I flew on a 3-hour Etihad A320 regional flight, and it didn’t even compare to the airline’s opulent long-distance ones

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Flying on one of the three famous Middle Eastern airlines – Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways – can be an incredibly luxurious experience.

The three airlines, which offer flights around the world connecting through Persian Gulf hubs, are known for massive planes with features like lie-flat seats that turn into beds, private first-class suites, and even onboard showers.

However, those are the planes that fly to bigger and more far-flung markets – the Americas, London, Paris, and eastern Asia, for example.

For closer destinations, although Emirates still uses larger jets, the other two airlines use smaller narrow-body jets better equipped for regional flying.

That means that if you take an Etihad flight from New York to somewhere in the Middle East or the Indian subcontinent, you’ll probably end up with one flight on a jumbo jet, and one flight on a narrow-body.

That was exactly the experience my wife and I had when we flew home to New York from the Maldives, connecting through Abu Dhabi with Etihad. Although I knew we could expect an incredible experience on the longer flight, I was curious to see how the shorter one would measure up.

While that regional flight ended up being comfortable and enjoyable, there’s no question that it doesn’t even compare to the big flight home to New York.

Here’s what it was like.


We got to the airport a little bit before check-in, so we waited for it to open. Once we got to the front of the line, we confirmed that we could check our bags through to New York, even though we had an overnight layover. Whew!

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We went to the Malé lounge — since it’s a relatively small airport, Etihad doesn’t operate its own lounge, instead sharing a third-party lounge with other airlines. It was still comfortable, though, with plenty of food and drink options.

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We went down to the gate just before boarding time …

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… and climbed onto the bus to our remote stand.

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We were at the farthest stand, so we drove past a handful of other planes before pulling up to our A320.

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Etihad has two different listed configurations for its A320s — the only difference is the number of rows of business class. We were on a plane with four rows.

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The planes feature Etihad’s regional business class. Rather than semi-private lie-flat seats with direct aisle access, the airline’s regional narrow-body planes offer cushy recliners in a 2-2 layout.

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It’s similar to domestic first class in the US, except that there’s much more pitch, or legroom, and they’re generally more comfortable.

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There are also extendable leg and footrests. Coupled with the extra legroom, this was a huge upgrade over US domestic first class.

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Because the seat in front of you is so far away, the in-flight entertainment screen is mounted onto a swinging arm that tucks away in your armrest.

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It was loaded with movies, including new releases …

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… and interactive flight maps.

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Each seat has a universal power outlet, which, along with the headphone jack for the in-flight entertainment system, is located between the two passengers.

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A remote control for the entertainment system is tucked into the base of the seats’ armrests, and can be pulled out and retracted.

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The seat recline and leg-rest are motorised — there’s an electronic control panel in the other armrest.

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A flight attendant came by and offered us drinks as everyone boarded. We just asked for water.

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Another flight attendant came by with hot towels.

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Boarding finished pretty quickly, and the door closed. There was some congestion at the airport, so we had to wait a while before we could push back and take off.

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I took the opportunity to flip through the dinner menu …

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… the drinks …

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… and the wine list. Cabin crew came by to take our dinner orders before we took off.

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Eventually, we were cleared to taxi and takeoff. A few minutes after we were airborne, the flight attendants came by with dishes of mixed nuts.

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Dinner was served shortly after that. I opted for the Arabic mezze platter to start, which was sublime. The stuffed grape leaf was probably my favourite, but everything was great, including the surprisingly fresh pita.

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Whenever I’m lucky enough to fly in a premium cabin, I like to try the more difficult meals — the things that don’t seem like they’d work well on a plane — to see how they will turn out. In this case, that meant the spiced tuna with fried rice, pumpkin, and green beans.

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Luckily, it was delicious. The tuna was certainly cooked — no extra-rare, seared tuna steaks here — but moist and flavorful, covered in a spicy curry sauce. The rice, beans, and pumpkin were all great, too.

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I spent the rest of the flight reading and napping, and before I knew it, we were on the ground. While this was a quite pleasant flight, especially for a short one, it definitely isn’t the same as the luxury, comfort, and privacy of Etihad’s long-haul aircraft like the A380.

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My fellow passenger who had to deal with someone else’s foot in his personal space the whole flight certainly came to realise that.

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Still, it was a great way to fly to Etihad’s hub in Abu Dhabi, where we connected to our flight home after a quick overnight stay at the airport’s Premier Inn.

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