It took me some weeks but my return trip report is finally finished. The report FRA-AUH can be found here.
There are plenty of pictures following later in this trip report, but first of all there’s a rather long pre-take off story to be told…
After spending enjoyable days in and around Abu Dhabi and Dubai our vacation in the UAE was nearing its end. One day prior to departure we decided to have a visit to the Etihad Airways city office in downtown Abu Dhabi, just next to the Beach Rotana Hotel. Since we didn’t have assigned seat numbers I wanted to make sure we wouldn’t end in a middle row. And waiting for check-in seemed to be risky – the transfer from the hotel was pre-booked and we didn’t know whether we would arrive before or after most other passengers of our flight.
The office is well-equipped with a luxurious interior and as we entered an agent and a supervisor, both very friendly, welcomed us. Two minutes later our request for a row with two seats on the right side was accepted and the agent tried his best at the computer, entering our data. Suddenly he said: “We have a problem here: your reservation is confirmed, sir. But the other one has been cancelled.” I couldn’t believe what I heard, apparently my girlfriend’s reservation had been cancelled.
“I try to find out the reason”, the agent said and called the airport. My girlfriend and I assumed it could be related to a name change which had to be done one week prior to our departure, after the travel agency had spelt incorrectly my girlfriend’s name on the original tickets. But we didn’t have any problems on the FRA-AUH flight – so what would be the problem now?
“We can’t find out the reason for the cancellation”, the agent told us after two telephone calls. He called again and shortly afterwards he and the supervisor left for some minutes. Then they came back with good news. “Obviously it was a name change which caused the problem”, the agent explained. When I asked again for the seat assignment he replied: “I’m sorry, we cannot get access to the seat map. But I added a request for window & aisle to your reservation.” He gave us our tickets back and we left – though we didn’t get what we wanted it seemed we could at least prevent a major problem at the airport the next day.
25. September 2005
Abu Dhabi (AUH) - Frankfurt (FRA)
Etihad Airways EY325
A6-EYD (c/n 658), delivered 05/2005
Coral Zone, seat 23K
Photo © Alexander Jonsson
Photo © Mario Andreya
Photo © Sascha Haberkorn
Check-in & further confusion
At around 10 in the morning we were picked up by a private taxi service and some 15 minutes later we found ourselves at the entrance hall of Abu Dhabi Airport. Before we could proceed to check-in we had to pass a security checkpoint. Some guys in front of us had some extra-large pieces of luggage and an unstable carton box and it seemed to take forever until they could move on. When we arrived at the counter for FRA (some 2.5 hours prior to departure) nobody else was waiting and I was confident we would be among the first ones to check in.
The female agent welcomed us, but appeared not really enthusiastic. I asked again for a row somewhere in the rear section – and surprise: “Sorry, we don’t have combined window & aisle seats left.” I was a bit confused and asked for the notice the other agent had promised to add. “Yes, it’s there. But I can offer you only one window seat – and an aisle seat some rows apart.” We rejected that offer and affirmed we wanted to seat together – at a window. Then she offered us an exit row – but I knew that one wouldn’t have a window and we declined again. The agent then started to talk (Arabic) to her colleague at the other counter, both seemed to search for something on their computers and after some minutes she finally said: “Ok, we have combined aisle & window seats in row 23.” Now that was surprising – why didn’t they just offer us that option from the beginning? What’s the point of denying several times and presenting a solution only after some 20 minutes of discussing and waiting?
Passport control – computer crash
After the check-in procedure had taken longer than expected we quickly approached the counters for passport control – since I still wanted to get some interesting registrations before leaving AUH. There were about five counters and only small lines everywhere. We took the one in the middle and then we had to wait - and wait - and wait. While all other lines were moving, nothing happened in front of us. Some people had already lined up behind us so it was too late to switch. Apparently the hall wasn’t air-conditioned, or the A/C was just out of order – it was really hot and humid in there, very unusual for public buildings in the UAE. So after some 20 minutes our line moved a bit, then we were stuck again. There were just some other Western tourists in front of us, so I was really wondering why it took so long to pass this counter. Some 10 minutes later it was our turn – finally – but the waiting wasn’t over. The officer took our passports and tried to enter data into his computer – but failed. Then I realized the problem: the computer had apparently crashed repeatedly and he desperately tried to fix it. He shouted at some other officers in Arabic, but they only replied shortly which didn’t help. I wondered why he didn’t just ask the people in line to go to another counter. Instead, he took our passports and transcribed our data to a piece of paper…after another 10 minutes we finally got our stamps, the officer even apologized for the delay and could enter the waiting hall.
Photo © Gary Chambers
Photo © Christian Galliker
As you can see on the left picture above AUH’s departure hall is a round building with some 12 gates. Though there were only few aircraft scheduled to depart within the next two hours the whole building was helplessly overcrowded, masses of people running around, no free seats available anywhere. It was one big mess. Two waiting corners alone were occupied by mostly Indian passengers, waiting for boarding a Gulf Air flight. Here’s an impression:
Abu Dhabi Duty Free – payment confusion
There are only few windows which enable views at the apron, and unfortunately one of those is located in a gift shop where one cannot hang around very long. Traffic was low anyways, so we inspected the Abu Dhabi Duty Free Shop. The shop offers lots of nice stuff but it’s not comparable to Dubai Duty Free – simply because the Abu Dhabi shop lacks space. And like the rest of the airport, it was totally crowded with people. I picked a bottle of liquor for 40 Dirham and went to the cashpoint. A friendly Asian lady took my VISA card but soon she looked puzzled and said: “I’m sorry, I made a mistake and entered 400 instead of 40, now I try to cancel.” I knew what would happen...“Oh no, it’s already transmitted!”, she exclaimed. Then she called the shop manager and told him about the problem. A long line was already waiting behind us and that had to be re-directed. The manager promised to call the bank in order to cancel the payment, but he added: “I don’t know if I get the confirmation immediately.” He then gave me his e-mail address where I could reach him – just in case the transaction would not be cancelled. I wasn’t really satisfied with that “solution” and asked some more questions. Then he told me to come back again in 20 minutes so that he could make another phone call.
I used the time to have a visit to the restrooms and another bad surprise followed. They were crowded as well, and not really clean…
Back in the duty free shop the Asian lady approached me immediately, smiled and ensured the manager could confirm the cancellation…well done.
Departure time was moving closer and I was waiting for our aircraft to arrive. Every gate area is equipped with three docking positions so if there are two aircraft parked next to each other it’s not obvious which one will be the right aircraft. A6-EYW (an ex-Volare model) was parked at “our” gate – but I expected A6-EYD to show up again for the FRA service. Indeed, after a while A6-EYD was towed to the gate, with A6-EYW scheduled for the MUC service. The gates cannot be entered until some 40-45 minutes (estimate) prior to departure which means passengers wait in long lines which further block the space in the central building. A security checkpoint is located directly at the gate entry, and some more officers usually keep their eyes open in the gate area.
We were among the first passengers to enter the gate and we could finally take a seat, directly in front of A6-EYD. A lady with a camera went to the glass front and wanted to take a picture of the aircraft, but a security officer immediately shouted at her: “No camera, no picture!” “What a nonsense”, I thought and watched the guy carefully – and as soon as he disappeared in the jetway I took my camera out and made my shot. Too bad he came back too early and saw my camera. Another “No camera, no picture” followed and I put it away. Here’s the result:
The the gate became crowded as most passengers had passed security, so it was a relief boarding was started soon. After only some minutes of waiting we entered the aircraft and took our seats in row 23. Seat pitch is average, quite the same as on most carriers. Seat design and colors (brown/gray) are different from Coral Plus (brown). Most important: large PTVs!
Though the camera was switched on at the gate (see the tow truck), it was then turned off for take off and the remaining flight. Next to us A6-EYW was prepared for its service to MUC:
Finally it was also possible to do some spotting. I got several interesting registrations, e.g. A6-EYZ (EY’s single B763) and VT-AXB and VT-AXC of Air India Express:
Boarding was completed after a while but there were no signs that we would leave the gate anytime soon. Catering trucks remained in their positions and the explanation followed some 20 minutes after our official departure time: the captain apologized for the 20 minutes-delay and explained that some catering items would be missing, requiring at least 10 more minutes of waiting and loading time. Doesn’t sound like good planning…
At this point I started worrying about our train connection which would leave FRA at 19.09 – only some 40 minutes after our new (estimated) arrival time.
We were finally pushed back at 13.50 and after the usual safety announcements the captain informed us about a special flight routing: surprise, surprise, we would head northeast and overfly Dubai’s coastline. I was really glad about having that seat on the right aircraft side!
At exactly 14.00 local time we turned into runway 31 and the RR powerplants accelerated A6-EYD on a rather long take off roll. Turning right towards Dubai:
How will that scenery look like in 5 years...?
After a flying time of 14 minutes we had reached Dubai and the captain made another announcement to “alarm” all interested passengers. Here they are, Jumeirah Palm and the Burj Al Arab:
Here’s downtown Dubai, the Creek and the airport:
Call button – no reaction
After climbing to cruising altitude the cabin crews started running through the cabin and some pax in front of us asked for blankets. We thought that would be a good idea because it was really cold in the cabin – our jackets were locked in the luggage somewhere in the aircraft’s belly below us as we had assumed we wouldn’t need them until our arrival at FRA. No F/A was around, so I pressed the call button. A nice little light was visible over our heads – and nothing happened. Several F/As passed our row (certain ones even twice) but they didn’t stop to ask what’s up. For at least 20 minutes nobody reacted to our call. Then a head stewardess passed us and she didn’t care either – until I stopped her. I told her we would like to get blankets and she said she would bring them. Nothing happened for a further 10 minutes and my girlfriend started freezing. Meanwhile the regular drink service had arrived and I asked that serving F/A for blankets. She replied: “Sorry, I have to finish this service first” I answered: “Well, we have already asked before, nobody reacted to our call sign and my girlfriend is freezing!” And surprise – she immediately handed two blankets to us. Now guess: only some seconds later the head stewardess also showed up with blankets – too late I would say.
After that "special request" I ordered a Campari Orange…
…and enjoyed looking at the Iranian coastline:
After playing around with the IFE (for detailed info check the FRA-AUH Report.), meal service was started. Again they had distributed menu cards and there was a choice of Arabian Chicken and Lamb Biryani. Unlike a week ago, no additional main choice was offered – or better said: announced. I had decided to try the lamb but I was told it wasn’t available (wait – wasn’t there a catering problem? ) The F/A offered me an alternative meal with meat, but she didn’t really know what exactly that consisted of. So she opened a covered dish for me to have a look. It looked quite acceptable and so I kept it. Here it is – for all readers: want to make a guess?
Unbelievable but true, it was a typical German dish, called “Sauerbraten mit Semmelknödel” (= marinated beef with dumplings), tasting really good. So just like on the FRA-AUH service, they offered a German dish, the only difference was the missing extra menu card.
The appetiser was a seasonal salad with Feta cheese, one desert was a “pista” (tasty), the other one was a mint mousse cake which tasted like cream with grass…
Moving map mystery
Shortly after take off I had already found out that the moving map was not available – again. I had asked a male (British) F/A about the map and he said it wouldn’t work today. But he offered me to ask him if I have a question and he added: “I hope you still enjoy the flight, even without a map!”
Well, the moving map wasn’t available on the FRA-AUH service either and I had to wonder: weren’t they able to fix that “problem” during the last six days? Or are there any other reasons? A friend working as a dispatcher suggested that EY probably hasn’t secured the rights yet to offer such a service – could that be an explanation?
Anyways, it was quite annoying not to have an idea where exactly we flew around. And the scenery was really interesting. I assume this must be somewhere over the Black Sea costline:
Here you can see a major bridge, costline with beaches, a large city with airport. Any ideas?
We had some hours left and I decided to play some more games but I noticed the IFE system didn’t work as well as last time. Loading lasted longer and sometimes a restart of games was necessary. I didn’t check the movies but I assume the whole programming was affected.
About an hour before landing a snack along with coffee and tea was served. The bread role was quite hard and the “Cornish Clotted Cream” tasted like rancid butter. The little sandwiches weren’t a culinary delight, but not too bad, though:
The flight continued unevenfully, except for the delay of about 40 minutes which could not be reduced since our departure. Again I thought about the chances of getting our train but it would depend mostly on taxiing and the parking position. And both aspects can be a big problem at FRA…
A6-EYD’s shadow visible on the cloud surface:
...and Terminal 2.
Btw – special thanks to a.net photographer Sascha Haberkorn. He made a great shot of exactly this flight on Sunday, 25 September:
Photo © Sascha Haberkorn
Nice surprise to find that picture in the database!
Back to the trip: as I had feared we landed from the “wrong” direction. We had to taxi back all the long way and after entirely passing Terminal 2 we stopped at a remote position. Though touchdown was at 18.09, it was not until 18.30 when we entered the busses. Last look at A6-EYD:
We counted every minute but it didn’t work out in the end. We had to wait in line at passport control, then we had to wait longer than expected for our luggage. We ran all the way up to the Sky Train, went to Terminal 1, ran down all the way to the train station and we missed our train by some 3 minutes. That was really annoying since it was the last train which would have made it possible to reach another connection at Nuremberg. So we had to go to Nuremberg and “organize” an alternative. We were picked up by car in the end which created additional costs and a loss of time, thanks to the delay.
As I already explained in the first report, Etihad Airways is a great airline – but still inconsistent as the return trip has shown. Service can be excellent – if the F/As are motivated and well trained. Not reacting to a call sign for half an hour is disappointing. Food can be excellent – and average like the snack on the return trip. IFE is awesome with countless options – but it doesn’t work perfectly yet. The moving map must be available, as well as the cameras. Check-in procedures can be perfect (FRA) – or rather amateurish (AUH). And the same can be said for the fleet in general: one can be lucky and get the latest birds (e.g. A6-EYD as I had twice) – and one can get a leased plane with inferior cabin equipment (e.g. ex-Volare aircraft). Flights can be on time – or they can be delayed because of catering problems.
And I wouldn't want to spend more than two hours at AUH for transit - at least not until the new airport will be opened in a few years.
I wrote a letter of complaint to Etihad Airways at Frankfurt shortly after coming back, but haven’t yet received an answer. I sent it for a second time yesterday…and if they don’t anwer I’ll translate it and send to Abu Dhabi…
However, it’s still a fairly new airline, they will improve with every single additional day in operation, they will learn a lot and will soon offer consistently high standards both on the ground and in the air, and they will belong to the best and most respected airlines in the world, no doubt about that.
Any feedback welcome!