Flying Business Class With Etihad Airways

February 21, 2017
*The following post was not sponsored in any way. I paid the full price for my airfare with my own money. 

Have you ever flown first or business class? On one occasion I got a free upgrade when I flew to Ulaanbaatar on Mongolian Airlines, which was awesome. Besides that lone time, I chose to save my money and always opted to buy economy tickets. However, because of my back surgery (seems to creep up in every post), the most I could probably tolerate these days would be 5 hours of sitting up straight without being in a lot of pain. Rachael and I had planned on going to Morocco from Shanghai, which was about 19 hours of flying time, split up into two flights. For me, my options were to buy a business class ticket or not go to Morocco. Believe me, I thought about this very carefully because a business class flight from Shanghai-Casablanca and from Madrid-Shanghai was just over $2,500. Maybe to some that's nothing, but that is quite a large amount on my salary. I talked about this with my friends in Shanghai, and in the end decided to go for it. I hadn't been able to leave China for a year and had to cancel so many trips for my surgery and recovery, so spending the extra cash to be able to go on my dream trip was worth it to me. I already had a deposit down on a tour I booked in Morocco which was non-refundable, so that was more motivation to want to go. Even Tara who calls herself "frugal" told me if she were me that she would do it. I was really surprised by that, but her explanation made total sense. One of the main reasons why she is living in Shanghai is for the traveling opportunities and ample vacation time. The same goes for me. It's not the only reason, but it is a HUGE perk, so why not take advantage of that? If my surgery taught me one thing, it's to not hold back or let opportunities pass me by. Our lives are so much richer with the extra trips thrown in, even if we aren't. Now, am I going to be able to afford business class for every future trip? No way. For shorter trips, I'll opt travel within Asia, but our break for the Chinese New Year holiday was about three and a half weeks long, so I was able to spend a decent amount of time exploring Morocco and also have a short stay in Spain.

So, now that I've prefaced this post with a little background information, I'll go ahead and start telling about my experience flying business class with Etihad Airways. Like I mentioned, I haven't flown business class frequently, so I'm going to be comparing my time in business class to economy flights in general.

When Rachael and I arrived at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, it was so nice to not have to wait in any line when it was time to check in. They saw that Rachael was traveling with me and even invited her over to the business class section and let her check her bags then and there. Very thoughtful. I didn't check any bags on the way up, but was allowed to check two bags for free, which I did on my flight from Madrid back to Shanghai. Once we got through security, we decided to go to the lounge. Etihad is partners with China Eastern Air, so that's the lounge we stayed in. It was my first time going to a lounge, but I can see the draw. Rachael has a credit card that allows her and a guest to have lounge access. Now that I've been in a lounge, I'm thinking of applying for American Express Platinum so that I can enjoy the same perk! It's just less chaotic in there and the bathrooms are nicer. Anyway, we had just a small amount of time, but we were both feeling very dehydrated, so we chugged some juice and cucumber infused water. We weren't hungry, but there were chips and sandwiches as well as some other small snacks available. It was still pretty crowded in there, but it was even worse outside of the lounge by the gate. We were prepared for that since we were traveling at a peak time in China, right at the start of Chinese New Year.

Once we got to our gate, of course I got to board early. This was especially ideal because I sometimes still panic about getting shoved when there are a lot of people around. I wanted to avoid falling and hurting my back again at all costs, so thankfully I did not have to worry about that courtesy of the early boarding. There was a special shuttle just for business class passengers, which was also nice because almost everyone was able to get a seat.

Just after boarding, a flight attendant asked me if I wanted champagne. Is that even a question? The same flight attendant also was taking everyone's coats and hanging them up. I never knew there was a coat check in Business Class! Is that ignorant?

While others were boarding, I scoped out the scene. I was really worried about making my seat go all the way back and making it into a bed. I thought I was going to have to ask a flight attendant to help me, so I was very relieved when I saw that all I had to do to make my seat into a bed was to press a button! I couldn't believe this, but there was even a button to press for massages! (From the chair...not from an actual person, ha ha.)

Another difference between first and economy class is that the flight attendants came around and took my order. I felt like I was in a restaurant for a moment! Since I was on a night flight, I asked for a snack, and then ordered breakfast for the next morning. I was expecting real silverware and plates and was not disappointed. I opted for a cheese plate because cheese in China is pretty scarce, so I tend to order cheese whenever I see it. For my breakfast I got a cheese and herb omelette with a mini smoothie. I was fine with just the snack and a meal, but there didn't seem to be any limit to the amount of food, as the flight attendants kept asking me if I wanted anything else. As for the drinks, they served this lemon and mint drink that was pretty delicious. As soon as I tasted one, I ordered one for every flight.

My meal on the way back! 
Each person flying business class was provided with: a pillow, blanket, a bottle of water, headphones, and an amenity kit full of items that would make our flight more comfortable. The little tote I got is actually really cute, and there are 6 designs in all. The designs are supposed to represent a city--taxis for NYC, a mosaic design for Abu Dhabi, a Colosseum design for Rome, and so on. I got the one for Abu Dhabi and would use it again for sure. Inside the kit, there was a city guide, toothpaste, toothbrush, an eye mask, ear plugs, and socks. Etihad partnered with the beauty brand Scaramouche and Fandango, and inside the kit there was a lip gloss and some facial cream by them. I actually really loved the lip gloss, so I brought all four of them home with me from all of my flights!

On the way back, a flight attendant came around with magazines. I asked her to pick me one that she thought I would like from the English selection, and she gave me Glamour UK, which was pretty flattering. Like a dope, I left it on the plane by accident. (English magazines are highly prized here in China!)

For most of the flight I had my seat reclined almost all the way and just spent the night watching movies. Spoil alert: The screens were bigger in first class and not attached to the person's seat in front of you. Judging by the snoring that was going on, I think most passengers were able to sleep for a bit--I just am too anxious to ever fall asleep while flying.

Another plus about the seats was that they all had an aisle on one side of them. With my back problem, I need to be able to get up and walk around, so not having to worry about disturbing anyone was a relief.

Now for the best part that was a surprise to me! I was browsing Etihad's official site and just happened to see that if you have a layover in Abu Dhabi and you've purchased a business class ticket, you are eligible for one free night's stay in a luxurious hotel. Since our layover in Abu Dhabi was about 20 hours, we were planning on paying for a night in a hotel anyway. I kept thinking that it must be too good to be true, but we really got a free night's stay at the Ritz Carlton! We only had to pay a small tax. Apparently, first class passengers can get two free nights there. I picked the Ritz Carlton because of it's proximity to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque--you can see it from some of the windows in the hotel! There are other options to choose from, too. You can book the service directly from Etihad's website. The St. Regis, Yas Viceroy, InterContinental, and Shangri La were some of the other options in Abu Dhabi. The best part was that I was able to let Rachael stay with me for free and I got a free breakfast, which I had upon arrival since we would be leaving in the middle of the night for our next flight. Too bad I wasn't very hungry because there was an incredible buffet! My favorite was the fresh hummus!

Staying at the Ritz Carlton for free was so wonderful! Traveling for long hours can be so taxing on a normal person's body, so let's just say I was wiped when I arrived to Abu Dhabi. Rachael and I just had some much needed R & R, had some tasty meals (hello nachos!) and visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. We left Abu Dhabi feeling refreshed.

I also found out that there is a free chauffeur service! Too bad I didn't see it until less than 24 hours before my flight. You do need to book it 24 hours before your departure time, so in my case it was too late. This is definitely a service I'd love to try out in the future! You can book the service directly from Etihad's website. 

My only complaint is that the flight attendants did not seem too keen to want to help me with my carry on when it was time to put it in the overhead compartments. I told them that I had a serious back surgery, and one of them even suggested we lift it together. (Pretend the crying emoji is right here.) I promise my carry on wasn't ridiculously heavy--it was even weighed before boarding. I was a bit annoyed by that, so on the way back I just checked my carry on bag to avoid a similar problem. It turned out that the flight attendant responsible for my area on the way back was super attentive and seemed like he would have helped, no problem. Oh well, you never know, do you? 

I have to fly home to the States this summer, so I will be looking at business class tickets again. I will likely be flying Delta though because I still have a voucher from when I had to cancel my flight last year because of my back surgery. When flying to Europe from Asia, I will be looking at Etihad again. If I can break up a long flight with a free night's stay in a luxury hotel, then why not, right? Of course, it all depends on the pricing and what is available at that time. 

If you have flown business class before, which airline did you fly with? If you haven't flown business class, would you ever do it?
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