Etihad Flight 604

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!

One of the first busses to our plane

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.

Our view of the new terminal during takeoff

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!

The front of our plane (A6-EYC)

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!

Interior of the plane, pictured during disembarking

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.

Blanket and headphones awaiting each passenger in their seat

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.

Our seats: 33H (JT-aisle) and 33K (Katie-window)

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.

Etihad E-Box system – sans power ports, but with pre-flight ads
Also, you can barely see the tray table not locked in place
We were hoping for this part of the plane to be a bit more sparse, as many of the nearby seats were empty when we checked in and double-checked our seating assignments, but most of the section around us was full. That is, except the middle part of our row, where one woman got the whole 3-seat row to herself.
Lady across the aisle from JT, taking advantage of having her own row

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.

Our flight path (in blue/purple) vs. direct path (in red)

Right before takeoff, two flight attendants started walking down the aisle with canisters spraying fumes out. When they had almost reached our seats (so most of the way through the plane), another flight attendant started announcing that this was insecticides and that it was harmless to humans “but you may feel more comfortable covering your nose and mouth”. Good thing it was harmless without covering your nose/mouth, or we might have already lost those in the front of economy! We figure that this was done due to some sort of regulation, probably South African. Although we could not smell any odor from the mist, much of the economy cabin descended into coughing spells. Drama queens…
This notice was in our South African Airways magazine later in the trip. Nothing was stated in the Etihad magazine. So, this adds evidence to it being a South African regulation.
We paid a little more attention (as in some at all) to the safety briefing video this flight… and we are glad we did! It seems that Etihad didn’t get the best animators for their safety video. The main subject always seemed surprised and his motions were quite robotic. Perhaps this was an intentional way of getting people to actually watch the safety video.
Those are my eyes too when I see Arabic writing… or a fire in my lap, whichever the case may be
Giving your child a death stare while placing the mask on them is optional

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.

Weird routing leaving Abu Dhabi

The 9-member crew of this flight was also very international, speaking 11 languages (Arabic, English, Hindi, Filipino, Romanian, Finnish, French, Croatian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch). The flight attendant that we spoke with the most was from Manchester England. We noticed that she was dressed differently from the others – in an orange outfit. She explained that she is trained as a Flying Nanny, someone specially trained to care for children on the flight.
NOT our new friend, but the same outfit she was wearing
JT chatted with her for quite a while in the back gallery and she gave a lot more insight about Etihad.
– The hours are long (no official rest periods on this 9-hour flight, which ends up being a ~13-hour shift with preflight and cleanup)
– The pay isn’t wonderful, but you get to keep it all. Etihad provides housing in Abu Dhabi and at destinations and provides food. The pay is tax-free (at least in UAE).
– Etihad intentionally hires a diverse staff, but she doesn’t think that they arrange the crew members on a particular flight to be all from different nationalities. As she pointed out, there were actually two Indians on this flight.
– The flight attendants do not fly the same routes repeatedly. This was just her second time to Johannesburg.
– It seems most flight attendants are trained on most-to-all aircraft types in the Etihad fleet, and they must fly each aircraft type somewhat regularly to keep up their certification. Our new friend was excited to be trained on the A380 soon, as this would allow her periodic flights to London – which is just 3 hours from home and her family could come down to visit.
Besides talking with the flight attendants, JT passed the flight watching The Imitation Game (movie), sleeping a couple of hours and then watching almost all of Interstellar. “In preparation for landing” – but over 30 minutes from actual landing – they shut down the E-Box system and collected the probably-expensive headsets. We guess that they do this so that they would still have time to resolve any “missing” headphones before actually landing, which is understandable. But, JT was left reeling trying to figure out the end of the movie without seeing the ending.
Katie’s flight was much simpler – sleeping for most of the flight, eating at meals and then reading her book during taxi, takeoff and landing. Her headphones were one of a few on the plane not used at pickup!
Lunch was another excellent meal! We both went with the chicken option (Steamed chicken. Mashed potatoes in onion sauce seasonal vegetables with mushrooms and tomatoes), despite it having mushrooms. It was served with a bean salad appetizer: Black-eyed bean and vegetable salad with honey-mustard dressing and Apple Cake for dessert. JT opted for the red wine (which was a El Muro brand Macabeo on this flight) and Katie chose the wine wine (Miraflora brand) – both solid wines, especially for economy.
JT’s lunch

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!

Johannesburg airport’s Bird Strike Avoidance Project building
Lots of airlines fly in-and-out of Johannesburg, as clearly demostrated in this photo

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