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With arduous airport queues, the looming threat of strikes and endless cancellations – not to mention sky-high tickets prices, you’d be forgiven for all but giving up on escaping the Australian winter for sunnier shores.
Years of border closures have also had a lasting effect on Australians’ attitudes towards overseas trips, with many having discovered the joys of a staycation in their own diverse, huge and environmentally stunning backyard.
In fact, Australia had more international arrivals in January than it did departures.
But with tourists, backpackers and new workers arriving on masse, including 350,000 more migrants this year alone, Australian holiday destinations and domestic flights are rocketing in price.
Flights from Sydney to Melbourne, once the world’s most travelled route, are $600 on average for the upcoming Easter weekend – all for a simple 90 minute flight.
Meanwhile, flights in Etihad’s sale can see Aussies hit the streets of London for $1,829.
Etihad is one of several Middle Eastern airlines offering seamless travel across the world (pictured, its business class suites)
A round-trip to the pyramids in Cairo with the Abu Dhabi-based airline starts at $2,599, Beirut for $1,839 and Mumbai for $1,189.
20kg check-in baggage is standard for Europe, plus 7kg cabin baggage – saving passengers paying an extra $150 for the pleasure of bringing clothes on their holiday, something all too familiar with domestic carriers.
Etihad operates one-stop flights, via its home in Abu Dhabi, out of both Sydney and Melbourne – with stopovers as short as a couple of hours.
Emirates offers similar routes at competitive prices, as do Singapore Airlines – consistently voted one of the best airlines in the world.
Thai Airways also operate flights out of Australia to Europe via Bangkok, with a generous 35kg baggage allowance coming as standard – not to mention delicious Thai meals.
So here’s what it’s really like to fly more than 24 hours across the world with Etihad.
An uptick in the number of people finally getting back in the air, combined with flailing staffing numbers and a bumper crop of workers off sick, has seen chaotic scenes at airports across the world for the last year.
Flying back to the UK for the first time since I moved to Sydney in November 2019 was, suffice to say, a big deal, and arriving stressed and frazzled wasn’t something on my 10 day agenda.
With this in mind, I opted for as fuss-free an experience as possible and looked no further than Abu-Dhabi based airline, Etihad.
The combination of 5-star service mixed with genuinely delicious food, comfortable seating, great entertainment and lounges worth of a day spa is enough to entice anyone away from the standard western airlines.
Etihad’s lounge at London’s Heathrow airport (pictured) is the perfect pitstop before a long flight, with a bar, restaurant and even showers on hand to help tired travellers freshen up
Half-way across the world at Etihad’s home in Abu Dhabi, Alisha was able to relax in a private TV area (pictured left) and even take a shower (right) at the airline’s huge lounge
LAYOVER AND LOUNGES
Laying over for an hour or so in Abu Dhabi was seamless, and only left me wishing I’d organised an overnight stay to explore the city itself.
Disembarking, I followed very clear signs which directed me towards departure gates for ongoing travel – no passport control, no Covid dramas and not a queue in sight.
A quick and organised carry-on bag scan was all that was needed.
Abu Dhabi airport itself was clean, calm and seamlessly organised, the perfect stopover to stretch your legs before beginning the European segment of the trip.
Those in first class can opt for the 24/7 First Lounge, with traditional Middle Eastern dishes on offer, drinks from the airline’s second-to-none cellar – and even cigars, if you’re so inclined.
For those wanting a healthier stopover, there’s also a fitness centre, showers – of course, and a relax and recline room.
The huge lounge in Abu Dhabi (pictured, left) boasts a dizzying array of gourmet treats, while the more modest lounge in Sydney (right) has lots of space to relax
The Etihad lounge at Abu Dhabi airport (pictured, left) had a huge number of seats for weary passengers, with a fully stocked bar and well as hot and cold dishes, including a tasty palak paneer (right)
The Business Class lounge is available for anyone flying business class, with healthy breakfasts, restaurant-worthy curries and complimentary champagne on offer.
It boasted individual pods where passengers could relax in peace and quiet, as well as access to computers and TVs with live news from around the world.
Getting back on another plane was equally seamless, with an army of helpful staff on hand to help older, anxious or disabled passengers – something sadly missing at most European and North American destinations.
I landed in London on time, relaxed and well fed – with my bags safely in tow, something which can’t be said for a lot of western competitors.
The lounges in both Sydney and London were of a similarly high quality, with lots of comfy seats, family and prayer rooms, and hearty meals – all, crucially, within a five minute walk of the airline’s gates.
The London lounge even boasts a sit-down restaurant with a specifically curated menu, offering a true dining experience all while you wait for your flight.
The food at the Heathrow lounge includes a buffet with dishes like a homemade tomato soup, steamed broccoli and focaccia (pictured, left), as well as a full sit-down restaurant. In Abu Dhabi, you can even enjoy some home comforts – like hash browns and eggs (right)
Alisha flew on two planes from Sydney to London – a Boeing 747 and an Airbus A380
Checking in was effortless, with plenty of staff on hand manning the desks to ensure I didn’t spend more time hanging around departures than necessary.
With an abundant number of helpful staff on call, I sailed through security in no time at all at both Sydney and London, thanks to the special – and far smaller – queue for business class passengers.
Flying from Sydney to Abu Dhabi takes around 14 hours on a Boeing 777, which is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a night flight – with dinner as you take off, a good sleep throughout the flight, and still enough time for a film over breakfast.
While waiting for the rest of the plane to board, crew – and even the cabin manager – welcome you on the flight with a champagne or fresh smoothie, and organise your meal preferences and timings, which can be decided entirely by your own sleep schedule.
Pillows, blankets, socks and an exclusive Aqua Di Parma toiletries bag, full of all the essentials including hand cream, are also provided to ensure a relaxing journey.
Their sleek fleet of cutting-edge Boeing 787s and Airbus A380s made the 28 hours of flying effortless, with next-to-no movement or noise ensuring a sound night’s sleep.
Taking off in planes that size feels like a simple lift, with no turbulence throughout my full 56 hour return trip.
Their size also gives you space to roam, particularly on the Airbus, which helped me to get and move around regularly (as per my physio’s instructions).
Passengers are welcomed onboard by smiling staff, and offered a fresh fruit smoothie or even champagne to settle in. An Aqua Di Parma toiletries bag is also complimentary, with toothpaste, cologne and hand scream
The seats in the centre of the plane offer a little less privacy than the window seats thanks to the 1-2-1 configuration (pictured, left). The seats come with handy storage spaces to put your bags and books – allowing passengers to fully unwind
For those wanting a full private experience, try and score a single seat with a window – you can also choose whether you to want to face forwards or backwards. There is ample leg room to stretch out, with the seats fully reclining to accommodate passengers up to 6ft7″ tall. Blankets, socks and pillows are also provided
Clever seating plans, particularly on the Airbus, offers privacy which makes the space – despite being the same dimensions as the 787 – seem even more luxurious.
The 787 set-up has a 1-2-1 configuration, which means you naturally get less privacy while sitting in the centre – so I’d recommend booking a solo seat if that’s important to your experience, though there is a divider you can pop up.
The seat, with a maximum recline of 6ft7″, offers a better night sleep than many London hotels, with a console to manually adjust it from upright all the way down to flat.
Thanks to a bumper selection of newly-released Hollywood blockbusters and old favourites alike on an 18.5 inch TV, I was entertained between numerous naps and while enjoying the excellent food on offer.
I even had the chance to freshen up, thanks to the complementary Acqua di Parma kits, and keep safe and sanitary by using the health pack – which includes a microbial snood, wipes and sanitiser – a necessity to avoid sickness before your holiday even starts.
The seats are fully adjustable, with passengers able to lay down flat, as well as adjust cushion firmness and seat angle. A handy control panel also allows you to choose a new seat setting instantly (pictured, right)
Alisha (pictured, left, on her Airbus flight from London to Abu Dhabi with Etihad) gives the business class food offering five stars
The dining and drinks menu is truly where Etihad comes into its own.
From the moment you board, when you’re greeted with either champagne, a fresh fruit smoothie, juice and – of course – water, the culinary options quickly become an integral part of the experience.
Staff are on hand to make personalised recommendations, and even suggest wine pairings.
In truth, by the time the homemade apple crumble with crème anglaise came round (with a glass of Australian dessert wine I ‘simply had to try’), I felt certain I had never before eaten so much food in a 28 hour period.
Healthy options were also plentiful, including this breakfast of fresh fruit and granola – with surprisingly good coffee, too
Meals are served with proper crockery on your tray table, which itself is fully adjustable so you can slide it closer or further away from your seat
Healthy and hearty soups were also on offer, served on the airline’s signature black trays on a white tablecloth
As a vegetarian, meals on flights are generally lacklustre, compromising of a measly salad, fruit plate and heated up carb-loaded pasta stodge.
But not with Etihad.
Before takeoff, a staff member takes down your meal preferences and timings, meaning you can fully personalise the flight and your sleep.
The A La Carte menu has four courses, with a nod to Abu Dhabi cuisine throughout as well as western options – compromising of meat, fish and vegetarian.
An added perk is the All Day menu, with a couple of fan favourites including a steak sandwich available whenever you fancy.
The extensive wine list is created by top sommeliers, with a range of sips from around the world available (pictured, left), which is paired with the a la carte menu – featuring fish, meat and vegetarian options, as well as a cheese board
The All Day menu (pictured, left) is on hand any time passengers want, keep any midair hunger pangs at bay. A particular favourite was the Arabic Mezze (right) featuring a range of hot and cold Arabic appetizers – which can also be made vegetarian on request
Alisha’s favourite meal of the trip was the spinach and goats cheese ravioli: with roasted tomato, panna sauce and Gran Moravia cheese, which was full of flavour
My pick of the many, many meals I sampled both on board and in the lounges has to be the spinach and goats cheese ravioli: with roasted tomato, panna sauce and Gran Moravia cheese.
It was delicious, served perfectly warm as though it had just flown off the pass at a restaurant.
With many fellow expats having flown back to the UK since the pandemic drew to a close, my friendship group is awash with horror stories about last minute cancellations, delays, detours, lost luggage and rubbish food.
By flying with Etihad, I managed to dodge all of these problems, and what’s more, arrive in my destinations genuinely refreshed and having enjoyed an experience I would repeat time and time again.
If arriving on time, well fed and well rested is top of your travelling agenda – this may be the airline for you.
ETIHAD BUSINESS CLASS EXAMPLE MENU
A LA CARTE
Arabic mezze: a selection of hot and cold Arabic appetisers
Prawn salad: fennel, orange, asparagus with a redcurrant and tarragon dressing
Pea soup: with lemon and herb ricotta
Roasted chicken breast: with truffle gnocchi, carrot, sautéed spinach and jus
Braised beef cheeks: with celeriac mash, sautéed mushroom, grilled carrots and peppercorn sauce
Prawn biryani: prawns cooked with basmati rice and spices
Spinach and goats cheese ravioli: with roasted tomato, panna sauce and Gran Moravia cheese
Cheese, artisan crackers and fruit
Apple crumble: served warm with crème anglaise
Banoffee pudding: with caramelised banana, strawberries and caramel sauce
Seasonal fresh fruit
Ice cream: a selection of Haagen-Dazs flavours