PART 1 | JED-DXB
The 1st sector of the journey.
Flight Record No: 212
Date/Day: 23 February 2010/Tuesday
Flight Number: EK
Carrier: Emirates Airline
Aircraft: Airbus 380-800
Aircraft Registration No: A6-EDC (2 years old aircraft)
Route: Jeddah (JED
) to Dubai (DXB
Departure Time: 20:45 hour Saudi time (GMT +5)
Arrival Time: 00:15 hour + 1 day UAE time (GMT +4)
Journey: 2 hours 30 minutes
Distance: 1,057 miles
Class of Travel: Economy Class
Fare Category: Y (Discounted Economy)
What is trip for?
I have come to the point in my career where I need to attend the company's Board of Directors meeting for the first time ever (although only as an escort to my bosses). Hence, this trip to KUL
Any drama prior to the commencement of the trip?
Of course there was LOL. Being Saudis, the company booked me a return ticket to KUL
(Saudi Arabian Airlines)! I was like OMG! Seriously, I am not prepared for something so shocking like that. So I asked the company to cancel the ticket and I got myself my own itinerary on a 'pay first, claim later' basis.
Why are you reacted like that?
Because I don't want to fly SV
on long haul flights. I have the mindset that they are still in the 'medieval' age, you know, like 20 years behind what one can expect onboard EK
today, hardware and software wise. In addition, I am not a member of Al Fursan FFP and don't have any intention of becoming one, so I don't want to waste some 9,000 miles for nothing. Plus, by having my own itinerary, I got to fly on one of my preferred airline, I got to fly the A380 for the very first time in my life – twice, I got to fly without the accompaniment of my ever so demanding Saudi bosses and the new itinerary saved the company some SAR 400 too. So everyone's happy. I hope. I did.
A380? In JED? Is it a one-off thingy?
Yes, don't you hear anything about it? And no, it is not a one-off occasion. It is a scheduled 4 weekly flight from 1 February until 28 May 2010 and after that it is a daily affair. I know, when the news first broke out, aviation forums were being very critical about it. "How can EK
sent the A380 to JED
earlier than FRA
?" said one, "EK
must be having a low utilization of their A380 for sending it to such a short route as DXB
!" said another one. But among the responses that I read the most, there this one very bizarre response that read, "The Business Class cabin on this flight can only be booked by Saudis ." Weird as it is not the case at all. All travelers, regardless of their nationality can purchase a Business Class and First Class ticket on EK
A380 flights between DXB
without any restriction.
Anyhow, for those who are in the know, the deployment of A380 aircrafts on the DXB
vv route is mainly to counter the strict bilateral agreement between the UAE and the KSA where EK
is only granted 1 daily slot on this very high loading and high yielding route. Hence, the A380 is just a natural solution, akin to the deployment of EK
A380 into YYZ
in my opinion.
What happened on the day of departure?
Well, I came to work on that day with my luggage and left the office at around 18:00, less than 3 hours before departure. Brought along with me a lot of paperwork and props for the meeting too. I mean like really a lot, I couldn't carry them all in one go without the help of a trolley.
I knew that I will be flying the A380 on that day so I was very excited. Who wouldn't? This is my first A380 flight and it will be on a flight which was operated in (then) less than a month. The novelty factor is extremely high. Along the journey to the North Terminal of JED
is being assigned to, I kept on looking to the airport's open tarmac area wanting to catch a glimpse of the aircraft but to no avail. Maybe I overlooked the A380? Couldn't be! Last minute substitution with the normal B77W? No way!
Any drama during check-in?
Of course there was. Hello, this is Saudi Arabia! Life is full of drama over here (at least mine is). The check-in procedure for EK
's A380 flights from JED
is quite extraordinary I must say.
1. Upon passing by the EK
check-in counters area which were manned by so many ground staff on and off the counters, I was greeted warmly by a gentleman of South Asian origin cladded in a rather nice uniform and I was escorted to queue in the shortest line available at EK
's vast check-in area. At first, I though he was one of the queue minders. But he stood still beside me while taking over the control of my trolley, being friendly and breaks some ice, took care of my luggage during check-in and after that asked me for a payment! Shoot! Why is EK
allowing this porter-for-pay service swarming around their check-in counters? With (a different) uniform (from your average light purple jumpsuit porters in JED
) some more (whom I would dismiss in a heartbeat)! I hate giving away SAR 10 feeling cheated like that.
2. Once done, I was asked by the check-in agent to wait around the check-in counter for verification of my checked-in luggage. I saw a lot of other passengers were waiting around the other check-in counters too, so I guess this must be a standard procedure for the A380 flight. At every 5 minutes or so, some guys from the large group of staff will come and ask around the waiting passengers and cross checked with their luggage tag whether the passengers are allowed or not to proceed to the Immigration clearance area. This is the first time I am experiencing something like that. (Upon further travelling through JED
on a later journey, I found out that this procedure is applicable if one's aircraft is being assigned at the Hajj Terminal, as in the case of all EK
A380 flights into JED
3. The flight also saw the distribution of a newly designed boarding pass for EK
's Economy Class passengers. It's yellow now. The old one was green. As usual, I was issued out with 2 boarding passes, one for JED
sector while the other for DXB
. Noticed the 'Zone C' and 'Zone D' being printed on my boarding passes?
So what did you do after Immigration and security clearances?
After passing through the Immigration and security clearances without any problem (thank God for that), I just spent my time, sitting inside the departure hall, looking important and all. A side note, JED
practices a single layer of security check. In my opinion, it is not as strict as most European airports, notebook computers don't have to be taken out from the bag but shoes and belts must be taken off and put on the scanner.
This is the departure for the night. Let's examine it. Among them all, what intrigued me the most is that flight LH
596 to Khartoum in Sudan. From my limited knowledge, Lufthansa and SWISS did a major consolidation of their routes in JED
not too long ago. As a result, LX
is no longer coming to JED
but there seems to be so many LH
tag-on flights out of JED
. There was JED
-Asmara flight in the past (Asmara is located in Eritrea by the way), then this JED
-Khartoum flight, and on my very recent travel, there is JED
-Sana'a (Yemen) flight too - all bearing LH
codes. I don't think these are code share flights. And I am also not sure if all these flights, if it is true to be operated by LH
, are granted 5th freedom rights to carry passengers between JED
and these destinations.
Also, flight JT
111 to CGK
, which proved that Indonesia (accident-prone) Lion Air's investment on 2 former Oasis Hong Kong's Boeing 747-400 aircrafts is a no joke. The flight is up and running and from the look of it, is always full to the brim.
How is the departure procedure of the A380 flight in JED?
Interesting to say the least. First and foremost, JED
is a NO-AEROBRIDGE
airport, which means all 489 passengers of a fully loaded EK
A380 flight will be bussed from the Terminal to the aircraft. So who says an airport needs to have double storey aerobridges and such to operate the A380? BS
has proven that it is capable of handling the A380 'manually' on a daily basis since 29 May 2010.
But I do admit the process is a bit slow. Passengers are called by Zone and the ground agents really enforced this rule. One bus carried one Zone and it was repeated until all of us are being transported from the Terminal to the aircraft. I am not sure how many busses were used to ferry us all that night but I hopped on the 2nd bus for passengers sitting in Zone C.
During the bus ride, something unexpected happened. Instead of bringing us to the open tarmac area between the North and South Terminals of JED
where all commercial aircrafts are usually being docked, the bus moved towards the colossal Hajj Terminal, which incurred a longer journey. Then, I saw the A380 aircraft, sitting lonely over there with so many (airport services') ground vehicles surrounding it. The bus move towards the wing of the A380 on the starboard side, then made a left turn circling the aircraft's entire rear fuselage before dropping us at door 1L (?) at the portside of the aircraft. It was truly a sigh to behold, being in a bus ride so close to the mighty A380. But unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the bus to photograph it all. Needless to say, everyone on the bus, enthusiasts or not, were very excited based on the buzz that was made upon seeing the very big aircraft.
How does it feels boarding an A380 aircraft 'manually'?
I just couldn't describe the feeling. The aircraft is so huge, like really humongous. I did delaying in stepping on the stairs just to get a snap or two, but the aircraft was being guarded like it was a celebrity or something. There were just so many ground staff and security personnel guarding it, which made photography very difficult. Getting my digicam confiscated is the last thing that I want to happen. Nevertheless, I managed these few shots…
… which I hope could demonstrate on the sheer size of the aircraft and also how excited I was LOL.
What happened next when you entered the aircraft?
I was greeted very formally by a male Caucasian flight attendant at the aircraft's door. I specifically remembered how he directed me to my seat, "Walk straight to the next aisle, then turn left, you seat is at the very first row." Very specific I thought. I was assigned with seat 43K and apparently row 43 is the first row inside EK
's A380 main deck.
So they gave you a bulkhead seat. How was it?
To be honest, I am not a fan of bulkhead seat despite the extra legroom. I prefer to put my backpack under the seat in front of me for the ease of using my BOSE headset, referring to my travel documents etc. Nevertheless the seat was OK
, I got 2 (telescopic) windows for myself…
… but had to compensate on the PTV and the IFE controller. As bulkhead seats do not have any seats in front of it, my PTV is folded below the seat and can only be used after take-off thus I had to watch the screen at the aircraft's wall in front of me until then. The IFE controller is also installed at the left side of the seat which gives little inconvenience whereas at the other seats, this IFE controller is located below the PTV right in front of you. I like the design of the IFE controller, looks very sophisticated, I think it is identical to those installed aboard SQ
's new aircrafts. There are also 2 extra buttons at the bulkhead seat, one for reclining and another one to pull up the PTV.
What's inside the seat pocket in front of you?
First of all, the seat pocket is attached to the wall in front of me.
As usual, the content of the seat pocket is the safety card, an A380 one at it, Open Skies inflight magazine and the ICE guide. Interesting to note that the very thick Emirates Inflight Duty Free catalog is now gone and replaced with a card directing passengers to go to ICE channel 9200 to do inflight shopping, and the size of the ICE guide as well has been shrunk, in fact, it is completely deformed. Inside the seat pocket as well there are several health related brochures, the headset and the 3 colourful stickers (one for 'Do not disturb', one for 'Wake me up for meal' and another one for 'Wake me up for inflight shopping'). The publications and literature materials were keep neatly inside a plastic folder, inside the seat pocket.
Any service delivery before push back?
Yes. Passengers were handed out with the hot towels and the bilingual menu cards (English and Arabic) while we were on the ground. EK
's small and thin hot towels are definitely subpar when compared to SQ
's, but I guess it is better than some other airlines which do not give this little frill anymore to their passengers in the Economy Class.
The (now old) safety demonstration was screened minutes before push back. As mentioned previously, I had to look up 45 degrees upwards to watch the safety demonstration through the screen on the wall in front of me. The safety demonstration was first presented in Arabic and then the whole video was repeated again in English. As you can see, mood lighting has set in throughout the entire cabin at that time.
Push back commenced shortly after, 20 minutes after scheduled departure time.
Any drama before take-off?
Big drama mama! The A380 was asked to wait on a number of occasions while taxiing. The cockpit crew did make a few announcements over the PA system and communicated this as 'waiting for clearance from the control tower' to us several times. The climax of the incident was when the A380 is at the junction to enter the runway.
From the photo above, the aircraft should turn left to get into the active runway but we turned right instead. Prior to this shocking detour, I saw a lot of security ground vehicles moving along the taxiway near the A380, all were driven rather fast.
The A380 was then stayed idle for 15 minutes on the parallel taxiway next to the one we were taxiing before, and facing the opposite direction, as if we are about to return back to the Hajj Terminal.
Apparently, the drama was caused by these 2 aircrafts. Somehow the A380 needed to be shooed away so that these 2 aircrafts could use the runway first. My guess is that, some Saudi big shots are the culprit behind this incident, probably because they don't want to queue on the taxiway or maybe they wanted to show EK
who is the boss at the airport (since EK
is sending a very high profile aircraft on the route thus degrading all the other Saudis aircrafts). Yours truly pure speculation.
We were then re-entered the taxiway leading to the runway and I could see (through the forward camera at the landing gear) how difficult it is for the A380 to be maneuvered to perform a 180 degrees turn on a taxiway in JED
Our A380 was finally cleared to enter the runway at 21:53, that's more than an hour after scheduled departure time (which means the entire drama consumed a good 43 minutes of our time). Needless to say, everyone onboard was very worried and many of whom were sighing so loud and so long, probably in reflection of how tired they are with the Saudi red tapes. My seatmate even left her seat and interrogated the cabin crews seated at the front of the cabin, who were then all strapped up on their jumpseats, about the whole incident. We were finally took-off, much to the relief of everyone. The cabin crews were seen calmed throughout the entire ordeal.
What did you do after take-off?
ICE, obviously! The enhanced ICE is incredible. There's our seat numbers on it, flight information, a camera window and the entire ICE program with its 10,000 channels just a touch screen away. It seems that EK
is also promoting its destinations by featuring it as the backdrop of the IFE screen (in this flight's case it is Singapore).
Upon further exploration, I was then reaffirmed that ICE is definitely the best IFE program bar none. Take this instance, while listening to Jay Sean, the top left bar is showing me the time, and the progress of the flight, how much longer the flight is and when are we expected to arrive in DXB
; whilst the bar next to it is showing the top headline news interchangeably. Even the enhanced KrisWorld is so far away from having all these features, let alone other airlines which are still using their old non enhanced IFEs paired with their very tiny non digital non widescreen non touch screen PTVs, which is so last century. Since this is a short flight, I just spent my time browsing through the music section of ICE.
How was the meal?
is an airline which is known in the industry for the big portion of Economy Class meals. On this flight, we were offered with 2 choices of main course:
i. Arabic lamb meatballs stew – which is lamb and potato cubes cooked in Arabic spices, accompanied with mint rice.
ii. Parsley and mustard chicken – which is marinated grilled parsley and mustard chicken breast served with red pepper sauce, German potatoes and medley of vegetables.
I chose the latter.
The meal also comes with an Arabic mezze as an appetizer, shaibiyat kashta as a desert, cheese and crackers, a bar of Emirates chocolate, 2 pieces of mini pita bread, a cup of mineral water and a cup of orange juice. Tea and coffee were also offered but I declined all these caffeine.
My verdict: It was an OK
dinner. After the drama at JED
, I am sure most of the passengers onboard are quite hungry.
But I need to highlight on something.
Since the tray-table of the bulkhead seats is folded from the left side compartment of the seat and the IFE controller is also installed at the left side of the seat, it is advisable for one to pull out the IFE controller if one plans to switch channels while eating. This is because once the meal is served in front of you, it is impossible for you to reach for the IFE controller.
Any interesting social aspect of the flight to share?
Nothing much, it is just that my seatmate, Miss 43J, is a very beautiful blonde French demoiselle who just spent a holiday in Kota Kinabalu a few weeks before the flight. This is of course, was revealed by her upon knowing that yours truly is Malaysian. Like most other women passengers onboard, she transformed from an all black abaya cladded lady into a breathtaking figure in fashionable designer dress after paying a quick visit into the lavatory inside the aircraft during the flight LOL. She was on her way to Paris.
How was the landing in DXB?
The aircraft started its descend at 23:40 Saudi time, about 90 minutes after take-off. IFE was then shut off and we were shown with some promotional videos of Dubai. Since my PTV had to be folded away, I had to use the screen on the wall in front of me once again.
Despite the 20 minutes delay and another 40 minutes drama in JED
, the aircraft landed at 00:11, 4 minutes ahead of schedule and after a short taxi, we were docked at the gate precisely at 00:15, bang on time. Incredible!
My last arrival into DXB
was not quite overwhelming as the B77W from KUL
was docked at a remote stand and we had to be bussed from the aircraft to DXB
Terminal 3. Since I was flying the A380 this time around, I was pretty confident that the same incident won't be occurring again. Hey, this is the flagship aircraft at the home airport we are talking about.
My arrival into DXB
Terminal 3 was greeted by a blue signboard singing "Marhaban bi kum fi Dubai".
To be continued