What goes up must come down. Good things don’t last forever.
I am sure there are more metaphors, but I was amazed at how quickly our customer service experience with Etihad Airways soured. At least they waited until our second flight. After attentive customer service while on the ground in Amman, due to some Twitter exchanges, we landed at Etihad’s home base in Abu Dhabi, and things just went south.
Earning and Redeeming Frequent Flier Miles
We spent years collecting the miles we have, and I am a little stingy with how I use them. I only redeem my miles for saver awards, meaning there is less availability, but when the seats are available, it is a steal. Similarly, I only redeem miles for an upperclass award, like business class or first class, on a really good airplane, on a long-haul flight.
When we were figuring out how to get from Kuala Lumpur to London and back using miles for some of the legs and doing stop overs in the Middle East, our flight planning became like a giant logic puzzle. Add in my trip to Dublin for TBEX, and it was a downright nightmare. With miles on American Air, United, US Air, Delta, and British Airways, it became a search for who flies where, with which partners, and how can we book it, and what is the best value for our miles. It’s a little fun to figure it all out, I won’t lie, but can be frustrating nonetheless.
Initially, we planned to fly from Dublin to Istanbul to Amman on Turkish Airlines using our United Air miles, through the Star Alliance partnership. Because it was an awful overnight itinerary, we considered upgrading to Business Class. There were saver seats available at 35,000 miles a person. But, the Turkish Airlines business class on this routing was awful. The first flight hosted its Business Class in the first few rows of economy, but filled the middle seat with a tray table. No thanks. The second leg was only slightly better, more similar to a domestic upgrade on a United flight. Overall, it was not worth the miles. Thus, we booked economy saver awards with United for 17,500 miles a person. Not too bad.
For our flight from Amman back to Asia, we had originally booked with Royal Jordanian in business class using an American Airlines saver award ticket at 30,000 miles. Royal Jordanian has a good reputation, and I researched the seats on this particular flight – lie flat seats, good entertainment. It was worth the miles.
Then, we changed our plans, as we were tired of traveling and were fleeing back to Asia. From the warm comfort of our friend’s house in London we called American Air to find out how they could get us home sooner, while still doing a short stop over in Jordan to see Petra. Through their partnership with Etihad, they offered us business class Amman to Abu Dhabi, then Abu Dhabi to Kuala Lumpur. We did a quick search for the routing, the airplane they used, saw that it was a fancy, fancy business class offering, at least on the long haul to Kuala Lumpur, and we got psyched. I could not wait to experience Etihad’s Pearl Business Class. Their website suggests that you can “discover a style and space like no other in the World’s Best Business Class.” Sign me up. We booked the flight.
Testing Out Etihad Business Class
While at WTM in London, we even saw Etihad proudly display their business class seat. Eric tested it out. Our anticipation was growing. This was definitely a good value miles redemption in my opinion.
Flying Etihad Business Class from Amman
We boarded our first, short flight to Abu Dhabi at 4:30 am. It was a simple seating configuration, which was as expected. We were served a lovely breakfast, a little champagne, and tried to sleep a bit, having spent the night leading up to the flight in the Amman airport Starbucks.
The first class cabin had about 20 seats, which only held Eric and I and one other person. To be clear, though, there were only about 10 people in total on the flight. I’ve never been on such an empty flight. When we arrived in Abu Dhabi, we had a separate, executive bus to drive the three of us “elite” passengers to the terminal. I felt bad. The other ten people had to wait for another bus. Perhaps a bit excessive.
But, that is when our true Etihad business class experience ended.
The airport lounge was small, crowded, and hot. We grabbed a few minutes of wifi and made our way to the gate. When we arrived at the gate, there was a premium line and a general boarding line. We waited on the premium line with two Germans. There was no boarding call. They started boarding people with children. Then, everyone swarmed the general boarding line. It was chaos. They had no idea what they were doing. I wanted to get on board because at this point it was 10 am and I had not slept for over 24 hours. I wanted to close my eyes in my comfy business class seat.
I finally asked the gate agent if there would be priority boarding, or should we join the general boarding line. Finally, he allowed us to board, which meant waiting on the shuttle to take us to the plane while everyone else boarded. It was not a big deal, but was entirely disorganized, much to the dissatisfaction of the orderly Germans. No fancy business class bus here.
Not only was there no fancy bus, but strangely on this day it was pouring rain in Abu Dhabi. And, the shuttle bus that took us to our airplane was leaking water all over the place. We were precariously close to getting wet, and others got soaked. Eric suggested I move my seat just before the bus pulled out, which saved me a dousing. Just what you want before boarding an 8 hour flight – soaking wet clothes.
Boarding Etihad Airways Business Class on Jet Airways
We finally pulled up to the plane and found ourselves confused, more than normal. Instead of an Etihad livery, a Jet Airways airplane greeted us. We were expected to board the Jet Airways flight without a single explanation from staff as to why we were not boarding an Etihad flight. No one told us at booking, check-in, or at boarding that we would not be on an Etihad flight. We essentially flew Etihad Airways Business Class on Jet Airways aircraft!
Jet Airways is an Indian carrier, and as much as I like a lot of things about India, I do not associate Indian airlines with the same level of comfort and luxury as the Middle East carriers, and Etihad in particular. As I walked up to the airplane, I truly expected the worst. Our excitement waned. I honestly was not even expecting a lie flat seat.
The German guys were horrified as well. Having purchased their tickets they demanded a refund. I can imagine their anger when a business class seat on this routing can cost in the range of $3000-$5000 one way. They were certainly not getting what they paid for. We used miles, so it was a little different, but we paid a lot of money to earn those miles, and were equally disappointed.
The seats were decent, and a heck of a lot better than economy. We tried to make the most of it, toasting with a little champagne before our flight. But the seats were just strange, with the seats actually blocking the windows. We sort of faced each other so there was no privacy. The TVs faced in a strange direction until we were able to pop them out in the air. Before take off, and during a ground delay, it was easier for me to watch Eric’s TV across the aisle.
Etihad’s website promises modern, 15 inch TV screens. Both of our TV screens had lines cut into them making it difficult to watch movies. They promise a mood lighting system. I had a broken reading light. Rather than fixing the light they put a large “broken” sticker underneath. They promised noise canceling headphones. My headphones were broken, and had a constant dull ringing sound in one ear. I could not return my tray table after eating. The flight attendant had to push and forcefully return the tray table after dinner. Once the cabin crew replaced it, he said to me “old airplane.” The seat wall behind my head rattled so loud that I need to wear earplugs while sleeping just because my seat made so much noise.
The absolute best, though, was when Eric could not get his seat to work. Etihad promises a six foot lie flat bed. Eric could not use his seat controls to recline, though. Instead, it took two flight attendants over ten minutes to disassemble and reassemble the seat to get it to recline. Eric just stood in the aisle watching. I really wanted to take a photo of the process, but I just felt so bad for the crew. They were great, and dealing with a bunch of cranky business class passengers who were disappointed with their flight I am sure made their job that much more difficult. None of them were happy with their Etihad Airways Business Class on Jet Airways aircraft.
As much as we were able to sleep and our meal service was enjoyable, we were just so disappointed with the switcheroo from an Etihad plane to a Jet Airways one. When Eric contacted Etihad’s customer service afterwards, though, they offered so little in terms of compensation. We booked an Etihad business class flight, and were given a Jet Airways experience. Their compensation: 15,000 miles. Not only is that not enough for a business class experience, it takes 50,000 miles to fly Abu Dhabi to Kuala Lumpur in economy.
When Eric continued to press, reminding them that we have no Etihad miles saved, so what they were offering would not even provide us a magazine subscription, they offered a few more miles, for a total of 20,000 miles each. They also reminded us that we can use the miles in Etihad’s online shop. I think we might be able to get a fancy iPad case or some headphones, but in the end, we were not provided enough miles for a one way economy ticket, or an upgrade, or really anything. They did not even offer a monetary credit towards a future economy ticket. Nothing, zilch. We were pretty much left with no remedy.
I was surprised. After our phenomenal service on the ground in Amman and dealing with Etihad help on Twitter, I was hoping for something a little more. Even a credit towards a future flight would have been welcome. Instead, I feel like I was left short changed on my well-earned mileage redemption. I do wonder what those two Germans on the flight got…
In the end, I still enjoy flying with Etihad. I think this was a one-off experience with them. We’ve flown them economy and business class (on their own Etihad aircraft), and we loved it. So, don’t write them entirely off. Just beware of the Jet Airways airplanes!
To book your own flight with Etihad, check them out here. No, they are not paying me to say this, but if you book a ticket, I get a few bucks to help support the blog!
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.