A Guest at 35,000 Feet
This week’s ban announcement of laptops and tablets on flights from 10 majority Muslim countries was couched as a security move. However, there are those who see it as protectionism—a measure enacted to give American, United, and Delta a leg up over Qatar, Etihad, and Emirates. Whichever way you view the new ban there is no denying the distinct difference in service between US carriers and those in the Gulf. For this traveler, with or without my laptop there is no way I would choose American over Etihad, United over Qatar, or Delta over Emirates.
Last year, I took three international flights on United, one in their ridiculous economy plus and the others in first class. I also flew from Washington, DC to Bogota, Colombia on Delta first class—the flight required transferring in Atlanta. My takeaway, flying coach on Etihad was only slightly different from flying first class on United and Delta. I am not exaggerating, the cramped seats that do not feature the lay flat position or any semblance of privacy combined with the lack meal choice i.e. those without pork left a lot to be desired from the first-class experience.
Several years ago, I was offered a fast track Etihad silver membership, which gives the cardholder access to airport lounges throughout their network and expedited boarding. If those two perks were not enough, it also increased the baggage allowance when flying economy and the membership lasted for almost two years. As a frequent flyer between the US, Africa, the Middle East and Thailand, I was quickly hooked and moved up from silver to gold. Accruing miles with the airline was easy, moreover, anytime there was a customer service experience not up to their high level, they gave me more miles.
Unlike with many mileage redemption programs, using my Etihad miles for free flights and upgrades has been painless. I have yet to experience a blackout date and unlike American, they do not charge a service fee on top of the ticket tax when you book. Flights start out as low as 5,000 miles + $65 for an economy ticket from Abu Dhabi to Doha and 11,000 miles + $110 from Nairobi to Abu Dhabi.
When flying economy, if your stopover or final destination is Dubai, there is a free Etihad Shuttle that leaves every hour from the airport to the Etihad Travel Mall on Sheik Zayed Road. From the Travel Mall, it is a short Uber or taxi ride to DIFC or the Marina. If you are flying business or first class, Etihad offers you a private driver.
Why I Will Keep Flying Etihad
- Amenity kits (even in economy)
- Low-cost last-minute flights
- Affordable check-in counter upgrades to business and first
- Low change fees
- Global Entry kiosk at Abu Dhabi Airport
- Variety of entertainment options
- Asian vegetarian meals on all flights
- Comfy bed like business class seats on long distance flights
- Air Seychelles and Al Italia are under their umbrella
- Being treated like a human being and not sentient cargo
Etihad now offers free WiFi and iPads to flyers in Business and First bound for the US.