Back when I took this trip (April 2016) Etihad was in a very different position financially. In those heady days even us peasants using airmiles to book into First Class Apartments were afforded the extra luxury of complimentary limo transfers in a BMW 7 Series.
Seeing this enormous luxury sedan pull up to my office really helped to hit the reset button on my day, making me feel like the trip to the Maldives had already begun. Which is fair enough, because it had.
If I had my heart set on going from Central London to Heathrow by car, during the evening rush hour, this would definitely be the nicest way to do it. Grabbing an Uber Lux would have cost north of £100 by comparison. However, the journey took a hell of a lot longer than a quick hop on the Piccadilly line or the Heathrow Express. On balance, I don’t see the loss of this service as a huge loss – luxurious though it was.
An hour or so after setting off from central London, as we headed up the approach ramp to Heathrow Terminal 4, my driver radioed through to confirm that we were about to arrive. Moments later, as we rounded the corner to the drop-off area, I saw a gentleman in a suit heading towards the car with a hotel luggage trolley.
I’d never seen this mentioned in other Etihad trip reports before so this came as a nice, if slightly unnecessary, surprise (one of the downsides of obsessively reading everything about airlines is that these little surprises tend to be a few and far between). The porter walked us the fifty feet or so between the curb and the check-in counter, saving the wheels of our suitcases from undue wear and tear.
The First Class check-in area was roped off from the rest of desks and featured orchids on the counter. There were no couches or other embellishments but given how quickly we were processed this was not an issue at all. Actually, I struggle to think of a time when the sitting areas at a First Class check-in have ever come in useful. Maybe if you’re travelling as a group of four or more; otherwise I just don’t see the point, unless the check-in takes place sitting down at a hotel style desk as with Singapore’s First Class check-in at SIN T3.
Following a growing trend in the airline industry these days, particularly when it comes to outstations, Etihad has a combined First and Business Class lounge at Heathrow T4. Ostensibly this means that the bar is raised high enough that First Class pax don’t feel overly hard done by, whilst granting a halo effect that lifts the experience of Business Class passengers.
I can see why Etihad have done this. They want a dedicated facility with their own branding in order to have end to end control of the passenger experience. Since Etihad aren’t part of one of the big three airline alliances, they can expect customer numbers to be relatively manageable and predictable.
We were greeted at the entrance to the lounge by a very friendly Irish lady. I’m not sure whether this is done for all passengers or just those flying in F but she offered to show us around and explained all the various features, including the Six Senses spa where we were entitled to a complimentary treatment each.
Our first port of call, after our brief tour of the lounge, was the restaurant. Our server was a little clueless and but very friendly and enthusiastic. We ordered a glass of champagne each and a couple of dishes from the menu.
Our server suggested that we should try a few items from the buffet whilst our food was being prepared:
After the food and a couple of espresso martinis I made my way to the Six Senses spa for my complimentary 15 minute bamboo massage (which would otherwise have cost £15 if flying in Business Class, or taking it as a second option after your initial free treatment, whilst flying in First). The therapists were all very nice but the massage was barely perceptible. This is probably my fault though, anything other than a deep tissue massage tends to just bounce right off the deep knots I’ve developed after a decade of Jiu Jitsu sparring!
The ginger tea that I was given post massage was absolutely delicious though.
For a First Class passenger this lounge doesn’t necessarily feel like a huge compromise. I’d much rather spend time here than the dilapidated old Concorde Room in Terminal 5. Nevertheless, the a la carte food could do with some serious improvement and the spa seems like a bit of an afterthought.
As a Business Class passenger you are getting much better buffet food than most other lounges in Heathrow as well as having access to cocktails from a properly staffed bar. The fact that there is table service at all puts this well above most Business Class lounges globally.
However, this is not the best Business Class lounge at Heathrow airport, that title still sits firmly with Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse – where I would happily arrive 3 hours early to experience. The Etihad lounge is very comfortable but there isn’t a whole lot to do, it is a pleasant place to sit if you’re an hour early for your flight but certainly not worth arriving any earlier for.