Executive Traveller exclusive
Etihad Airways has a new flagship in the Airbus A350-1000 – and in turn, this sleek modern jetliner sports a new flagship business class for the Gulf carrier.
The spacious and well-appointed Business Studio suites are what Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas considers a “business plus” product, thanks to upmarket traits such as sliding privacy doors.
“We’ve deliberately not put a first class product in the conventional sense in the A350,” Douglas tells Executive Traveller.
“Instead, we’ve gone for what I described as being ‘business plus’… it’s beautifully designed and very functional, and I suspect some people would be forgiven for thinking it’s actually a first class product.”
The seats are at once familiar – they use the same Super Diamond platform from seat maker Collins Aerospace as British Airways’ latest Club Suite business class – and thanks to some bespoke on-brand flourishes they also look very Etihad.
Yet they’re clearly a leap – or maybe a long, confident suited-and-booted stride – from the original ‘forwards-backwards’ Business Studio launched in 2018 on Etihad’s Airbus A380s and Boeing 787s.
“Products have evolved, like they do in all sectors, so there was opportunity that presented a step-change in the way we gave functionality and comfort and space to our guests,” Douglas reflects.
Introducing Etihad’s A350 Business Studio suite
Whereas the first-gen Business Studio layout sees every second row of seats facing backwards, every passenger on the A350 faces forward – and of course, the 1-2-1 layout means every passenger continues to enjoy direct access to the aisle.
The window seats are oriented towards the window (great news for cloud-gazers and those who enjoy the view).
The paired middle seats are angled towards one another, with a sliding privacy screen which can be opened for sociability if you’re travelling with a partner (you’ll be able to see and chat with one another without having to lean too far forward or back) or kept closed if you’re flying solo.
Every Etihad A350 Business Studio suite has its own sliding door at the same height of the suite itself – around 45 inches (115cm) tall.
That’s enough to give you a modicum of privacy and a sense of real seclusion without making you feel too hemmed in, especially as every seats is angled away from the door.
However, anybody walking along the aisle – be they crew or passenger – will still be able to see into your suite; and while a closed door should clearly signal a desire for solitude, there’s no Do Not Disturb indicator on the outside so the crew knows to leave you alone, especially if you’re trying to sleep.
The seat itself is just over 20 inches (51cm) wide, very comfortable and flanked by leather-clad armrests in the same dark chocolate brown as the leather headrest.
In fully-flat bed mode, the seat stretches out to 79 inches (2 metres), with your feet tucking into a decently-sized cubby beneath the video screen; in sleep mode, the Business Studio suite is dressed with a duvet, but no mattress cover.
A small touchscreen panel just ahead of one armrest adjusts the seat and includes three quick presets for takeoff/landing, a reclined ‘lazy Z’ lounge mode and the fully flat sleeping position.
(We also noticed a slight incline in what would usually be considered the ‘upright’ position, which is immediately more relaxing than actually sitting bolt upright.)
The tray table extends from under the generous 18.5” HD video screen (with audio beamed over Bluetooth to your own wireless headphones or earbuds) and is large enough to easily accommodate a 17-inch laptop.
The table can also be partially retracted, making it easier to get in and out of the seat without pushing the table all the way back (a useful feature during the meal service or after you’ve got your laptop connected and set up).
The marble-effect shelf next to each seat contains two sections which flip open to provide handy space for passengers to stow items such as reading glasses, a passport wallet and other small odds and ends.
Finally, a tall LED lamp mounted on a side-panel above the shelf serves as illumination around the suite (there’s a seperate, dedicated LED reading lamp just above your shoulder) while also lending its gentle tessellated pattern to the general ambience of the cabin.
in turn, the entire business class cabin feels spacious and open, with Etihad opting to have Airbus remove the luggage bins above the middle seats (don’t worry, the side bins are large enough for everyone’s carry-on) to further emphasise the A350’s cavernous room-like interior.
An AC power socket is concealed in the largest recess of the side shelf (which also houses the controller for the inflight entertainment system); a slight gap between the lid and the surrounding panel lets you run cables out to your laptop, smartphone or tablet while they’re in use, yet close the hatch without pinching or snagging the cord, so that the entire surface of the table remains useful.
Curiously, the USB sockets – in both classic USB-A and the latest USB-C sizes – are tucked away out of sight, above a small pocket near the front of the seat.
Yes, all the way down there where the safety card lives.
This makes them hard to find and difficult to plug into – you need to lean forward and crane your neck around.
It’s a usability shortcoming made more noticeable by the fact that everything else about the Business Studio suites seems so carefully considered.
But there is a reason for this: an Etihad Airways product manager tells Executive Traveller the two high-power USB ports generated more heat than could be safely contained in the same small enclosed area where the AC socket lives.
There’s also wireless charging: just plonk your smartphone or earbuds onto the suitably-marked charging spot in front of that shelf and they’ll juice up sans cables.
Need to get some work done during your flight, or just want to stay in touch with friends on the ground? Etihad’s A350 offers the following WiFi packages:
- Chat (20MB): US$2
- One hour (100MB): US$7
- Six hours (200MB): US$16
- 24 hours (350MB): US$30
(Etihad Guest frequent flyers receive a discount from 10% for Bronze status to 75% for Gold and 100% – yes, free access – for Guest Platinum.)
Except for Chat, all of Etihad’s WiFi packages have both time and data limits, with the data caps especially meagre and ill-matched to the time you’d spend online.
There’s also no complimentary WiFi package or pricing discount for business class travellers, who we feel should be entitled to at least one-hour of free access.
Etihad’s A350 business class seat map
All 44 seats in Etihad’s A350 business class are located in the same stretch of cabin, across 11 rows.
Seat numbering begins at row 5, with bassinet mounting positions in front of seats 5A and 5K.
Thankfully, there are no window seats without a window – on some aircraft, instead of a window there’s just a blank slab of panelling where two sections of the fuselage are joined together.
But if you’re looking for the beat business class seat on Etihad’s A350, it’s going to be any in the row 5, where the extra space between the seat and the bulkhead wall at the front of the cabin provides a little more room to stretch out.
Etihad’s A350 routes
Across April and June 2022, Etihad’s Airbus A350s will fly to a number of short- and medium-range destinations such as Istanbul, Jeddah, Cairo, Delhi and Mumbai.
From July, all five will be swung onto premium long-range routes to Chicago and New York.
Etihad chief Tony Douglas expects the first five A350-1000s to be kept busy “as we increase the number of aircraft this year (on) thick routes for us, which is Indian subcontinent and North America.”
A range of other destinations in Europe Asia and Australia are also the map, but will rely on deliveries of the next seven jets from Etihad’s initial firm order of 12 (Douglas holds options for another eight A350s in his pocket).
“It probably won’t be long before you’ll see Etihad livery on A350s in many key European destinations as well as destinations in Asia and Australia, with a fleet of 12 and probably building after that,” Douglas tells Executive Traveller. “They’re going to get out and about!”
But getting the A350 fleet to that even dozen will depend entirely on Etihad’s availability to fill its seats.
“We’re only going to accept the orders into the fleet at the point in time where the demand is actually there… we’ve a notion to get some of them in next year, but if the demand’s not there, we’re not going to put them in.”
The author travelled as a guest of Etihad Airways.