(Flown on November 20, 2015)
Etihad Airways is the flagship airline of Abu Dhabi and the second largest airline in the United Arab Emirates. It is also one of the three major carriers in the Middle East besides Emirates and Qatar Airways. While I had flown the other two of the “ME3,” I had never flow with Etihad Airways before. As such, when Etihad did not put their A340-500 – my most favorite Airbus aircraft, and an aircraft that is getting harder and harder to fly on – into the schedule for their Abu Dhabi to Tokyo Narita route beyond December, I decided to book a flight on it while possible.
Background & Booking
As I am writing this, the Tokyo Narita to Abu Dhabi route is being operated by an A340-600. When Etihad published their new schedules a couple of months ago, it became clear that the A340-500 would stop flying to route on December 13, 2015. At that point, rumors had it that the A340-500 would retire from the Etihad fleet at that point. Those were proven wrong later as Etihad announced new route to Rabat in Morocco using the A340-500s.
Initially, I was considering doing the last A340-500 flight to Abu Dhabi and the first scheduled A340-600 flight back to Tokyo, but given the occasional equipment change from A340-500 to A340-600 on this route, I decided not to risk it and fly earlier.
I also discovered that flying to the UK via Abu Dhabi was only 50 dollars more than a simple return to Abu Dhabi, and so given my failed trip to the UK (Ryainair flight from Bratislava to Stansted delayed by over 7 hours resulting in cancelation of the trip) I decided to visit my friends in London.
The final itinerary was as follows: Tokyo Narita to Abu Dhabi on the A340-500, Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow on an A380, ground transfer to Manchester, Manchester to Abu Dhabi on a 777, and finally another A340-500 flight from Abu Dhabi to Tokyo.
Some time after booking this trip, I also booked a side trip from London to the Channel Islands on Aurigny Trislanders, but that is covered in a separate report.
Off to Narita
As is becoming common for me these days, the trip started after a day of work. As my flight was departing from Narita at 21:20, I left my work slightly after 5PM and made my way to the airport, arriving about two and a half hours before the flight.
After arriving at the airport, I spent some time looking for little gifts to take to my friends in London, and then I headed to the Etihad check-in desk. On my way to the check-in desk I saw some person dressed up as Naruto taking a picture with a Star Wars decorated Christmas tree – only possible to see this in Japan!
Leaving Narita Onboard Etihad A340-500
At the check-in desk, there was almost no queue, and in no time I had my boarding passes in hand – one to Abu Dhabi and the other one to London. With those in hand, nothing prevented me from heading through the security and passport control.
Airside, I got some snacks and headed to my gate since Narita is completely “dead” at night. I spent the rest of the time starting to write this report and taking some pictures of my aircraft – A6-EHD – being prepared for my flight.
Boarding started at 8:30PM, 50 minutes before our scheduled departure time. As I got on board, I could not notice the elegance of Etihad. In my opinion, they are the most elegant of the ME3 – leather gloves during boarding, and some of the most elegant uniforms I have seen.
As I got to my seat, my impression of Etihad grew better and better. As I got to my seat, a blanket in something like a pillow case, a “around-the-neck” pillow, headsets and Etihad’s version of the amenity kit – the “sleep tight kit” were waiting for me.
While waiting for the boarding to finish after settling down, there was a very confused looking passenger who was walking up and down the aisle trying to find his seat, and in spite of repeated guidance from the flight attendants, he seemed to have trouble finding it.
“All passengers onboard” was announced by one of the crew members at 9:05PM, and the flight attendants started distributing the menus while we were still sitting at the gate – nice touch. There were several options for each meal, but I will get to that later.
Five minutes later, the captain welcomed us on board and mentioned that our flight time would be approximately 12 hours 15 minutes, and as usual that he would get back to us with more updates later on. We closed the doors at 9:15PM, started our pushback about ten minutes later, and another five minutes later our engines came to life.
Shortly after our engines were started we started taxiing towards runway 34L. The taxiing took slightly over ten minutes including a short stop on the taxiway for no apparent reason. At 9:45PM we reached the runway and took off into the dark Narita skies.
Cruising to Abu Dhabi
Once we were safely in the air, we were welcomed once again by the crew. I was reminded about the multi-nationality of ME3 carriers’ crews when it was announced that the languages spoken by the crew included: Arabic, English, Bulgarian, Hindi, Filipino, Japanese, French, Vietnamese and Thai. In the Japanese announcement, Russian was included as well.
Right after the cabin crew members were released from their seats, they started handing out warm wet tissues in preparation for the meal service. The meal service started around 10:30PM, and about 15 minutes later the flight attendant reached my seat and asked me for my choice. When I asked for chicken, she asked her colleague who said she didn’t have one; however, a bit more of communication between them later, one last chicken was found and handed to me together with a cup of ginger ale. Overall, the meal was very good – the chicken, the salad, everything. The only thing I did not finish was the dessert as I am not a big fan of coffee flavored desserts.
For majority of the flight, when not eating, I was switching between sleeping and playing around with the in-flight entertainment system. The first thing I noticed about Etihad’s E-Box IFE on the A340-500 was that it was extremely slow to react. Another thing was the lack of movies. There were many movie categories with only one or two movies in it, and for example, the “E-Box Recommends” category contained only 5 movies of which three were Arabic, and the other two were Aladdin and Batman Begins. With the rest of their service being extremely good, I am sure they can do better with their IFE as well!
Not to be so critical of the IFE, it had a decent selection of Western music, and so eventually I created a playlist of songs and relaxed. Here, I feel the need to mention Etihad’s headset. It is, by far, the best headset I have ever received in economy class. This combined with the fairly nice in-flight map made it up for the lack of video content.
Furthermore, it was also nice that the aircraft featured in-seat power. While this is becoming more and more standard, there are still many airlines lacking this feature – to me one of the, if not the most important part of IFE.
Finally, the aircraft was equipped with paid in-flight wi-fi which I didn’t try. In fact, one of the reasons why I enjoy long haul flights is the fact that I can stay “disconnected” for more than a few hours.
About two hours after take-off, I fell asleep. I was woken up shortly before 2AM by business in the aisle as we were cruising at FL340. It turned out that one of the passengers seated a couple of rows in front of me fainted, and so the crew was looking for doctors. Luckily, by the time one of the attendants got the oxygen tank and mask ready, the passenger was back on his feet and we continued in the flight.
This was most certainly one of the couple of reminders I had recently on my flights that the flight attendants are there for much more than a lot of general public seems to think. While they are there to serve you drinks and food, they are there first and foremost to ensure your safety. In the air, they are your doctors, your police and your firefighters.
Once the situation in the aisle calmed down, I fell asleep again, being woken up by crew passing through the aisle, handing out bags of popcorn. Nice touch. If only they had a better movie selection! As I wasn’t hungry, I kept my bag of popcorn intact and continued sleeping for a bit more.
Less than an hour after the popcorn, breakfast was served. By this time, we were cruising at FL400. There was a choice between Japanese breakfast and western breakfast. I went with the western option of an omelette. It turned out to be a good choice – it was served with tomatoes, mushrooms and potatoes, all of which were very tasty. On top of that, there was a Milky Way and a fruit salad on the side.
Hala Abu Dhabi!
As at that point I was not sleepy anymore, I just worked on my computer a bit, editing photos, starting to write this report and so on. At 4:18AM Abu Dhabi time, the First Officer announced that we would start our descend in 7 to 8 minutes, and that we were expected to land at 5:05AM, reaching our gate at 5:10AM. He also mentioned it being a “perfect weather” with 26 degrees temperature.
From that point on, the rest of the flight was quick – at 4:55AM the cabin crew took their seats, and at 4:58AM we touched down, reaching our parking spot in about 5 minutes. At 5:07AM the door opened and we started disembarking. While getting off, I stopped in the business class to take a couple of photos…
…and then continued down the stairs onto the apron, snapping a few photos of the aircraft before being reminded by the ramp agent – “Excuse me, Sir, no photos” – and getting on the bus to go to the terminal.