If there was any point during my summer trip that there was a nadir, this was it. The return was just so much going wrong. It was a very uneasy trip back to the USA. I squeeze in BOM-AUH-IAD simply because there was not much to write home about on the flights itself, but whatever happened around it.
Web check in for Etihad flights is 48 hours prior to departure. It was a pretty pain-free process on the mobile app, however mobile boarding passes were not processed. I was okay with that - I love physical boarding passes any day!
Manage my booking showing the seat map for the B77L
Mobile check in - confirming details.
Seat map - kinda full B77L:
Hmm, empty B789?
Check in completion confirmation
I had nearly 17 hours to kill in Mumbai. No amounts of time in Mumbai is ever enough. It is however always great to be back. I was very happy that I gave up the ambitious AI/9W 787/330 combo via Delhi. I got to see my cousins and I hung out some esteemed members of Airliners India: KaB, YaS and TG made for a great evening over snacks and beer. Later in the evening was a great dinner with my family, a last one before I headed back to India next.
ETIHAD'S (NOW HISTORIC) B777-200LR USAGE
This was going to be my first flight on the Boeing 777-200LR. I first knew of these aircraft thanks to Air India taking delivery of these during their rebranding in 2007. Neighbors over at Pakistan were the launch customer for the B777-200LR! Ironically, Air India termed the B777-200LR to be fuel guzzlers (remember, the same airline who’ve retired the B747-400 countless number of times and continue to operate them). As a result, the first 5 were sold dirt cheap to….Etihad! Etihad used the B777-200LR to great effect operating flights to Los Angeles and Dallas, both 16+ hour flights. Perfect for the 777-200LR!
2 would be used for AUH-DFW-AUH, 2 would be used for AUH-LAX-AUH. West bond departure in the morning, and they’d be back by the evening the next day. To minimize the downtime these birds wouldn’t overnight at AUH, instead head to India (BOM/DEL) before continuing westbound. 4 used for these missions, and one as a spare/other odd & short flights (or even Australia, some times). With A6-LRA and A6-LRB away to DFW and LAX respectively, it would be down to A6-LRC/LRD/LRE. Notice how even the registration has LR in it…?
THE NIGHT BEFORE….
It was an uneasy night of sleep. The storm came in, and it showed no mercy. Mumbai was soaked pretty bad. I could not sleep. Not so much the thunder, but the anxiety of delayed flights departing BOM (although I had a nice long 3hr45min cushion at AUH), and my electronics, so to speak. I kept a keen eye on Abu Dhabi airport as well: EY206 was to be departing a little later than schedule.
I called a taxi to take me to the airport for 0030 hours. I gave myself plenty of time for spotting as well. As we backed out and head towards the airport, I said goodbye to my Mum. It was uncertain when I’d see her next, and it was a long trip ahead, all alone. I reached the airport at 0056 hours, well in time for departure.
UNLUCKY #17: CLUELESS GROUND STAFF?!
The rain had reduced significantly. Etihad’s check in was all the way at island A.
It didn’t look like a very full flight, but that can be attributed to the fact that the plane only carries 225 passengers. As I joined the line for check in, the agent asked me where I was heading off to. Washington DC, I said. And this is where things started tailspinning out of control.
‘Sir, are you aware that you cannot take laptops, cameras and iPads in the cabin on USA bound flights?’ ‘Yes’, I said. ‘I will get my laptop re-packed at Abu Dhabi airport after security.’ ‘No sir you have to put it with your checked baggage right now.’‘Why? Your airline’s website clearly states that I can take my laptop with me up to Abu Dhabi and then hand it over to your airlines’ officials.’ ‘No sir, ever since March 2017 all USA bound passengers have to put their large electronic devices in to checked baggage.’ Remember this was despite the fact that Etihad had it published on their website. At this point I knew I was talking to some one who obviously did not fully aware of all of Etihad’s rules with regards to repacking @ Abu Dhabi. In fact, I would like to highlight a phone call that I had made to Etihad weeks before this trip getting a verbal confirmation & final assurance that I could in fact take the stuff with me up to Abu Dhabi. I would’ve rather handed these over to the people at AUH and minimize the time away from my devices, since this procedure has been tried and tested many a times.
Back to reality, and I was stuck with this clueless attendant who obviously was not well informed. This was a pointless conversation that was not going to go very far. In fact, he didn’t really seem to enforce it as much as he was in a hurry to get more and more passengers checked in. Dejected & defeated from this absolutely bizarre indecent, I went back and got those tacky suitcase films to protect from the rain - if that had been ripped open, I’d know if it had been tampered with. Not the most effective, but it is something.
The guy once again asked me if I had my laptop packed in to my checked baggage, to which I affirmed. Not like he checked my cabin baggage anyway, I could’ve gotten away with it - dang it! It hurts to be honest, what can be said…. The line moved slow, so slow. Up at the counter itself, there was some passenger who had already checked in but did not want the suitcases to be dispatched for whatever weird reason. That guy stuck around while my check in was processed for what honestly felt like eternity. Whoever Etihad contracted at Mumbai sure know how to ruin a flight even before it’s begun!
With their verbal assurance that my laptop would be fine (I packed it in between many clothes, but the threat of theft is always present…), I enquired about getting a legroom seat on AUH-IAD at least. While this was another long and slow process (why did I even bother…), I really wished for the before-check-in baggage screening that they still have over at CCU, that way no one’s really going through my stuff as much. Ho hum!
EY131 was to be a completely sold out flight. Did I want to be stuck in window seat on a 3-3-3 configured B787 with not so much legroom? The answer was simple. I purchased an emergency exit for the long flight, but the elegant idiot that was the check in agent insisted that I got a ‘complimentary’ exit row on BOM-AUH as well. While I declined, he kept shoving it down. Fine, whatever, probably won't be getting the actual window any more. I didn’t bother explaining that I wanted to be in the small Y cabin of the B77L, and that a proper window would give me some decent window view shots. I just took it. This meant well for the video TR, which is pretty short….
SEUCIRTY & IMMIGRATION
My God. I was done with all of this at 0148 hours. Spent pretty much an hour just at check in alone, oh good job Etihad! By contrast, I was done with immigration and security by 0157 hours - less than 10 minutes to knock out both. Solid stuff! Back in to the duty free with a very very light backpack, I was feeling very nervous and tired. It won’t be until just about 24 hours till I knew the status of my laptop. I was not looking forward to this one bit.
Bottle neck to departures
Lovely empty immigration -
After security -
I was looking forward to doing some planespotting, but that too was ruined thanks to the rain shower, ugh. Very unlucky, once again. I tried getting as much as I could though: Domestics parked for the night
International 9W and MH bound for KUL
AI144 to EWR - delayed by 5 hours!
Heading down towards gates
UL A321 from CMB - always nice to see a UL planes :)
9W A333 to AMS
BA B789 to LHR
KE A333, AF B77E - Skyteam at BOM!
LH B744 - the only queen around at the time - to FRA
The race to middle east was well and truly on, starting off with the Emirates A380 arriving from Dubai, followed by Qatar Airways’ B777-300ER from Doha, and finally the smallest of the three Etihad’s B777-200LR from Abu Dhabi.
Emirates & Etihad were completely packed in addition to Lufthansa’s B747 to Frankfurt, and the Korean Air A330 to Seoul. The gate where the Qatar B777-300ER was at was hauntingly empty. An immediate knock on effect of the boycott! It made me very sad since arguably QR is considered to be the best of the 3 MEB3 right now.
Walked around for a little bit longer, headed to the domestic side of things, and browsed on the computer for a little bit. Not helped by the fact that there was this absolute creepy guy who kept looking at everything I did holy hell. I left that place and waited till we were ready to board.
Look at the MEB3 departing one after the other!
Back to the gate…
Back at gate 77, Etihad’s B777-200LR A6-LRD had arrived and was in the middle of its turnaround. Passengers had deplaned, bags unloaded, carts being exchanged. All said and done, the B77L looked rather impressive in the night light and rainy skies. I was a little excited to finally log in a B777-200LR flight, albeit not on a flight it was intended for.
Boarding was called pretty much on cue at 0345 hours - 50 minutes before departure. I wasted no time and joined the line. Eagerly anxious to get this flight going! So instead of keeping it classy and leaving the non-perforated boarding pass just the way it is these agents decided to fold it make the most uncoordinated rip to give us the stub and keep the rest of it. Awfully unprofessional!
Anyway, I walked past my original seat 19A which had a superb view outside, and towards 21A - the emergency exit seat which had absolutely no window even if it had been reclined back. The cabin filled up - mostly with elderly people on their way to vacations. It was quite the scene onboard as most of them didn't know what was going onboard with the baggage and stuff - they wanted to keep it with them as opposed to putting it up in the bins…. 21B/C remained for a while, until an elderly couple showed up. And boy were they cringeworthy…. They’d keep hitting the call button pretty much annoying the crew, store their bags on the floor by the exit door on the 777….oh man was this going to be an interesting flight.
Not a single Indian crew member on this flight - quite contrary to EY204, the A380 on the way in. Shows that Etihad only really prioritize that one flight compared to all others. I had also noted on EY255 (CCU-AUH) there were no Indian crew members while QR and EK both had at least one Indian crew member. The crew on this one were largely disinterested and this negative attitude showed through out. They locked up one of the lavatories without any given reason - this caused a lot of confusion amongst the passengers in flight, but more on this later.
Pushed back at 0433 hours, 2 minutes before time. The GE90s fired up which was perhaps the best part of this flight. Flight attendant in front of me decided it was a good time to remove her shoes and get….whatever there was in between her toes. Ew. Ew. Ew. Ewwwwww.
Quick taxi to Runway 27 - the last thing I remember was the sound of the GE90s being powered up and blasting down the wet runway of Mumbai.
It was a very uneasy sleep. Breakfast was served just under an hour after departure. One of the cabin crew members came around and pushed me on my shoulder. I looked up, absolutely bewildered. ‘Breakfast?’ was the question. ‘Sure’, I responded. A tray was placed in front of me with the main course on there. No choice for me. This was the Indian vegetarian option. ‘Heya, but would you mind checking if there is a non-vegetarian option?’ The flight attendant looked at me like I had asked him to donate me his kidney: ‘Non-vegetarian?’ he replied back before retreating back to the cart. He found a cheese omelet and placed it on my tray.
So then, in front of me was a horrible omelet du fromage. It tasty very synthetic and dry - which was compensated for by the overly soggy and equally terrible potatoes. I nearly chocked on the fruits because of how frozen they were. A rude awakening for sure! Chicken sausage was OK, and the best part of this meal was the strawberry yogurt and orange juice - the pre-packaged stuff.
Some other things I remember from this flight (the parts I was awake for at least…) was that way too many passengers lined up in the emergency exit area because of only one functioning lavatory. Language barriers meant that the crew had a very difficult time communicating with the passengers and vice versa, frustrations all the way around.
I remember seeing a beautiful sunrise as we descended in towards Abu Dhabi. A smooth touchdown and we taxied towards one the USA-bound flight gates, gate 59. I was happy this flight had come to an end, albeit it meant a slightly longer layover at Abu Dhabi.
Cabin on arrival
Exited the plane - the B777-200LR looked gorgeous in the morning sun, a pity it was such a crap flight.
This B77L stayed the night at AUH while A6-LRE was operating EY211 from New Delhi, and was inbound.
Mumbai - BOM
Abu Dhabi - AUH
Oh. My. God. I couldn't believe that this was the same Etihad that had impressed my girlfriend and I just a few months prior to this one. Everything on this flight was just...wrong. There really is no need to justify it's very small rating here, it is all pretty self-explanatory. There is so much that has changed over at Etihad over the past year, not all of them necessarily good. The electronics ban was not handled very well here either. Pity, I was hoping at least a mediocre flight on Etihad over to Washington DC.
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