We arrived at Terminal 4 a little before 9:15 pm for our 10:40 pm flight. We were frantic during our Uber ride until JT called Etihad and found out that bag check-in does not close until one hour before departure.
We were amazed by the expansive beauty of JFK Terminal 4. But there wasn’t much time to enjoy it… We hurried over to the Etihad check in desk, which surprisingly had no line! We loaded our hiking backpacks into our laundry bags for protection and quickly and easily checked in. JT tried to sweet-talk the check-in agent into giving us a Fast Track pass for Abu Dhabi customs, but failed.
We queued in the international departures security line, clogged by families and foreign people unaware of what to do, further compounded by TSA agents who would just bark at them in English about what they were doing wrong. However, the agents were nice to us! As JT drank the water from his Nalgene water bottle, one agent jokingly (but loudly) chanted “CHUG CHUG CHUG!!”, applauded JT’s chugging ability and called to the rest of the line for challengers. Awkward…
We cleared normal TSA-style security process (no benefit for those who are Pre cleared): taking off our shoes, pulling our laptops out, and going through the millimeter wave scan machine. As is often the case, the “random object generator” flagged non-existent items on both of us. Once cleared, we redressed and repacked and headed for gate B29 through the mostly-empty shopping center.
We arrived at the gate before our boarding zone was called. But, even when our group was called, we decided to hang back, ooh and ahh and take photos of the nearby 747 and Emirates A380, and giggle at the “tiny” Avianca plane (A319? going to Bogota) in the midst of these giants. We finally boarded soon before final boarding call.
We shooed away the person who was already camped in our seats and settled in for the longest flight of our lives! After pushing back, there were some loud, concerning sounds came from our right engine when the pilots seemed to be testing it pre-flight. Our plane sat on the tarmac for a while. Considering how disconcerting the sounds were, JT wasn’t sure if out flight was going to end up taking off or not!
Etihad Flight 100 – NYC to Abu Dhabi
John F Kennedy International (JFK): Gate B29; Runway 31L; Scheduled: 10:40p; Actual: 11:26p
Abu Dhabi International (AUH): Gate ??; Runway ??; Scheduled: 7:40p; Actual: 7:58p
Flight Time: 12h 32m; Actual miles: 7,223
Registration: A6-ETN; Boeing 777-3FX(ER); First Flight: Mar 1, 2013; 328 seats (8 first class / 40 business / 280 coach)
Seats: 41H-aisle (JT) & 41K-window (Katie), coach
After a long (30+ minute) wait, we finally taxied and took off a little after 11:20. The right engine was louder than expected, but sans the concerning noises. Take-off was smooth and we enjoyed views of Manhattan as we travelled south before turning east towards Abu Dhabi.
Our seats were a bit tight when it came to legroom. And this was made worse by the guys in front of us reclining their seats fully (a healthy recline for economy!). Katie’s seat would recline, but JT’s seat would not. This would not make sense to be designed this way, so JT thought that the guy behind him was using a Knee Defender, but never could see anything. Maybe the seat was just broken.
The Etihad “E-box” entertainment system is second to none (that we have experienced). JT and Katie each found many movies that we really wanted to see. There was no doubt that we would be entertained during our Etihad flights! JT opted to start with the movie Into the Woods. Katie started a CSI episode.
Once we reached cruising altitude, dinner service started (even though it was almost midnight!). We had a choice of lamb, chicken or vegetarian. Surprising JT, Katie opted for the lamb (Lamb casserole with rosemary potato gratin, green beans and red pepper) – which ended up being the last one available. JT went with the chicken (Chicken biryani with aromatic rice and fried onion). It was served with an appetizer: Chickpea and fava bean salad with lemon and allspice vinaigrette and Mango mousse with toasted coconut flakes for dessert. Katie had white wine with her meal and JT had red wine. An added luxury: dinner was served with real metal silverware – even embossed with the Etihad logo! Both meals were very delicious and quite substantial; although we boarded the flight hungry, we fell asleep full.
JT slept well until snack service (over Spain, about 6.5 hours into the flight), which were mediocre, mostly-bread chicken salad sandwiches. After we ate, both of us fell back asleep, only to be awoken to the second dinner service, shortly after passing Egypt. Second dinner was just as good as the first, although there was only one option: a flavorful vegetarian Indian-style rice dish (Vegetable curry aromatic rice with peas and eggplant masala with a mixed vegetable salad appetizer)
After this meal, we stayed awake. JT finished his movie. And then we both prepared to land, using the restroom to brush our teeth, put in contacts, etc. JT noticed that our bathroom was out of toilet paper and towels, so he opted to restock it himself. When he had trouble getting the paper towels in, he asked a flight attendant for help. They were very pleased that he had helped out and JT quickly befriended them.
Speaking of the flight attendants, the service on this flight was easily the best we have ever experienced! JT befriended a flight attendant before we even took off, who happily pointed out the crew rest area and discussed how they have to work hard to police passengers from smoking in the bathrooms, the weather in Texas and NYC, our layover in Abu Dhabi, etc. When he said, “let me know if there is anything that we can do for you”, it seemed refreshingly genuine.
Shortly after takeoff, they mentioned the number of languages spoken by crew on the plane. There were ~12! You could tell that Etihad was clearly being intentional about having a very international crew! There were flight attendants in our back section from Hungary, USA, one seemed to be from Asia, and one seemed to be from the Middle East.
Thank you Orsolya, Laura and the rest of the Friendliest Crew in the Skies! 🙂
We have found that being friendly to people all across the world is immensely rewarding, from little favors to enlightening conversations to being invited to stay at someone’s house (in a totally genuine, non-creepy way). This was certainly one of those times: We were thanked for our friendliness with two Fast Track passes to get through Abu Dhabi customs (which we had heard stories that these might save up to an hour of wait time!).
JT realized as we were disembarked that he hadn’t gotten the planes registration number yet. We got off of the plane and tried to see it from the gateway, but no luck. So, he headed back to the plane. There he found a pilot at the entrance to the plane, who was puzzled about his return, but gladly answered “echo tango november” as the registration. After a bit of discussion, JT found out that he was the relief captain – the pilot in charge of the plane when it’s at cruising altitude. JT thanked him for the smooth ride to Abu Dhabi.
Off to customs!