Like I earlier mentioned, by the time I went through the secondary check gates (for US-bound flights), and reached the gates, boarding was already underway and I queued through a bunch of economy passengers to get through to the jetbridge. However, this was a good time to say hello to the A340.
Abu Dhabi (AUH) – New York (JFK)
Thursday, May 9 2013
Distance flown: 6897 miles
Aircraft: Airbus A340-600
Seat: 3A (First)
Meal Service: Lunch, Snacks
Once on board, however, everything was okay. at the gate, the purser greeted me, and asked one of her colleagues to show me to my seat. He immediately asked me for my roller board and laptop bag, and asked me to go ahead so that he could carry the bag behind me. I did hand him over the roller board but kept the laptop bag to me. It’s heavy on travel duty considering the multitude of gadgets it takes in.
When the flight attendant stowed my bag under the ottoman, he offered to put my laptop bag in the common stowage up front, and I could access it whenever I needed to by requesting them for it. There were no overhead compartments to stow bags after all. Here are some pictures of the cabin:
Welcome kit, including dates & Patchi chocolates
Noise Cancelling Headsets
Seat 3E & 3F
View outside the window
I was instantly in love with the hard product. Few reasons. Unlike a certain competitor, they don’t have a over-the-top flashy first class cabin and the colours all gel into each other and are easy on the eye. Apart from that, it was an enclosed product, which offered privacy when you wanted it as well. In the middle seats, there was a divider which could be brought up or down at will, and two people travelling together could easily talk while having their privacy from the rest of the plane. Like I always say, this is understated luxury, just the way I like it.
I was offered a pre-departure beverage, and I went with the Henroit Brut Rose NV Champagne, something I had not tried before. The cabin attendant came back in a jiffy with the bottle, and poured some into a flute glass on my seat.
A cold towel came soon after.
In a short while, another attendant came by to place my sleeper suit and amenity kit. The sizes offered were medium and large, and I went with the large. They also provided slippers. This was followed by a magazine service across the compartment.
Etihad amenity kits are shaped square, and not exactly your regular pouch-bag amenity kit. They contained the usual stuff such as eyeshades, ear plugs, tooth brush, La Prairie amenities and some handy mints.
I went over to the front lav, and changed into the suit. This was one massive lav for a plane, and had two windows along. They had Six Senses amenities inside, and a full size mirror installed as well.
Once back on my seat, I hung my clothes in the little coat hanger they had built into the walls of the seat.
The cabin load was 10 out of 12 seats full, and it looked like that was how it was going to be, till 5 minutes or so after doors close, a couple of people took those seats. It looked like they upgraded themselves (miles, cash, I don’t know).
I continued to fiddle around with the in-flight entertainment system for a while. Etihad’s IFE system, called E-box, had a great selection of movies and sitcoms to keep me occupied throughout the flight. However, I started with the airshow. The accompanying Etihad branded noise cancelling headsets were the ones I intended to use for this flight, and by the end I’d concluded they worked just fine.
I also noticed, along with the IFE controls placed near the armrest, there was a whole panel full of ports and jacks to be able to watch your own content by plugging in your own device, and a power point.
Pushback happened about 15 minutes later, and the captain informed about it beforehand. The nose camera was going to a good entertainment at this point of time. The A340 has a slower climb than the other jet planes of today, and so it takes a little longer to reach the cruise altitude.
The nose camera
Taxi to the runway at AUH
Taking off from Abu Dhabi
While the A340-600 run meant there were more first class seats as compared to the B777, it also meant that this plane did not have wi-fi installed. Etihad offers their first class passengers complimentary internet. Good and bad, I could forget all about being connected to the world for the next 14.5 hours, one of my longest flights.
After take-off, the Inflight Cabin Manager, Bridget, came over and introduced herself. She was from Ukraine, and was in charge of the first class cabin today. During the course of the flight, I was going to talk to her multiple times since she was around the cabin every now and then. Her name and contacts were also included in the hand signed welcome note that was placed on the seat before my arrival.
During a brief conversation, she asked me if I was a local or from the US. To which I told her I am from India and she was slightly surprised. I asked why, and the best she could come up with was, “I don’t come across (m)any passengers from India on this flight”. To which I thought, maybe she is missing the big picture where a lot of premium cabins from India are going full over the place these days with revenue passengers.
She asked me to look for her in case I needed anything, and incidentally I needed some paper to write since my notebook was in the laptop bag which they had now. She got me some sheets from her legal pad, while I was surprised Etihad did not have stationary on board such long flights where one may just need it.
I was served some Arabic tea along with a date, and I also partook one from the chocolate box placed there before.
For these ultra long haul flights, Etihad offers an onboard Chef as well, who basically a member of the crew taking care of culinary duties exclusively. He came around a about an hour after take off to give me a brief introduction to the wine menu as well as the dining menu. In the interest of being a multi-nationality crew, we had a Polish crew member here today.
For those of you interested, this is how the wine menu looked like. I did not like the Rose champagne on offer too much, so this time around, I stuck with asking for regular Champagne, which was going to be Bollinger 2002 vintage, tried and tested.
My drink arrived shortly after, along with some amuse bouche.
I chose to watch a Hindi movie I hadn’t watched before, and started to watch Sons of Sardaar on the IFE. A short while later, the F&B manager came around, to ask me for my choice of food, since meal service was going to start. For your reference, this was the menu offered on the flight, excluding the Kitchen Anytime menu which I will discuss later.
“When in Rome,…” chimed in my head, so I went with the Taste of Arabia menu, along with the addition of some fries. The good thing was, I could dine as quickly or as leisurely I wanted to. So, I took it easy. Shortly, the table was set.
First there was cold Arabic Mezze brought in. The crew encouraged me to try some Bordeaux wine with it, and poured me a glass.
And then there was a hot Arabic Mezze Platter
By the time I’d dug into the warm tomato mozzarella bread, and I was an instant fan. I’ve never found that bread before or after, so I just requested for another helping after I was done with the first one. It was yummy.
Subsequently, the chef sent some sorbet, and I was told this was to clear the palate, before I could move on to the main course. I don’t mind.
However, what was missing was the oven-baked fries which I had requested along with the main course to be served. While they hadn’t forgotten, it just came a little later, and a little soggy for my taste. When I requested for mayo, it came a little later than that, so overall, I did not have the fries and the mayo.
Dining with the airshow, it was the turn of the final course. However, the plates were not removed for a while, till the F&B manager came around and saw that I was sitting with them in front of me for, maybe, 10-15 minutes after main course was over for me. He apologized, cleared the plates and asked if I wanted something else. I went with the honey-nut cake with pomegranate sauce, something I did not like too much and did not finish.
I subsequently requested the crew for turndown service, and bed was made within five minutes. It looked and felt comfortable.
Using in-seat controls, I could control the lighting in the enclosure, and I went for dark. This helped me sleep for a good 6 hours on the plane, something I haven’t done before, given that I was awake all night due to the unearthy hour flight from Mumbai.
Flight show, after waking up.
When I woke up, I called for some water, since the one in the mini-bar was not cold.
A flight attendant came back with some water, and asked me if I wanted to eat something. I had a look at the Kitchen Anytime menu, and asked to have the much talked about Steak Sandwich along with some crisps and a cola.
The steak sandwich was very very nice, although made from everything that was put on the plane about 10 hours or so ago, and totally fresh.
I was full at this time, but the chef came back and chatted me up. He tricked me into trying out some dessert, and to keep it light, he suggested some fruit salad and ice cream. I took him up on that one, and it turned out to be a wise decision.
I dozed off again after this quick bite, and I woke up about 45 minutes before landing when the pilot made an announcement about the expected arrival time. I quickly changed back. A beverage was offered, and I chose to go with some green tea, which came along with baklava. Arrival forms were also distributed, and I filled up one before I was going to get into battlezone JFK.
We landed into JFK with a roughly ten minute delay, however, what was going to be after was a massive 2 hour long queue to get past immigration. Those were the days of the budget cuts, and since I was not a citizen or had a connection, I had no choice but to go through the long queues. I’m sure the pre-clearance at Abu Dhabi would make it all the more convenient, when it happens.
bye bye Etihad
Once outside, however, I managed to quickly find the limousine desk, where I was directed to a Lincoln waiting outside to take me to my destination, which in this case was going to be a hotel near La Guardia airport.
In a nutshell, I can say this was one of the best flights of my life, due to an amazing hard product and a reasonably good soft product. I’d love to go back on this First Class any day. Why is it more probable? Their alliance with Jet Airways, which is my carrier of choice in India.