Last November, Etihad Airways launched new nonstops between San Francisco International and Abu Dhabi. But in an unusual twist, it did not launch the service using an Etihad aircraft. Instead, it substituted a Boeing 777 aircraft and inflight amenities from India’s Jet Airways, of which Etihad is part owner.
Etihad has made a big splash over the last year among frequent flyers by rolling out a new three-room cabin onboard its A380 last December. The Residence includes a “living room,” private bathroom with shower, a bedroom with a double bed and a suited, London-trained butler. The Residence is one of many firsts Etihad has brought to the premium flying experience in recent years.
The highbrow amenities, and the well-crafted media circus around their introduction has raised travelers’ expectations about flying one of UAE’s flag carriers.
While it’s always exciting to get new nonstop service at SFO, it was a bit of a letdown to learn that Etihad would launch the SFO-Abu Dhabi flights with a leased Jet Airways plane instead of a shiny new B777 of its own…just like the ones recently deployed from Los Angeles and Dallas.
Etihad has one of the youngest fleets flying, with the average aircraft age of just 5.5 years.
When I asked around about why SFO would get the Jet aircraft instead of a new Etihad B777, I learned that it was because the rapidly expanding airline simply did not have enough of its own aircraft to enter the market. Experts also said that the Bay Area does not have as robust a premium class market as LA, New York or Dallas.
Having never flown Jet Airways, or Etihad, I was eager to see photos of the plane. So were readers…over the last few months, I’ve been peppered with queries about the aircraft interiors, services and amenities on the SFO flight. However, despite multiple requests, Etihad couldn’t provide more than two original photos– the one at the top of this post, and another one showing a ribbon cutting inside the SFO International Terminal.
In December, I heard from a longtime TravelSkills reader (“S.P.”) who had just flown from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi on a new Etihad B777 in first class and was returning to SFO (also in first) on the new “Jetihad” nonstop.
Perfect! I asked S.P. to help us with our new series of “Reader Reports” by taking some notes and photos from his journey so I could report them here. (Last month’s Reader Report “I have to sit where?”)
His first missive was regrettably full of disappointment about the Jet Airways plane from Abu Dhabi to SFO. So I asked him to balance it out by sharing his thoughts on the LAX-AUH flight on the Etihad flight, which he really liked.
Below are some excerpts from our emails and some photos to help compare the two trips. Keep in mind that S.P. only took photos on the Abu-Dhabi-SFO leg of the trip. I’ve done my best to include photos of Etihad interiors from other sources to help compare.
S.P.: Overall, the AUH-SFO leg of the trip was a big disappointment. My expectations were sufficiently low, knowing that the Jet hard product wouldn’t be the same as Etihad, but the actual experience was significantly worse than those expectations.
I was surprised by how different this flight was than the one we took Los Angeles-Abu Dhabi on the outbound (on an actual Etihad aircraft). I knew in advance that we’d be on a Jet Airways aircraft, but I thought everything else would be Etihad — entertainment, food, crew, etc. But boy was I wrong.
S.P.: First class on Etihad from LAX was very luxurious feeling with beautiful finishes, especially the soft beige Poltrona Frau leather seat. Everything in my suite felt new, high end, and of course, was fully functioning. The entertainment system on Etihad has a few cool features that you don’t find on the Jet aircraft (even though it is the Etihad entertainment system on Jet). I enjoyed being able to view two live cameras, one that looked straight down at the ground and the other that was a perspective from the flight deck, looking forward. The other cool feature was the ability to watch live TV, which is great for getting a news update while you’re stuck flying for 15+ hours. Jet didn’t have either of these features.
S.P.: The contents of the amenity kit on the Etihad flight were pretty basic, especially for first class, but I did like that the bag itself was somewhat “authentic” in that it was made of woven wool fabric that I read was some kind of UAE traditional design (as opposed to some generic high-end case like Givenchy or Ferragamo). Much better than the cheap, black rubber bag given out on Jet.
Despite the addition of several new aircraft elsewhere in its network, an Etihad spokesperson at first told TravelSkills that there were no immediate plans to replace the Jet Airways B777 on the SFO to Abu Dhabi route. Update: As of April 25, 2016, Etihad will replace the Jet Airways plane with its own B777-200LR– see this post.
Keep in mind that this reader is one of the few lucky ones to travel in first class– most TravelSkills readers will be flying in business class or economy, and their experiences could be completely different. So here are some other resources to help make your decision to fly Jetihad or not.
Have YOU flown Etihad on a Jet Airways operated aircraft (there’s one on the two New York-Abu Dhabi flights, too). Please leave your comments below, or submit a Reader Report to us which we will consider for posting!
Post script: Etihad provided TravelSkills with the following statement regarding this post:
Our absolute commitment at Etihad Airways is to being the very best in the hospitality industry for our guests – whether you are comparing us with the best airlines, hotels and restaurants – and, also across every class of service. We greatly appreciate the support and ongoing feedback from our guests within the San Francisco market, which we launched late last year using an aircraft leased from one of our partner airlines, Jet Airways and is operated by Etihad Airways. This feedback helps us constantly improve the travel experience for our guests as we always strive to offer the best in flight hospitality in the world. We value the feedback our guests have shared with you and with us which we will certainly take into account as we continue to further improve upon the product.
(Reader Report is a new series of posts from TravelSkills readers about their recent travel experiences. Would you like to submit a Reader Report on a recent travel experience? Let us know and we’ll send you some guidelines! We are looking for short, sweet, concise reports– no rants. Photos always appreciated! Email us!)
New jets SFO-LAX + Europe summer deals + United move at ATL + Delta wi-fi progress + Cathay biz class sale
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