We arrived at our gate (Terminal 3 Gate 37) a little before 8:30 for our 9:30 am departure. In Abu Dhabi, Terminal 3 gates 36-57 are “bus gates”, which means that after your boarding pass is scanned, you walk outdoors and get on a bus to be taken to your plane. And, there are not just for small planes! On our way to our 220-seat A330, we passed by multiple A340s (258 & 262 seats) that were also being bussed to!
It seems that the growth in air traffic in and out of Abu Dhabi is so great that they cannot keep up with terminal space. As we saw during takeoff, they are building a huge new terminal on the airport grounds, which should help alleviate this soon.
As we have found in other countries, there was a huge rush to board the plane as fast as possible, causing a long line to form. So, we decided to sit and enjoy sitting in the boarding area while the line died down. We finally boarded the bus – seemingly the last one – for the plane a little after 9:00 am. While we were on the bus, we heard some “fellow English speakers” nearby. We started chatting with Matt and John, two guys living in NYC who had just come over the night before on the same plane from JFK as us! They too were headed to South Africa, also having taken advantage of the incredible Etihad Christmas Day error fares. They had not prepared much at all though and were happy to get tips from us.
We got to our plane (at gate 203 – located at 24°25’26.1″N 54°39’12.4″E) at 9:15 am, after covering quite a bit of distance via bus. Our plane (an Airbus A330-200 registration A6-EYC) was actually painted as a Jet Airways plane but “operated by Etihad Airways” as it was painted right on the plane below the cockpit. Also, the plane’s registration was changed from VT-JWJ (an Indian registration) to its current A6-EYC (UAE registration). So, it seems that this is more than a temporary arrangement!
Once we boarded, we could see why Etihad might not want to claim this plane, as the seats and the interior was quite aged – especially for a plane just built in 2007. Certainly a lot older looking than our plane from JFK to Abu Dhabi!
While the plane was aged, the service was certainly Etihad! Similar to our JFK-AUH flight, we were greeted warmly by the cabin crew and we had a plastic-wrapped blanket and noise-cancelling headphones awaiting us at our seats.
Etihad Flight 604 – Abu Dhabi to Johannesburg
Abu Dhabi International (AUH): Terminal Gate 37; Plane Gate: 203; Runway 31L; Scheduled: 9:30a
O. R. Tambo International (JNB): Gate ??; Runway 03 (R/L?); Scheduled: 5:30p
Flight Time: 9h 0m; Actual miles: 4,690+
Registration: A6-EYC (formerly VT-JWJ); Airbus A330-202; First Flight: Nov 16, 2007; 254 seats (18 business / 236 coach)
Seats: 33H-aisle (JT) & 33K-window (Katie), coach
We chose seats 33H and 33K (aisle and window) for this leg, as this was the first row in the plane that was 7 seats across instead of 8. We were hoping for wider seats – or a little more room between the window and the window seat – but no such luck. Just a wider aisle next to JT.
The E-Box system seemed to be identical, although it was clearly an addition to the plane, necessitating equipment boxes to be installed under each row, reducing legroom. While the E-Box display was the same, there was no in-seat power plugs available (as we had on JFK-AUH plane). JT’s seat bad luck continued: his tray table would not lock into place (but at least stayed mostly upright). Also, Katie’s remote wouldn’t snap in fully.
Before takeoff, the captain got on to announce that we would be taking a longer route to avoid “war zones”. Based on the route we ended up taking, we were definitely avoiding Yemen – and possibly Somalia.
We took off at full-throttle heading northwest. Surprisingly soon after takeoff, the engines were scaled WAY back and we turned to the right – heading clockwise rather than the counterclockwise needed to head towards South Africa. We were both initially concerned that something was wrong with the plane. But, we continued our turn and slow ascent until we circled back over the airport and more throttle was added. So, it seems that there must be a noise ordinance in Abu Dhabi, regulating engine noise and routing.
Snack was served shortly before landing. The choices were chicken or mushroom sandwich. Afraid that the sandwich was going to be like the first flight, JT almost passed – but decided it would be best to try to eat now. Thankfully, these sandwiches were much less “bread-y” than those served on the JFK-AUH flight. JT liked it, but Katie didn’t – happily handing over the second half of her “Hot Pocket” sandwich to JT.
Despite storms threatening and a steep descent into Johannesburg, we landed rather smoothly. While taxiing to the gate, JT noticed a building in the distance with a sign of a large dog on top of it. We got closer and saw that it was part of the airport’s Bird Strike Avoidance Project. As Katie’s research is hoping to help reduce (or eliminate) bird strikes, it was very interesting to see this so prominently on display. Sadly, using dogs to scare away birds is the most effective non-lethal method currently being used by airports to disperse birds. Other “high tech” methods are not as effective. Hopefully Katie’s research will help change that!