Tag Archives: B777-300ER

Etihad Airways: New York to Abu Dhabi

16 Jan

Flight: EY 101

Route: JFK – AUH

Class of Service: FIRST

Aircraft: B777-300ER (77W)

There’s much fanfare around the ME3, the gulf carriers of the UAE and Qatar, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. And if you’ve flown any of them, you likely know firsthand what all the fuss is about. Even the most hard-to-impress can likely contend with the fact that compared to US domestic carriers, the difference is quite clear, putting things mildly.

I first flew Etihad 6 years ago when I first ventured out to the UAE. Then, it was, by and large, still a fledgling carrier hardly noticeable in the shadows of big brother, Emirates. And with good reason, it’d only been in operation for 7 years and still forming a distinct identity for itself. That withstanding, I enjoyed the trip then and could immediately notice this was a company big on enhancing the customer experience and attempting to make a difference in the industry. Etihad has grown up quite a bit since, expanding its footprint in many more markets and growing its fleet substantially (including its revolutionary Residence and individual Apartments featured on its A380), firmly establishing Abu Dhabi as a hub for connections to the Far East and beyond. It was time for me to check things out again.

I booked my ticket using AAdvantage miles in First (90K one-way) on my outbound journey, on EY 101 currently operated by the carrier’s 77W (777-300ER) aircraft . While I personally think the triple seven is one of the most beautiful and elegant commercial jets to grace the skies, I’d hoped I’d had the opportunity to book the trip instead on Etihad’s A380 aircraft which, as aforementioned, has much roomier First Class Apartments and of course the groundbreaking Residence, plus onboard bar/lounge and showers for First Guests. Alas, partner mileage redemptions for these apartments have become quite scarce and so I didn’t have much of a choice but to stick with the 777. First Class Suites are available on the airlines’ other aircraft, B777, B787, A340 and A330 And as I detail below, these suites are still some of the best in the industry.

Etihad’s branding team deserve major applause for successfully executing what I believe to be one of the most consistent customer or ‘Guest’ (using Etihad’s designated preferred nomenclature for referring to their customers) experiences out there. From the ground to the skies, it’s quite a remarkable thing. Even the musical theme that plays onboard is a clever soundtrack reminiscent of a movie score and is something that sticks with you for sometime–even after your journey’s over.

Checking in: Etihad is based in Terminal 4 at JFK. It’s largely serviced by Delta but several other airlines, Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore, Swiss, to name a few, also call it home. It’s one of the newer and more modern of the terminals at Kennedy. In fact it’s my favorite there. As to be expected, there’s a dedicated check-in counter for premium, First and Business Class, Guests. It was quick and efficient though if I’m allowed to nitpick a little, I found nothing terribly overly special about it, especially eyeing Emirate’s an isle over. Still the representative was courteous and after I was through, directed me to the lounge which is situated just to the left after clearing security.

The lounge was very smart looking, featuring the airlines’ rebranded color scheme and geometric patterns, which I happen to find very attractive. This theme is consistent throughout — seen on other items, including pillows in premium cabins and most noticeably aircraft tails. The bar menu features strategically designed cocktails, wine, beer and soft drinks (including a selection of mocktails). And dining consists of a la carte table service or Guests may choose to select options from the buffet. Wanting to get the full experience of the onboard service, I skipped having a meal and settled instead on a cocktail and a small serving of mixed nuts.

Before too long, the host at the lounge came to alert me, just right before a general announcement was made, that boarding was about to commence at the specified gate, if I’d like to proceed over. Walking up to our plane, I was warmly greeted and immediately handed over to the Flight Attendant that would be looking after me for the duration of the flight (regrettably I do not recall her name now — she was fantastic). She then walked me over to my suite; one of only 8 in First. Next came a welcome drink, Bollinger La Grande Année champagne, dates, a hot towelette and personal welcome note from Leanne, the Cabin Manager. Not at all a bad way to commence a 13 hr journey.

Shortly thereafter, the onboard Chef, exclusive to First Guests, walked over, introduced himself and inquired after what my palate may be inclining towards after we takeoff. It’s a dine on-demand sort of process, so I could order whenever I wanted but he did take the time to walk me through the menu and inquired if I had any questions. For an aperitif, I ordered the Martini Bianco, which was served in a proper martini glass and came with mixed nuts and olives. It was delicious. Next came my appetizer; I settled on the Arabic Mezze: hummus, baba ghanoush and tabouleh. Right after I was presented with a palate cleanser which was described to me though alas I can’t quite recall what it was; it’s pictured below. For my dinner, my choice was Fish. It was most delectable, as good as anything one would have on the ground and served on fine china. Compliments to the Chef indeed. At this point I was sufficiently full though easily gave in to dessert: an apple crumble of sorts which wasn’t terribly exciting but nice and simple enough.

It was now time to turn in. I’d started to nod off almost immediately after dinner while I was indulging in a movie on the 23″ TV featured in the suite. I grabbed my bag of goodies presented to me by the flight attendant after I’d boarded (which included pajamas, slippers and an amenity kit with luxury toiletries) and headed to the restroom to change. Immediately the Flight Attendant came by to inquire if I was ready for my bed to be made and I said yes. In my pajamas and ready for bed, I came back to an elegantly executed turn-down service. The bed was made including a mattress for extra padding and a lovely ‘sweet dreams’ note attached.

I was able to sleep very comfortably for a good 6-7 hrs. A slight complaint, however, would be I felt the cabin temperature was a bit too warm so I felt like almost disrobing at one point but thankfully things did eventually cool down. The noise-canceling headset I also felt a little too tight around the ears (for me). I woke up about a couple hrs before our touchdown in Abu Dhabi and just as I went to use the restroom, our Chef approached me to inquire if I was ready for some breakfast and what I fancied. I started out with fresh fruit and then proceeded on to a simple English breakfast of sorts. All very delicious.

Before too long, alas, we commenced our descent into Abu Dhabi. It was such a brilliant journey that I almost didn’t want it to end. Waiting planeside after touchdown, a distance from the terminal (as we didn’t disembark via jet-bridge), were a couple luxury Audi cars on standby to ferry First guests to the terminal. A nice treat to cap off a most remarkable flight.

Key Takeaways: In my estimation, Etihad offers one of the most luxurious and innovative ways to fly, especially in First, though the attention to the customer experience is palpable throughout all classes of service. The carrier has succeeded in keeping a consistent theme from the ground to the skies which enhances the overall experience. Note also, if you’re transiting to-or-from Dubai, you can book Etihad’s complimentary coach service.

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Between Business and Economy, A New Class Emerges

11 Apr

It’s commonly referred to as Premium Economy or Economy Plus/Comfort or Main Cabin Extra (locally) though it’s not entirely a new phenomenon. In some form it’s been around for years albeit limited to a number of airlines and serving as an additional revenue generating offering especially for airlines with just two-class configurations.

These days though, just about every major player’s onboard (pardon the pun). It’s growing increasingly popular and really beginning to carve its niche as a third or, indeed, fourth class, targeting a specific demographic – the leisure traveler who can afford to do a bit of splurging for just a bit more comfort and finesse. Though, perhaps, one may take the cynic route with the view that the situation in coach has just gotten so horrendous that it’s likely the only more decent way to fly as opposed to having to shell out the cash or premium miles for that business class seat.

It’s a bit of a wild west however in terms of these class of seats. There doesn’t appear to be too much consistency with the offering though I believe we’re starting to see some themes emerge as airlines become more competitive. Sadly however, domestic carriers still lag a bit here. In fact there isn’t really such a thing as Premium Economy this side of the Atlantic yet (with the exception of Air Canada on select jets). Most of the players here have decided to stick with simply bolstering the pitch of seats at the forward section of their Economy classes.

United has Economy Plus, Delta, Economy Comfort and American, Main Cabin Extra. All offering these seats at an extra cost to your average traveler. American is taking the lead however in creating a completely separate Main Cabin Extra cabin and the best pitch of the 3 carriers, 36″, on its new 777-300ER jet (retrofitted B772s arriving in the next few months will feature these seats, too). The best I’ve seen on Delta and United is 35″ in a similar class. The perks ends there though, no addnl. frills, with the exception of Delta that offers free alcoholic beverages on coast to coast flights – a nice touch and point of differentiation.
With rising competition however and the general state of the aviation industry on a healthier projection, I anticipate things will continue to progress in the right direction.

The brighter spot lies with Asian and some European carriers. On average we tend to see seat pitch at 38″ and wider widths. A couple clear standouts though are both Japan Airlines and Air New Zealand at an impressive pitch of 42″ offering exceptional cabin comfort.
The perks go on: Pre take-off champaign, better catering (British Airways touts Business Class meals), larger screens for In-flight Entertainment and Priority Boarding, etc., including, in a few cases, lounge access.

All these come with a premium though (up to $300 one way depending on the route) and at some point, one may wonder is it truly worth it? Curious to learn about experiences others may have. It’s a trend I’ll continue to follow.

Lan Airlines US

Japan Airlines (JAL) – A Pleasure In The Skies

11 Apr

Flight Review:
Route: JFK –> NRT
Flight #: JAL 005
Jet: B777-300ER – New JAL Sky Suite.
Class: Economy

This was my very first flight on Japan Airlines and I must say I was quite impressed indeed. I’ll start with the very minute and work my way to what I consider the more significant details.

Firstly, check in was smooth and easy at JFK. Being an AA (American Airlines) Platinum Elite member (Sapphire leveling on Oneworld carriers) it means an extension of preferred benefits network wide. What JAL does differently though is that it immediately includes Priority Boarding status and lounge access on your ticket which I found helpful and convenient. A bit of a slight negative in my praise, if ever so little, is that the lounge at JFK has seen better days and could use some sprucing up.

That aside, on to the actual flight experience. Without a doubt, I must say this was one of the most pleasurable flight experiences I’ve had in a long time having flown so far (14 hrs straight) and in economy class. JAL has done something clever which is really assess the flying experience for ALL passengers, including those in coach, which I’m afraid tends to be an afterthought–even if so–on other carriers, especially domestic ones. What’s impressive about what JAL’s done is design a standard economy seat with comfort and practicality foremost. With a pitch of 34″, this has got to be one of the most generous legrooms in coach period. For comparison, that’s just 1″ shy of (or in some cases equal to) an Economy Plus/Comfort seat which costs extra on United/Delta.
JAL takes Premium Economy to the next level with a whopping 42″ and a whole slew of other amenities (beats all others I know of in the same class — Cathay Pacific and British Airways offer 38″ in similar classes for comparison).

Meal service was also a big plus. Two full meals and a midflight snack were served. The initial meal after takeoff comprised of two different types of appetizers, fruit salad, slaw salad and your choice of entrée. Very scrumptious. The meal on my return journey, on a different airline, Cathay Pacific (which seems to be making more of a play for premium vs. coach customers these days) was a scant offering by comparison.

Meal Service - JAL 005 - JFK to NRT

Meal Service – JAL 005 – JFK to NRT

Inflight entertainment was fairly good though lacking a little in the variety of English language TV shows. Movies were excellent — several recently released Oscar nominated flicks were on feature. Also really enjoyed the cabin crew; they were all very gracious and accommodating.

Overall, a very pleasurable experience. Keep up the good work.

First Look: ANA (All Nippon Airways)

26 Sep

Route: NY-JFK –> Tokyo-NRT

A highly trafficked route (at my last count, 5 different carriers namely, ANA, American, Continental, Delta, and JAL offer nonstop service to Japan from the NY area), and thus competition fierce, driving the need to offer patrons unique experiences. This is always a good thing for consumers as airlines try their utmost to lure the purchasing public, especially business travelers. On this particular journey, I flew coach and therefore the perspective from which the airline’s being reviewed.

ANA’s service to Tokyo is on the stretch version of the 777 series, the 777-300ER. All aforementioned carriers fly variants of this aircraft (either the 777-200 or 777-300 with Delta the one exception opting instead to now fly the newly acquired 747s from the former Northwest Airlines fleet). The 777 is one of my favorite wide body jets. They’re easily identifiable with 3 rear landing gears on either side (as opposed to the standard two, plus addnl inward supporters, for other aircraft in the same class like competitor Airbus’ A340-500/600). The cabin width is also generous enough to comfortably accommodate a  standard 3-3-3 (some airlines like Air France configure their 777-300 series in a 3-4-3 alignment like the 747) in coach vs the slimmer A330/A340 comparisons which have narrower cabins and come configured in a standard 2-4-2 arrangement.

I love ANA’s seating configuration in Economy. They’ve opted to go the 3-4-2 route which I think is clever, accommodating a sort of lovers’ lane with the 2 on the side and the others which remain standard. Seats are pretty comfy with decent legroom (34” seat pitch) and pull down leg rests. In-Flight entertainment is good with large (10.6-inch) LCD touch-panel personal monitors and a variety of on-demand entertainment options-though not the best I’ve seen (think Cathy Pacific or Virgin Atlantic for comparison), and, Universal PC power port and USB connections.

The food is absolutely delicious and portions satisfying, especially the post takeoff meal (served shortly after being airborne). There are typically a couple choices–western or Asian. One criticism here, there’s no mid-journey meal, though ANA has a for purchase menu where you can purchase light meals from. I did find this a tad odd for a 14hr nonstop flight. To be fair my 16hr journey on Cathay Pacific earlier in the year also had no meals midway through, though we were served snacks. Standard pre-arrival light meal service offered.

Overall, a very good experience.

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