This is the first in a three part article of my trip from London to Bangalore
My trip with Etihad from London began badly. Knowing that I would be traveling with two large bags and a hand carry, I had requested the Etihad call center for a minivan or something similar which could accommodate all the luggage.
A day before my trip, I got an email saying my pick up would be in a sedan, upon calling the call center in London – I was told that the email is an automated message and that I would get a larger car as I requested.
I had requested a 1100 pick up which was confirmed, but the driver turned up only at 1120 and lo and behold he had turned up in an E class sedan. He then proceeded to inform me that by their rules, they cannot keep any bag including my hand carry on the seats and that if everything doesn’t fit in the boot, (which there was no possibility of happening) he cannot take it. He then told me that I would need to arrange a bigger car myself and left.
Luckily when I called my regular cab service at 1130, they got a minivan to me in 10 minutes and I was on my way to the airport. Just by luck that I had decided to get to the airport early that day instead of cutting it fine as I have tended to do in London in the past. I felt the drivers attitude was hopelessly arrogant, without even trying to help he just left me stranded without informing the airline or anyone else. For a regular passenger who isn’t very familiar with London city, this could have led to the passenger missing the flight while trying to get another cab.
I reached the airport quite fast because of the low Sunday traffic.
Heathrow Terminal 4 is definitely not the best terminal at the airport. When I got to the check in hall it was very crowded. I located the Etihad desks and walked towards them, unfortunately I couldn’t see the business class desks and tried to ask one of the nearby agents. Before I could open my mouth, he brusquely told me that the check in line begins over there – pointing to the entrance of the very long economy queue. When I asked for the business class desk, he became very polite and escorted me to the desk along with another agent. I was quite irked by the attitude of the ground agents, while I understand that business class passengers will get treated better – being rude to any passenger is uncalled for – Etihad needs to get this message across to it’s ground staff.
I was checked in quickly and my bags were marked hot transfer for tight connection in Abu Dhabi. I also asked to speak to an Etihad manager about my pick up and was told that it would take some time so they would ask the manager to meet me in the lounge instead of me just waiting at the check in desks. After check in, I went through the fast track security which unlike my experiences in terminal 5 was actually fast and I was comfortably through in under five minutes.
While walking towards the lounge, I saw signs for the T4 viewing gallery which is supposed to have great views of the airport. Now thanks to the my botched pickup, I didn’t have enough time to go there.
The entrance to the Etihad lounge is opposite gate 20 from where the aircraft boards. I took the elevator down from the entrance to the lounge, I presented my boarding pass at the desk and was quickly welcomed in. I was also told that they would announce when the boarding was beginning, so there was no need to leave at the time indicated in the boarding pass.
The Etihad lounge in London is a shared first and business class lounge, with no separate amenities for first class passengers.
The first thing I noticed upon entering the lounge was it’s similarity to the lounge in Abu Dhabi. The decor and color scheme are virtually identical. The show pieces in the book case are also very similar to ones at the airline’s base.
The lounge is divided into three areas – the first is a seating area with sofa’s, the second is a dinning area with sit down al a carte service and the bar and the third has a buffet area with recliner seats.
Unfortunately the view out of this lounge as not so great since it is under the main level, the boarding gates get in the way of the view.
The lounge has a very erratic service concept. There are servers walking around and they will get you drinks from the bar, but if you ask for anything (like wine or water) which is on the buffet table – they expect you to get it yourself. Unfortunately this approach doesn’t seem to be consistent since the lady I asked for a glass of water brought me a glass without a problem, but the group on the next table were served champagne only to have one member of the group be told he has to go get his water by himself.
I got a glass of champagne from the bar and took a seat in the recliner section of the lounge. Etihad serves Palmer & Co. champagne in their lounge. Unfortunately while the champagne is a very acceptable lounge champagne, it was not to my taste at all.
I also sampled the buffet which had a large selection of food. Most of the food was good and the baklava and dates were fantastic.
After quickly answering my email (the internet is fairly decent), I went to the lounge entrance and asked for the manager who was supposed to meet me at the lounge. The lounge agents said that they would call and remind them.
Being lunch time, I headed to the dining section and took a
seat. The menu had an interesting selection of dishes and I ordered a burger – unfortunately the only way they can be served it is medium well.
While I was at the waiting, the Etihad manager came to my table. After explaining the problem to her, she was very apologetic and told me that they were having a lot of problems with a new car service that they had started using. While I appreciated her explanation, I think Etihad needs to sort out issues with their providers proactively – continuing to use a faulty provider for a premium service is not expected for a good airline. However with Etihad phasing out their chauffeur service, maybe they don’t really care about it anymore.
Once I finished eating, I took a walk around the lounge – the lounge also has a play room for kids, a sixth elements spa and a small business desk.
The original boarding time on the boarding card was 1410. However the lounge agents announced boarding at 1430 and I slowly headed to the gate expecting a wait there. However when I got to the main level and to the gate, boarding had in fact begun.
Etihad has worked out a very good system with the gate being right across from the lounge. When they call boarding there is a near seamless transit from the lounge straight into the aircraft with no waiting in lines and for boarding calls.
The Etihad lounge ticks all the required boxes. It was spacious with variety of good food options and comfortable seating. There really isn’t much more one can expect from a lounge.
The only room for improvement I can reasonably see is that service procedure needs to be more consistent.