Etihad 2.0: The Gulf Carrier’s Comeback Is Huge News For Aussie Travellers

The airline is getting its groove back.

Etihad 2.0: The Gulf Carrier’s Comeback Is Huge News For Aussie Travellers

Image: CNTraveller

Etihad 2.0 might be slightly toned down and a little less ostentatious than it once was, but for Australians, it remains one of the best airlines for long-haul flying.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has had its fair share of ups and downs recently. It spent much of the last decade spending like a drunken sailor and much of this decade working off the hangover. But if you’ve flown Etihad in the past year, you’ll know the airline is getting its groove back.

Etihad’s Operations In Australia

Etihad flies out of Sydney and Melbourne to Abu Dhabi every day. The Melbourne flights, currently operated by a B787-9, push back mid-afternoon for a late evening arrival into the Gulf, while the late evening departure out of Abu Dhabi allows for a late afternoon arrival into Melbourne the following day.

The Sydney flights are serviced by bigger B777-300ERs, which head out of Sydney mid-evening for a dawn arrival the following morning. The return flight leaves Abu Dhabi mid-morning for a pre-breakfast arrival in Sydney the next day.

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Both aircraft types offer a two-class product, business and economy. Along with axing flights to Perth and Brisbane, Etihad also ended A380 flights to Australia during the pandemic, ending first class and Residence availability on Australian flights.

While this is a loss to that tiny cohort of travellers who got to fly in those cabins, Etihad’s business class is among the world’s best, and its economy class remains a cut above most competitors. Even without first class, Etihad remains one of the best airlines serving the Australian market.

From Abu Dhabi, Etihad offers onward connections to around 80 cities across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America. The airline lacks the network depth of Qatar Airways and Emirates. Except for Johannesburg, it ignores Africa. Etihad also doesn’t make it to South America or further west in the US than Chicago.

Etihad's B777 business class seat
Etihad’s B777 business class. Image: Etihad

For Australians, Etihad’s strength is its connections to Europe, where it flies into around 25 airports, including the expected top-tier airports, but also smaller airports like Dusseldorf, Malaga, Lisbon, and Santorini. If you’re heading to London, Etihad flies to Heathrow four times a day from Abu Dhabi.

Maximising Your Experience

Regardless of whether you fly business class or economy class, one of the little-known and best benefits of flying Etihad is a free stopover (including hotel) in Abu Dhabi. Like Doha, Abu Dhabi finds it hard to compete with its brash neighbour, Dubai.

But there are things worth seeing in Abu Dhabi – the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the turtle nesting beaches at Saadiyat Island, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi are examples. If your European stopover routine is either trawling Jewel (again) at Changi or doing the dancing fountains (again) at Dubai Mall, it might be time to change things up.

Can’t say fairer than a free night here… Image: CNTraveller

When booking flights directly with Etihad, passengers have the option to add a complimentary stopover and select a hotel as part of the online booking process. Etihad says there are a range of “premier hotels” available across the city. Digging into the details, the hotels are mostly three and four-star but there are several five-star options available, including the Shangri La Qaryat Al Beri, the Dusit Thani, Anantara Eastern Mangroves, Grand Hyatt, and Jannah Burj Al Sarab. 

What’s the catch? Depending on the flight itinerary, up to two free nights can be booked under the offer. It also turns out the five-star hotels, the “premium stopover option,” entail a small cost. The flight must be booked directly with Etihad, not via an online travel agency or other third party Still, it’s not a bad option if you want to break up a long trip.

If you are keen to give the Residence (or the bog standard first class seat) a whirl on the next leg from Abu Dhabi, the A380 is presently flying to London Heathrow and New York JFK only.

Etihad's 'The Residence' first class seat
Whatever your airline allegiances, it’s hard to deny that ‘The Residence’ is the pinnacle of pointy-end travel. Image: Delicious

Etihad isn’t a member of any of the big airline alliances, instead forging bilateral partnerships with many other carriers, including Virgin Australia, whose frequent flyers can theoretically use Velocity points to redeem Etihad flights. However, Etihad has made it very difficult for Velocity members to redeem premium cabin flights, only releasing the seats (if any) 30 days before travel.

If you are paying cash, Etihad is also one of many airlines offering far cheaper flights to Europe out of nearby ports such as Denpasar and Jakarta, compared to Sydney and Melbourne. A business class roundtrip on Etihad between Sydney and London, departing mid-August and returning later that month, currently costs around AUD9,700, or AUD6,100 out of Denpasar, or just AUD4,500 out of Jakarta.

With a bit of legwork, a simple positioning flight can have you enjoying Etihad business class at an affordable fare, and you can throw a couple of nights in Abu Dhabi into the deal for free.