Every January, my University runs about 30 trips to foreign countries for abbreviated study abroad sessions. The trips range from ‘Ecotourism in New Zealand’ to Immigrant Photography and History in London. A new course three years in the making for Winter Term 2009 was Science Development and Education in India and having always wanted to travel to the Asian subcontinent, I jumped on the chance to be one of 22 students on Elon University’s new flagship class. Our mission would take us all throughout Kerala in India, labeled God’s Own Country.
Though we’d have plenty of time to take in the sights and smells (and there were many!), our main focus was teaching middle school children about the simple wonders of science. We hoped to rekindle in them a spark for inquiry learning that’d last a lifetime. Of course, we wanted to learn from them as well, about life in India and their rich culture. The trip in its entirety was amazing, but alas, we’re here to talk about the flights and so here it goes. I apologize for having so few pictures, but I took my inferior camera with me just in case it got damaged while traveling and there was only a few hours of daylight on the JFK
flight – the other 3 were in complete darkness.
** The A.net site was giving me a headache about the pictures, so here is the link where you can see them (Sorry about the poor quality in advance) **
There is an album for India flights as well as an album with pics from the trip as a whole.
Saturday, January 3rd, 2009
Emirates 202 (JFK
: 8:30pm (+1)
ATA: 8:50pm (+1)
Airbus A380-800 A6-EDA
Economy Class, Seat 72A
I met up with my classmates in the pristine Terminal 4 at JFK
and could not believe that we were about to go across the globe to teach science, let alone on the new A380. My classmates were not as excited as I was about the plane, but when they found out they’d get their own television, the mood became visibly more optimistic about the long journey ahead.
Check in was painless and very quick. Emirates had about 8 counters open for Economy Class and the wait was minimal. My friends and I tried to score seats together, but the agent informed us that the flight was actually oversold and so we’d have to try our luck on the plane. No worries – my bag was quickly taken and we made our way to our departure gate. Boarding started one full hour prior to departure and it was only once I was entering the gate that I got my first glimpse of the beast that’d carry me to Dubai. There were 3 jetways attached to the plane – two to the lower deck and one to the upper deck.
Upon reaching the door, two silver carts with newspapers were manned by a friendly flight attendant wishing us a welcome aboard. The instant feeling that struck me when I got on the A380 was the sheer size of the plane. Having flown on the A340-600 to Shanghai some time ago, I remember thinking how large that plane felt. Compared to my initial reaction to the A380, the A340 may as well be an ERJ. The plane was absolutely cavernous and to think that there was an entire deck above me as almost too much for my senses to handle.
The mood lighting was on and the cabin was a warm, bright reddish-orange hue. This was a welcome change to the bright white light I’d typically expect upon boarding. Plenty of smiling and smartly dressed flight attendants were on hand to assist with baggage and were quick to climb on seats to arrange luggage so that everything would fit. I took my seat in 72A and was pleasantly greeted with a wrapped blanket, a good sized pillow, headset and an amenity kit. Inside the amenity kit were eyeshades, socks, toothbrush/toothpaste and seat stickers. There are three stickers which you can place on your seat if you decide to sleep, notifying the crew when you’d like to be woken up, if at all.
The huge PTV infront of me was absolutely beautiful in every sense of the word and the ice screen welcomed me to seat 72A with a small view of the nose camera giving a clean view forward. Next to the PTV on one side was a power port for laptops and on the other a USB outlet. Below the TV
was the remote control. The seat itself featured generous sliding recline, good legroom, winged headrests and an additional button for lumbar support. It was comfortable for sure and the lack of IFE boxes under the seats was a great asset. The window next to me was MASSIVE – it must have been about 30 inches from top to bottom, although the actual window it gave way to didn’t seem to be much larger than on the A330/A340. Then again, my entire perception of size was thrown off by the grand scale of everything on the A380, so who knows.
Before long, the doors were closed for departure and the flight crew came around the economy cabins with hot towels. The towels were thick, scented and piping hot – a wonderful way to start as we taxied out for departure. The safety demo was long and played in English and Arabic and the Purser rattled off a list of some 15 languages spoken by the crew on board. The welcome from the flight deck was friendly and informative and we were told to expect a rough climb out from JFK
After waiting over 40 minutes for take off, even near midnight at JFK
, our A380 took the runway for a surprisingly quick and quiet take off into the skies above Long Island. The climb out was indeed rough and the A380 handles turbulence in an interesting way. Bumps on the A380 are a new sensation. When the wing rattles, it’s almost as if you can feel the wave effect coming at you. Turbulence feels very fragmented on the A380, if that makes any sense. It’s a hard thing to explain, but we passed through it quickly and started our 11 hour and 45 minute flight to Dubai.
Service started quickly with the distribution of menus and the crew was now changed into their in-flight uniforms. A380 crews have a separate uniform and it was very professional and smart. The cabin lights were turned back on and after a bar service which had a very complete line up of alcoholic and soft drinks all complimentary, the dinner cart appeared. Here was the menu for the flight:
Smoked Salmon (thinly sliced smoked salmon served with a seasoned wheat salad)
Seasonal salad (served with dressing)
Lamb curry (tender pieces of lamb cooked in a flavourful curry sauce, with steamed basmati rice and an okra and tomato stew)
Grilled chicken (tender chicken marinated in herbs and lightly grilled, thyme gnocchi and sautéed spinach)
Mixed berry ragout (a sweet and tangy berry ragout with light marscarpone cream)
Cheese and biscuits
Tea or coffee
As You Like It (Available throughout the flight)
Mozzarella ciabatta (ciabatta bread filled with mozzarella cheese and tomatoes, topped with pesto)
Tuna wrap (tortilla roll filled with creamy tuna and vegetables)
Fresh seasonal fruit
Assorted chocolate bars
Fresh seasonal fruit
Scrambled eggs (topped with cottage cheese and chives, served with crispy potato wedges and grilled tomato)
Sweet and sour chicken (tender chicken cooked in a tangy sweet and sour sauce, served with stir fried rice and bok choy)
Chocolate cake (a rick cake served with fresh whipped cream)
Tea or coffee
For dinner, I chose the lamb and found it to be quite good. The lamb was indeed very tender and tasted good, especially for airline food. The presentation was nice and the metal cutlery was a great touch. Although the seasonal salad failed to make it to the tray, there was an additional dessert of an Oreo brownie. No salad for a 2nd dessert? Jackpot! In with the silverware was a refreshing towel. In a separate “meal pack” there was salt, pepper, coffee spoon, toothpick, sugar and a chocolate square. The entire meal was lovely and finished off with an Irish coffee.
I settled in for the rest of the flight and didn’t have much luck sleeping, mostly from the pure excitement of being on the A380. Our journey was mostly smooth with the exception of some particularly strong bumps over the Atlantic. The center lavatory was actually swaying! The crew came around with frequent water and orange juice and a self-serve station was set up at the rear galley.
As daylight started to break, the man in front of me had his window shade up, although he was in a deep sleep with his eye mask on. The flight attendant asked me if I could reach his window shade, which was easy since the window seats on the A380 actually have a few inches of space before you get to the wall. When I got the window shade, the flight attendant excitedly yelled “Sweet!” and then offered me a drink from the bar to enjoy with a movie. She brought me some red wine and insisted I call on her if I needed anything else.
Time passed by quickly with the ice system and I sent some e-mail messages to family back home for $1/message from my tv. The crew was always checking on passengers and the ‘stars’ in the ceiling panels induced many into a slumber with the quiet hum of the A380s engines offering a gentle lullaby. 6 hours from Dubai, the As You Like It service commenced and I had a pear and orange juice. 3 hours from Dubai, we were again given hot towels followed by brunch. I chose the chicken which was equally as good as the lamb from before.
Before long, we started our decent into Dubai and the crew came around to collect the blankets and headsets. Our arrival was quick and smooth and the city lights of Dubai were shimmering as our A380 kissed the runway. A long taxi followed an even longer wait to disembark. After saying farewell to the crew, I walked up the long jetway very satisfied with my A380 experience, albeit exhausted as well.
Since there was no arrival video shown about transiting in Dubai, I was surprised to have to go through a security check upon disembarkation. Now really, what was I going to acquire on the plane that’d be dangerous that I didn’t have on my person beforehand? A dull metal knife? Still, the check was quick enough and we high tailed it to our next gate where our connecting flight to Cochin was already boarding. From the quick glimpse I got of Dubai, the terminal was shiny, ritzy and positively snooty. Yup, this was the UAE alright!
Sunday, January 4th, 2009
Emirates 532 (DXB
: 3:20am (+1)
ATA: 3:10am (+1)
Boeing 777-300ER A6-ECL
Economy Class, Seat 41K
I was surprised to have boarded a -300ER series as our itinerary had said the flight would be operated by a -200. Still, the flight was full and our crew again warmly welcomed us on board. The Australian purser was very friendly and once seated, the cabin crew came around with cups of fresh lime juice followed by hot towels.
Our Captain welcomed us on board and told us our flying time would be a quick 3 hours and 10 minutes over the water and that it’d be a smooth flight. Engine start up was extremely loud – I was actually convinced something was wrong with the plane because I’ve never heard such a loud, imposing vibration before in my life, but alas, we taxied out without a further issue. The taxi was over 15 minutes of constant motion – a true testament to the size of the airfield. We were number one for departure, though, and so we lined up and made a quick roll into the clear night sky.
Almost immediately after take off, the cabin lights were back on and the cabin service started. The service on this flight was much more relaxed than it was on the A380 despite the flight being a quarter the length. Unlike on the A380 where the bar and meal service happened together, on this flight, we had an initial bar service. We were given a paper coaster with our drinks – a touch not found on the A380 – as well as a larger napkin and a bag of tasty savoury mix.
Menus were distributed after the bar service and here is the transcription:
Potato and pineapple chat (marinated potato and pineapple salad in a tangy spice mix)
Macchi masala, chawal, subji korma, paratha (coastal fish curry, steamed basmati rice, vegetable cream curry and flat pan-fried bread)
Okra sambar, lemon rice, gajar bakla thoran, paratha (South Indian spicy lentil and okra curry, lemon rice, carrot bean coconut fry and flat pan-friend bread)
Spinach and ricotta ravioli (spinach and ricotta cheese pasta pockets with creamy tomato and basil sauce)
Palada pradhaman (a sweet dish of rice flakes cooked in sugar and milk, flavored with cardamom, almonds and cashew nuts)
Tea or coffee
I selected the fish curry and a scewdriver which were given to me by a smiling male cabin crew. After seeing so many pictures of Emirates’ cabin crew where only women were featured, I was actually surprised to note that on all 4 of my flights, there were more male attendants than female ones. The fish curry was alright – not my favorite, but then again, South Indian food isn’t my favorite, so perhaps it was mind blowingly amazing and just not to my tastes. The dessert, however, was awesome and I would have gladly gone for seconds.
By the time the service wrapped up, we were almost 2 hours into the 3 hour flight. The lights were turned off for a quick 35 minutes but again illuminated to collect trash, blankets and headsets. A smooth landing followed a quick decent and after a long journey, we were finally in India! It took us over an hour to proceed through customs, but before long, the warm air of the still-dark pre-dawn greeted us.
The time in India was just amazing and went by far too quickly. It was time now to return to the United States which was most unfortunate as I was really just taken by the Indian hospitality and the warmth of the people we met along the way.
Alas, we arrived at Trivandrum International Airport and proceeded to check in for the return journey.
Monday, January 26th, 2009
Emirates 521 (TRV
ATA: 12:10am (+1)
Airbus A330-200 A6-EAA
Economy Class, Seat 11A
I was so very exhausted from the pace of the trip and was frustrated by the long process of checking in for the flight in Trivandrum. It is said that everything is a spectacle in India and checking in for a flight is no exception. Wanting to maximize my sleep on the flight to New York, I made myself stay awake for this flight.
The crew on this flight was friendly like the last two crews, but seemed very tired from what I’m sure was a long, demanding day at work. I don’t blame them – it seems like Emirates passengers on the whole can be an exhausting, demanding bunch. Still, though, the crew was professional and I could tell that they appreciated my attitude towards them. One flight attendant seemed genuinely surprised when I said ‘thank you’ upon being given the menu for the flight.
The A330 itself is a huge let down for Emirates. Maybe this was one of Emirates’ older A330s or just a particularly ratty example, but the seats, while wide, were hard as a rock and extremely uncomfortable. They creaked, were broken in many rows and featured a very touch-sensitive, more antiquated entertainment system. A friendly welcome from the flight deck informed us of an even 4 hours flying and that was good news, as any longer and I think I’d have developed a back ache.
We were again given a fresh lime juice on the ground followed by menus and hot towels shortly after take off. The lights remained on for the whole flight even though the service only took up half of it. I lost the menu for this flight, but remember that I had a pasta dish which was perfectly acceptable, though I left much of it behind as I wasn’t too hungry. I watched The Dutchess, which made some of my classmates cry, although I found it to be really boring.
The flight was bumpy all the way to Dubai with some particularly strong swells here and there, but in my efforts to stay awake, this four hour journey, coupled with an uncomfortable plane, cabin lights switched on and several screaming babies, felt like an exodus of sorts. I was relieved to land in Dubai and since we had a little more time on this return, I took the chance to walk around and found a Starbucks where I paid $6 USD for a Tall Hot Chocolate. Nuts!
Tuesday, January 27th, 2009
Emirates 203 (DXB
Boeing 777-300ER A6-ECA
Economy Class, Seat 18A
I was dreading this flight for its sheer length and my desire to get home, but when I saw a huge smile from three flight attendants at the boarding door, my mood instantly changed and I knew this was going to be a great end to my trip. Upon boarding, the flight attendant looked at my boarding pass and greeted me by name. My full first name is Benjamin, but the boarding pass only put Benja followed by a + and so the flight attendant jokingly said, “Welcome aboard, Mr. Benja-plus!” I laughed and took my seat in the 2nd row of Economy. The load today was only about 60% and so the middle seat remained empty pretty much for the whole plane. This just kept getting better!
I won’t say much about this flight because I ended up sleeping for most of it. The hot towels were again wonderful and I will give you the menu transcription:
Seasonal salad (served with dressing)
Lamb biryani (a traditional lamb biryani with peas, beans, cauliflower and scented rice)
Parsley and mustard chicken (roasted chicken topped with a creamy mushroom and parsley sauce, accompanied by potato wedges and a medley of vegetables)
Roasted cashew nut and mango pavlova (light cashew nut meringue topped with mango and chocolate flakes)
Cheese and biscuits
Tea or coffee
As You Like It
Chicken tikka wrap (tender pieces of chicken tikka with mint yoghurt)
Stir fried vegetables (mixed in a tortilla wrap)
Fresh seasonal fruit
Assorted chocolate bars
Fresh seasonal fruit
Cheese fritatta (soft cheese frittata served with baked beans, sautéed mushrooms and coriander potato cubes)
Cherry crepe (served with turkey bacon and a spiced apple compote)
Croissant with preserves
Tea or coffee
I had the lamb biryani, chicken tikka wrap and cheese frittata and it was all actually quite exceptional. The tikka wrap was a little runny but had wonderful flavor. The best part was the spiced apple from the cherry crepe which I asked the flight attendant for so that I could try it. It was a whole apple with the core taken out and filled with nuts, raisins and cinnamon. Fantastic!
Like I said, I slept for most of the flight, but I do have to give a major shout out to Maria and Graham, the two cabin crew members serving my side of the forward Economy ‘mini-cabin’ for most of the flight. They were, hands down, the best two flight attendants I have ever encountered and I was sure to ask them for a survey at the end of the flight so that I could pass my thoughts along to Emirates. They were both very appreciative of my comments, but they were well deserved.
Maria and Graham were examples not of what service should be like, but what service can become when cabin crew makes the decision to go above and beyond the call of duty and make their job personal. For example, my seatmate went for a walk and thus the row was empty. While this happened, I realized on the Airshow that it seemed like the flight would be in the dark for the whole 13 hours and 30 minutes. This may be a ‘duh’ moment for some of you, but I just expected that we’d get a daylight cycle without giving it too much thought. Maria walked by as I pondered this and so I flagged her down to ask.
Me: I have a little bit of a stupid question…
(Maria proceeded to sit in the aisle seat while replying)
Maria: Oh, there are no stupid questions! What would you like to know.
Me: Is there any daylight on this flight?
Maria: You know, that’s actually a great question. There isn’t any daylight until the last hour or so. Isn’t that crazy!
Me: Yeah, it just never struck me that we’d have 12 hours of darkness.
Maria: I know, it catches me by surprise, too. But if its clear, you’ll still be able to see some things out the window. We’re taking a very Northern route today over Oslo, Iceland and Greenland. Those are my favorite countries and you can see the white ice reflecting off the moonlight. I’ll let you know when we get there if you can see anything.
And with that, Maria was up and off, just as my seatmate returned. She was always smiling, even with the IMPOSSIBLE family across from me and in the bulkhead. Graham, too, was simply incredible and so well mannered. He always asked, “May I serve you something from the bar?” and when you’d take the drink, he’d say, “Thanks and enjoy.” Him and I got to talking a bit and he was truly just a class act. When I got up later in the flight for a walk, I observed him sitting at the rear forward-facing jumpseat with a keen eye on the cabin, waiting for his opportunity to serve.
I was so taken with Maria and Graham that even at the end of a long almost 14 hour journey, when I felt the nose point down to start decent, I felt for the first time in my life that I didn’t want the flight to end. Of course, that meant our decent was surely to be quick thanks to Murphy’s Law and one of the 4 captains in the flight deck made an incredibly smooth landing at JFK
. Had I not been looking out the window, I would not have known we landed.
All in All, Emirates provided a great Economy product and a touch of class in the sky. The first three flights ranged from good to great and even the uncomfortable A330 flight was still miles ahead of many experiences I’ve had in the states. The fourth and final flight, though, is what I’ll remember of Emirates. Beyond the experience of the A380, the long 777 flight to New York, the wonderful team on board, Maria and Graham, great food, comfy seats and a perfect landed all made Emirates 203 the best flight I have ever taken. It is with lasting impressions form Maria and Graham that I give Emirates a hearty two thumbs up and I honestly cannot wait for the opportunity to travel with EK
Thanks for reading and please do comment!