Part four of the summer 2017 trip back to India features an Etihad A380 on what probably used to be one of the shortest Airbus A380 flights in the world. A few months after this flight wa flown, Etihad removed the A380 from this route completely, and used it to more profitable destinations such as Paris. Ever since, this flight was flown on A340-600 aircraft, before moving on to A330-300s, and now a mix of the latter, B777-300ERs and B787-9s. Going back in order of this trip, it started off with a quick and easy flight from GFK to MSP on SkyWest, which later turned in to a (marginal) nightmare due to weather at NYC: a 4.5 hour delay in to New York. This was followed by, well, a pretty sub-par flight on Etihad's flagship A380. Much of this trip has also been marred by a lot of bad luck, most of which was pretty non-existent on the flight itself. Keep reading for more….
ABU DHABI LAYOVER
It was great to be breathing in some fresh air and walking around in the heat of Abu Dhabi’s T3, even if the air conditioners tried their best to keep in cool. Before transit security however, I had to get the boarding pass for my onward flight to Mumbai - never have I had the port-of-origin agent not hand me an onward boarding pass. Weird. Anyway, the line was short at Etihad’s transfers counter. It was 1226 hours GST, just under 2 hours to departure. Just an hour till boarding.
Headed down to the transfer security which was done within 7 or 8 minutes, and thankfully not too crowded. The phone call to my father never happened. I was able to send him a quick text though. ‘Waiting for the flight to Mumbai. Abu Dhabi is hot!’ ‘Cool cool. What next to Mumbai? A320?’ ‘Na. A380!’ ‘Wow! Remember when you wanted to get on the shortest A380 flight possible?!’ My father was referring to a time pre-2014 when we really wanted to get on an A380, and we were going to keep it short. Our options came down to Dubai - Riyadh or Singapore - Hong Kong. The latter happened, a quick 3hr40min flight. AUH-BOM was going to be much shorter, while Emirates have an even shorter DXB-KWI flight!
Abu Dhabi’s three terminals are connected rather well. While my itinerary mentioned EY204 to BOM would depart from T1, it was quite clearly from T3. There was a bit of walk to Gate 61, but no stop at the US-CBP PreClearence. The A380 at Gate 54 was being turned around for flight EY17 to London Heathrow. This was A6-APC.
APC to LHR.
The gate was open for all passengers well before boarding. One way in, no way out - so no way for anyone to head the restrooms if need be. 1253 hours, 1hr27min to departure.
Walking towards Gate 61
Entering the Gate Area
Went in, and straight for the windows, since there were a couple of interesting aircraft there - two AirBerlin A330s, one of them in completely white colors with just the titles on there. This was stored just a month prior. And how quickly they dropped….
There was also a TAM A320 in the distance, which was amusing.
THE ETIHAD HUB
While EY102 arrives during a bit of a lull at Abu Dhabi, Etihad’s significant bank was starting to ramp up. Narrow bodies to Kolkata, Kathmandu, Islamabad, Kochi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Cairo, Kuwait, Bengaluru, Dammam, and wide bodies to Lahore, Jeddah, Delhi, Dhaka, Heathrow and of course to Mumbai, the last two being A380s. All these departures were between 1335 and 1445. Easy connections for those coming in from New York & Chicago. Pretty nice, but nothing as impressive as the ones at Dubai or Doha!
Beside the A320 at the remote bay heading to Kathmandu was the A380 taking me to Mumbai. A6-APG. The jet bridge attached to it made the A380 look…well, ugly. Its a plane that would only be loved by its mother, as one of my A380-pilot friend would say..
Horrid shot of the A320 to KTM
No matter what you try or what you say, the A380 doesn't look good…
Beside PG at 61 was PH at 60, this time with not many ground vehicles around taking a well deserved rest after its mission from the USA. It would be on ground for 10 hours before heading to Sydney as EY454.
BOARDING - OR KINDERGARTEN?
Boarding commenced at 1330 hours, about 50 minutes before departure time. The ground staff had their work cut out enforcing boarding zones, since most passengers just lined up at the gate blocking the way for those whose boarding had commenced. What happened next was one of the ground staff just yelling at passengers and asking them to sit down. Almost reached the zone of no-filter, but boy did Gate 61 sound like kindergarten all over agin! 2nd visit to AUH, 2nd incident of unprofessional crew…. Hmm.
I played the long game. I had Snapchat and the like to update. It was at this point I realized that I was calling a flight with a 3hr40min block time ‘short’, realizing how far I’ve come as far as traveling goes. Just 6 years ago a 3hr40min flight would’ve been the 2nd longest flight I’d ever be on! Finally joined the long line to board, and it gave me plenty of time to photograph the two A380s, right from side views to a hideous view of the nose….
Unlike most all A380s, APG did not have the 2017 Abu Dhabi GP stickers on the engines. Instead, it was 2017 Year of Giving Stickers. 2017 - the year of giving
Loooong line as we board - but what else is new?
Fuselage - golden!
It was a good 20 minutes in line before I boarded, but most of boarding was in fact done. Judging by the web check in map, I was expecting seats 48H/J to be filled.
But that wasn’t the case - the three empty seats in the front economy section were in fact 48H/J/K!
Walking down the aisle, you can’t help but feel that Etihad’s A380 is perhaps one of the best in the skies, even in Economy. Carpet colors went well with the seats, and there was just a general sense of calm among most passengers and crew, all set for a quick flight on this big bird. The passengers for the most part were Indian - very few Americans and Europeans. It looked like there weren’t very many people that had come in from the JFK flight even. View from the Window
Cabin crew consisted of a mix of Eastern European flight attendants (that you would expect on Etihad), and some Indian crew members as well, which was great to see. I took my seat and settled down to the view of the starboard GP7200 engines, hoping 48H/J would be empty. I was still missing out on Etihad’s boarding music from earlier in the year, which actually seemed to have a larger impact on this trip than it did before.
A6-EIS to Kathmandu departed, in fact most narrow bodies departed from their remote stands towards south Asian destinations. Papa Golf was being refueled even 18 minutes before departure time, and an announcement was made promptly. In the distance, A6-ETP (B777-300ER) was being pulled out of maintenance and would later fly to Toronto, Canada. Empty empty!
Fuzz from the blankets -
Just 2 minutes before scheduled departure time, the first sign of a delay came around - the captain introduced himself, alongside First Officer Ali. He announced a 25 minute delay because of congestion at Mumbai - the Code F gates were occupied, and of course I chuckled a bit as Captain called the A380 ‘the big guy’ :) He reassured us of making up the time, which was not a surprise given the flight had an unbelievably long block time (again, 3hr40min!!). I guess this meant that I’d lose to AI102 as it would’ve been in Mumbai already. He signed off with‘enjoy the service, enjoy the rest…but most importantly, enjoy life.’ That totally wasn’t menacing at all….. Crew did their announcements as well, both in English and Hindi. A full flight otherwise…
AND OFF WE GO!
Doors armed (which was done by hitting a button, not much effort required there!) while the cabin was kept cool & the safety video came on. IFE was made available just after this, once again showing an image of the destination: Gateway of India, the Taj Mahal Hotel of Mumbai. As I accessed the camera(s), it showed that the jet bridge had been disconnected….
….and right on cue, Papa Golf was pushed back at 1438 hours, 18 minutes late. Not a problem! The four GP7270 engines were slowly brought to life while being pulled forward a little bit by the tug. Papa Hotel was left alone for its well deserved rest before its hop over to Sydney.
It was quite a long taxi to Runway 31R, by the air traffic control tower on one side, and the new midfield concourse on the other. Who knows when this terminal will come up because Abu Dhabi *really* needs it, soon. Apron:
Construction & ATC
Lined up with runway 31R at 1457 hours, before the giant with the help of its pretty silent GP7270 powered down the runway. Some of the USA’s armed forces’ military transporters were present as well. A gentle and easy climb over Ferrari World before banking in towards the south east.
Overflying Ferrari world
Aerial view of Ferrari World and the new Abu Dhabi terminal
As some more of the reminder announcements came on, I fired up my phone’s wifi connectivity and followed….myself….A6-APG’s progress over to Mumbai. Unsurprisingly, this flight would be all of 2hr35min. It was a quick climb to 39000 feet. Lovely IFE detail!
Gentle giants - the GP7200
Cabin - not much moodlighting -
As short of a flight this would be, I still insisted on setting up my make shift ‘bed’. The last time I did this was also onboard an A380….. coincidence?
I was surprised to see that the seats actually reclined despite being at the very of the section, and usually the last row of seats do not recline. Keeping passenger comfort in mind, good job, Etihad!
I knew there won’t be much time to enjoy this anyway - the meal service would start soon. With the Etihad headphones working this time, I kept to Iron Maiden (I know, I’m boring. But its such an amazing song album!) The gentle giant trundled across the skies over the Arabian Sea. As always, time for Iron Maiden!
Lunch was served to me at 1555 hours GST, just under an hour after take off. The smaller economy section up front meant that carts were rolled from the galley behind me all the way to the front, but another showed up from the back as well. I do believe there were just the two options on offer - chicken and vegetarian. I went for the former. Handed to me was a full lunch on what felt like a rather small tray. Hey, I wasn’t complaining!
Salad was another trademark Etihad simple yet elegant offering of beans, carrots and peppers.
The main course contained Zafrani Murgh (a form of chicken curry), white rice and okra curry.
For dessert, it was blueberry mousse. Once again, another fantastic meal onboard Etihad. I had a white wine to wash all of this down. Keeping up with the Indian aspect of this flight was the mouth freshener which was nice to see.
After my meal, I headed to the restroom. Like Papa Hotel, the gimmicks on the walls were present.
THE CABIN CREW TAKE IT A STEP FURTHER!
This was where the flight got better. The flight crew (well, about 7 of them) were at the galley either chatting or preparing carts for drinks, I asked one of them if it was okay to take a picture of the galley. Not only did she reply in the affirmative, she also encouraged me to stand in the galley as she’d take a picture of me in there!This was simply because of the amazing architectural designs onboard that looked very similar to my sweater…that I unsurprisingly call the Eithad sweater. Awesome stuff!
Some pictures as the sunset happened
DESCENT & ARRIVAL
It wasn’t long before descent started. 1821 hours IST, just 1hr53min in flight. I was still surprised by the idea that I was on an A380…. for such a short flight! An orange hue started to set in because of the oncoming sunset.
Enthusiastic Captain came back to us with the METAR: 33C, clear skies, but haze and smoke would be present. ‘Sit back relax and again, enjoy life’. Yup, totally not menacing at all! Unfortunately we were in a bit of a hold pattern just east of Mumbai (which signified a typical Runway 27 arrival). Typical sights were seen such as the Parsik Mountain Range, Thane Creek, traffic on the Eastern Express highway, the Central/Harbour Railway lines , Jari Mari slums - landing in Mumbai is now just like clockwork.
A couple of Air India Dream)liners and Jet Airways wide bodies greeted us as we landed at 1910 hours, 2hr42min in flight and 20 minutes before time. Papa Golf pretty much took the entire runway to come to a stop.
THE AI102 RACE -
Crossing runway 14/32 at the time: VT-ALN! It had literally been MINUTES between AI102 from JFK and the Etihad A380 flights from JFK! This had been a close close race, and a fun one. Following us another B777 - this time a Saudia B777-200ER from Jeddah.
A non-stop but moderately long taxi to Gate 68A at 1921 hours. Just beside….VT-ALN! This race was kinda cool hehe.
Engines cut off, but passengers were well in to disembarkation from the Air India flight - immigration would be a load of fun. Papa Golf would head back to Abu Dhabi before flying to London Heathrow as EY11.
It was completely dark out - way past sunset and in to civil twilight - 1932 hours when I headed to immigration. As much of a mess it was, it didn’t take as long as I’d expected, which is always nice.
Had to make a quick stop at duty free to buy some booze - that was a first for me! Interestingly, the sales representative said any one above the age of 2 could by anything at duty free…weird!
You know an A380 has shown up when the baggage belts were completely full! Belt number 6 had 2 rows of luggage on them.
Long wait till I finally got my one and only suitcase. All done and dusted at 2008 hours, which is not bad at all considering the A380 had touched down 58 minutes ago. Efficient Mumbai, I suppose! Great seeing my mum and brother once again - we stopped at the Starbucks to get supper. They had just reached Mumbai the same morning on the Jnaneswari Express from Kolkata (Howarah), and didn’t have the time for grocery shopping unfortunately.
UNLUCKY #: THE UNHELPFUL TAXIS!
Well, what followed next was a very climatic episode to get home - being in Dombivali (that is a bit of a far off Eastern Suburb of Mumbai), many taxi companies rarely want to get going. Its only the app-based aggregators (Ola/Uber) that are willing to go, permitting. Unfortunately, some terrible cell reception meant that internet connectivity was shoddy - and taxis were hard to find. So, we tried with the state company - their excuse being that cash was the only form of payment (hey, what ever happened to that demonetization BS??) so the person there sent us to another line way downstairs. And guess what! Even those idiots wouldn’t take a card payment. This was getting annoying - when we tried with a private company - the reputable TabCab - or so we thought. Even they tried pushing us around left right and center before we finally managed to get a signal and find a taxi. A horrifying experience in Mumbai Airport came to an end, and we were left quite shocked.
Thanks to AbV for this screenshot -
FR24 flight path
Abu Dhabi - AUH
Mumbai - BOM
Well, this was it! I had made it! Barring the Delta delays due to the weather which ate in to my sleep time I had made it to Mumbai just fine. Thanks to Etihad’s A380s for a very comfortable journey back home. While there were some inconsistencies, there was nothing much to write about in itself. This flight was certainly much better with nicer food and a great crew. IFE worked on this one just fine. A few relaxing days in Mumbai before heading to Bengaluru!
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