Whenever I’ve taken an international flight, my way of ‘timepass’ during the airborne hours has been to stuff myself with airline food. I know it’s going to taste like plastic, but the minute that tray arrives, I eat every single thing on it. Then I feel bloated. And then I hate myself for my gluttony over food that really wasn’t worth eating.
Last month, when I took the Etihad Airways flights from Delhi to Geneva via Abu Dhabi, I found I hadn’t changed my greedy ways, but I’d definitely changed my opinion of on-board meals: there’s your standard airline food and there’s Etihad food and nowhere do the twain meet. Here’s some of what the friendly cabin crew plied me with: tender fillet steak, grilled medium-rare; a perfectly poached side of salmon; brioche stuffed with mushroom; creamy mousse, crispy baklava. Oh, and a glass of champagne to start with, a fine Bordeaux to accompany the meal and freshly brewed coffee to end it. It was a meal worth sinning for.
Since I’ve never travelled business class before, I had a high old time sampling all the other amenities on offer. (Thank you, Etihad. And thank you, Outlook Traveller — you’re forgiven for the last assignment, on which you sent me in a stifling three-tier railway compartment to scorching Bundelkhand in May.) I loved the business class lounge at Abu Dhabi airport with its squishy leather sofas, lavish hot and cold buffet; shower stall; and smoking room round the corner. Also on offer: a massage at the Six Senses spa, which I couldn’t indulge in because it was time to board our flight to Geneva. This was on an A330-300 (the Delhi-Abu Dhabi leg was on an A320), and I’d never imagined that an airline seat could be so comfortable. Press a few buttons and the seat vibrates to massage you just where you need it. Press a few more buttons and it becomes a fully flat six-foot-one-inch bed, on which I drifted off into a deep, restful sleep. I’ve never ever stolen before, but now I was seriously tempted — I wanted to take away that velvety cream-and-black Etihad blanket that wraps itself so softly and snugly around you… I left the blanket on my seat just as reluctantly as I left the 360° pampering of Etihad Flight EY53, on which I would have been happy to spend another seven hours.