I had been looking forward quite a lot to this flight. It was my first flight on Etihad. Frankly it was my first flight on any of the big Middle East carriers. And while I had found a few cabin view pictures on Airliners.net, I had not found any trip reports so had no idea what to expect from Etihad on one of their shorter haul regional business class flights. So I was quite giddy when the Park Hyatt rep came to the Maldivian lounge to tell us the Etihad check in had opened up. He took us over the check in area where there was a loooong line for coach, but for business class passengers there was a separate area altogether:
Rather than stand in line, you are given one of the seats and the staff take care of you. A very nice touch! It took a while as seems there were a lot of us there, but this gave me a few moments to sneak some nice views of Male from through the window:
We were eventually checked in, still in the company of the Park Hyatt rep, and after that he showed us to security at which point he said goodbye and we then made our way to the post-security “Plaza Premium Lounge” which is shared by all the airlines. There really is not much to say or write about the lounge. It’s dry, so no booze, and has a few basic food items, and is more comfortable than sitting on the public seats in the airport:
After an unexciting visit to this lounge we made our way down to the boarding area. The current airport has no air-bridges (that will change come 2014 with the building of a new terminal) so once again we had the fun of walking out on the tarmac to our Airbus A320:
And so we boarded what turned out to be quite an odd flight to Abu Dhabi!
Etihad Airways Flight 279 AUH-MLE
Monday 22nd October 2012
Scheduled: 8:40pm departure 11:55pm arrival
Aircraft: Airbus A320
There were two things that were immediately apparent upon boarding. First of all, the crew, while very welcoming and smiley, were in a complete stressed panic. No apparent reason why, but from the get-go the two staff working business class made it feel like it should have needed ten staff to do whatever they were doing. Second, there was a lot of “mist” on the plane. Maybe this is just our ignorance of how planes are in hot climates, but we found it utterly bizarre and we were not the only one. Here is a video I took to try to capture some of it (and some of the flight attendant lol!):
As everyone else boarded there were plenty of jokes about “I thought this was a non-smoking flight” or “who set the place on fire?”. Ho hum! Someone eventually asked one of the harassed looking FA’s who said it was just normal in humid climates. Well, new one to me. And the other 130 odd passengers on this busy Airbus.
Anyhow, despite the odd mist, our seats looked very welcoming and comfortable for the 4-odd-hour flight to Abu Dhabi. The seats are a traditional recliner seat, not suited for long haul trips but perfect for a medium-distance trip like this:
We were offered drinks and of course that meant going with Champagne. The choice was very impressive with Mumm Cuvee Lalou Prestige 1999. This is a rarer Mumm offering and I was most impressed to see this on their regional flights (this is a bottle that would set you back $150-200 a bottle in the USA, if you can find it). A couple of glasses later and we were up in the air and on our for our straight line flight to Male:
The crew got to work quickly. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but they sure looked stressed. But personally I was mellowing quite nicely with copious amounts of the fabulous Mumm Lalou Champagne:
Having left the Park Hyatt many hours earlier I was looking forward to dinner and perused the meun with some eagerness. Here is what they had on offer:
I went with the Traditional Arabic mezze for my starter… when in Rome and all that good stuff! It was a pretty nice way to get things started:
For the main course I had to go with Chicken Tikka, which I have to say for those of you who don’t know us Brits is actually pretty much the national dish of the UK, having long sur-planted Fish & Chips. All I will say about it (and I think this holds for most Chicken Tikka’s) is it tasted a whole lot better than it looked:
I paired this up with the Nautilus Esate New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which was fabulous though frankly tasted pretty much like every single other New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the planet. The folks in Marlborough certainly have mastered the concept of homogeneity 🙂 After polishing off the Tikka I rounded off with the Coffee Cheesecake, which was “not to my taste” as I teach my kids to say when they don’t like something:
While the cheesecake may not have been altogether to my taste, the Sauternes was pretty enjoyable. Though frankly after the amount of Lalou I had consumed, followed by the generic Kiwi sauvignon, pretty much anything would taste good at this point 🙂 Food service was done and dusted within an hour of take-off, leaving us a few hours to mellow out and watch a movie. This afforded some time to take a look around the facilities on board:
While these recliner seats are not the most modern product, I found this one very comfortable and perfectly suited for lounging around for a couple of hours mellowing out drinking coffee and watching a movie. This whiled away the time very nicely to Male. When you look back at coach (we were in the last row of business) it was another great reminder of the power of our mileage collecting hobby and how lucky we are to have such luxurious surrounding for pennies when there are a hundred or so folks behind us who have paid for their very ordinary experience.
Before long we were on descent into Abu Dhabi. Being the middle of the night there was nothing much to observe on the way in and after landing we had a long, long, long taxi to a remote stand where we were met by a bus. I found that odd given we were in Etihad’s home turf. And from there the ground service got downright bizarre. Because my wife is Canadian she is not eligible to enter the UAE without a visa and we had arranged a visa through Etihad to be collected on arrival (long story on that in it’s own right). Once we finally got to the terminal we stood in line at a place marked for visa collection only to be told we had to go to a different counter elsewhere in the airport. So we made our way over there, only to be told we had to go the Etihad transfer desk first. And there we found a huge line. Eventually got through that and collected our visa and went to customs, only to be sent away from there because my wife had to have a retina scan. This is when the somewhat less appealing side of the UAE came starkly into focus. Here was the line for the retina scan:
Sure felt odd standing in a very long of nothing but women, all veil-covered and being treated with utter disdain by the customs staff. Seems the UAE is not exactly the most women-friendly part of the world.
After a nice flight (despite the stressed staff) this really was an unpleasant way to be “welcomed” to the UAE and it took maybe 90 minutes from landing to actually getting through the airport. This is probably not the same experience most have, but most folks don’t have to see the “other side” of the UAE by going through the visa process.
Once we finally got through we went to the Etihad service desk to get out car which we had pre-booked to take us to our overnight stay at a nearby Park Inn. We were quickly shown outside where there was a long, long, long line of shiny black cars. I think this really summed up our intro to the UAE. We walked past at least 20 shiny new Audi A8’s….
Then once we finally got to the front of the line, there was a sh***y Volvo from about 1999 awaiting us:
Now I know for sure these are real #FirstWorldProblems, and frankly we just had to laugh. I guess they have the odd clunker in amongst all those nice Audis and it was our “lucky” night!
Anyway at least we had a free ride on off we went to the Park Inn by Radisson at Yas Island, a short hop from the airport for our overnight stay before our First Class flight home the following morning.
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