South Africa to US mainland: Etihad 603 + Abu Dhabi layover + Etihad 101

After a surprisingly-long wait to check our bags at the Etihad counter (~30 minutes although there were less than 10 people in front of us), we cleared South African exit customs and entered the A terminal. Our tickets indicated that we were flying from “A00”, which we figured meant a gate in A terminal that was yet to be assigned… Incorrect. They actually have a gate A00.

We stopped by the shops to burn through the last of our rand. We bought some gum but could not afford anything else with our cash due to the elevated prices. Certainly make sure to buy your trinkets outside security!

Our remaining rand after the trip (5, 2, 1, 0.50, 0.20, and 0.10)

Our pockets lightened, we headed down the hall and into a crowd. It took us a minute to realize that this wasn’t a line for our gate, but for gate A3. The hall was narrow and it seemed like everyone was hurrying to board an Emirates plane. Ends up that the plane not only wasn’t boarding, but was scheduled to leave after ours! So, we started pushing our way through the crowd, initially drawing mean looks and cold shoulders until we loudly announced repeatedly that we needed to get by to get to our gate.

Looking back at the line at gate A3 that we just pushed our way though

Although, we shouldn’t have rushed… we were at the end of what seemed to be a temporary part of the terminal. There were only narrow slits for windows and only a few chairs in the entire area. There was no A/C in this part of the terminal and it was quite warm! We lucked out by jumping in some seats just as they opened up.

Awkward end to the (temporary?) terminal after gate A00

Thirsty from our wait in the hot terminal, JT took his Nalgene bottle to the back of the plane to get some water. With everyone boarding, he got “stuck” back there, so he befriended the flight attendants and helped them keep people from using the bathrooms. It is Etihad policy that the bathrooms remain unused (since passengers seemingly regularly violate the no smoking rules) and seat belts kept unbuckled (due to sparks??) while the plane is refueling. The flight attendants would announce these regulations every few minutes. Sometimes – they noted – they have to make this same announcement 10+ times. So, it was no surprise that they had it memorized.

Once fueling was done, JT used the bathroom and headed back to his seat for takeoff.

Etihad Flight 603 – Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi
O. R. Tambo International (JNB): Gate: A00 (old C9?); Scheduled: 7:10p
Abu Dhabi International (AUH): Bus Gate 19A; Landing: 6:50 am
Registration: A6-EYC (formerly VT-JWJ); Airbus A330-202; First Flight: Nov 16, 2007; 254 seats (18 business / 236 coach)
Seats: 17C-aisle (JT) & 17A-window (Katie), coach

This section of the plane – unlike the back section – has mood lighting
Etihad Flight 603 amenity kit contents
Katie had the “Chicken breast tikka with pilaf basmati rice, vegetable jalfrezi and tikka yoghurt sauce” with white wine. JT had the “Fried hake fish fillet lemon butter sauce, basmati rice and grilled chunky vegetables” with red wine. Both meals came with bread, pasta salad, and a delicious “White chocolate and mango mousse with raspberry coulis” dessert. Unfortunately, JT’s fish had ~5 bones that JT had to pick out. Besides that, dinner was great.
JT’s fish dinner
Katie enjoyed a cup of tea after dinner. JT figured it would be best not to have any caffeine so he could go to sleep quicker.

JT finished watching the last 10 minutes of Interstellar – picking up where he left off on the flight to Johannesburg and then watched an episode of Louie (CK) before heading to sleep. After being awoken for breakfast, JT started Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1. The E-Box system was nice enough to note that there was not enough time left in the flight to finish the movie, but we still have the Abu Dhabi to NYC leg for him to finish watching. Katie enjoyed her Kindle before and after dinner and breakfast, again not utilizing the nice noise-cancelling headphones this flight.

“Snack Time”!

Again, our flight avoided “war zones” and took a strange approach to Abu Dhabi (again this seems to be for noise reasons)

Route from Johannesburg (JNB) to Abu Dhabi (AUH)
Once in Abu Dhabi, we bused to the terminal (arriving at 7:19 am) and cleared security into the Abu Dhabi terminal. This security area drops you in the same spot as people that went through Terminal 1 security from the outside. It is also conveniently located next to the Al Reem lounge and right down the hall from the supposedly-better Al Dhabi lounge.
Buses lined up to pick up passengers from our flight
We each received a free Lounge Pass membership through our Chase Ink credit card (a benefit no longer offered), including two free lounge entries for each of us. So, we figured we would utilize this opportunity – especially as we were kept from taking advantage of the lounge on our way through Abu Dhabi the first time. We showed our Lounge Pass cards and boarding passes at the front desk. They swiped our cards and noted the best time to leave for our gate. Considering that we needed to clear customs and make our way all the way across the airport, they suggested 8:20 am for our 8:50 am boarding for our 10:20 am flight.
On our way to find seats, we ran across the same guys that we met in the Abu Dhabi airport last time through (ends up they were on all four of our Etihad flights!). We found a table in the furthest room in, which sports the bartender-manned open bar. Utilizing the free airport wi-fi and the numerous plugs, we juiced up our laptops and cell phones while catching up on what we had missed. We both enjoyed a latte from the automatic espresso machine at the bar and then helped ourselves to the cold and hot bar.

Katie enjoying the wi-fi at the Al Dhabi Lounge
(out-of-focus) teas and lattes in the lounge

Unfortunately, we didn’t think to inquire about the availability of the showers when we first got there. When we were hoping to do so, all were being used and we were listed as #10 and #11 on the waiting list – albeit, we did have an earlier boarding time than anyone ahead of us; not sure if that got us priority. Either way, we were packed up and leaving just before 9:00 am when the shower attendant approached us to tell us that a shower was free. Being far too late to take the time, we said goodbye to our fellow Etihad travelers – pointing out to them that boarding supposedly already began – started our hike across the airport.

Enjoying the chance to get some exercise after sitting for so long, we kept up a solid pace and cleared through Terminal 1, the duty free gift shops, Terminal 3, and to the additional US-flights-only security screening – where we found no line. We took off our shoes, turned on our laptops and other electronics, and cleared through in no time. Onto US customs…

Yep! US customs is located in Abu Dhabi airport. So, technically, everyone departing from Abu Dhabi to the US officially enters the United States in Abu Dhabi! As noted in Etihad’s materials, this allows us to be treated as domestic arrivals when our plane lands in the US. We were able to skip the not-immaterial line and use the Global Entry kiosks (on the far right-hand side of the room). Neither kiosk could read anyone’s passport, so we had to manually enter all of our information, slowing the process. Once we finished with the kiosks, we were directed in front of the line of people all the way across to the left-hand side of the room, where we were surprised to seemingly go through the same questioning process everyone else in line was having to do. No matter, we cleared through this and entered the United States a little after 9:20 – just an hour before our flight.
It is nice that Etihad has a premium lounge for US-bound guests after clearing security. So, if you are US-bound in Business or First class, we recommend clearing security and customs as soon as you can to be able to enjoy this nearly-gateside lounge.

“U.S. Premium Lounge”

When we got to our gate 59, we were surprised that boarding had still not begun – as it was supposed to have started over 30 minutes before. So, we settled in gateside and continued to enjoy the free wifi. JT looked out and noticed that the plane’s registration was A6-ETN – the same plane that we had taken from NYC to Abu Dhabi. Realizing that we were going to be seated in the same seats (and his seat did not recline on the flight over), he tried to see if alternate seats – to no avail. The plane was said to be completely full.

We meet again “Tango November”!

After letting the line die down, we finally boarded around 10:10 am, just 10 minutes before scheduled departure. With the backlog of passengers boarding and slowness with overhead baggage storage, we didn’t reach our seats until after 10:20. Katie found that her seat’s pillow had already been stolen. A flight attendant – who was originally wary of our story for some reason – ended up making a bit of a scene around our seats, asking for the culprit. Some American guys sitting a few rows behind us quickly offered up their pillows to defuse the unnecessarily-tense situation. After settling in, we were hoping to push back soon after, but we sat at the gate for an uncomfortably-long time.

Then, we were clued in why by the captain. There was a person on the plane being assessed by medical personnel for their fitness to fly. After a lengthy process, it was announced that the female passenger was deemed too sick to fly – but she refused to exit the aircraft. Quite a crowd of Etihad personnel was gathered around her seat to try to convince her to exit, but to no avail.

Etihad cabin and ground crew around the sick passenger

They announced over the intercom that they had to resort involving the police and that the police were going to have to board the plane to remove her. JT jockeyed for position near the mid-galley to watch the fireworks. However, it was just a single US customs agent who boarded the plane before the passenger finally relented. We wondered if the local authorities were unable to intervene, since we were technically in the US already!

With the stubborn sick lady finally off of the plane (with her bags), the flight attendants convinced everyone to sit down, and we were able to push back a little after 11:20 am – an hour late.

Etihad Flight 101 – Abu Dhabi to NYC

Abu Dhabi International (AUH): Gate: 59; Scheduled: 10:20a; Pushback: 11:28a; Takeoff: 11:45a
John F Kennedy International (JFK): Terminal 4; Scheduled: 4:35p; Landing: 4:58p; Arrival: 5:07p
Registration: A6-ETN; Boeing 777-3FX(ER); First Flight: Mar 1, 2013; 328 seats (8 first class / 40 business / 280 coach)
Flight Time: 13h 12m; Actual miles: 7,095
Seats: 41H-aisle (JT) & 41K-window (Katie), coach

After a lengthy drink service – which effectively turned into a double service as passengers stopped the flght attendants on the way back through the cabin for refills – we received a warm towel to wash up and then lunch. Katie again went with the lamb: “Lamb biryani garnished with fried onions and nuts” with white wine and JT had the “Steamed chicken mashed potatoes in onion sauce, seasonal vegetables with mushrooms and tomatoes” with red wine.

Lunch #1
Before and after lunch #1, JT enjoyed finishing the Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1, watching an episode of Key and Peele and then American Sniper movie – as he was unable to fall asleep. Katie was sad to find that the E-Box system offerings were different than our previous three legs and Wild – a movie she really wants to see – was no longer offered. So, Katie settled in for some much-needed sleep.

Lunch #2
Spectacular views of Greenland
E-Box Main Menu, showing the diversity of options

There was some turbulence as we approached Long Island. So, the crew decided to shut down the cabin long before final approach. We had a “quiet cabin” for the last 30+ minutes of the flight, before landing uneventfully. As promised, we were treated as domestic arrivals. It was strange, but nice, to walk straight into the terminal!

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