Etihad Airways – Flight Review
Being an expat for over 5 years means I’ve flown to Thailand a lot from the UK. This is a review my most recent return flight with Etihad airways which cost £420 return BKK – Manchester.
I always fly the cheapest economy, as upgrading to premium economy, business or first is the equivalent setting money on fire for no good reason. It’s much better to save your money and spend it on a better hotel if you have the spare cash.
My strategy for flying is to get moderately drunk on the free booze, and mindlessly watch the latest crap hollywood movies. This is partly due to choice and partly due to suffering from air sickness in the past. Alcohol combats my air sickness 100% and also thins the blood so there is less chance of DVT (a little known fact). I always have plenty of water on hand to combat potential dehydration.
Lets get to the review:
Bangkok to Manchester
My flight left at the very odd time of 2:50am from Bangkok. Because it was stupid o’clock in the morning I couldn’t really get drunk prior to flying and I couldn’t really sleep beforehand too, not the best start but the flight was dirt cheap so I wasn’t complaining.
I checked into my flight 3 hours early and hung out some of the restaurants in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. Bottled beer was pretty expensive at around 180 baht so I refrained from hitting the booze early.
Nice croissant sandwich to keep me full up. Sometimes you never know where your next decent meal will be when travelling so it’s always best to eat prior to flying.
Just after we took off I managed to get my first choice meal of a scrambled eggs with cheese, but the annoying stewardess wouldn’t serve me my requested beer and a white wine together so I just had to settle for wine. It was not individually bottled and was poured straight from the bottle. I wish I’d gone with just beer as the wine was like cat piss. I haven’t drank a glass for about 8 months (due to Thailand’s 300% import tax on alcohol) but the Etihad economy wine is about as rough as it gets!
The food was edible, but I didn’t eat the chicken sausage on general principle.
I did manage to get a couple of fosters from the stingy stewardess after the meal and I ended up falling asleep watching the movie John Wick (nice film).
On waking a few of hours later we were approaching Abu Dhabi, I managed to get some nice footage of the city just before we landed.
Getting off the plane I wasn’t looking forward to the 6 hour layover at Abu Dhabi airport. This flight was booked only 10 days before travelling, so I had to compromise with the layover time. If I was booking a few months in advance I would have made sure the waiting was no more than 2 or 3 hours.
If you do have a layover it’s good to prepare beforehand. My hand luggage had some extra food and snacks in, so I didn’t need to buy anything at the airport (they usually rip you off if you use your Visa or Mastercard). My iPad and MP3 player (I’m old school) were both fully charged, and I had a magazine and a book to read for the waiting around time.
Going through security in Abu Dhabi is a bit of a pain, you are ushered downstairs into a tunnel like queue which on a good day can be a five minute wait and on a bad day can be 30 minutes of hell surrounded by screaming toddlers. This day was average, being around a 15 minute wait before I had to do the usual take the belt off, take the laptop out of the bag routine.
When I finally got through I went and found the comfiest chair with a footrest on I could and parked myself there for 3 hours of music time with my eyes closed. The aircon is unusually cold in Abu Dhabi airport, and just like these guys in the pic above, I’d cheekily stolen the blanket provided by Etihad 🙂
After this I took a few timelapses of the planes outside to alleviate my boredom. When I eventually got to my gate I was not amused by the extra security that required random passengers to unpack every item of their hand luggage for the locals to sort through with their rubber gloves. I was selected of course. Special attention was given to electrical items and my laptop was under scrutiny because the battery was dead. Lucky for me I had the charger with me and could prove that it was legitimate, as since this flight I’ve heard stories of electronics being confiscated for not being able to turn them on at this airport!
After all the excitement of having my hand luggage combed through by strangers it was finally time to board. A couple of beers was definitely in order after enduring Abu Dhabi airport for 6 hours.
For the meal there was not such a good selection on offer, the dory was my first choice from the offerings.
‘Sorry Sir, we only have the chicken with rice left.’ Of Course. It was probably the most random thing I’ve ever eaten on a plane and was too sweet for my liking.
After a few more Fosters beers, and a couple more Hollywood action films I was back in Old Blighty. The unmistakeable look of English housing estates greeted me and was a welcome sight after all the travelling. I passed through immigration without trouble, collected my bag from the carousel and headed home.
The next part of the journey was a couple of weeks later:
Flying back from Manchester to Bangkok
I arrived at the airport around 3 hours early for the flight, due to the fact that I had no flight out of Thailand and could possibly expect some hassle checking in. After queueing for 20 mins I eventually got to the front and unfortunately was presented with a fat Polish woman, who was a complete superbitch and took delight in trying to ruin my day.
After checking my passport she asked if I had any onward flight booked out of Thailand, I said no and she looked at me straight in the eye and said ‘you can’t travel today Sir without a return flight.’ I’ve played this game before with some airline staff, it’s all about power, and I just said ‘yes I can, I have had this issue before with many airlines, please call your colleague (notice I didn’t say supervisor / boss – it would have pissed her off more) and I will explain clearly my travel itinerary.’ Reluctantly she picked up the phone and called her superior.
The Supervisor came and was standoffish to say the least, I was bombarded with questions like: What are you doing in Thailand? Why haven’t you got onward travel? You do know you need a ‘residence permit’ to fly in with no onward travel booked. I explained as calmly and clearly as possible that I always travel to the neighbouring country of Laos to get my tourist visas to stay in thailand.
She basically said that this was not normal procedure and was going to deny my checking in (the airline had to cover themselves – they would be responsible if I was denied entry at Thai immigration I think). I had a fresh new passport so there was no previous history to go on to back up my story. Luckily, by chance I’d left my old passport (full of Laos and Thai tourist visa stamps) in my hand luggage and as a last resort showed it to them that this is the country I get my tourist visas from. They studied the old passport suspiciously, then reluctantly said this is not the normal way of doing things. I said it’s my responsibility and would accept the consequences in Thailand etc… and after some more to and fro then they finally accepted me for checking in.
Sidenote: If they had denied me boarding I would have just booked a 1000 baht Air Asia flight from Bangkok to anywhere as a last resort and just written it off. Also, maybe I should start printing off fake travel confirmations to avoid this possibly happening again? I don’t know, it’s kind of a fun challenge with airline staff who are on a power trip, because at the end of the day ‘they are serving you’ and as long as you keep your cool the exchanges can be amusing and memorable.
After accepting me for checkin, then it was time to weigh my luggage. There was a 20kg weight limit and I was over this at about 23.1kg. Normal procedure in the past dictates that they give you around 10% leeway for calibration error on the scales, also as Etihad are a more premium airline I would have expected them to accept the 23.1kg bag and given me a warning (KLM did this on my flight last year).
Not this day with the Polish superbitch. She took delight in denying my bag after I told her I knew she could check the bag ‘at her discretion’ (which was true). She flat out refused to accept the bag. I think she hated me on first sight – probably because she took me for a dirty, mongering sexpat (which in fairness I am when drunk).
She said I could check the bag in for additional cost, I said yes please give me the price and I will pay (I would have probably paid up to £30 because I couldn’t be bothered opening the bag and repacking it there and then). Superbitch got her calculator out, did some sums, then scribbled 210.38 on a piece of paper before showing it to me silently looking aside. I said is that £21 and you have mis-took the decimal point? Oh no, it was £210 sterling for 3.1kg and she was serious. Needless to say I declined to pay on general principle.
What a fucking joke Etihad are with this shit! It’s not like I’m flying an hour for a weekend away, it’s long haul dickheads! They’ve turned into an another airline with penny pinching measures. Ryanair (UK budget carrier), are the masters of this and it seems their evil procedures have infected other more premium airlines.
If I was alone at Manchester airport, or didn’t have the foresight to tell my friend dropping me off to park at the short stay and come in with me just incase I have some problems at check in I would have been totally fucked. Either having to pay the extortionate excess baggage fee, or having to dump 3kg of stuff (my hand luggage was already at 2 full bags and over 10kg so I didn’t have the option to transfer any stuff).
So I had to shamefully open my big bag near the checkin counter as the other queueing passengers looked on. I took out some shoes, a couple of books, heavy toiletries and cadbury’s chocolate. I dumped them in a bag for my friend to keep, and then approached the checkin counter again.
I didn’t choose the Polish superbitch the second time round, and the new girl checked me in quick as a flash and I was on my way. Even when my bag registered 20.8kg on the scales she didn’t bat an eyelid. I think that some airline staff get so much shit everyday that they take delight in returning it with interest. But, at no point did I lose my cool, I always spoke calmly, confidently and with conviction. Had I lost my temper it would have been a different story altogether.
Looking back I probably should have taken the name of the Polish woman, and made a complaint as she was unnecessarily hostile towards me right from the start. She was the worst airline checkin person that I’ve ever encountered. If they had denied me I was ready to take photos and probably make a YouTube video with me being denied boarding (it would have been memorable), then probably telling her where to go with colourful language, but as I was accepted eventually so didn’t have to do any of that stuff.
The flight itself:
I had a couple of nice Stella Artois 4% pints in a nice bar overlooking some of the parked up planes. Then went through to my gate and boarded nearly last on the plane. When I got to my seat I found that my complimentary headphones were missing, but got a replacement straight away from the stewardess who looked at me like I was a criminal.
This flight was pretty uneventful. I had the chicken with mushroom sauce (first choice) and the food was very salty and average.The couple sitting next to me were forgetful enough, which is exactly what I want when flying.
I had a couple of beers, watched a movie then dozed off waking up hours later on approach to Abu Dhabi Airport.
On arrival at Abu Dhabi it was 6:45am. We were treated to a bus transfer to the terminal this time, not really comfortable especially as it was 30 C outside already.
I had an hour and 55 minutes until my connecting flight to Bangkok left, so luckily didn’t have to wait that long at the airport this time. The queues to get through security were still pretty long, and it took about 30 minutes of waiting around until I finally got through.
I went straight to my gate and decided to get on the plane as early as I could this time. They usually open the checkin early for these big Boeing 777-300ER planes so I got on another bus to get to the plane.
It was pretty quiet on this leg and I was overjoyed to find I had 3 seats to myself. I could have even wandered around to try and find 4 free middle seats but didn’t fancy pushing my luck.
For the food they ran out of the fish main course again. I had to settle for some ‘Mee Goreng’ noodles (strawberry pastry was another alternative) which weren’t very appetising.
I didn’t mind too much about the food as, having a few beers with my feet up while watching movies softened the blow immensely. 3 seats in economy is generally more comfortable than a business class seat on these planes.
We arrived in Bangkok in the early evening, the immigration queues were non-existent to my surprise. I breezed through, picked up my bag promptly from the carousel, and caught a taxi straight to central Bangkok.
Would I still fly with Etihad Airways in the future? Probably, but only if their fares are the cheapest by a decent margin. If they are similar priced to Qatar/Emirates or another carrier that I haven’t flown (eg. Turkish Airlines) I would definitely not fly Etihad.
Pretty much the whole flight experience with Etihad had gone downhill from when I last flew with them in 2012. The service, food, drink have all deteriorated in quality. The airport in Abu Dhabi is not pleasant for a layover (especially with the bus transfer from the plane). Even the plug sockets don’t work in economy so you can’t charge your electronic devices, it’s the little things that matter sometimes.
I would fly with Etihad again on price alone but my overall expectations have lowered dramatically based on this last return trip.
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