Review: Etihad Airways Pearl Business Class A320, Doha – Abu Dhabi

Our flight with Etihad set the stage with them for a series of excellent flights throughout the Gulf Region. The on board product and catering were excellent. By flying Etihad when we did, we also gained access to a subsidized United Arab Emirates visa that was required for Canadians.


This post is one chapter in our trip to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the Maldives on United Airlines and Etihad Airways. This trip was booked and credited to Aeroplan and Etihad Preferred Guest. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Review: Etihad Airways Pearl Business Class A320, Doha – Abu-Dhabi


Booking the Flight:

Etihad uses an innovative system, called Plusgrade, to up sell passengers into business class. Ethiad Plusgrade allows passengers who have purchased tickets to bid an amount up to the next class of service. A link in an email sent to your reservation address takes you to a separate website where a sliding scale corresponding to a dollar amount allows you to bid. Each flight is a separate bid and you are notified 24 hours before your flight whether your bid was successful. 

Attempting to game the system, I did a dummy booking in business class on the Ethiad main website to check against my already booked flights. The seat maps were 90% full. I pretty much resigned my hopes of getting a business class seat for my 4 segments Doha – Abu Dhabi – Male (return) right there. 

I placed near the minimum bid for my first flight and 48 hours later, it was accepted. I received a congratulatory email, confirming me into business, but without the option to select or obtain a seat assignment. I concluded that there must have been some flights with floating upgrade availability, since other flights using plus grade were not immediately confirmed into business, but rather wait listed. 

Ethiad Airways
Pearl Business Class
DOH-AUH (Doha International Airport – Abu Dhabi International Airport) 
EY 394 – Economy Class Plusgrade to Pearl Business (Q)
9:40 AM – 11:40 AM
Oct 6, 2012
Booked: Airbus 320-100
Flown: Airbus 320-200

Heading to the gate, there was no distinct business class line or announcement. Most, or what appeared to be all of the gates at Doha International appeared to be apron, or non gate positions. A new airport to be named Doha Hamad International Airport was being built at the time of this report, but at the moment, everyone was bussed to an apron position. As we entered into a holding lounge, they boarded the economy class passengers onto a transfer bus first. The business class passengers were kept back in the air conditioning, to be boarded separately and last.

Gate 32 at DOH

Our final bus came and we had a quick drive out to the Airbus 320-200 that was waiting for us, parked close to the terminal. 

Etihad A320

On Board Etihad Pearl Business:

The first thing you notice stepping on board Etihad Aircraft regardless of cabin, is the cabin pre-boarding music that they play. It is a nice contemporary piece and is among my all time favourites for airplane boarding music. It’s hard not to have a relaxing smile listening to this to set the mood at the start of an Etihad flight.

Etihad Boarding Music

On board, we were welcomed into a pleasantly decorated aircraft cabin with a comfortable recliner seat. The seat was super comfortable. They were Recaro designed seats and were really comfy for lounging in. Usually as well, there was a nice lumber cushion on the seat which was very comfortable for sitting and relaxing.

Etihad Pearl Business Recliners
Comfortable loungers

We were offered the usual pre-departure drink of water or orange juice.

Pre-Departure Beverage

Our take off path took us northward over the city and into the Persian gulf. We were able to get a great view of the Doha Corniche, along with the IM PEI designed (he’s the architect behind the Louvre Pyramids) Museum of Islamic art. (We’ll stop by there a little later on in the report).

The Meal: A Light Breakfast

For such a short flight, we were also offered a breakfast menu consisting of baked goods, yogurt with jam, small pain au chocolat and other pasty items. We enjoyed this with a glass of champagne. This was a stark contrast from our other United meal earlier in the trip on a flight of similar duration.

Etihad Pearl Business – Light Breakfast
Champagne on offer having left Qatar

We were also given United Arab Emirates Ethiad Fast Track Cards for immigration.

Etihad Fast Track Immigration Cards

The approach into AUH gave us a glimpse at the newly built Ferrari World, where Abu Dhabi hosts the Grand Prix.

On final approach into Abu Dhabi, UAE
A flyover of Ferrari World and the site of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

On arrival at AUH, there was a beautifully designed holding area (arrivals and departures were on the same level). DFS duty free was also available after customs in the baggage area. According to the signs, you were allowed to import 5 bottles of wine and 2 liters of the hard stuff per person. Little did I know that this would be the last liquor available for general consumer purchase throughout our entire stay in the UAE. 

Concourse at AUH
Arab Lantern Themed Concourse at AUH

We stocked up on 2 bottles of wine along with our litre of Smirnoff Red. It was a good thing that we did. I expected the alcohol situation to be limited in availability, but coming from the Americas or Europe, you tend to forget how easy it is to get alcohol until you can’t find it anywhere. Aside from the hotel, in the UAE there was no alcohol to be found anywhere (even less than in Egypt in my experience). Convenience stores sold de-alcoholized Budweisers and Holstens. Bottom line: if you are visiting the UAE and want to enjoy an apperativo cocktail in your room before or after inner, make sure that you bring the stuff in with you or be prepared to pay high hotel bar prices at $10-$15 a glass.

My Thoughts on Etihad Pearl Business Class:

Etihad Pearl Business Class was quite impressive. The seating was comfortable and the catering was miles ahead of what we would typically expect for a short haul flight in the Americas. The ability to use Plus Grade to get access to distressed inventory was a neat way to “Upgrade Your Travels”. Even adding the zipping boarding music made the flight all that much more enjoyable.


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