The need of traveling down to Perth with a short stop in Melbourne came suddenly about a week before the trip. Unfortunately, this time I didn't have any say in the travel planning so instead of Emirates Suites I was bought a ticket with Etihad in business just approx. one thousand dollars cheaper. But at least I will try the still pretty new CSA's route to Abu Dhabi. Also, the departure time together with short layover in Abu Dhabi (compared to layover with Emirates on most routings from PRG) seem very convenient.
I did a little research and found that earlier this year Etihad was running a status match deal. It had been long time over but it cost me nothing trying if they could match my *A Gold status. As expected I heard nothing back from them, not even a negative reply.
OK352, A319, OK-PET
Photo © Kim Philipp Piskol
Woke up into a beautiful day after an unusually stormy week. I tried online check-in but as expected, it was not possible. My ticked was all on EY codes and Etihad doesn't have Prague airport in options for departure. And of course, Czech Airlines can't check me in online on EY ticket but I tried that just to confirm.
I packed my luggage and checked it's weight. Somehow in the last years I've learnt to pack too much clothing. Usually I pack for 6 months + but now I would be out of home only for a month. Anyway I was too lazy to unpack and decided to suffer the consequences later.
Two hours before the scheduled departure I left my apartment and ten minutes later I was leaving car in front of the non-Schengen terminal. The economy check-in desk was already pretty busy, seems like the route to AUH is picking up. I believe Prague Airport is hoping Etihad will eventually take over the operations of this route so that it survives after Czech Airlines files for bancrupcy.
After a quick and pleasant check-in (there was only couple in front of me in the priority line – I overheard they were traveling to Sydney). After check-in I breezed through immigration. I decided to check the lounge. I haven't been in the non-Schengen terminal lounge since it's been refurbished earlier this year.
I do like the colors and style.
The food and drinks that the lounge offers are pretty much standard for smaller airports in Europe.
A nicely decorated dining area. You can see the author of this report in the glass reflection while trying to hold still 1/15 sec.
The Czech Airlines boarding passes are so boring. Plus the segment AUH-MEL doesn't have a ticket number on it so I wonder if Etihad will retroactively give me any miles for it. Update: They have. However I didn't get any miles for the segment PRG-AUH and MEL-PER, although it was bought as Etihad ticket all the way.
I'm supposed to visit Belarus in a few months and I'm still not sure if I should fly Belavia direct or flying through SVO and catching the evening Sukhoi Superjet flight to Minsk. Looking at this bird I'm tempted to fly Belavia. They sure don't need to think of a retro livery
I didn't stay long in the lounge. I wasn't hungry and I wanted to have a look if there are any other interesting airplanes parked. First I found Delta's B767 getting ready for departure to New York. Although I would never chose the old interior B767, I still feel sad Prague will not have any direct connection to the USA this winter (and who knows if Delta restarts this route next spring).
Moving on I went to the next concourse to see if our plane was already parked there. OK-PET is one of the planes with the "new" business class seats that CSA advertisements.
El-Al Boeing being pushed back. I had to use fake zoom (hence crop) as the access to the last third of the concourse was blocked by armed guards. and I had my zoom lens on the bottom of my backpack.
And another often visitor in Prague – Rossiya's A320.
Finally the boarding was called and families were invited first. I got up to get closer to the gate and was asked to board if I was a business class passenger. After entering the plane I was welcomed by smiling flight attendants and proceeded to row 4. The business class seats are spacious. There's plenty of room for legs and the width is comfortable for a regional business class. Unfortunately, these seats are not in a best shape. The headrest was pushing me in my back so I lifted it but it didn't hold in place and immediately dropped down. After getting all passengers on board a welcome drink was offered but I refused it. We were only 6 in the business class cabin, one of which was a non-rev. I knew already one pair on my right was travelling to Sydney just to find out later (while transferring at AUH) that the last 2 business class passengers (also a couple) were traveling on the same flight to Melbourne.
Czech Airlines airshow is one of the best around (not counting personal IFE systems, or course).
Thanks to runway 06/24 undergoing a general repairs, we took off from runway 12 and flew over Prague.
The fasten-your-seat belts light is off and it's time to get more comfy. The mechanical controls look like from a museum but if they do the job I'll have no complaints. The buttons work, not as much the seat. I wanted to stretch my legs but the leg-rest wouldn't hold in position.
After reaching our travel Flight Level the service begun.
Foie gras terrine
topped with apple jelly and served with celery & grape salad
Smoked salmon and avocado roll
served with Keta salmon caviar and sour cream
Smoked vegetables salad
with baby mozarella and cherry tomatoes on a beef of red chard
pineapple, cantaloupe, kiwi, strawberries, grapefruit and grapes
with pomegranate sauce, stewed red cabbage and Hasselback potatoes
filled with spinach and feta cheese, served with glazed baby patisson and potato purée
Lam chops in a saffron crust
served with ratatouille and grilled polenta
Fourme d'Ambert cheese, hermelin and emmental
served with dried figs
with dried cranberries and grapes
Chicken tortilla with vegetables
baby spinach, broccoli, baby carrots, sweet corn
dark chocolate cupcake with forest fruits
Assorted bread, butter
RIESLING 2009, late harvest
PALAVA 2009, late harvest
PINOT NOIR 2009, selection of grapes
ZWEIGELTREBE 2009, late harvest
BOHEMIA SEKT BRUT
Drinks and nuts were served and meal orders taken.
Up until this point no turbulence, although future Cb's were developing around us. Later on the only slightly turbulent part of our flight would be over Turkey but only for a short time.
I picked foie gras terrine for starter. It was nowhere near as good as homemade one but it was OK. It would look better with duck fat on top instead of the jelly though. Note the celery & grape salad as this is not the last time you see it on this trip
Warm rolls were offered from a basket but I didn't want any.
For the main meal I picked Duck Breast. Yeah I do like duck. Unfortunately, it was nothing to brag home about. The meat was chewy and the sauce was too watery. The stewed red cabbage was pretty good though.
For a dessert we were offered a cheesecake and a hot beverage. The cheesecake would be OK if it wasn't called cheesecake. As a cheesecake it sucked.
After the meal and a bit of relaxing while listening to Control Machete, I decided to have a look at the CSA magazine. When returning it back to the seat pocket I noticed another magazine called Luxury. I've never read this kind of magazines so I checked it just quickly and found a Czech Airlines ad. Let's have a look:
In-flight entertainment? What music and films on iPads are they talking about? We certainly didn't get any iPads (after the flight I discussed this on a Czech forum at www.airways.cz where people confirmed usually the iPads are offered). Not that I wanted one but hey, don't advertise it if you don't provide it. I've learnt to carry my own entertainment and two types of noise cancelling headphones (actually one noise cancelling – Audiotechnica; and one noise isolating – Shure), nothing fancy.
Really? Most advanced seats? Are second hand 15 years old seats most advanced? No. Are they solely for long haul flights? In 2012? No way. Typical oversell and underperform situation.
While I was laughing over the Czech Airlines ad, the amenity kit was distributed. I looked up the airshow and found we were already over Iraq. So why bothering now with the amenity kit? Maybe they thought Etihad wouldn't give us anything. Anyway it looks pretty nice to me, although I only use the sleeping eye mask and socks usually.
Just before reaching Bahrain the second service started. This time we got a chicken wrap that was not so bad, although I don't like carrot in a shape of radish. Plus we got the popular celery & grape salad. I haven't opened the orange labeled container but I assume it's some kind of mayo-based sauce. From the dessert I only picked the berries, those were nice.
One foamy tea before landing...
Soon after that and with sun in our back we begun our descent to Abu Dhabi.
We landed from the south after one 360. The landing was smooth and after a 10 minutes ride around the airport we finally parked at a remote stand right next to cargo planes. All passengers were bussed together to the terminal.
The Czech Airlines flight to Abu Dhabi is a great connection to an important Middle East hub. The arrival time at 8pm is so much better than on the Emirates flight to Dubai, where the connecting flights leave often after 3am (you can imagine what that means when travelling with kids). But... the inconsistency of the soft product and only 4 rotations per week I'm not sure regular business passengers will chose it. The seats are fine for a 5 to 6 hour flight as long as they fix them, but the route would deserve planes with personal IFE installed.
EY460, A340-500, A6-EHD
Photo © Wim Callaert
Abu Dhabi airport is a typical Middle East hub at night – extremely busy. Its terminals are pretty simple to navigate so I found my way to the gate. I had about 1 hour time before the boarding would be announced so I took a lift to the Etihad lounge. It was totally full, there were hardly any seats except for the "business center" with several computer workstations. 30 minutes later, when several flights announced boarding, the lounge freed up and I managed to take two photos.
The temperature in the lounge was too high so I decided to leave and wait for the boarding. The boarding consisted in several check points within 50 meters . Some divided in First/Business & Economy, some common for all. In the end I managed to get in the jetway. It was a complete dark outside and I didn't get any acceptable view of our Airbus 340.
My seat for the next half a day. Honestly, the colors look like a frog's vomit. I did love the space for my backpack. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let me leave the backpack there for takeoff.
Both Economy and Business classes were full, I noticed around 6 people in F.
The seat was comfortable to sit on but it was pretty narrow. Note the IFE remote control on the photo above – several times during the flight when I changed position in the seat, I accidentally pushed a button. The IFE screens were pretty big, although I was planning to use it for flight map and cameras only anyway.
July in the Gulf area means pretty high humidity and so condensation in the cabin while the cabin door is open.
The welcome drink was served.
Good to know I can charge my multimedia player.
Some 10 minutes after all passengers were boarded our captain announced that due to busy traffic Mumbai air space our flight would be delayed by approx. one hour. Time to think of a strategy to deal with jet lag. The flight was going to takeoff around 11pm and arrive to Melbourne at about 8pm. So I decided to take around 3 hour sleep on this flight which should to keep me tired on arrival to Melbourne and help me having an all night sleep.
Finally after a complete reboot of the IFE system I could check the personal IFE.
Soon after a smooth takeoff another glass of champagne landed on my table together with a tasty amuse-bouche.
The menu was handed and a box with amenity kit items offered for us to pick.
I opted for the Arabic mezze appetizer. It was very tasty, especially the baby eggplant and tabbouleh. I didn't care at all for the bread that was too sweet.
For the main meal I picked Lamb pot roast. The meat was amazing, I was very happy about my choice. I didn't like the pickled onions, I would more appreciate a cooked one but that's just a detail.
For the desert I picked Slouf – semolina-almond cake which was fantastic, too.
I was stuffed and spent a few hours watching Mr. Monk, playing Sudoku and watching progress of our flight on the map. Finally I was able to fall asleep. After some 3 hours I managed to wake up and asked for Pocari Sweat.
Meantime we got all the way to the coast of Australia. So far pretty smooth flight with only one short mildly turbulent part being south of India.
About two hours before landing in Melbourne the breakfast service started. The English breakfast was very average, I didn't enjoy it much.
Soon after breakfast it started to get dark again and after landing which I watched through the frontal camera it was a night again already. And unfortunately, I wasn't able to snap any photo of our plane after landing.
Overall a pretty good flight. I loved the A340 but not so much the narrow seats. The service was fantastic, even with completely full business class the flight attendants were very attentive.
DJ685, A330-200, VH-XFD
Photo © Ken Chen
After one day in Melbourne it was time to move the the other coast. No more business class so I had to select the right-Economy line.
The check-in was pleasant and quick as there were plenty of desks open. After eating a falafel wrap I headed through security and took a seat with a nice view.
Our Airbus arriving to the gate. It's just a few months old!
Malaysian Airbus that was later towed to a gate for boarding.
Finally boarding was called. People were called based on their rows and by the time I got on the plane, it was almost completely full. I had a family sitting on the next 4 seats next to me with 2 very nice kids who were very calm in the air.
During takeoff our plane started to incline. Must have been some 10 degrees and look a bit scary. The pilots wouldn't correct it until some 10 seconds after being airborne.
Cruising over a milk pond.
The service started by selling spirits followed by a complimentary service. The "GOURMET" wrap was the exact opposite of gourmet. It was tasteless and dry, not even talking about all the chemistry stuffed it.
On approach to Perth.
Thrust reversers in action.
We taxied to a jet bridge and within 3 minutes I was waiting for my luggage that arrived as one of the last. Meantime I even arranged my car and still had to wait quite a bit.
So I arrived to Perth and I would stay for a few weeks. What to do here on the weekends? Luckily for me, Australia is one of the dream countries for gliding/soaring. Although it's winter, there is still a chance to find an airport with some activity. I checked internet and quickly found several gliding clubs around. The closest one to where I'm staying is at Narrogin.
Local flight at NRG
I went to the club without prior phone call so I wasn't sure anybody was gonna be there. You should have seen my grin after entering and finding that the airport was very much active.
The towplane was started and getting ready for towing a solo pilot in training.
I was immediately welcomed by very friendly members of the club and offered a flight. I had to go and withdraw some cash in the nearby town. Narrogin is completely dead on early Saturday afternoons.
The club fleet consist of one Jantar, two Astirs, two Puchacz (Eagle Owl) twin seaters and one DG505. When I spotted the DG505 I knew I wanted to fly with it. Luckily for me it was not a problem A friendly instructor would take me up today. I mentioned I fly gliders back in the Czech Republic so I would fly a portion of the flight.
As the DI (Daily Inspection) had been performed earlier that day, we basically just hopped in after removing the tail dolly. Flying on QNH. The airport altitude is 1090 ft. In Australia being hot country the canopy closes last. I muted the variometer for takeoff. We discussed what we were going to do during takeoff and the flight.
And here's our glider tug Piper VH-TUG that used to serve originally as an agriculture plane.
In Narrogin (and actually the whole Australia), they do only low tows. That is a tow below the propeller wake. It's a bit smoother than high tow and a bit easier to control, too. In Europe we only do low tows when we attach two gliders to one tow-plane. So shortly after takeoff we moved down through the propeller wake to the low tow. I took over the controls. I was enjoying the flight so much I forgot to take any photos up until landing.
The sky was completely clear so no clouds that would help us find lifts. But during the tow we detected several places with some bubbles and after reaching almost 4000 ft, we went to search for them. They were very narrow and me being a bit rusty and not turning sharp enough, I wasn't able to stabilize. We lasted for about half an hour and then joined the circuit, did our pre-landing checks and landed on runway 28 that was in use.
After the landing we attached our glider to the anchor wire as there was nobody else that would fly that day on it. The other pilots would perform check flights in Puchacz.
DG505 with extensions prolonging the original 17.5m wing span to 20m.
Time to have a look around the airport...
I even found one beautiful bird made in my home country – the legendary L-13. Unfortunately, even this one was grounded due to the politicized campaign against it.
Many gliders sleeping in their trailers and Tee hangars over the winter.
A fisheye lens visit in the towplane cabin.
What a beauty! 80's design but still very classy 24.5m Nimbus 3 with whopping glide ratio of 58!
And inside the cockpit.
Overall I had a great day and was looking forward to the next weekend to have another flight. I was hoping to take a photo in the air tow (unfortunately, I forgot again).
One week later I managed to finish earlier at work on Saturday and drove again to Narrogin. On arrival I saw the towplane engine covers were off and there were several people around it. Luckily it turned out it was just magnetos grounding wire went loose. Half an hour later the repair was finished and the pilot took the towplane for an inspection flight.
We moved our DG505 to the other side of the airfield as the runway in use was 28. I watched a few gliders taking off before us. Here's one moments after liftoff.
And while moving into a low tow.
And finally it was our turn. This time I had the controls from takeoff. We disconnected approx. 1,000 ft above ground under a fluffy cloud. Soon enough we got into a nice lift and climbed up almost to the base at 5,800 ft. Time to take some photos...
Some humidity condensed on the inside of our canopy.
The airfield. The runwas was build by the Americans during 40's. Years a group of fans built an air club around it. They started by buying and towing a farm house next to the runway and building everything else from the scratch. Sorry for the reflections in the photo.
When we were almost leaving, this Pilatus PC-12 Flying Doctor flew in to pick up a patient from an ambulance that was already waiting. On the photo it's preparing for takeoff heading back to Perth.
And that's all for now.
I hope you enjoyed the trip report. The Czech Airlines flights to Abu Dhabi have perfect arrival time for the connecting flights and also you don't have to stay at the airport in the worst night times like you do with Emirates. I wouldn't mind to fly them again, although next time I will probably plan routing with Star Alliance to make a use of my status. Etihad didn't care to reply any of my emails which is a bit shame.