The trip to Italy got planned in a jiffy and lack of time meant, we relied on travel agent to do all the bookings. Online resources and few relatives reiterated that Italy could be very risky in terms of safety. Few friends who travelled to Italy in recent past confirmed the same. Along with this came some valuable information – to pre-book the tour to avoid last minute lines and rush and thus we relied on a travel agent to book out Italy trip. The biggies in the industry were not of much help since they did not allow customizing the trip, so the smaller players helped plan it according to our wish.
Trip confirmed, routing done and now the main part – airline and stops.
Like a pro, I shifted the departure date by a day to a Tuesday departure which reduced the fare by around 8k INR. The choice was between Kuwait Airways – Ruled out, Etihad and Emirates. Air India via Delhi was not suitable time wise. The travel agent recommended Emirates, even though it was 3k higher saying – “just 3k and you get Emirates” – that’s how the branding of Emirates is these days. I opted for Etihad (EY) since it gives me miles on 9W. I had never flown any of the middle-eastern carriers before.
Another reason of trying out Etihad was this flight would be a code share with latest Etihad partner – Alitalia. A perfect chance to fly on a new airline!
Bookings done and ticket in mailbox, I proceeded to block seats. Bummer! Etihad did not allow seat election. Neither on its own flight nor on Alitalia. I made a call to their call center in Abu Dhabi and the seat selection was done for 3 legs, except the Alitalia leg.I also called up Alitalia call center in USA but they could not do the needful.
A day before I initiated the check-in option and after entering all the relevant details, could do seat selection for the BOM-AUH leg but seats on AUH-FCO on AZ were auto blocked to 35D&E part of the set of 4 middle seats and I could not change it.
This would be my first departure from T2 at Mumbai and we reached around midnight for the 0430 departure. The check in for this flight was at island L and had long queue already. Around 0030, 5-6 counters opened and the very efficient staff started check-in, directing groups to the farthest corner. Our turn came in 20 minutes and the efficient agent helped change the seats on AZ flights to a window aisle combination. I was worried with the system not allowing any changes – will the baggage be tagged all along! and all worries were aside when the bags were tagged to FCO and both the boarding cards issued.
We headed for a very quick security and joined the long queue for immigration which took over 45 minutes. We were carrying our new camera and checked with the customs helpdesk if that needed to be declared and the answer was no since we were two of us and had the bill.
A few friends had suggested that we go to the loyalty lounge and make use of the credit card benefits which we did. Sadly the lounge was in pathetic taste with no or little food and all of which was horrible to say the least. The coffee machine was not working too. Within minutes we made our way out from there to the food court where we ate at Asia seven and then headed to gates while seeing Delta A330 pushback alongside an Iraqi A320 which had just pushed back and B777s of British Airways and Jet Airways. Vistara A320 was parked at one corner.
Our departure was scheduled from gate 77 and the incoming aircraft – thankfully an Airbus A346, one of my favourite aircraft arrived at 0235. Last few days had seen the departure getting delayed. The rotation of this flight is linked to Abu Dhabi – Washington and the trend showed that every seventh day there was a substitution. A day prior to my departure, when I saw the Washington flight substituted to A345, my eyes had lit up!
Boarding was done zone wise and was over by 0415. The seats had blankets and earphones placed neatly and were comfortable overall. We quickly took out seats and fell asleep.
Pushback commenced at 0450 and we took off from runway 27. The aircraft was in good condition with clean windows, seats and decent IFE. Menu options were handed out – which is a rarity these days in Economy class.
There was no drink run, and I choose omelette – it was tasty. Few water runs followed. Pilot announced expected arrival time and overall flight details twice. It was a full flight and had a smooth landing on runway 13L in poor visibility at AUH on time.
Quick and effortless is how I would describe it in short as we moved from T3 to T1 for the Alitalia flight. T1 was extremely crowded, with limited seating and old design. Of the few gates which had security at boarding was gate 3 from where our flight would depart. A quick check on the free wi-fi and the flight had arrived before time.
Boarding began an hour before departure and was done with Etihad staff in tow. The loads were just above 50%. Rows of 4s were mostly empty. We boarded a very clean aircraft and pushed back on time to taxi behind a C-17. Saw a few B737s of Jet Airways during taxi. Took off from Runway 13L and took the northern path over Iran and Turkey. Last few days the flight was flying southwards over Egypt.
There were two service runs for this 6 hour 40 min flight. The crew unlike Etihad was just going around doing their job. Post the meal service when the cup went below the seat nobody bothered to pick it up.
The first meal was breakfast – there was no choice of meal with everybody being handed over just one tray. The meal was good though. Pepsi, Juice and Water was available in the galley all along.
Second meal service had a cookie and bun. The cookie was exceptional in taste. We had coffee with first meal and wine in the second run which was very well.
The flight was largely uneventful and fast descent started about 20 minutes to touchdown on runway 16R being welcomes by Emirates A380 and SriLankan A330 as we made our way and parked at a remote bay. After being bussed to immigration, we joined the long queue. The officer did not even look at the passports properly before stamping it. The baggage came in quickly too and we were out in no time to the waiting cab which took us to Rome City center in 50 minutes.