Flight Report : Europe to Asia on Etihad

Zurich - Abu Dhabi

With a cheap flight comes a bad departure time. Etihad leaves Zurich just before lunch, arriving in Abu Dhabi at dinner time. So it is a waste of a day. Luckily, the airport is very close to town so I didn't need to wake up too early that morning. Even from the city centre, the train ride to the airport takes only about 10 minutes, which is also similar to Geneva on my flight in.

First impressions were good. The terminal looked like a big shopping mall - simple, bright, clean, and spacious.

I noticed technology creeping into conveniences. Soon, the stores will all be automatic and you will be buying everything from vending machines. Sounds like Japan?

Upstairs, there is an observation deck that charges admission. With a departure out of here today, I wouldn't waste those francs but look for a good set of windows at the gate.

Air-side, the gates were not crowded and the airport is quite pleasant to use. The food options seemed a bit higher end and not so fast-food heavy.

The new Dreamliner looks quite sleek and I was excited to get on board. Having read about the higher humidity and comfort on board, the 6-hour flight to the UAE would seem quite manageable.

We took off towards the countryside into a mix of sun and clouds. I will miss Switzerland!

When flying a Middle Eastern airline, one of my least worries is to get hungry or to eat bad-tasting food. They tend to get the catering right. I picked the chicken with mashed potatoes for lunch, which included a good portion of vegetables, a large salad, and prepackaged cheesecake. Notice the metal cutlery, which many other legacy airlines have gone to plastic these days.

As the blue sky shone into the cabin during this daytime flight, the crew used one of the Dreamliner's unique functions - the window dimmer. This created a distinct weird blue hue in my photos thanks to the tint.

The Dreamliner's PTV screen is quite large with a phone-like remote mounted below, which can play the flight map while I watch the entertainment content above. I was particularly interested in the live TV option, which had quite a good selection of channels.

While US airlines complain of the Middle East majors, they should realize they really need to up the game to meet the service standards on these airlines. While not as impressive as Emirates, Etihad's entertainment content is still very extensive.

Looking at their Asian section, I found some Hong Kong shows as well. Their IFE is quite international. Looking at the category menu, I noticed more granular topics such as "Reality TV" and "City Football".

The headsets were quite good with some noise-canceling effects. Sure beats the cheap dollar store earphones Air Canada gives out.

At this point of the flight, I didn't feel particularly dry or thirsty. The Dreamliner cabin does feel more comfortable and comparable to being on-the-ground.

We landed shortly after 7pm, giving me ample time to catch my next flight. The IFE had a helpful page on connections, where I was able to locate the terminal and gate information for Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I would have to get to a different terminal tonight.

The Dreamliner is quite nice aircraft to fly in, and the 6 hours flew by fairly quickly. I was kept entertained and Abu Dhabi didn't feel that far away from Zurich at all. As the plane emptied out, I stayed behind to take a few more cabin photos. I had plenty of time to connect anyway.

Abu Dhabi's airport remains a dump and the biggest disappointment in any Etihad itinerary. The new terminal seems to take forever to get built so what is left is a crowded Terminal 3 and a 1970s Terminal 1. A long corridor air-side connects the two.

The airport authorities try to make the best of it by adding small amenities such as these tables and chairs with window views of the tarmac activity, but with so many people passing by getting to their flights, it's not really a nice place to linger around for too long.

Terminal 1 is famous for its old-style colourful dome. A handful of gates wrap around this circular structure. There are not enough seats to accomodate the widebodies here so I had to hang around the shops until boarding is called.

The next leg to Hong Kong would take longer but I was back on an older A330. On the bright side, the window seat is only 1 away from the aisle so getting out to the bathroom wouldn't be too difficult. The PTV screen was back to the "normal" size. Of course it is not as nice as the Dreamliner, but perfectly acceptable.

With investment in smaller carriers waning, I have always wondered how these brands fit into the overall Etihad scheme. With the issues I encountered due to cancellations on the inbound, it seems when problems arise at its "partners", Etihad pretty much has itself only to rebook.

Shortly after a decent dinner of rice, I dozed off for a few hours through the overnight.

I opened the shades as the sunrise peeked through just east of India. I will be home soon.

We had to loop around a bit in a holding pattern before we could finally touch down. Hong Kong's airport is getting quite busy nowadays and these types of holds are becoming increasingly common.

Etihad is a good choice for a long flight. The planes are comfortable with good food and entertainment options. However, like Dubai, I was disappointed with Abu Dhabi's airport, and the issues encountered during the inbound with Air Berlin's cancellation continued to sting. They are not too good with handling issues, but if your flights don't come up with a surprise, they are a good airline offering great prices to far, far away.

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