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Etihad Airways – the national carrier of the UAE – is this week celebrating two decades of flights between London and Abu Dhabi.

The airline’s first service to Heathrow Airport using an Airbus A340 landed on 28 March 2004, heralding the start of thrice-weekly flights between London and Abu Dhabi and establishing a highly sought-after route renowned for its excellence.

Etihad now operates four daily flights between London and Abu Dhabi using a combination of Airbus A380s, which feature the legendary The Residence suite in the sky, and state-of-the-art Boeing 787s.

Eligible guests can also use the luxurious Etihad lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 4, which offers a sumptuous start for their flights and interiors inspired by the carrier’s Abu Dhabi home. Guests can enjoy specially curated menus along with quick and convenient boarding for departing flights.

Jeremy Pollock, Etihad Airways Country Manager UK and Ireland, said: “Introducing flights from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi was a key part of the airline’s strategy following the carrier’s launch in 2003.


“To celebrate 20 years since our inaugural flight is a fantastic achievement for everyone connected with Etihad Airways – especially our dedicated workforce across the UK and Ireland.

“Etihad now operates four daily flights from London, highlighting the strong demand among UK-based customers to explore Abu Dhabi and the Middle East following a flight travelling in style and comfort, looked after by our excellent, award-winning cabin crew.”

Henry Naya, Etihad Airways Airport Manager London Heathrow, joined Etihad just before flights to London began. He recalls the excitement surrounding the airline’s first flight into Heathrow. It touched down at Etihad’s former home in Heathrow’s Terminal 3, with the founder Sheikh Ahmed bin Saif Al Nahyan and a range of dignitaries on board to celebrate the start of the new route.

He said: “We were in our infancy at that point, operating A340s. Everything was new, but we also realised we were onto something special and it was very exciting.

“Other airlines around the Gulf were starting to take off and we could feel we were the next one. There was so much energy around the launch and we ran on adrenalin for that first year.

“I’m not surprised to be here 20 years later because we are ahead of the curve again and looking forward to the next challenges.”

London wasn’t the only Etihad route launch that year. Ambitious from the outset, the then fledgling airline also started routes in 2004 to destinations as diverse as Bangkok to Bahrain, Delhi to Dammam and Munich to Mumbai.

Back at Heathrow, after starting off at Terminal 3 in 2004, Etihad moved to its present home in Terminal 4 five years later in 2009. Frequencies increased in line with growing customer demand prior to Etihad introducing the then game-changing Airbus A380.

The A380 introduced unheard of levels of comfort for guests, thanks to its spacious interiors and stunning cabins, and the world’s first three-roomed cabin with its own bathroom and shower – The Residence – in 2014.

Since launching flights from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi, Etihad has enjoyed a string of international successes and landmark moments.

In 2009, Etihad began sponsoring the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and agreed a landmark partnership with Manchester City FC which led to renaming the club’s home ground to the Etihad Stadium two years later.

Starting in 2013, Etihad initiated the integration of state-of-the-art, fuel-efficient aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, into its fleet. These efficient modern aircraft now constitute the core of its operational long-haul fleet.

Now under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Antonoaldo Neves, Etihad is once again expanding its route network and enhancing the customer experience for guests.

In a pivotal moment, Etihad opened its stunning new state-of-the-art home, Terminal A, at Zayed International Airport during November 2023. With biometric self-bag drops for all and expansive luxurious lounges, guests travelling Business and First Class could choose from an array of cuisine and dining options, a rooftop cocktail bar, and a variety of relaxation spaces.

Etihad’s new home is a key pillar of the airline’s growth strategy, with the capability to handle up to 45 million passengers annually and connect Abu Dhabi to 117 global destinations.

Against this backdrop, as Etihad marks two decades of flights to London, it eagerly looks ahead to the next 20 years of service between the two capitals, fuelled by sustained enthusiasm and an unwavering commitment to safety, service and quality, guided by its vision to be the airline that everyone wants to fly.