I had done a quick search for fares all the way back in November 2016. It was just a quick research, I hadn’t spoken to Higher Command just yet. In fact, the December trip home was about to happen anyway! Delta had some very attractive aircraft types - a B764 from DTW to LHR, followed by Jet Airways’s B77W to Mumbai. The former would be a new sub type, the latter is an aircraft I’d like to be on some day. The return had a Jet Airways A330-300 to Paris, followed by a Delta A330-200 back to Detroit. Playing around with the origin and destination, multi city, etc, there was a lot going on: KLM 787, Air France A380, Jet’s wide bodies which I haven’t been on since 2010, etc.
I wasn’t very sure of my plan during the winter break (2016), since that is when I talk to my parents (and snag the cheapest fares). In my quest to log as many quad-jets as possible before they are phased out, I gave BA a shot: A380s and B747s on the TATL routes (west coast) looked awesome - but the price tag was a bit too high for my liking. I gave it some time.
THE SUMMER SET UP
As the spring semester progressed, there were different things just falling in to place. Starting off with work where I had recently gotten promoted, which included the hiring of many employees over the summer. Followed by a hike in the residence hall charges which made for an adventure in looking for apartments. That was squared away, and a date to move in was set in stone. Iron Maiden had also just announced an extension to their Book of Souls World Tour, and Minneapolis/St. Paul was one of the many cities in their USA itinerary. They were to play in the twin cities on June 16th, right about the time I would be heading back to North Dakota. Oh boy was this trip going to be sweet!
ELEGANT ETIHAD AGAIN?!
With a plan for the summer set, I set my sights on searching for fares back home. With Etihad leaving me impressed, I was curious to try out their product on the A380 (or B787, if possible). This was the first airline’s fares I checked out. Behold, fares those were less than $800, return! For a little bit more, there was the most perfect itinerary: EY A380 JFK-AUH EY A380 AUH-BOM EY B77L BOM-AUH EY B789 AUH-DUS AB A332 DUS-JFK New A380 airline (the 4th after SQ, EK and LH), new sub types in the B77L and B789, and a new airline in AB. And now that AB are no more, I almost always regret not taking this itinerary.
However, for whatever reason Etihad’s website would not allow for this booking. A cheaper fare, less than $800, was this itinerary that I settled for:
New airports in JFK and IAD, new subtypes in the B77L and B789, I was quite excited for this one.
THE OTHER OPTIONS?
I still had the minor hurdle of getting this cleared by Higher Command. A trusted travel agent was roped in to this. The cheapest itinerary was EY/9W on JFK-BOM-JFK, including three A380s and one Jet Airways B737-800. VS/9W was pretty reasonable as well, with two A340-600s and two B777-300ERs, via Heathrow. And finally, four A380s courtesy of Emirates. Having already tried and tested EK’s A380, I was less inclined towards this. On paper, the 9W/VS itinerary looked the best, seeing as A340-600s are rarer than the A380s, a new airline (VS), and a plane that I’ve always wanted to be on (9W’s B77W). However, there was something luring me towards EY’s new flagship(s): the A380 and B787-9.
UNLUCKY 7: THE TRAVEL BAN
With the tickets booked well in advance, everything started to unravel. Starting off with Donald the 45th’s pretty horrible immigration ban. I say horrible - I’m not commenting on whether or not its legal or whatever (there’s a thread for that, I’m pretty sure), I’m just saying it was ill-timed and left many people stranded without prior notice. I instantly figured that the Middle Eastern Airlines would be the ones who’d be worst hit. Nothing official from Etihad about any changes to my planned itinerary, however the unease of our university to not leave the country was pretty satisfying. Not.
UNLUCKY 8: ELECTRONICS BAN, BUT OF COURSE!
Things started raveling around me a lot more. March 21st 2017. The day the electronics travel ban was announced. Airports included those in Jordan, Qatar, KSA, Morocco, Turkey and…the UAE. Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. Yes, the same Abu Dhabi with TSA-approved security. It was a directive by the USA (which in other words - the rules cannot be bent).
Be me - carrying a laptop, two external hard drives and a DSLR camera. The former two are those I use for storage due to the many images and videos that I take to make these TRs happen. I was not looking forward to the prospect of putting these in to my suitcase - a relatively new one that has already taken more than a beating. And we’ve all heard of the horror stories of mishandled and misplaced luggage. I was left pretty unhappy.
A ray of hope however - it seemed like the biggies had worked around this: Etihad, Emirates, Qatar and Turkish Airlines had boxes to put laptops and larger devices prior to boarding. Obviously not an ideal situation (the likelihood of fires, of course), but it reduced the time passengers spent away from the devices. The same was confirmed by the various trip reports around online, documenting these experiences. I was reassured, but not a whole lot. I went in with grave optimism.
A solution! For the media purposes, I researched a few cameras. The small ones. This later converted in to phones. A phone with a 4K camera. My girlfriend also needed a new phone - it was around that time for a phone's lifecycle. Voila! A decent phone purchased, one that I’d take to India for the purposes of pictures and video, and then for her to use.
ON TO THE CHECK IN - STRATEGIC SEAT SELECTION?
So much for the buildup! Online check in on Etihad was decent. My suspicions of a relatively empty flight on JFK-AUH came true - seeing as most seats behind the wing itself was very empty. I played my cards and selected seat 72A. This was also close to the mid-section galley, which meant a meal cart would be rolled up from the back. The AUH-BOM flight looked more full. Excited, I had the uneventful flight from GFK to MSP, followed by the dramatic one from MSP to JFK.
Unsafe goods of carriage & passenger selection
MAY 14TH 2017: ETIHAD 102 JFK-AUH
Plan was to wake up around 0930 hours and leave within the next 2 hours. However, the delayed arrival in to NYC did not make anything ideal. What happened the following morning was just nothing according to plan. I was up at 0800, a whole 7 hours before departure. I guess early enough to watch the Spanish GP I suppose. A close race - but would've been nice to see a Ferrari win at Catalunya - a first since 2008 (damn you, Bottas!). I went about reorganizing everything and got ready for the long journey ahead. I say long - this was probably the shortest one in terms of time and distance, but USA to India is never not long!
A quick check on FlgihtRadar24: A6-APH had flown in from Abu Dhabi that morning, all well and on time. It would spend most of its time on ground at a remote bay, alongside Air India’s B777-300ER. It would be a long time till I’d figure out which A380 would take me to Mumbai, but seeing as Etihad’s marketing tactic when the A380 came in was ‘same A380 service from Mumbai to JFK’, I had to wait and see.
For the most part, the stormy weather had given way to nice clear weather. VFR weather. I was all set to head out at 1115 hours, ons schedule, 4 hours before ETD. This time, the Lyft driver from Bangladesh - and of course talking about cricket :)
Etihad, like some other international carriers such as Emirates, Air India, Virgin Atlantic among others depart from Concourse A of terminal 4. EY102 is almost always scheduled to depart from A7. I was at the terminal at 1145 hours, to the welcoming sight of so many Airbus: a soon-to-be-extinct Virgin America A320, a lovely Virgin Atlantic A340-600, and two A380s, one of Singapore Airlines (to Frankfurt and Singapore), and the other being the plane that would take me to Abu Dhabi, A6-APH.
Just outside T4
Airlines at T4
CHECK IN & SECURITY
Despite being published as opening 3 hours before departure time, it looked like Etihad’s ground staff wasted no time in getting people checked in. I was in line by 1149 hours, and this looked like a bit of a long one. In this day and age of technology, it probably no longer makes sense to wait in the baggage drop line. The regular economy line seemed to be moving much quicker. There seemed to be passengers lining up at the Etihad Apartment line(s) as well! Not sure if there was any passenger in the residence, though.
There were some fancy baggage tags handed out - much like those in Kolkata. I did hear from the chit-chatter of the staff that mentioned that most, if not all passenger’s luggage is overweight, so the flight almost always departs ‘close to its maximum limits'’. Interesting. Check in itself was rather strange. The person helping me out *really* did not want to be there. Not only did they cold shoulder my question about the loads, they did not hand me a boarding pass for AUH-BOM despite confirming my final destination. Well, I suppose there was a stop to be made at AUH for a boarding pass!
Headed for security at 1205 hours, just under 3 hours till departure. Given the lines and random drug test screening (for which I was flagged down), getting security done by 1217 hours was actually not bad at all.
Walking through the duty free and stuff, I decided to head to concourse A first. The Asiana A380 to Seoul was boarding, while gates were set up for the 102s: EY102 to Abu Dhabi, and AI102 to New Delhi and Mumbai.
Lovely Virgin Atlantic A340-600 at a gate
THE RACE WITH AIR INDIA?
It is a very popular question that I'm asked everywhere: why do I not fly Air India? AI unfortunately was never an option for this time. They were fairly pricey. A quick schedule check showed that AI102 would depart JFK at 1525 hours, reaching Mumbai the following day at 1910 hours. EY102 would depart JFK at 1500 hours, reaching Abu Dhabi at 1210 hours the following day, while EY204 would depart AUH at 1420 hours, and reaching Mumbai at 1930 hours. With padded schedules, winds, etc etc - it was anyone’s guess. Either one of them would reach Mumbai first, and this race on different routes would be a close on. The two horses, VT-ALN and A6-APH:
Aer Lingus A330-200 graced us with its presence…
Asiana A380 to Seoul -
The race began with VT-ALN ‘Jammu & Kashmir’ being towed to gate A4. It wasn’t long before A6-APH was taken to Gate A7 as well. Do check out the time-lapse of the entire process in the video trip report :) 1246 hours, 2hr24min to departure, Papa Hotel was on stand, being prepared for departure.
El Al B747
Towed to gate A7
AI102 at A4, JFK ATC
DL B763 among other internationals - concourse B (and T2) are loaded with Delta…
Some spotting later, it was time for brunch. Panda Express it would be.
A nice heavy brunch later, headed back to gate A7. It didn’t look very full, hmm maybe I’d get that empty middle seat at least. Time would tell.
Quick spotting before boarding -
Boarding was called at 1412 hours, 48 minutes before departure time, a little behind schedule. It did look like it would be an on time departure for the most part.
The Asiana A380 was on its way, as I made it on to the jet bridge, 36 minutes before departure time.
A relatively friendly crew were welcoming passengers on to their flagship A380 of their flagship route. It looked like I was picking up on Etihad right where I left them off! The Etihad Economy smart seat looked absolutely outstanding. Although the headrest might seem strange with just the one side popping out, the fabric looked pretty inviting - but one could easily identify the blue dots on them. The fuzzy remains of the blanket.
Seat 72A is located at the very end of the mid-section of the lower deck. The upper deck is of course, all premium with the Studio, Apartment & Residence. From the looks of it, the front of the plane filled up well, the middle was about half, and barely anyone headed to the very back. Shoot, maybe I should’ve sat at the very back! Anyway, a Kenyan individual took seat 72C, but 72B was empty. Nice, an empty middle seat always helps!!
At the seat, the blue blankets and the innovative neck pillow was placed for all folks. One thing that felt a little strange, and threw me off a lot more than shouldn’t have - the boarding music. It wasn’t the same one that enthralled my girlfriend and on our way back to ORD from CCU. It didn’t feel right (for the lack of a better word).
Cabin - amazing IFE!
IFE wasn’t operational yet - there had to be all those promotional videos showing off the various destinations EY flies to….pity some of them no longer exist. Wait…I am from there!
Wait…I am going there!
18 minutes before departure, 1442 hours: the Captain came around on the PA system and gave us details of the flight: Senior First Officer Vincent and Flavio was alongside Captain Valeri Mialnov Kolev, while Stanley was in charge of the cabin. Flying time of 12hr, which was pretty normal for the time of the year.
The headphones (magnetic coupling) and amenity kits were handed out. Good to see the latter again! :) IFE was made accessible with the usual seat number, Captain’s name and cabin manager. Interestingly, the IFE showed an image of the destination: Abu Dhabi!
Welcome screen for 72B
Headset & amenity kit
Once the IFE was accessible, I knew where I had to head to - the different cameras! Be the A320, the B777, or the flagship A380, Etihad has onboard cameras! The A380 has the super awesome tail camera, in addition to the downward facing and nose wheel camera. The IFE screen itself was easy to use, but more on the IFE later.
DEPARTURE - PUSHBACK
Welcome announcements, and safety videos later, we pushed back 1522 hours, 22 minutes late. VT-ALN was well on its way to New Delhi, leaving much before time even. In fact EK201, the A380 from the neighboring rival at Dubai had arrived and docked at gate A6.
SQ A380 in the distance
4 of the 4 GP7200 engines were fired up - the golden whale slowly started taxiing to Runway 31L. Taxiing past T5 (ex-TWA, JetBlue), being jumped in sequence by an American A321, and rain clouds following, it was only a matter of moments before this whale would depart from the 16th busiest airport in the world!
DEPARTURE - TAKE OFF
Cameras set, lined up with Tree-One Left, Etihad Forty-Four Alpha had all four of its GP7270 engines powered up to full as Papa Hotel slowly gathered speed before taking to the skies, and banking North East. There were beautiful views of Howard Beach, East New York, Floyd Bennett Field (NYC’s First municipal airport), before finally getting to the clouds as we flew around the field and Queens.
Flying over the first ever NYC Municipal Area airport - the Floyd Bennett field
Chopping through some clouds -
Climbing closer to cruise altitude, the service manager Stanley had quite a lot to say. This included information about not gathering by the exit doors and whatnot - again, a curious announcement that I have only heard on Etihad, duty free, usual seat belt fastened, and signed it off with a happy mothers day. :)
Alrighty, on to the seat back and IFE. Very smooth and effective touchscreen, in addition to a mobile device sized touch screen remote. On to the left was the headphone jack for IFE, and a USB port - this was very slow for charging. On the right was the universal power port.
While not as extensive as the industry-leading ICE, eBox was more than reasonable. A very user-friendly interface, plenty of content, and more than enough to keep us avgeeks fulfilled with the information, camera and maps. The only downside, and a pretty big one - the headphones were horrible. Very left biased. It was pretty annoying, if anything.
The hand held remote was fantastic. It could be used to view cameras, flight info, change between programs easily, scroll through menus, etc. This was extremely handy.
Service started off 24 minutes after take off, 1612 hours ET. In addition to the terrible headphones, I suppose the drinks service was a bit of a downer. I was looking forward to a nice vodka with mango juice, but alas the latter was not available. Just a few uninspiring (the usual) juice selection. I settled for orange juice and vodka, with the nice crackers snack. And to top it off, the crew had all of the passengers pull down the window shades, even before we were offered something. SOP nowadays, I suppose.
Mood lighting was set to purple and orange - a sunset vibe, I suppose. Refresher towels were handed just after drinks, not long before they’d have lunch up and running. I settled in to watching The Girl on the Train….which got annoying very quickly because of the headphones not working. Mood lighting set up -
Warm towel, they haven't gotten rid of this yet.
Some of you might've noticed the glaring lack of menu cards - another cost cut measure that occurred over the couple of months since I last few Etihad…
Seeing how they started service on the B77W, I figured that Etihad would be the type of airline that would have two trolleys per section - one pulled all the way to the front, another that would start for close behind. And how right I was! The second cart was pulled up for the last few rows.
With no menus being distributed (make that the third not-nice thing of this flight), I wondered what the options were. And then there were three: lamb, chicken and Indian vegetarian. I went for the lamb. Lunch was served to me at 1652 hours ET, 1hr04min since take off. Orange juice with this one.
It stared off with another simple yet elegant salad: a mixture of finely chopped tomato, capsicum (peppers) and beans. This wasn’t frigid, but cold enough to enjoy. Loved it.
The main course consisted of a shepherd’s pie - a nice layer of buttery potato covered the lovely minced lap just underneath. Awesome stuff, Etihad delivered on the meal front yet again!
To finish it off was kheer - an Indian rice pudding, lightly sweet, but it hit the spot very well.
A multigrain roll, water, salt pepper, butter and actual silverware went with the meal.
Cruising at 35000 feet, the sun was slowly starting to set, but none of us had any view of this since the crew were actually very strict about keeping window shades down. In addition, the rather indifferent crew later cleared up service items, turned off the lights in the cabin, and pretty much disappeared. No, they did not even come down the aisles with fluids - much unlike most carriers, and very unlike the Jan ’17 flight.
Managed to sneak in this sunset picture
And what one could see from the camera…
Some more IFE graphics - loved it!
Taking advantage of the wide & big cabin of the A380, I managed to rest my back on the huge plastic window shade, while placing my feet just under half way on 72B. Seat mate on this flight was surely much better than the person on MSP-LGA: they pretty much fell asleep after lunch/supper. Settled in to The Grand Budapest Hotel with my headphones, since Etihad’s did not work. So far, it was a bit of a mixed bag of a flight.
IFE MISHAP… 4 hours in to the flight, what I thought was a decent IFE system had a bit of a moment. It crashed! It kept showing a ‘Loading GUI content’ screen for long. I tried calling a flight attendant to help me with this - she was pretty courteous and helped me with it. While it took a good 40 minute to resolve the issue, the flight attendant stood in the galley keeping a close eye on my screen to make sure it worked, and kept trying until it did.
As for the crew, that’s as hospitable as they got on this flight, unfortunately…. My call request for a glass of water later in the flight was cancelled. TWICE!
Seat mate in the middle seat…
While that unfolded, I connected to Etihad’s 24 hour WiFi package. For $21, it isn’t too bad a deal, considering you think about it being a less-than-a-dollar an hour service. Granted, one can only really use it to its full potential when flying from China or Japan to the USA, or vice-versa. We were pretty much on EY150’s heels - A6-ETJ was the B777-300ER on the Atlantic crossing from Chicago to Abu Dhabi.
Etihad’s new planes have some swanky lavatories - albeit just some wooden lamination, the walls have some cool brown squares - part of the ‘shapes’ and ‘textures’ initiative Etihad have come up with in their re-branding exercise. It was moodlit as well, in addition to the basic amenities. No, they weren’t a Singapore Airlines type stocked with all amenities, but they did hand out the amenity kits.
The IFE worked again, but this still did not solve the sound issue unfortunately. I woke up just in time for the second meal service - the ‘Cafe Service’, a quick sandwich and juice. This time it was a choice of either turkey or cheese. I went for turkey and a glass of apple juice. 0138 hours UTC, 05hr50min since take off. The sandwich itself was pretty small and not great, compared to EY151 at least. Yay for working IFE!
Second meal - not great
Caught up with some sleep again as I watched Pirate’s of the Caribbean. This worked with my normal headphones - which is another advantage of this IFE system. You could use the airline supplied headphones (which has its own jack), or a 3.5mm jack. So, in essence it was a fault with the headphones, but I didn’t bother asking the flight attendants, since it looked like they were a little on the cold side.
History of the world was uploaded, which helped a quick 20 minutes to go by. Yes, a YouTube video that streamed perfectly. *Looks at United after paying $18 for a relatively crappy wifi performance*. Helpful search function
Amenity kit was nice -
Seat back pocket content -
The sun rose well and truly in to a new day, but to no avail: Etihad’s strict policy of shut window shades meant that I had to rely on the tail camera view for the views outside. The cabin manager Stanley also came around to make sure all window shades were down, even if it was a few inches. Bummer!
Caramel popcorn was handed out as we were over continental Europe. Trust Etihad to keep you well fed….although I did not notice a self-service bar that was set up (if at all there was one). It was time for another quick nap of sorts, as we slowly but surely entered the final stages of the flight.
WHICH A380 SHALL IT BE?
In the mean time, I was starting to wonder what the next A380 would be. The whole point of the JFK-AUH-BOM A380 was a same plane service. However as more A380s came in to Etihad’s fleet, there was more flexibility to rotate the planes: the AUH-JFK-AUH A380 would sit around in AUH for the rest of the day before flying to LHR/SYD/MEL at night, while a morning arrival from LHR/SYD/MEL would head to Mumbai. Alternatively, the A380 doing JFK-AUH would head to BOM as well. FlightRadar24 said A6-APH was scheduled to operate EY204 after EY102. My heart dropped a little. However, Etihad’s website and Abu Dhabi airport’s website mentioned that EY102 would arrive at Gate 60, while EY204 would depart from gate 61. This meant, another A380 would be towed in to gate 61 as none of the morning arrival A380s were at Gate 61.
My father instructed me to give him a call if possible when at Abu Dhabi - he’d be the closest family member to me as he was in Saudi Arabia at the time. I was very excited to be on my way home, but if anything - quite disappointed with Etihad so far.
Mood lighting was turned on about 10hr23min in to flight once again - with just under 1.5 hours to go, this meant it was time for the third (fourth?) and final meal service - the no-option Indian vegetarian meal. This was served at 0828 hours EEST, 10hr40min in flight.
A rather small tray if anything - there was just the cup of water, a Hershey’s chocolate (for dessert, I suppose), a salad, the mains and silverware. I had a Sprite to go along with it.
The salad itself consisted largely of corn, and just a few peppers here and there. Pretty simple, so nothing to mess up on really, and Etihad didn’t.
The main course contained rice, cauliflower curry and potato curry. While piping hot, this left a very very strange after taste, one that I did not like to be honest. I had it anyway, since my next meal would be on EY204 to BOM. All in all, a rather disappointing meal which underlined what was pretty much a sub-par flight on Etihad’s flagship A380.
We were well and truly over the Persian Gulf as we entered what literally was the eleventh hour. :) Service was wrapped up pretty quickly on the empty-ish A380.
I took the opportunity to explore the cabin a little bit more before everyone lined up at the restrooms, and the seatbelt signs would be turned on. This gave me a better look in to the design gimmicks that EY have on their A380s. Got to admit, these projections do look kinda cool though…wonder what the upper deck would be like?!
Empty rear cabin
DESCENT & ARRIVAL
Time for some more window shots…?
Connecting gate info
Just about 45 minutes prior to arrival, First Officer Fabio came around with information of our flight - it would noon by the time we’d reach Abu Dhabi, which was reporting a warm 37C, 9km visibility (99F and 6miles) and some variable winds. Quickly followed by the cabin manager’s announcement.
There really wasn’t much traffic at Abu Dhabi at this time, with just the JFK A380 and the ORD B77W being the big arrivals. Lined up with Runway 31L for an arrival from the South East. Of course, the A380 had to make some really loud sounds as the landing gear was dropped!
AUH Intl in the distance
As Papa Hotel’s shadow was cast just underneath itself, it was a bit of thud landing just past the 1000 foot markers at 1159 hours, after a flying time of 12hr11min. It was nice to be back in Abu Dhabi, albeit a little lonely since my girlfriend wouldn’t be with me this time.
Promptly turned off of the runway to the long announcements on arrival by the flight crew - the went on pretty much till the engines were off at Gate 60! Taxied by Etihad planes of all shapes and sizes - A380s to A320s, and of course the Chicago B777-300ER we chased for a large part of the flight. Loving the camera!
B77W from ORD
Two A380s were at Gate 54 and 55 respectively. One of them had to be moved right then to Gate 61, else a gate change was on the cards. Had some time before the next flight of course, but I figured since this was a relatively empty flight and most (if not all) passengers from the ORD flight were screened, there was no harm in waiting a little before disembarking. Always interesting to see the state the cabin is in as you’re disembarking - blankets strewn across, cups and other plastic trash on the floor, head rest covers ripped, etc. etc. The ground staff on this one was going to have it easy, since it was a relatively empty flight.
Goodbye Papa Hotel!
Weird to see a narrow body plane parked at the gate @ AUH.
Arrivals on top, departures at the bottom
EY150 from ORD
Another narrow body
One of the two A380s…
Heading to transfers
Heading towards transit security, the A380 at Gate 54 had operated flight EY455 from Sydney. This was being pushed back, and presumably being tugged to gate 61, for the flight to Mumbai. With that, it is time to sign off on this trip report!
New York - JFK
Abu Dhabi - AUH
The only reason I selected Etihad for this trip back home was to see their A380s, and what they’re like. They proved themselves to a very high standard on the way back from Abu Dhabi to Chicago, and I was expecting a lot from them. This flight however, was nothing short of a mixed, something I wasn't expecting. The first meal was simply amazing, IFE content and UI was outstanding, and I really liked the cabin/seats. WiFi was very nice as well. But that’s the hard product, for the most part. The crew were just off color, other than when they had to help me with the IFE. I’m not quite sure what to say about the sandwich and second meal, they were pretty awful. Headphones were broke, as well. Keeping behind me what was a sub-par flight, I was looking forward to my second A380 flight in to India!
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