Etihad A380 Business Class, JFK AUH
My family and I had the opportunity to fly the Etihad (EY) A380 on a flagship sector JFK AUH in Business Class on June 13, 2017. Following the US ban on laptops by carriers from select countries in the Gulf (including EK, EY and QR) and being the holy month of Ramadan, I expected a relatively light flight especially after EK announced a slew of capacity reductions on US routes and EY themselves indicated dropping SFO from the fall. I was however pleasantly surprised to see a fairly decent passenger load boarding at JFK. While F and J were less than half full, Y had over 390 booked. EY operates a twice daily A380 service to and from JFK from/to their hub in AUH.
Flight no. Etihad Airways EY102
Date: June 13, 2017
Date 13JUN17 / 14JUN17
STD/ATD 1500LT/1547LT or 1900Z/1947Z
STA/ATA 1205LT/1151LT or 0805Z/0751Z
Seat 16K (window)
JFK is truly an aircraft spotter’s paradise. With nearly every major carrier flying here, one gets to see the best and biggest of their fleet at this airport, rivaled possibly only by LHR. As we proceeded to gate A7 which was our gate, we could not help but notice that the security lines were packed with passengers of two flights – ours and AI102 JFK DEL. Boarding commenced promptly at 1400hrs beginning with families with children, wheelchair passengers and then zone wise. F&J could board at will. How strong a market India is was quite clearly visible as nearly 60% of the flight would have been with Indian passengers, about 20% Pakistani and Bangladeshi and the rest everybody else. Much like EK and QR, EY too thrives as a 6th freedom carrier and not only are they the second biggest international operator to India (with their own metal, EK being the first) but also the biggest if their tie up with 9W is factored in. EY staff at JFK were mostly Asian and extremely friendly and polite – a trend that was kept up at every stage of the journey including inflight. We took the aerobridge that led straight to the upper deck.The EY Airbus A380 & the J/cl inflight product
A6-API operating EY102 is the second newest A380-861 in the EY fleet having joined as recently as March 2017. Airbus offers the A380s with two engine options – one the Rolls Royce Trent engine and the other the Engine Alliance GP7000 series (Engine Alliance is a consortium of General Electric and Pratt & Whitney). The number after the dash in the A380 name signifies the engine manufacturer. -861 for Engine Alliance and -841 for Rolls Royce. EY chose the Engine Alliance option.
EY’s A380s have one of the least dense configurations with Residence (2 pax)/9F/70J/415Y total 496 seats. Their prestigious Residence is a 2 room plus bathroom apartment for 2 people right up front in the upper deck - the only airline to offer such a class of service.
EY has two Business Class cabins on the A380 upper deck. The forward cabin has 62 seats in 11 rows and the rear one has just 8 seats in 2 rows. My seat, 16K was in the forward cabin near the trailing edge of the wing. The layout of the seats are 1-2-1. Business class seats have a privacy shell and are forward and rear facing to enable everyone aisle access. Due to this unique layout, centre seats alternate between forward facing adjoining seats and rear facing seats separated by the centre consoles. The adjoining seats have a large divider that can be raised to completely screen you off from the passenger in the adjoining seat.
forward facing centre seats
The window seats likewise alternate between two types. First, single forward facing window seats which are adjacent to the window with the console towards the aisle which could be called true window seats and second single rear facing aisle side window seat which have the console towards the window. These latter seats have adjustable wall extenders to give privacy to passengers from those nearby as well as the aisle.
forward facing 'true' window seats
rear facing 'aisle' window seats
Each seat stretches to a 6 ft 1 inch full flat bed with a width of 20 inches. All seats have a 15 inch LCD screen with noise-cancelling headsets, in-seat power sockets, wi-fi and in-built massage. Seat cushions and backrest have a beige fabric upholstery with leather headrests. Ample lighting – mood, table and reading lights are all provided in stylish design. There are dual controls for seat positioning – one set of buttons on the console side panel and an electronic screen very conveniently placed above the seat console with more options for seat adjustments. The arm rest also has a small bin for the noise cancelling headphones and amenity kit (by Scaramouche Fandango) as well as space for the inflight magazine and safety brochure. Towards the window the A380 on the upper deck (like the B747) have storage bins which can hold up to a normal briefcase thereby more than making up for the limited overhead baggage storage in the upper deck cabins.
Large 15 inch screen with fleece duvet underneath
Small bin for the headphones and amenity kit
Amenity kit contents
Dual Seat controls – on the console side panel and also on the screen on the upper right which gives more options. Also visible here is the remote control for the IFE
Side storage bin‘The Lobby’
Having a dedicated inflight lounge is a common theme these days. The Middle East Big Three (MEB3 i.e. EK, EY, QR) and a couple of others like VS, KE have taken this to a new level. While I would personally rate QR and EK’s lounges as far more happening with a full time bartender and a wide selection of drinks and snacks, EY’s does not have a regular bartender but its lounge - called 'The Lobby' is a classy private space that could seat about 6 people comfortably around a round centre table, between the F and J cabins where the crew would be happy to serve you anything from the menu.
The LobbyThe Journey
After a welcome drink - options between champagne, juices and hot towels, we pushed back at 1507LT / 1907Z and had a long circuitous taxy to Runway 13R – JFK’s longest, taking off after another 39 minutes. Enroute to take off I soaked in the myriad aircraft types and special colour schemes that one gets to see at JFK everything from A380s, to Boeing 777s and 787s to Airbus 350s, MD88s and Boeing 757 & 767s.
Welcome drink - I chose freshly squeezed orange juice
AA B737-800 in retro colors of Air Cal
We took off on a heading of 121 degrees and after about three minutes turned into a heading of 22 degrees. Continuing to head North East we were abeam BOS in about 28 minutes and at our cruising altitude of FL350 in 32 minutes. The cabin was practically noiseless and the one thing that stands out in all A380s is the quietness of the upper deck even during the take-off run at full power.
While we passed through US and Canadian Airspace with bits of Atlantic enroute, the proper Trans-Atlantic crossing began (at 2137Z, at FL350 on a heading of 60 degrees) over Newfoundland, just North of Gander – the age old route taken by every airliner since Charles Lindbergh made the first Trans-Atlantic crossing on May 21, 1927. The Atlantic crossing was completed in 3hrs 17mins as we came overhead Ireland at 0054Z at FL370. Crossing the British Isles we hit continental Europe just South of The Hague and dawn broke about 52nm North East of Frankfurt. With the darkened cabin most passengers were asleep. I watched an old Hindi flick “Kaante” and read up a Time Report on the Manchester terror attacks, wolfing down two Steak Sandwiches – delectable stuff. At 0326Z overflying Romania, we increased altitude moving up to FL390 just as we reached the Transylvanian Alps: A6-API it seemed was trying to be safe over Dracula country! A further and final altitude increase to FL410 at 0438Z ensued after we crossed the Black Sea and entered Turkish airspace. Much lighter after burning more than 100tons of fuel, it is quite normal for large commercial jets like the A380 to climb to altitudes in excess of 40,000 ft during the last segment of a long transcontinental flight. We cruised at FL410 till 0710Z before commencing our descent over the Northern tip of Qatar. Final descent and landing were largely routine as we touched down smoothly into AUH International Airport’s runway 31L at 0751Z after a total flight time of 12h 04mins
AUH Airport was the easiest Airport in the world to clear. We appeared to be the only arrival at the time. Partly due to Ramadan and partly due to the fact that AUH and DOH are still only wannabes to a booming DXB, clearing immigrations was a breeze. We tried out the visa on arrival for Indian nationals holding a US visa and it worked like a song except that they don’t take visa fees in cash – credit card only. Baggage retrieval was quick and the exit as well.Food
EY had a well presented menu with a wide selection of wines, aperitifs, liqueurs and beers besides several varieties of tea, coffee and soft drinks. Meal options included 3 varieties of starters – Arabic Mezze (veg), Smoked Duck (non-veg) and Corn Soup followed by options of the mains from Roast Poussin, Seared Cod, Lamb Kofta and Aloo Gobi Masala. This was followed by a selection of Cheeses and desserts from Warm pear frangipane flan, Dark chocolate mousse cake, Seasonal fresh fruit and a variety of ice-creams. Passengers could choose their time of meal in the premium classes. A round of drinks with salted almonds and cashews were served immediately after take-off. Besides these, the menu also offered all day dining options with a selection of breads and pastries, Fruit smoothies, range of breakfast cereals, yoghurt, scrambled eggs with sausages, Upma, vada and sambar, semolina porridge, steak sandwich and different types of sweets. I could not help but think that this was where European carriers lost the plot and conceded the advantage to Gulf carriers in India – Indian meals and a terrific inflight entertainment package with a wide range of Indian movies in different languages and genres even on two sectors not connected with India, really made the MEB3 market favourites out of the country with the world’s second largest population!
First round of drinks and dry fruits
Arabic Mezze starter
Roast Poussin with Polenta
Vanilla Ice cream
Steak sandwich which I helped myself to twice during the flight
Soap, moisturizer and mouthwash in the washroom
EY has a superlative J/cl product. Purely comparing the long haul onboard aspect of EY with two other recent long haul trips in Business Class on the A380 with LH and EK, I would like to make a few observations:Business Class
: The J/cl 1-2-1 layout with forward/rear facing seats and the overall cabin décor with the beige seats gives the EY product, excellent visual appeal at first glance. However, LH with its classy, understated elegance and well-lit interiors definitely would rank higher in my book despite the fact that LH has a 2-2-2 layout in Business Class. EK with 1-2-1 too has a spacious interior in the J/cl cabin but their use of too much gaudy faux wood paneling does not enhance the cabin appeal, giving it a nouveau riche feel. Both LH and EY have controls that allow the seat cushioning to be adjusted to varying degrees of soft or hard as per individual preference. EK does not have this feature. Sitting upright with your feet extended is something difficult to achieve on EY. Here both LH and EK score better as the electronic seat controls are relatively independent of the recline and do allow you to extend your foot rest high enough to support your feet/calves horizontally while keeping your back upright or slightly reclined. On EY however raising your footrest automatically causes the seat to recline progressively, so sitting upright or slightly reclined with your feet stretched out is about as possible as licking your elbow. This combined with a rather limited armrest length (on the console side) is a big negative for a product that was otherwise very well thought out. Furthermore, there is no turn-down service on EY. The seat is comfortable enough bed and passengers are expected to pull the soft fleece blankets over themselves, together with the huge black eye-mask to keep out the light and sleep in peace. LH does not offer a turndown service either. Here EK outshines both as they offer passengers in J/cl a mattress before they decide to get a bit of shut-eye on long flights.Inflight meal service
: EY nearly matches EK in this area. Meal choices are international and as an Indian I am a bit biased to our preferences. Every sector has an Indian element to it for both the veg and non-veg options thereby addressing a very raw desi nerve. And heck, when a big chunk of your business comes from the world’s 3rd largest air travel market, you would go the extra mile to ensure your customers paying top dollar from those markets are well taken care of. Despite an honest effort and significant improvement over the years, this is where LH is still way behind. On LH the crew are professional as ever and the selection of beverages awesome, but while the overall meal presentation continues to be of a very high standard, portions do not come close to the MEB3. EK goes a step further. Besides a wide-ranging international menu, it also features a well stocked mini-bar in every business class seat and the inflight lounge offers a wide selection of eats such as sandwiches, pizza, canapes, fruits and other savouries throughout the duration of the flight.
I kept going back in my mind to LH’s recent TV ad in India where a European sports coach exhorts his team to “think like the Indians”. Very apt, but they really need to cover a lot of lost ground.Inflight Entertainment
: EY’s E-box is an award winning IFE system with a great selection of entertainment options from live TV to latest movies to music channels to flight data. Again from an Indian passenger’s perspective the selection is excellent. EK’s ICE is however from a different planet altogether. Unbeatable, unmatchable by anything in the market today. LH is good but appears more like an honest trier than a world beater in this respect. EY’s head phone sockets are very inconveniently located on the seat console and it is a major challenge for any first time traveler to locate this without help from the crew. All three airlines boast very high quality, noise cancelling headphones.Amenity kits
: EY’s destination-inspired Business Class amenity kits feature major cities on its extensive global network. Each kit carries a LUXE City Guide, besides toiletries from Scaramouche & Fandango. I was not very impressed with the quality of the kitbag itself and the contents were not a patch on EK’s Bvlgari amenity kits which have a far greater selection of items. I saw two different kinds of amenity kits on LH on two different flights and both smacked of an effort at cost cutting. EK scores over both EY and LH even on the toiletries in the washrooms. Toothbrush kits, shaving sets, combs and fine quality cloth towels are stocked in J/cl washrooms. While LH did have toothbrushes, mouthwashes and combs, EY only had 3 dispensers with soap, moisturiser and mouthwash. No cups were available either.
EY was the third airline whose A380 long haul J/cl product I recently sampled. All said it’s a winning product. However, its compatriot EK has a 20 year lead and one of the world’s busiest international airports – DXB as its hub, besides 94 Airbus A380s compared to EY’s 10. There’s major catching up to do. Added to this the turbulences of the region, market uncertainties and political challenges all make for a very tough decade ahead for EY. It’s not about just having a superlative product, what counts is how consistently can they maintain this product while ensuring high profitability and high seat load factors, how quickly will they respond to market needs, challenges and last but not the least how will their unique model of business – acquiring stakes in different airlines globally – pan out in the future?
Sarfaroshi kii tamannaa ab hamaare dil mein hai, Dekhnaa hai zor kitnaa baazu-e-qaatil mein hai