An Air Etihad review of our economy class, long-haul flight from Johannesburg in South Africa to London Heathrow in England via Abu Dhabi flying with children aged 9, 7 and under 2.
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Summary of Content
- Flight Information
- General Information
- Information For Families
- The World’s Top 10 Airlines (Skytrax 2017)
First Leg: Airbus A330-200
Johannesburg, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE
The A330’s origin dates to the mid-1970’s and was introduced into passenger travel in 1994. The A330-200 was introduced to the air in 1998. This must be the one we got on our first leg. It was OLD!
The chairs were uncomfortable and could not recline without someone pushing from the back and us pushing from the front. Good thing we had an off-duty flight attendant comfortably stretched out over five seats behind us to offer a hand. We found the A330-200 small and cramped compared to the Airbus A380.
We lost count of how many times the trolly bumped into Brendan’s knee when food-service started. The family seats were right by the noisy kitchen and busy toilets. None of these things were an issue on the newer and much larger Airbus A380 we got on the second leg of our journey.
As of June 2017, the Airbus A330 had been involved in 28 major aviation occurrences, including 11 confirmed hull-loss accidents and two hijackings, for a total of 339 fatalities.
For more about our experience on our long-haul flight from South Africa to England via Abu Dhabi, read Why we regret flying long haul with a lap toddler.
Second Leg: New Airbus A380
Abu Dhabi to London, Heathrow
Introduced in 2007, the Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger airliner, and the airports at which it operates have upgraded facilities to accommodate it. The A380 has been involved in two aviation occurrences and no hull-loss accidents with no fatalities as of October 2017. (Source: Wikipedia)
The Economy Smart Seat had a unique headrest that provides a shoulder to lean on and adjustable back support for a more comfortable flight. The seat offers generous legroom and reclines at the push of a button. More space meant less knee bashing and more sleep for Brendan. In Economy Class, you get full-sized fleece blankets and comfortable pillows. Everything just felt better on this plane. Even the service and attitude of the flight attendants were different.
Information for Families
On connecting flights, such as ours from JHB – Abu Dhabi – LON Heathrow, your Strollers will not be available for use at the stopover airport. Guests arriving at Abu Dhabi can use one of their complimentary strollers, which are available in the terminal, close to the gate. They’re bright orange in colour, so you can’t miss them. We were grateful for the complimentary stroller as we grabbed the last one.
Bassinets must be pre-ordered and are available for babies up to 10 months or 10kg only.
You will get a choice of three main courses, including a vegetarian option on long-haul flights. Though it wasn’t outstanding, we can’t complain about the food. Sample menus are available on Etihad’s website.
Infants meals must be pre-ordered. A limited supply of baby food is available on request from the crew. Pack your own food for your baby. Baby milk and food can be warmed up on board.
Kids meals must also be ordered in advance. However, we didn’t even think about this and it turned out just fine. They were brought out before the adult meals by the Flying Nannies.
Kids Activity Packs
You don’t need to pack extra crayons and colouring books. The children each get a standard activity pack with crayons, colouring pages and activities from the Flying Nanny. Nothing spectacular, but it distracts them for a little while. I keep and re-use the bags to organise and sort the chaos in my handbag.
Flying Nanny Service
Etihad provides a “Flying Nanny” service approved by Norland College on board long-haul flights to help parents settle younger children. They are easily identified by their yellow aprons.
Every Flying Nanny has a goody bag of games, arts and crafts to keep little ones busy. And whilst they can’t carry your child or take them to the bathroom, they help make the flight a little easier for families. They also have a fun-packed kit of face paints, pompoms, straws, stamps, glue, card and everything your child needs to get creative on board.
That sounds wonderful in theory. In reality, the nanny on our flight came out to give the children the standard activity packs, to ask them what they want to eat and to serve their meals. Those were the only times we saw her.
We did not know who she was or that she had a “special” job until after our flight. There was no introduction or other interaction from her. Perhaps she thought it wasn’t needed, but asking if everyone is ok or if there is anything she could do to help now and then would not hurt. During busy mealtimes with plates and rubbish quickly accumulating in the family sections, she could be around to give a hand, especially if one child is fast asleep on your lap. Merely suggestions.
The Flying Nanny is a great idea and Etihad should be applauded for introducing an innovative service to help families enjoy the flight more. However, more interaction is required from the nanny, not only at mealtimes, to make it a relevant value-added service. Good-on-you for trying though.
Etihad was number eight on the Skytrax 2017 best airline list and six for in-flight entertainment. It uses its E-Box system to offer global movies, blockbuster and classic films, a large selection of television programming, including the ability to create video playlists, all with multiple language tracks and subtitles. On select flights, there’s also live news and sporting events. Under audio, passengers have access to more than 500 CDs in the music library where they can create personal playlists. The system also offers access to more than 60 Android-based games. The airline also offers Wi-Fi access on select aircraft.
Having your own smaller sized headphones for younger kiddies is not essential, but comes in handy because the headsets available onboard do not fit their little heads. They were useless to our toddler.
The flip-up TV screens in the family seats on the old A330-200 were unstable and fell back down easily if not placed firmly in one upright position. I gave up trying to keep it in position with Kate in my lap after a few attempts.
The screens on the new Airbus A380 were perfect and stayed put even at odd angles, allowing me to manoeuvre children, drinks and food on my lap without a hitch.
Abu Dhabi Airport
Abu Dhabi is small and rather plain compared to Doha and Dubai airports. Passenger reviews on Skytrax rate it 4/10 with queueing time, seating and air conditioning outside the lounges being an issue.
There are play areas in the premier and first class lounges. Premium Class passengers can enjoy dedicated Family Rooms equipped with entertainment where qualified nannies can watch over them. Terminal 1 is visibly older than terminal 3 and it may be worth your while to check into one of the lounges if you have a longer layover. There are not many cafes and shops around the gate areas.
Once it is time to board your flight, families with young children will be called first for pre-boarding, giving you some extra time to get settled onboard.
Overall the 16hr flight was made difficult by the rather uncomfortable 8hrs we spent on the old A330-200. Etihad, maybe it’s time to retire that old plane? We will fly with Air Etihad again, but only if it’s a direct flight on the new Airbus A380 all the way.
Skytrax: The World’s Top 10 Airlines of 2017
- Qatar Airways
- Singapore Airlines
- ANA All Nippon Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- EVA Air
- Etihad Airways
- Hainan Airlines
- Garuda Indonesia
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