Welcome to my first report of 2017 - just in time for 2017 to end :) So, here we go. Attempt two of making an Etihad flight. This was probably going to be a better chance, since the weather was normal in both Abu Dhabi and Kolkata. I couldn’t do an online check in for any of the flights, however I could check that the window seat on the A320 was confirmed, as was the couple’s seat at the very end of the B777-300ER.
The last couple of days flew by. It was time to pack up and head back to the United States. This wasn’t helped by the fact that my parents headed down to Colombo (Sri Lanka) for a wedding a day before we were to head back. Add to this, an uncertain summer. It was back to the usual long-time-till-I-get-rest type scenes.
THE DAY OF - JAN 7TH 2017
As my cousins, uncle and aunt came over to say good bye, A6-EIY was one of 15 narrow body departures to the Middle East and South Asia. This is in addition to the wide body departures to Mumbai (A380), Delhi (B77L), Jeddah and Dhaka (both B77W). It was a slightly delayed departure, but A6-EIY would make up the time while getting to Kolkata. A6-EIY had come in from Chennai as EY269 that morning, spending about 5 hours on the ground before heading back to India. At 5hr20min, this was perhaps one of the longest A320 flights in EY’s network.
BUSY KOLKATA NSCBI
Knowing how busy Kolkata would be (winter rush + Emirates Boeing 777-300ER), I took no chances. We left home nice and early at 1720 hours, 3.5 hours before departure. We got to the airport at 1809 hours. Unsurprisingly, the lines were very, very long. Not helped by the fact that most people conveniently cut through the line, because why not?! It took a good 15-20 minutes just to get in to the terminal, but that was so okay with me - what’s better than taking in the atmosphere for a little bit longer!
We were in at 1825 hours, to no baggage screening. Strangely, its just the domestic departures that were required to have baggage screening. I guess that makes sense given there aren’t too many international departures. Etihad check in was in Island H. The lines weren’t too long, but given that it was in fact an Airbus A320-200 flight, not too much of a surprise. There was something about the high quality ropes and boards that made me feel good about Etihad - I got a feeling that Etihad was going to be great.
This started at check in. While the procedure was a tad slow since there was some information that needed to be filled in. Bags tagged all the way to Fargo, with some USA Transfer Blue Tags that had Etihad and Jet Airways logos (remember when Jetihad had all planes to start flights to the USA via Abu Dhabi..?), while we were handed very very informative booklets explaining the pre-clearance process at Abu Dhabi. Here’s the awesome part - it was explained in English, Arabic, Hindi and Bengali! Four languages, one of them being a regional one! We also received the USA CBP declaration form. Done with check in at 1844 hours, and I was already liking Etihad.
USA transfer tags
Boarding pass before security and immigration
CBP Form handed at CCU
Information booklet - 4 languages!
Immigration slowed things down a little bit. We joined the line at 1857 hours, and I was done at 1937 hours. Forty minutes in immigration was certainly not ideal. This was despite the fact that 12 of the 14 counters were open. Priority was then given to the Emirates passengers, which meant the some lines were opened up. The immigration officers were not happy with this, which lead to a brawl between the passengers in line and the airline officials.
Security was quick, however. I was airside at 1944 hours. A6-ECT was moments away from from departure, as the gate was empty. And it was so crowded just outside the terminal, an hour and a bit ago!
Boarding pass after security and immigration
At gate 12 (the same gate we came in from Doha!) was an Airbus A320-200 with the stylish ‘ETIHAD’ titles on it. A6-EIY had in fact arrived before time, and its just an hour turn around in Kolkata meant that this was extended, given the long flight to the middle east.
All passengers had disembarked by 1952 hours. Two Air India A319s were in the hangar getting fixed, and what not.
A6-ECT to Dubai
While boarding was called from Gate 12 at 2012 hours (about 43 minutes before departure), the Emirates Boeing 777-300ER departed for its flight EK573 to Dubai. Amazing how it took the ground crew about 30 minutes to prepare the cabin for departure. Good stuff! The GE90 fire up got me very excited - I was to be on my favorite aircraft soon! We joined the line to board at 2018 hours. Arabian knights :)
There was the usual contracted ground staff helping out with boarding, in addition to a Jet Airways staff, once again showing the alliance between the two airlines. Did I mention this flight was a codeshare with Jet Airways 9W6593 and Air Berlin AB6127?
Going down the long, twisty jet-bridge, I was getting more and more excited - I’m not quite sure if I was ever this excited to get on an Airbus A320 in my life, LOL!
The door had a plethora of stickers - Skytrax 5 star airline (which was announced a lot), Etihad Airways partners, etc. We were onboard at 2027 hours, to a very warm welcome by the Eastern European flight attendant. The sixteen recliners in Business Class looked quite spacious and comfy with the huge pillows
The economy class was (surprisingly) no less impressive: this 2.7 year old A320 had the newer seats and IFE screen, similar to what I had seen on Air France and Delta. Took our seats 14A and 14B, which only had the pillows, no blankets.
EXCITEMENT BREWING FOR THE ETIHAD EXPERIENCE?
As we settled, I started notice a few things here and there - the IFE on this aircraft was probably miles ahead of the B777-300ER, in terms of hardware at least. The bulkheads had the big informational TV screens as well, like you’d find on a wide-body. Seat numbers had a nice orange light which would illuminate when the cabin is dark, and finding a seat is tricky in flight. Quite nice to see power ports on the A320, too. And finally, the Etihad boarding music - it sounded so mysterious, yet so fulfilling. There was something about it that seemed just right.
While the usual announcements were being made, more passengers boarded, and in came Singapore Airlines’ A330-300 9V-STR the 'Scuderia Toro Rosso' plane from Singapore.
The cabin crew were pretty active in helping out passengers with their belongings. So far so good from Etihad, and we weren’t off the ground yet. Flipping through the IFE, I was actually quite surprised to see an onboard camera on this A320! Guess who stuck with this till we took off! :P Capt. Rajeev from India came around on the PA system giving us information about the flight. First Officer Fabio and him would take us to Abu Dhabi in the hands of purser Veronica. Captain Rajeev didn’t hesitate in mentioning that this would be a 5hr20min long flight - the longest flight that week (according to FR24). Weather would be clear enroute. Yes, this would’ve been my longest narrow body aircraft flight, but that crown was (thankfully) taken by Boeing on the unplanned ORD-MAN flight :D Boarding was completed at 2042 hours, 8 minutes before departure.
Crew members secured the cabin (which included requesting the passengers to disconnect the USB chargers from the port). Pushback was at 2055 hours, just five minutes after scheduled departure time.
The IFE screens played the Dua E Safar (travel prayer), which was followed by the safety videos. This was in Arabic, followed by English. The IAE V2527 engines were fired, followed by a long taxi to Runway 19R.
Cabin lights off for take off
A surprise visitor was at Kolkata during this time - MIAT Mongolian B767-300ER! Took off from runway 19R at 2119 hours, heading in a South/South Westerly direction, before banking and setting course due west.
INFLIGHT: ETIHAD - SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT!
Quite a common feature on the middle eastern airlines - is a quick announcement right after take off reminding passengers to remain seated, etc. I was also surprised to find out that this plane actually had WiFi too, but at rather expensive rates. Drawing the attention to their ‘multinational crew’, they spoke Arabic, English, Romanian, Serbian, French, Russian, Italian, Greek, Albanian and Portuguese. Quite impressive for a flight to Europe, but not for a flight from India to the UAE: I feel this is important to highlight as unlike EK and QR on this same route, there was no cabin crew that spoke in Hindi. Heck even Lufthansa took care of this! Anyway, we slowly got to or cruising altitude 34000 feet.
IMPRESSIVE IN FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
I settled in to the IFE - I quite liked the smooth and easy to use TV screen, and this had a huge amount of content! Of course, Etihad uses their A320s on medium haul flights that last 5 or 6 hours long (Kolkata, Belgrade, Moscow to name a few), so I guess having a large IFE section is quite needed for some. Latest movies, TV shows, music (also passing my heavy metal test with Iron Maiden and Metallica’s latest albums on there :D), games.. in addition to the very nice information channels AND cameras, did I mention they had the dramatic 2016 Abu Dhabi GP on there….? I was loving E-box!
WiFi - worked for EY's home page and stuff :)
Headphones and menu cards were distributed before departure - unfortunately, the headphones were the in-ear type, and for one time use. Despite ‘clear weather’ being announced prior to departure, turbulence occurred for most of the flight. Turning on the seatbelt signs would automatically trigger a pre-recorded announcement to go off in Arabic and English. The crew were quite strict about this too, ensuring passengers were seated during these times.
Menu for tonight -
ETIHAD IN FORMULA ONE
I settled in to watching the highlights of the Etihad Airways 2016 Abu Dhabi GP. Etihad have had quite a history in F1 - starting out with sponsoring the Spykar F1 team in 2007 (this was bought by the owner of Kingfisher Airlines Vijaya Mallya in 2008, and renamed to Force India), before sponsoring Ferrari from 2008 to 2010. Starting in 2009, they have been the title sponsor for the Abu Dhabi GP. And then there's Emirates popping up with their branding in quite a few races all over the world…
Was great to finally see how Nico Rosberg picked up his maiden and only world championship!
DELIGHTFULLY DELICIOUS - DINNER!
Meal service started at 2150, with the distribution of special pre-ordered meals, while the regular meals started at 2158 hours. Etihad had three options for dinner (versus the two on Qatar and Emirates).
The appetizer included matfoul and sweet corn salad with bread.
Silverware - awesome! :)
Main course consisted of three options including Achari murgh (pickled chicken curry with steamed rice and bhindi (lady fingers, okra) amchuri), lamb kabsa (a form of biriyani rice with lamb), and the vegetarian option that was saag paneer (spinach curry cottage cheese) with turmeric rice and dal makhani. I went for the achari murgh
My girlfriend went for the lamb kabsa
The desert had cream cheese mousse with strawberry compote.
We tried a little bit of each other’s and both of us were quite impressed with our meals. The chicken and lamb were cooked to perfection (the latter almost melting in our mouths), while rice was piping hot. I quite liked the gravy that went the bhindi - although I am not a fan of this vegetable. The salad was on the very cold side, however.
Russian Standard vodka and sprite to go along with a fantastic meal on Etihad.
This also had the Indian mouth freshener (saunf, sugar, etc) to cap it all off. Did I mention that the cabin crew had a smile on their faces during service, and looked proactive in conversations?
The people behind us wanted a vegan meal - I’m not sure how this handled, however the crew did refer to the option of booking it online and not finding any other alternative, other than ‘finding something in business class’. Beverage service followed, and I had filter coffee which actually lived up to its name. Amazing stuff from Etihad so far. It was 2247 hours IST. I played some Iron Maiden to get me some sleep. It was 2259 hours IST, 2hr20min since departure and 3 hours to arrival.
Coffee was a questionable idea..
More IFE - maps, music, etc
I slept for a little bit, but waking up just in time to see the lights of Mumbai to our south - a fitting end as I could show my girlfriend my favorite city, the city that never sleeps.
Cabin - lights on and off
I felt the aircraft climb a bit - and this was confirmed on E-Box as we did go up to 36000 feet. What followed next was more and more sleep a good hour and a half as we flew over the Arabian Sea. The cabin was darkened for most passengers to be asleep.
Seat pocket content -
Duty free magazine
Etihad In Flight Magazine
For the final part of the flight, I resorted to checking out the connections at Abu Dhabi - this airport is usually bustling in the early hours of the morning. Two to the USA (JFK, ORD), a couple of them to Europe, some middle Eastern destinations, etc. It was just less than an hour to arrival. As confirmed on the website, EY151 would depart from gate 60, one of the four USA bound gates (58-61).
About thirty minutes prior to arrival, Capt Rajeev informed us about arrival in to Abu Dhabi - a breezy 19C weather and clear skies were waiting for us. Usual secure the cabin announcements were on, we prepared for a little later than scheduled arrival. The end of the flight coincided with the final laps of the Abu Dhabi GP as Sebastian Vettel’s stellar drive - that race was something else!
DESCENT AND ARRIVAL
We lined up with runway 31R at 0107 hours, and a smooth touch down was executed by Capt. Rajeev and F/O Fabio at 0109 hours, 14 minutes late. However, it was a long taxi to bay 403, alongside the many Etihad narrow bodies, and a solitary AirBerlin A320, and Jet Airways B737 (VT-JBV would head to Mangalore). Like Qatar Airways, Etihad focused on advertising themselves as ‘the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, serving the world from our global gateway Abu Dhabi’.
We were at bay 403 at 0120 hours, and engines out at 0121 hours. Disembarkation took a little long, but we were off heading to the terminal by 0130 hours. Owed to the slight delay, A6-EIY would head to Belgrade (Serbia) as EY71 a little late.
Cabin on disembarkation
Thank you, EIY!
The air conditioned coach took us to gate 70, where flight EY212 to Mumbai was about to depart from. JBV to IXE
Who knew they'd go by the end of the year..?
Headed to the loo real quick before heading up to security and pre-clearance, what not. Just over two hours to departure, and one of the last passengers to make it for the New York and Chicago. A long line greeted us, but that was just the start of it……..
Kolkata - CCU
Abu Dhabi - AUH
Another fantastic new airline on this trip, after Qatar Airways. Although my first flight should’ve been on ORD-AUH, I didn’t feel too bad for the ‘time lost’. A fulfilled trip, a new airlines, and now I had 3 of the MEB3 airlines under my belt. The staff at Kolkata were polite (although not Etihad's own), but then things literally took off onboard, with the nice crew members who were really in to the service (despite having another 5hr flight under them prior, since its the same crew). The food was lovely (with 3 options!), as was the IFE. A great flight on Etihad, however I was reserving my judgement till the end of EY151 on Abu Dhabi to Chicago…..
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