The Worst Etihad Airways Flight I Have Ever Taken — and Why
I overheard a disappointed female passenger seated near me complain that she never received the Asian vegetarian meal which she had ordered in plenty of time before what I would later call the worst Etihad Airways flight I have ever taken. “I enjoy meals prepared Chinese-style”, she said. “I was initially glad I ordered the special meal, because I would not have enjoyed any of the meals shown on the menu.”
Almost initially mistaken as a response to that comment, a passenger behind me unexpectedly released an unpleasantly deep gurgles which initially resembled the massive failure of a toilet attempting to drain:
That was the noise which loudly emanated several times — and quite openly, I might add — from Mr. Garbage Disposal seated directly behind me throughout the duration of the flight. Fortunately, no regurgitated “garbage” as a result of reverse peristalsis erupted along with the eructation for all to hear — and no “excuse me” was to be heard either.
McNeil approached with the metal meal cart in the narrow aisle, serving food and beverages amongst a veritable sea of irate, uncomfortable and impatient passengers. I also had several minor issues which I wanted to be resolved.
The incredibly positive attitude of the flight attendant from Saint Lucia was infectious, as he was clearly and undoubtedly the only highlight aboard the Boeing 777-300 aircraft which operated as Etihad Airways flight 101 from Abu Dhabi International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. “Before you get upset,” he assured the woman with his Caribbean accent accompanied by a big smile, “everything will be all right. Tell me what is the problem; and I will fix it for you.”
Calmed by his demeanor, she politely related how she never received her special meal order.
“I will be right back” said McNeil, immediately abandoning the meal cart momentarily.
Imagine her surprise when the chef from the premium class cabin prepared her a special meal on fine china, delivered by McNeil. I asked her if I can photograph her meal, for I could not do it justice with words alone.
It was a vegetarian meal which was a work of art. She dug into what turned out to be a gastronomic creation artfully presented with the perfect balance of flavors and textures: several crispy sticks topped with greens and accompanied by roasted pepper, tomato and eggplant topped with a marinara sauce.
When the chef actually arrived at her row to inquire as to how was the meal he created, she revealed to him that she would normally not eat half of the items on that plate; but that it was so delicious — and she thanked him and McNeil profusely.
With few exceptions, this was basically the bright spot on what was otherwise a dismal flight, which started off poorly with a delay which lasted at the gate for an hour and twenty minutes at the airport in Abu Dhabi — euphemistically not exactly an ideal way to start a flight which would last greater than 13 hours. I had taken this flight earlier this year at the same gate; and boarding started one hour before departure. With this flight, however, boarding started at least twenty minutes later than that — and we were warned that the economy class cabin of the aircraft was going to be full.
Once aboard the airplane, there were only two vague announcements from the pilot regarding the delay, with the first one including that “someone was not doing their job” in terms of having submitted the appropriate paperwork in a timely manner. During the boarding process, unpleasant attitudes were already on display.
A woman holding a baby wanted to sit next to her friend and saw a woman already sitting in the seat that she wanted. She demanded to the woman occupying the aisle seat to switch seats to her middle seat five rows further back in the center section of the aircraft because she needed to sit next to her friend.
“I am not moving”, replied the seated woman. “I spent a lot of time choosing and booking the seat that I wanted. Tell your friend to switch places with the person sitting next to me.”
Good for her for standing — or, should I say, sitting — her ground; and fortunately, McNeil supported her position and the situation was resolved in favor of the seated woman, as she stayed put after the two women went back and forth. How dare someone demand that someone give up an aisle seat for a middle seat further towards the back of the airplane?!?
There was actually a number of passengers switching seats during that time, and most were accommodating; but none were as egregious in terms of commanding their preferences as that woman holding the baby.
At least two hours elapsed since the airplane took off from the runway before the special meals were served — even longer before the regular meals were served — and that is not including the time of the aforementioned delay aboard the airplane at the gate. I sat in my seat wondering when — or if ever — they were going to serve the meals, as I was hungry.
The special seafood meals were good, as they had been on previous flights operated by Etihad Airways on which I was a passenger; and the seats were reasonably comfortable — they were the same as the ones I had documented in this article pertaining to my first flight operated by Etihad Airways — but there were other factors which inhibited the flight from being an enjoyable one, about which I will explain in more detail.
My seafood meal consisted of white fish fried in batter — which was soft and not crispy, but that did not bother me — with a side order of what seemed broccoli or some other type of green vegetable mashed together with a potato, accompanied by a vegetable medley of corn, carrots and broccoli. This meal was served with a bland cucumber salad and a fruit salad comprised of watermelon, a honeydew-type of melon, and a chunk of pineapple. Crackers, a small sealed block of cheese, a roll and butter rounded out the meal.
As with other seafood meals served on previous flights operated by Etihad Airways — such as my first flight; my second flight; and my third flight aboard a Jet Airways aircraft — the meal was very good.
Two toddlers were consistently crying throughout much of the duration of the flight. An explanation from the mother of one of the toddlers revealed that the food for the first meal was not served in a timely manner; and I would have to agree with that statement — not that it was really an excuse for the loud wailing; but I understood.
That same mother — whose family was seated in a bulkhead row three rows ahead of where I was seated and in the center section of the aircraft — took the liberty along with other passengers of removing the trays from the tables and piling them near the emergency exit door, which infuriated one flight attendant. It did seem to take forever for the flight crew to collect the trays; but that is still no reason to pile trays full of garbage and uneaten food onto the floor in front of a row of people seated next to the emergency exit. Despite his excellent attitude, McNeil let the women know politely — and firmly, in no uncertain terms — that what she did was unacceptable. She sheepishly collected the trays and placed them back on the tray tables.
Normally, I have no issue with someone seated in front of me who reclines his or her seat. In fact, the three passengers seated in the row in front of me reclined their seats and fell asleep immediately after the airplane took off from the runway; and they have a right to be as comfortable as possible. What irked me was that the person seated in front of me left the seat reclined during meal times — not exactly the end of the world; and if she prefers to dine in a reclined position, I can live with that — but I wound up pressing the button on the seat to release it from its reclined position every time she left the seat to either walk around the aircraft or use the lavatory. That is rather inconsiderate, in my opinion.
Being courteous for as long as I can so that she may get her rest, I asked the person in front of me ten hours into the flight to please not recline anymore; and that passenger fortunately complied. I wanted to ensure that that passenger had enough sleep; but I wanted to salvage some of the remaining time of the flight to work on my laptop computer — something which was almost impossible to do while the seat in front of me was reclined.
Not all of the impediments were the fault of Etihad Airways — nor have I implied that everything which occurred was the fault of Etihad Airways — but with the exception of McNeil, the service by members of the flight crew was not up to the standards set as precedence established on previous flights.
One glaring example is that the flight attendants did not serve basic drinks such as water as often as on other flights operated by Etihad Airways. Passengers could go to the galley at the rear of the aircraft to help themselves to water, orange juice and soda; but there were no snacks — except for the bag of sliced apples and bag of caramel popcorn which were served by the flight attendants — and there was no mid-snack service, such as a tuna sandwich.
Also, just getting to the rear of the aircraft was an exercise in futility — between the dodging of the appendages of people jutting out into the narrow aisle while they were sleeping and tiptoeing over the garbage strewn all over the floor. The lavatories were not well maintained, either. They stunk and were quite messy — not a pleasant experience, to say the least.
This is one of those rare times when an upgrade would have been most welcome; but I was not willing to pay the minimum of $1,150.00 one way — that is, if Etihad Airways would have accepted that offer.
Regardless, please allow me to end this article on a slightly more positive note: the second special seafood meal — served within two hours of landing in New York — was quite good as well.
I am not sure exactly what the meal was called; but it had what appeared to be onion straws — soft but not crisp; but that was all right with me — on a bed of rice.
Buried in the rice were tasty bites of white fish.
Served with the meal was a chickpea salad which I could have done without — I ate the peas, corn and carrots in the flavorful dressing, as the chickpeas were too mealy — and a Break candy bar, which is similar to a Kit Kat bar. Give me a Break.
I could not wait to get off of that airplane once it stopped at the gate. The late arrival ruined my chance to visit the One World Observatory after the flight, which would have allowed me to experience the views from daytime into the night, as I did at Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I went to One World Observatory the next day; but I could not stay into the night because I was scheduled to catch a flight that evening.
I normally have no problem traveling long distances in the economy class cabin. As long I am reasonably comfortable, fed well with reasonably good food, and always have something interesting to occupy my time, I am good. However — for some reason during this flight — the seats did not seem as comfortable even though they were the same seats as on virtually every other airplane operated by Etihad Airways on which I was a passenger.
In fact — except for the excellent service recovery continuously performed by the cheerful McNeil, who is a shining example from which other flight attendants can learn about proper customer service — this particular flight was not indicative of the level of comfort and service normally executed by employees of Etihad Airways. Hopefully, it was more of an isolated anomaly than a marked degradation in customer service.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.