I was curious how Etihad would hold up in economy class. I got my chance recently when booking a flight from Abu Dhabi, Etihad's hub, to Cairo, Egypt.

While I won't say Etihad was bad, it certainly wasn't anything out of the ordinary.

Read on to see what I thought of my flight on Etihad Airways, departing from Abu Dhabi International Airport to Cairo International Airport, operated on an Airbus A320.

{{}}

View As: One Page Slides

The UAE is a bit unique in that it has two flag carriers: Emirates for Dubai and Etihad for Abu Dhabi. Since I had an itch to try out Etihad Airlines, I had to drive an hour to Abu Dhabi International Airport.

The UAE is a bit unique in that it has two flag carriers: Emirates for Dubai and Etihad for Abu Dhabi. Since I had an itch to try out Etihad Airlines, I had to drive an hour to Abu Dhabi International Airport.

While a handful of Asian and Middle Eastern airlines operate out of Abu Dhabi's airport, it is dominated by Etihad Airways. Terminal 3, where my flight was leaving from, is the newest terminal and almost exclusively Etihad flights.

While a handful of Asian and Middle Eastern airlines operate out of Abu Dhabi's airport, it is dominated by Etihad Airways. Terminal 3, where my flight was leaving from, is the newest terminal and almost exclusively Etihad flights.

There's a giant sign on the side of the building to remind you which airline is boss here. I can't say that I saw signs for any other airline.

There's a giant sign on the side of the building to remind you which airline is boss here. I can't say that I saw signs for any other airline.

Unfortunately, I was unable to check in online because Etihad wanted to see my credit card and ID at the information desk to protect against fraud. A bit annoying, but better safe than sorry, I guess.

Unfortunately, I was unable to check in online because Etihad wanted to see my credit card and ID at the information desk to protect against fraud. A bit annoying, but better safe than sorry, I guess.

Etihad had its own dedicated check-in area with at least ten desks. It made the check-in process super fast.

Etihad had its own dedicated check-in area with at least ten desks. It made the check-in process super fast.

The best part about flying Etihad is the free checked baggage. Each person gets a minimum of 50 pounds weight allowance, depending on the flight. My flight to Egypt allowed a whopping 88 pounds of weight.

The best part about flying Etihad is the free checked baggage. Each person gets a minimum of 50 pounds weight allowance, depending on the flight. My flight to Egypt allowed a whopping 88 pounds of weight.

Source: Etihad Airways

Before going through security, I had to stop at the security desk to have my irises scanned. Apparently, it's mandatory for anyone flying through Abu Dhabi.

Before going through security, I had to stop at the security desk to have my irises scanned. Apparently, it's mandatory for anyone flying through Abu Dhabi.

The one benefit is that the security screening line uses a "Smart Travel" completely automated system for scanning your passport, face, and eyes. It's a little creepy in a dystopian sort of way, but it means a lot more time to browse the duty free section ...

The one benefit is that the security screening line uses a "Smart Travel" completely automated system for scanning your passport, face, and eyes. It's a little creepy in a dystopian sort of way, but it means a lot more time to browse the duty free section ...

Source: The National

... Or hang out in the lounges. I got to the airport a couple hours early so I could make use of my Priority Pass subscription and stuff my cheeks with free food like a squirrel getting ready for winter.

... Or hang out in the lounges. I got to the airport a couple hours early so I could make use of my Priority Pass subscription and stuff my cheeks with free food like a squirrel getting ready for winter.

Unfortunately, there are only Etihad lounges in Terminal 3, which require first or business class tickets (womp). The Priority Pass-accessible lounge was all the way in Terminal 1.

Unfortunately, there are only Etihad lounges in Terminal 3, which require first or business class tickets (womp). The Priority Pass-accessible lounge was all the way in Terminal 1.

At least it gave me a chance to take a look at all the airplanes on the tarmac.

At least it gave me a chance to take a look at all the airplanes on the tarmac.

The central rotunda of Terminal 1 is pretty striking with its colorful honeycomb design. Terminal 3 may be newer, but it's much more cramped.

The central rotunda of Terminal 1 is pretty striking with its colorful honeycomb design. Terminal 3 may be newer, but it's much more cramped.

When I say it was a long walk, I'm not kidding. It was easily 20 minutes to the Al Reem Lounge, the one accessible by Priority Pass. By the time I got there and ate a few bites, it was time to head back.

When I say it was a long walk, I'm not kidding. It was easily 20 minutes to the Al Reem Lounge, the one accessible by Priority Pass. By the time I got there and ate a few bites, it was time to head back.

I should've left more time. My gate was much farther than I thought. The airport really spreads out its gates to the point where it's a block or more from Gate 51 to Gate 52. At a certain point, I was sprinting along the travelator to make it on time.

I should've left more time. My gate was much farther than I thought. The airport really spreads out its gates to the point where it's a block or more from Gate 51 to Gate 52. At a certain point, I was sprinting along the travelator to make it on time.

I barely made it. The entire flight was boarded by the time I got to the gate. The flight attendants were doing last call. I got on the final bus to the plane.

I barely made it. The entire flight was boarded by the time I got to the gate. The flight attendants were doing last call. I got on the final bus to the plane.

There it is, my chariot: the Airbus A320. In contrast to the Airbus A380, the largest and most expensive commercial airliner in history, the A320 is a pipsqueak. It holds 236 passengers, compared to as many as 800 passengers on the A380.

There it is, my chariot: the Airbus A320. In contrast to the Airbus A380, the largest and most expensive commercial airliner in history, the A320 is a pipsqueak. It holds 236 passengers, compared to as many as 800 passengers on the A380.

When the weather is nice, there's nothing quite like boarding an airplane via the airstairs. It makes feel a bit like the president or a visiting dignitary.

When the weather is nice, there's nothing quite like boarding an airplane via the airstairs. It makes feel a bit like the president or a visiting dignitary.

As I got onboard the flight attendants helpfully told me where my seat was.

As I got onboard the flight attendants helpfully told me where my seat was.

Though Etihad is best known for its fleet of 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A380s, those planes are mostly deployed on long-haul flights and only account for 30 of its 105 planes. Its most used plane is actually the A320, of which they have 32.

Though Etihad is best known for its fleet of 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A380s, those planes are mostly deployed on long-haul flights and only account for 30 of its 105 planes. Its most used plane is actually the A320, of which they have 32.

Source: Etihad Airways

The A320 is a smallish plane, on par with a Boeing 737. That's not coincidental. The A320 is the second-best-selling airline of all time, trailing only the 737. The two compete for the same business.

The A320 is a smallish plane, on par with a Boeing 737. That's not coincidental. The A320 is the second-best-selling airline of all time, trailing only the 737. The two compete for the same business.

Read More: The amazing story of how the Airbus A320 family became the Boeing 737's greatest enemy

There was more than enough overhead space to store my backpack. It wasn't anywhere near full — one of the benefits of not taking a long-haul flight.

There was more than enough overhead space to store my backpack. It wasn't anywhere near full — one of the benefits of not taking a long-haul flight.

Leg room was unspectacular. Economy seats on A320 have 18.1 inches of width. I can imagine if you are tall — I am only 5'8" — this could be a problem. The 32 inches of pitch isn't much, either. And as you can probably see from the seat back, the plane was a bit worn.

Leg room was unspectacular. Economy seats on A320 have 18.1 inches of width. I can imagine if you are tall — I am only 5'8" — this could be a problem. The 32 inches of pitch isn't much, either. And as you can probably see from the seat back, the plane was a bit worn.

Source: SeatGuru

While not ancient, the seat-back entertainment systems aren't exactly new, either. Etihad's A320s are between three and 11 years old. Perhaps I got one of the older models, but the plane looked older than a decade.

While not ancient, the seat-back entertainment systems aren't exactly new, either. Etihad's A320s are between three and 11 years old. Perhaps I got one of the older models, but the plane looked older than a decade.

Source: Planespotters

The worst part about an aged entertainment system like this one is how fuzzy and washed out the picture is. You can get an idea of what I'm talking about from the safety video.

The worst part about an aged entertainment system like this one is how fuzzy and washed out the picture is. You can get an idea of what I'm talking about from the safety video.

And then it was time for takeoff! Once you get above Abu Dhabi, there's a not a whole lot to see. Just desert and highways for miles. It is the Gulf, after all.

And then it was time for takeoff! Once you get above Abu Dhabi, there's a not a whole lot to see. Just desert and highways for miles. It is the Gulf, after all.

A cool feature of the entertainment system is the flight cam. At any point during the flight, you can turn on the flight cam and get a birds-eye view of what's happening below. It feels a bit like being in a spy plane.

A cool feature of the entertainment system is the flight cam. At any point during the flight, you can turn on the flight cam and get a birds-eye view of what's happening below. It feels a bit like being in a spy plane.

After a little while, the flight attendants came around with complimentary headphones. They were single-pronged, which was great because now I have an extra pair of headphones for my travels.

After a little while, the flight attendants came around with complimentary headphones. They were single-pronged, which was great because now I have an extra pair of headphones for my travels.

Then they came by with beverage service. I really appreciated that they came around with beverages before meal time, after meal time, and then a third time. It makes a big difference when you don't have to ration your water intake.

Then they came by with beverage service. I really appreciated that they came around with beverages before meal time, after meal time, and then a third time. It makes a big difference when you don't have to ration your water intake.

Another perk of a half-empty flight? Entire rows that are yours for the taking. The other passengers didn't seem to care about the open seats, so I moved up and snagged this row to myself. It was only a four-hour flight, but it was nice to stretch out.

Another perk of a half-empty flight? Entire rows that are yours for the taking. The other passengers didn't seem to care about the open seats, so I moved up and snagged this row to myself. It was only a four-hour flight, but it was nice to stretch out.

I took a peek into business class. On other flag carriers, first and business class often look like a different planet entirely, with specialized pods and giant screens. It's likely it was because it was a short-distance flight, but business class didn't look like anything special. Just slightly bigger seats.

I took a peek into business class. On other flag carriers, first and business class often look like a different planet entirely, with specialized pods and giant screens. It's likely it was because it was a short-distance flight, but business class didn't look like anything special. Just slightly bigger seats.

Etihad offers paid Wi-Fi on the flight. But I decided to skip it. I paid for Wi-Fi on my Emirates flight to the UAE and it was so slow as to be unusable. I could wait the four hours to check the 'Gram.

Etihad offers paid Wi-Fi on the flight. But I decided to skip it. I paid for Wi-Fi on my Emirates flight to the UAE and it was so slow as to be unusable. I could wait the four hours to check the 'Gram.

Then came lunch. These days, a meal is unheard-of on a four-hour flight with an American airline. Not so with the flag carriers. It's still the good old days of mashed potatoes, chicken in some curry sauce, and soggy veggies. Hey, I'm not complaining.

Then came lunch. These days, a meal is unheard-of on a four-hour flight with an American airline. Not so with the flag carriers. It's still the good old days of mashed potatoes, chicken in some curry sauce, and soggy veggies. Hey, I'm not complaining.

I have to note both Etihad and its sister airline Emirates give out metal silverware. It's a much better experience than fumbling with plastic knives.

I have to note both Etihad and its sister airline Emirates give out metal silverware. It's a much better experience than fumbling with plastic knives.

The chicken was surprisingly hot without being dried out. The sauce was richly seasoned and went well with the mashed potatoes — particularly if you mixed it all together.

The chicken was surprisingly hot without being dried out. The sauce was richly seasoned and went well with the mashed potatoes — particularly if you mixed it all together.

The side salad is where the meal really shined. They gave us pita to go with a healthy dollop of hummus, pickles, and tabbouleh salad (I think). It was very refreshing.

The side salad is where the meal really shined. They gave us pita to go with a healthy dollop of hummus, pickles, and tabbouleh salad (I think). It was very refreshing.

After eating, I had a browse through the entertainment selection. It was a far cry from the spiffy Android-powered tablets you see as seat-back entertainment in the newest planes, but it was good enough.

After eating, I had a browse through the entertainment selection. It was a far cry from the spiffy Android-powered tablets you see as seat-back entertainment in the newest planes, but it was good enough.

There was a wide selection of both new blockbusters and old favorites. I hadn't seen "Ant-Man and the Wasp," so I gave it a spin for a little while.

There was a wide selection of both new blockbusters and old favorites. I hadn't seen "Ant-Man and the Wasp," so I gave it a spin for a little while.

The magazines behind the seat included Etihad's in-flight magazine. This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founding Father of the UAE. There are signs about "The Year of Zayed" everywhere in Dubai and Abu Dhabi right now.

The magazines behind the seat included Etihad's in-flight magazine. This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founding Father of the UAE. There are signs about "The Year of Zayed" everywhere in Dubai and Abu Dhabi right now.

A little while after the meal, the flight attendant came around to take duty-free orders from the magazine selling duty-free wares. I never buy anything like that in the air. I always wonder: does anyone?

A little while after the meal, the flight attendant came around to take duty-free orders from the magazine selling duty-free wares. I never buy anything like that in the air. I always wonder: does anyone?

I'm sure you spotted it in the previous photos, but I saved this red velvet cake to eat while I watched "Ant-Man." Nothing like a tasty treat during a movie.

I'm sure you spotted it in the previous photos, but I saved this red velvet cake to eat while I watched "Ant-Man." Nothing like a tasty treat during a movie.

Before I knew it, we were landing in Cairo. After taking a gauntlet of 12-hour flights in the last year, four hours was a piece of cake. Plus, I got to watch the plane taxi on the flight cam.

Before I knew it, we were landing in Cairo. After taking a gauntlet of 12-hour flights in the last year, four hours was a piece of cake. Plus, I got to watch the plane taxi on the flight cam.

So what did I think of Etihad's economy-class experience? Overall, my experience with Etihad and the A320 was solid, if unspectacular.

So what did I think of Etihad's economy-class experience? Overall, my experience with Etihad and the A320 was solid, if unspectacular.

While one of the best-selling planes of all-time, the Airbus A320 is starting to show its age. At least when it comes to Etihad's fleet.

The seats were dated and worn and the leg room was nothing to write home about. It wasn't cramped, but wasn't roomy by any stretch. Thankfully, the plane itself was barely half full, which meant I could take a whole row to myself.

The entertainment system was also aged. While there were plenty of movie options to choose from, the screen was fuzzy and hard to watch during a daytime flight. I didn't end up finishing "Ant-Man" because the screen was annoying me. Also, whenever you try to press selections on an older touchscreen like that, you have have to press so hard that you end up annoying the passenger in front of you whose head rest you're poking.

It's time to give the plane a refurbishment.

The food was decent, but definitely not the best I've had on an airplane. (That still goes to Japan Airlines, which gave meal after meal of tasty, fresh Japanese food.) But, in an age where airlines are constantly cutting costs, I have to credit Etihad for giving passengers a full-meal (with a delicious cake!) on a four-hour flight. That doesn't happen often these days.

The flight attendants were very friendly, always willing to help, and they came around often to offer coffee or water.

All that said, I would definitely fly Etihad again. It just comes down to price. It was a solid experience that was competitive with mid-tier and higher airlines, but it does feel like the airline probably puts most of its efforts towards the flashier long-haul flights on Airbus A380s. I imagine that's a completely different experience.

That may be changing soon. Etihad announced in June that it will begin using Boeing 787 Dreamliners on the Abu Dhabi-Cairo route. I wonder how long it will be until they phase out the rest of the A320s.

Subscribe to whatsappSubscribe to whatsapp
Add Comment()
Comments ()
X
Sort By:
Be the first one to comment.
We have sent you a verification email. This comment will be published once verification is done.