Tag Archives: Dubai

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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Around Town in Abu Dhabi

9 Aug

With Mideast unrest at a feverish pitch as signaled by recent epic occurrences (uprisings and toppling of several notorious dictatorships in the area), one may not be immediately inclined to consider the region a suitable spot for the next vacation spot. Perhaps fair enough, though as of this writing at least, there are still swaths of states in the area that have largely, in one way or another, been left unscathed by all the volatility in the region. One such amalgam of Emirates in the Arabian Peninsula is the United Arab Emirates and I got to experience firsthand what all the hoopla over Dubai and less popular (but perhaps for not much longer) Emirate and capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi, is all about.
I’d been curious about Dubai for some time now but Abu Dhabi, more recently, piqued my interest the most, since I’d been reading a lot about recent high-profiled developments in the area and how it is beginning to come into its own as a destination in its own right. And thus, I decided to choose it as my base of exploration. As I got to find out, this up and comer is gradually emerging from the shadows of its trendier sibling, Dubai, with pretty aggressive plans to become the cultural hub for the UAE and indeed the region. It’s likely Abu Dhabi’s conceited to Dubai as the nation’s primary commercial center—boasting the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, amongst others (though as recently reported plans are underway in Saudi Arabia to build an even taller monstrosity)–but Abu Dhabi now has bragging rights as the first city to host an outpost for the world famed Louvre in Paris (currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in 2012) and, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi joining the global Guggenheim network (New York, Bilbao, Berlin, Venice) slated to be completed and opened by 2013. Both of these museums will be located in the Cultural District of Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.
In terms of making ones way over from North America: Emirates and Delta both run direct routes to Dubai from the US; the former from NY-JFK (and depending on your itinerary, on their ultra-lux A380 jumbo jet), and the latter from Atlanta — with seamless connections to Abu Dhabi. Etihad on the other hand runs a direct route from NY-JFK to Abu Dhabi typically on the stretch version of the airbus A340 series, the -500/600 range. The trip’s roughly 14 hrs (from NY), but if being on an aircraft for that long isn’t particularly appealing to you, alternatively, seamless connections are also possible via major European hubs.
Arrival at Abu Dhabi is at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Transfers into town are fairly easy and because of the favorable exchange rate–at the time of this of this article (1 USD roughly translating to 4 Emirati Dirham – AED)–even hailing a taxi is into town is quite reasonable. Easy connections to Dubai via coach buses right outside the terminal are also possible. It’s roughly a 1.5 hr. journey.
Not surprisingly for a city its size and being the capital, there are numerous choices when it comes to accommodations – with many more constructions underway. My choice was W’s popular spinoff, ultramodern and hip aLoft Abu Dhabi located at the trendy ADNEC (Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center). See separate write-up: Quality
Services and Amenities at an Affordable Rate
. The amenities, such as the poolside lounge where the regions trend set get to chillax and, of course, showoff a little bit of skin, plus the property’s bar/nightclub on the top floor, Relax @ 12 — with panoramic views of the city below, alone are enough to get even the most finicky traveler intrigued. Other notables for accommodation in Abu Dhabi are the InterContinental, Shangri-La, Hilton, and not to mention, world famed Emirates Palace Hotel. If ponying up the cash isn’t quite in the cards, stop by for a visit, or afternoon tea, it is indeed a sight to see.
Becoming an increasingly multi-cultural hub (just roughly 16% of the overall nation’s populace is Emirati), cuisine choices run the gamut. What tends to dominate, being in the Middle East, are Lebanese specialties. Check out Lebanese Flower at either the Al Khalidiyah or Tourist Club locations. The food is pretty good and draws a crowd of mostly locals and visitors alike. Having a strong Southeast Asian draw, cuisines from that area are also plentiful with lots of options to choose from.
There are lots to see and do in this capital city. Shopping, for those seeking retail therapy, is a favorite pastime among visitors and locals alike. Boasting several complexes from high-end luxury brand outlets to merchants pedaling locally and regionally made goods, this town’s a shopper’s delight. Being that this area is commonly referred to as the ‘new’ Middle East, commercialism and some fear–the excess of–reigns supreme in Abu Dhabi. There’s also perhaps the unstated competition between commercial hub, Dubai, so there’s a building boom–with flashier and more dramatic structures (though thankfully not quite at the level of Dubai’s yet which is a little refreshing). One such mega-complex is the Ferrari World on Yas Island, something to certainly try and see on your visit.
Some other remarkable sights across town and experiences that ought not to be missed: architectural gem and house of worship, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest in the world, noted earlier in the write-up, Emirates Palace Hotel which hosted–amongst others–the controversially extravagant Christmas tree last holiday season, and, dune bashing or what might be referred to as ‘desert safari’ are absolute musts.

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