Grant Bradley flies aboard Etihad EY461 from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi.
The plane: A Boeing 777-300, less than 2 years old.
On time: Got away five minutes earlier than the 10.40pm scheduled departure.
How full: Close to capacity - eight in First Class, 40 in Business and 280 in Economy.
My seat: I was originally destined for Economy 25K but got the call at the gate for an upgrade to Business Class so I ended up in 13A, towards the back of the Business Class section. The cabin is arranged 1-2-1 and the seats, particularly those on the window side are nice, private spaces, full lie-flat beds, and plenty of entertainment on screen. There's lots of storage against the wall of the fuselage, and a swinging tray table to allow you to get out of your seat at any time. In keeping with Middle Eastern airlines, conservative styling.
Price: Fares start from $5000.
Food and drink: Out of Australia it is catered by Qantas and its own airline catering facility looks after its home base. International flavour, underpinned by an Arabic dish at every course. The requisite Champagne on arrival and a very well-stocked drinks cabinet. Huge range of meals in Business and its "Dine Anytime" menu allows you to order whenever you feel like it. Presentation was very polished, with sharp detailing around the crockery and cutlery trays and linen. In Economy there's not that flexibility, but there are five services during the flight time of just under 14 hours.
The extras: An amenity bag (which itself was fairly stylish) holding all the necessities plus PJs.
Staying connected: You can use your mobile phone - international roaming rates apply - and the internet is available for a fee.
The service: This is where every full-service airline aims to stand out from rivals who, with a bit of variation, all have modern, well-appointed fleets. Etihad is targeting the higher-yielding luxury market and the service has to match. It did on my flight: attentive, not obtrusive. Like Emirates, its bigger and older UAE cousin, Etihad has a multinational staff. Among our 13 cabin crew they spoke English, Arabic, Thai, Serbian, Dutch, French, Romanian, Hindi, Punjabi, Russian, Ukranian, Bulgarian, Afrikaans and Mandarin. They are all based in Abu Dhabi. One nice touch is the flying nanny; a London nanny school-trained flight attendant keeps an eye on the little ones throughout the plane. Another nice touch was a feedback card that was handed out by the cabin manager, Alisa.
The toilets: Roomy with very large mirrors and in good shape throughout.
The bottom line: Etihad is growing aggressively in this region, with its showcase apartment-equipped A380 service to Sydney just starting, Dreamliner flights to Brisbane, and a second daily 777 service to Melbourne later this year. Its agreement with Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia means Kiwis can feed into its services out of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne without Etihad doing the cut-throat Tasman leg with its own planes. The three airlines are able to provide a Middle East offer to compete with the Emirates-Qantas alliance, so this is yet another very comfortable way to get to the Middle East and beyond.
Grant Bradley is the Business Herald's aviation reporter and flew courtesy of the International Transport Forum.