Etihad vs KLM – The new kid on the block and the older resident.

I’m a long-term fan of Premium Economy. Although only average height (5’9” – 175cm), I’m a big bloke with broad shoulders and experience has taught me that economy class on most airlines is very uncomfortable. However currently, no international airline offers Premium Economy ex Perth (Western Australia). I’ve always had to fly economy to either Singapore or Thailand to connect with an airline offering Premium Economy to Europe. On the economy leg, I try to book an aisle seat or an emergency exit row for some sort of relief.

Etihad

My wife, who usually flies with Emirates, flew with Etihad on her last trip to Europe and reported she was very impressed, saying although much smaller in stature than me, she felt I would find an aisle seat in economy quite comfortable, not to mention that a standard economy fare is half the price of Premium Economy with other airlines. So with a fair degree of scepticism, I booked a return trip to Amsterdam, ex Perth, departing in early June (I’ve been in Europe for two days as I write this review). The flight was in fact a code share with KLM, Etihad flying the first leg to Abu Dhabi and KLM completing the journey from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam. Interestingly, while KLM didn’t offer premium economy, they did offer ‘extra comfortable’ economy seats for a $90.00 premium on each leg, I took that option.

The Etihad flight out of Perth was on an A330, not the Boeing 777 I had expected and I must admit to some trepidation that the seating would be very tight and as Etihad is an Arab airline and I had some misgivings about food styles and the serving of alcohol.

The aircraft was virtually brand new, beautifully appointed and there was room to spare. I was stunned. Sure, if the person in front lies their seat back fully, then things become tight, but even that’s not as bad as most airlines. The seat was very comfortable and wider than most economy seats, plus of course, the legroom was excellent. Not only that, every seat had 240 volt power plus usb connections, with noise cancelling headphones supplied. There was an excellent range of movies, radio, TV and music to listen to or watch, plus take-off and landing camera vision.

The cabin crew were excellent and the Captain made me laugh when he announced … “We have beautiful ladies in our cabin crew today, their names are …” not pc, but hey, who cares. The food was excellent, with a full meal served an hour or so after take-off, snacks provided during the 11.5 hour flight and a light meal supplied about an hour and a half before we landed in Abu Dhabi. My only two niggles are that I found the cabin temperature was about 2c too warm – interestingly, my wife, who likes things warmer than me, also has the same complaint and the cabin crew were a reticent with the serving of alcoholic drinks, far more so than the European airlines I regularly fly with. They will serve you a drink if you go and ask, but otherwise they won’t offer, apart from the initial wine / beer offered with the main meal.

But apart from those two points, I really can’t fault Etihad, I’d give them 9 out of 10 for travelling in economy, will very happily fly regularly with them and I have no hesitation in recommending the airline to other travellers.

Abu Dhabi Airport

We landed at Abu Dhabi around 12.30am and as I was transferring to another flight, I can’t comment on the customs department, however the airport was totally intuitively functional, with no great long distances to walk and easy to understand signage. Security was much the same as everywhere else, firm but polite and relatively quick. Overall, the experience was as much as any traveller could ask for – virtually stress free and organised, a relative pleasure to pass through.

KLM

The final stage of my journey was with KLM and the differences between the two airlines were in some ways quite marked. We’d been late out of Perth and Etihad made sure everyone was aware of times etc, with the pilot apologising and telling us he’d do his best to make up the time. The KLM flight was also late (unrelated to the previous flight issues), however nobody announced anything other than to let passengers know when it came time to board. I did notice that families with children were not given priority in terms of boarding.

On board the aircraft, another A330, I was delighted to find that the $90.00 I’d paid for an extra comfort seat was well worth it. The first five or six rows of economy are referred to as extra comfort seats and they really are, it’s worth every penny. The seats are narrower than the standard economy seats on Etihad, but the leg room is substantial. I was up the front and could stretch out as far as I wanted. However the entertainment system was old-world, far below the sophistication and quality of the Etihad experience. It didn’t particularly worry me, as I’d had an elegant sufficiency of entertainment on the previous sector.

We were served an excellent hot meal and once again, an hour and a half before touch down, we were given an excellent breakfast. I didn’t ask for a drink of wine or anything, so I can’t comment on the standard of service in that regard. The cabin crew were reservedly friendly, but disinterested, they reminded me of the Qantas cabin crews of old – the atmosphere was no nonsense, sit down, we’re busy, we’ll get to you, efficient without engagement. The Captain was far better than the cabin crew, inclusive,  telling us he’d make up the lost time and giving us plenty of information.

The aircraft was obviously older than the Etihad plane, with nowhere near the level of equipment, but as all I wanted to do was get some rest on the six hour journey, it didn’t really concern me. While I can’t complain about the KLM flight, I certainly didn’t feel the cabin crew were remotely interested in me, or any other passenger and the standard of equipment and service was markedly down on that offered by Etihad. I’d give them 7 out of 10 and would fly with them again for the extra space economy seats and as a price buy, pleasant enough, but  not an experience to rave about.

I feel Etihad is offering a whole new level of service and equipment to the flying public, leaving older airlines floundering and more than a little lost in terms of competing.

Schiphol

The KLM pilot did an excellent job, pulling in the lost time and getting us on the ground in Amsterdam right on time. Unfortunately we were then abandoned to the vagaries of Schiphol Airport. The Dutch airport experience was sadly lacking. We walked a very long tortuous route finally coming to stop on concrete stairs waiting in a bottleneck to clear customs. Certainly the airport appears to undergoing extensive modifications, but as a show and tell first stop to the Netherlands, you’d rather be somewhere else. While the customs people were friendly and welcoming, there were just four lanes open for foreign passport holders and three for EU passport holders, the bottleneck took ages to clear, then it was difficult to ascertain exactly which baggage carousel area the luggage would be available at. Our KLM flight was actually listed as the code share Air France number, necessitating a further frustrating long walk to another baggage area. Surely the Dutch authorities could take a look at Singapore to see how they manage to make things work.

But the Dutch airport experience wasn’t quite finished, nobody had bothered to inform passengers that the trains weren’t running from Schiphol airport that weekend. Thankfully the helpful guy at the train information desk was able to point passengers to the bus terminal where buses had been seconded to ferry passengers to the Amsterdam CBD. But that wasn’t particularly well handled either. The bus took us to a station, where we got our own luggage out from under the bus and the bus left. We were all standing there, some of us aware that we weren’t at the central train station, but we didn’t know where we were. Luckily a local traveller gathered us together and led us up to the station, which turned out to be one stop from the central Amsterdam station, she got us all on board a train, but no sign of, or help from officials.

I love Amsterdam, but I wouldn’t bother flying into Schiphol again, far better to fly into a German airport and get an ICE train to Amsterdam. I’d have to say that comparing flying with Etihad and KLM and passing through Abu Dhabi and Shiphol, is rather like driving a brand new car, then driving a 20 year old car, they serve the same function, but they are worlds apart.

 

 

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