The Etihad Business Class Studio on the 787 – How to experience quality for a rock-bottom price

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The Etihad Business Class Studio

I hadn’t planned it, but I ended up sitting here on my flight between Beirut and Abu Dhabi, for a very reasonable price. Extremely reasonable.

Beirut

On the subject of reasonable prices, Beirut is a brilliant place, vastly underrated, though sadly not without frequent episodes of unrest, such as is happening right now, largely ignored by the west.

In more settled times, it’s should be on your list.

There are two sides to Beirut. The downtown area has been rebuilt post-war by a private company called Solidere that was given exclusive rights by the government and has bulldozed any remaining history and small business.

It reeks of corruption and foreign (Saudi) money and influence. At first you think it’s quite nice as you stroll around the marinas and posh shops, then you realise it’s all new and and it’s all empty.

This photo is the laughably named Beirut Souk. Don’t know about you but to me a Souk is not a modern shopping mall. All of downtown is generic international brands, generic international hotels, generic international restaurants, and an absence of soul or charm or character.

There are also no people. You see more heavily armed security guards than civilians. See how busy the souk is at 11am? Two people.

When I first passed through this plaza, all a fake rebuild, there were 7 armed guards and me.

If you want charm and character and soul you have to go to Hamra or Gemmayzeh, and in case you don’t notice all the people and noise and chaos and real life on these “streets of traditional character” there are even handy signs to point you in the right direction.

The places away from downtown are full of life, it’s just that you have to risk your life a thousand times by crossing the road to get there.

There are signs of the war, here and there.

I left for the airport with what seemed like loads of time to spare but I didn’t know the president was doing something in the city which meant that all the roads were closed, armed soldiers and police where everywhere, and traffic was at a standstill. It seemed that nobody knew this was going to happen. My taxi driver complained “This city is shit. Everyday another problem, and they treat us like shit”.

Sadly, he’s right, and recent events show that a large part of Beirut’s population has a problem with the way things are done. Despite that, in calmer times, it is a very friendly place with a spectacular landscape and superb ancient history. The food’s pretty good too. It really deserves a much bigger share of the tourist dollar.

I made it to the airport just in time for a 3 hour ride in the Etihad 787. A very brief visit to the Cedar Lounge first:

The Etihad Business Class Studio on the 787 has alternating seats with some facing backwards. Thankfully the partitions are high enough that you don’t have anyone staring back at you. Alright, it’s not the A380 First Class Apartment, but for 787 business class it’s pretty good.

It’s not as stylish to look at as the old Qatar 1-2-1 seats, and it’s certainly not Qsuite, but it’s good. It’s private, it’s comfortable. There’s enough space. The service is good.

The entrance is quite narrow, and once in your seat you feel snug rather than opulent, but it succeeds where so many business class seats fail – privacy.

Direct aisle access, and privacy. If you travel solo, that’s what you want.

At least, that’s what I want.

Some people like to go to coffee shops where you sit on a bean bag with a stranger, or a restaurant where you join a bench full of randoms like a school canteen, and those sort of people would probably hate to be isolated like this. Weirdos.

No, it’s good. It’s not flashy, it’s just competent. There’s no real éclat like the Qatar Qsuite, but it does its job very well.

After take-off, play with the seat massage function for a couple of minutes, fiddle with the TV, drink your juice. Some reviews bang on about how many films there are on the IFE. If I told you there were 1267 films on the TV, would you care? Nope. I made up that number. It’s a TV, on a plane, with some movies on it. What more do you need to know?

This is more interesting. What’s the food like? Well, it’s superb. So is the service. The attendant will be round very soon after take-off to ask for your order. There’s Champagne. It’s not Krug, but who really cares? Most wine snobs who won’t shut up about Krug wouldn’t know the difference if you gave them a glass of Tesco Finest Cava.

Well, not by the second glass anyway.

Star Wars. Wine. Arabic mezze. Lovely hot soft bread with real butter.

Nice white china plates, good cutlery that doesn’t look it’s been in use for 600 years, and really nice touches like the metal bread basket, metal salt cellar and pepper… hum. pepper pot? Pepper pot and the fancy table mat, which lift the whole thing up and make it rather more classy than eating a takeaway off your knees in front of the telly at home.

Sorry, I’m not doing this right.

Elegant refinements that elevate the dining experience. Or something.

After your three course meal, land, walk away, reminisce. Happily.

I never planned it. It’s a 3h 45m flight from Beirut to Abu Dhabi (BEY-AUH), I’d used up my last Etihad miles for the A380 Apartment. The difference in price between economy and business was way out of sensible ranges for a relatively short flight.

My economy ticket cost me £175. Fine.

But then Etihad sent an email with their upgrade auction thingy. How much do you want to pay to upgrade to business?

Ooh, exciting. Surely everyone will bid and you’ll have to go for the highest bid in order to stand a chance? Well, no, that’s not how it works. It might be surprising but actually most people don’t bid for upgrades.

Most people have a goal of spending as little as possible, or they’re travelling with others and even a cheap upgrade would be too expensive, or someone else booked and they don’t even know there’s an option to buy an upgrade, or they simply don’t see the point of paying any more than you have to, just for a bigger seat and a glass of wine.

Frequent flyers and “avgeeks” often fail to realise that “normal” people really don’t see any point of paying for business class.

So there’s less competition than you think. And then you use Expert Flyer to check the current occupancy level, see that the flight is nowhere near full, wait till the last minute and submit the lowest possible bid. £140.

The business class ticket is usually around £675, so I’d be saving more than half if the bid gets accepted.

The email arrives. “You’ve been upgraded.”

Get in. Still an extravagance, but for me, a reasonable one.

An extra £500 for business class on a sub-4 hour flight? Nah.

An extra £140 just to try it? Ah, go on then. You only live once!

And because you only live once, you owe it to yourself to also try the Etihad First Class Apartment:

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