Flight test: Etihad business class

TOP NOTCH SERVICE: Etihad Airways Pearl business class seating.
TOP NOTCH SERVICE: Etihad Airways Pearl business class seating.

This is the best service I have had on an airline for a long time.

THE ROUTE Munich to Abu Dhabi.

THE PLANE Airbus A333.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME Members of Virgin's Velocity frequent-flyer program earn miles when they fly on Etihad Airways. Etihad Guest loyalty program is also available.

UP THE BACK OR POINTY END? Pearl business class, window seat 5A of a 1-2-1 configuration.

TIME IN THE AIR Six hours. The flight is 35 minutes late taking off, but arrives on time, a sign of how airline timetables are padded to take delays into account.

THE SEAT STUFF My seat is 21 inches (53 centimetres) wide with a pitch of 74.5 inches (189 centimetres). The bed mode is slightly inclined, but this does not matter: I am on a day flight and aim to sleep on the Sydney sector, where the beds are fully flat.

The seat is comfortable and I can extend my legs, with more legroom than that of many competitors on the European sector. Window seats provide more privacy than middle seats, which would better suit travelling couples.

BAGGAGE Business-class passengers are allowed 40 kilograms, plus two pieces of carry-on luggage weighing a total of 12 kilograms.

COMFORT FACTOR The cabin is chilly, and my feet are cold throughout the flight, although a cosy blanket keeps the rest of me snug.

The cabin is spotlessly clean. An absence of food trolleys keeps disturbance to a minimum. All dishes are hand-served from the galley when requested, even though most opt to dine at the same time.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT More than 650 hours of entertainment, with a good range of movies, TV programs, games and audio. There is a special interface for kids' use.

Only half the movies are in English, but that still leaves a choice of 40. There is an intriguing themed suggestion each month. I get absorbed in Vietnam travel and cooking shows and watch Good Morning Vietnam and The Scent of Green Papaya.

THE SERVICE Attentive and responsive flight attendants from multiple countries don't just go through the motions, but are proactive. One comes with an extra pillow. Another offers to let me know when the lavatories are free.

Before landing, the cabin manager makes the rounds to ask if everything was OK.

FEEDING TIME I decline the Mumm champagne served on boarding. Three choices are offered for each lunch course. I start with salmon terrine on a bed of avocado, which is delicious but overchilled.

The beef cheeks with zucchini, baby carrots and mashed potato are a tad dry but flavoursome, and are enjoyed with a decent South Australian shiraz. There is a choice of desserts or a cheese plate, but I opt for fresh fruit.

ONE MORE THING Etihad is a good choice if you want to avoid crowded Dubai Airport. Abu Dhabi Airport is much more compact, and security queues are far more quickly negotiated.

THE VERDICT This is the best service I have had on an airline for a long time, and my first encounter with Abu Dhabi Airport is a pleasant surprise.

THE FREQUENCY Etihad Airways flies twice daily between Munich and Abu Dhabi.

Tested by Brian Johnston, who flew as a guest of Etihad Airways.