When I switched jobs earlier this year, I wanted to spend my week off between jobs doing something different from my routine – so I flew to Paris for 3 days, spent 2 in London, then flew home for the new job.
A few months earlier, I’d gone to the US for work, and flown Premium Economy on VA there and back. That flight was fantastic, not least because I got bumped up to business on the way over there. That flight, together with some domestic flights I’d taken earlier in the year, was enough to bump me to Silver status with VelocityRewards, so a secondary aim of my trip to Europe was to bump me up to Gold, so that I’d be able to have ongoing little treats for myself every time I have to fly over the next year. So, I booked Premium Economy fares for this trip too.
At the time, the alliance between VA and EY was fresh and shiny, so I decided to give it a try – especially as it seemed like the best way to maximise my chances of hitting Gold. All the flights to Europe were VA SYD-AUH, followed by EY between AUH and your destination. In my case, I flow AUH-CDG, caught the Eurostar to London, and flew back LHR-AUH.
At one point during the booking process, I was considering going Business class, as the fares seemed surprisingly cheap. That’s when I noticed the fine print: these fares were Business only on the VA leg, but economy on the EY leg. A few, far more expensive, fares offered Business all the way through – but even though this trip was about me splurging, I didn’t want to splurge *that* much.
This made me check the fine print on the Premium fares, and discover that they too put you in economy, as EY has no Premium service. This was my first disappointment: I wanted to splurge on myself just a little, but VA had chosen a partner that didn’t allow that.
The VA legs were fantastic: comfortable seats, plenty of room, good food, good IFE. Absolutely no complaints about those legs.
The layover in AUH outbound wasn’t terrible. The strange layout of the airport means that, after deplaning, you are forced to go through security just to enter the terminal; and terminal 3 at AUH turns out to be tiny – 5 or 6 obligatory high-priced fashion outlets, a token chemist/travel goods/bookstore, and a perfunctory food court above. The whole thing is closed in and claustrophobic – the longest line of sight anywhere in the place is standing at the base of the escalators up to the food court and looking up two stories to the roof. There are no windows in the terminal proper.
The terminal is shaped like the letter p – all the shops are in the circle at the top, with all the gate lounges in the long tail trailing off. If your flight is at one of the distant gates, allow a good long time for walking down there – and once you’re there, you won’t want to walk back.
After my layover, boarded the EY A340-500. The good news was that seating is 2-4-2, and I had one of the 2s to myself. The bad news was that I had detritus from the last passenger on and around the seat – most memorably, half a plastic cup on the ground in front of the seat, but also random bits of plastic in the seat pocket in front of me, and stuff down beside the seat. Aside from having to clean away someone else’s rubbish, that particular flight went fairly smoothly. I was disappointed to find out that the “Bakery Selection” the menu had promised for breakfast turned out to be “A Croissant”, but as I was about to be landing anyway it didn’t seem to matter much.
Coming back from LHR was less pleasant. I discovered that my Velocity Silver status didn’t get me priority checkin – but I had arrived well before the flight, so the line wasn’t long anyway. This time the plane was clean, so I thought that maybe the problems on the previous flight were a one-off – but as we were descending into AUH, I realised that this time the Bakery Selection had consisted of nothing at all. Suddenly the paltry “Selection” from the first flight seemed positively luxurious!
(Yes, I did just complain that, in the midst of being whisked quickly and without fuss from Merry Old Englande to the center of Erotic Arabia, they forgot to give me a pastry. You did notice the “#firstworldproblems” tag, right? If you want to read about people with *actual* problems, look elsewhere)
Then we landed at AUH Terminal 1. This is obviously a much older terminal, and seemed to be undergoing its first maintenance in decades. The whole terminal is one giant dome, with a supporting pillar in the center. Once again, the terminal lacks meaningful windows, turning would could be a glorious view out over the runways towards the sea into a claustrophobic world of concrete. As a concession to smokers, the terminal offers a smoking booth in the center of the terminal.
I’ve seen smoking booths at other airports. SIN has some of them – decent sized rooms, with strong ventilation, so that people standing outside get only the faintest whiff of smoke as people enter and exit. EY’s booth was as pathetic as the rest of the terminal – about the size of 6 standard Telstra phone boxes joined together. Free-standing in the center of the terminal, with no attached ventilation that I could see. For the convenience of people entering the booth, it had an automatic sliding door, which opened into a gaping maw about 50% of the length of the booth – and then stayed open, because there were constantly people walking past and triggering the sensor.
As a result, even the few people who were actually smoking inside the booth were just resulting in a constant trickle of smoke heading up to the ceiling and adding to the already foul haze and miasma in the room. Yes, room – this entire terminal is just one big domed room.
Using the smoking booth was clearly pointless, so most smokers didn’t bother. Sure, they mostly stood *near* the booth – but also sitting near the booth, surrounded by smokers, was a mother and her baby, who couldn’t have been more than 2.
I noted all this in passing as I was proceeding, post-haste, towards the comparative bliss of T3 – yet again, EY had managed to turn the downsides of the last trip into longed-for pleasant memories.
It was while I was in T3 eating in the ersatz food court that I realised I’d left my Kindle on the plane. No problem, I thought, cleaners will have found it. I’ll just ask customer service too retrieve it for me..
Well, it turns out that customer service is a two-person desk on the edge of T1 – so back into the smoke I had to go. It turned out that an EY flight to BKK had just been cancelled. It turns out that most of the people on the flight might have been able to get accommodation in Abu Dhabi – if they’d thought to get a visa before they left home. As it was, the customer service desk was surrounded by a swarm of people who weren’t happy at being told that their only option was to remain in that smoky dome indefinitely, until another plane could be found for them.
Neither of the customer service people behind the desk seemed interested in doing anything about this. They spent a lot of time staring at people, and asking questions like “So what am I meant to do about it?”. You know that Little Britain motif, where someone bashes away at a computer for a bit before blandly responding “Computer says no”? It was exactly like that, except without even the pretence of blaming it on the computer.
I waited in this morasse for about an hour, gradually managing to inch my way towards the desk as the people at the friend of the huddle gave in and left. I was almost there when some ground staff from another airline led in a woman through a back door. She’d left a scarf on an EY plane, but as she couldn’t get to EY’s customer service people, she’d made enough of a nuisance of herself to staff of other airlines that they’d dragged her in behind the desk just to get rid of her.
EY customer service> What are you here for>
Woman> I left my scarf on my plane
EY> *blank look* So? What are we meant to do about that?
Woman> *furious* I want you to see if the cleaners found it and handed it in
EY> *sigh* I guess.
At this point, the sketch I alluded to earlier played out in full: the customer service person picked up a phone, bashed a few keys, said a few words, listened for a few seconds, then put it down and announced “Cleaners say no”. He then stared at the woman until she gave in and went away.
Even if I hadn’t given up all hope of recovering my kindle at that point, my flight was now boarding – I’d been in that line for over an hour. I went back to T3 and boarded.
Actually, two more things happened while boarding. Due to Australian regulations, we had to undergo “Additional Screening” before getting on the plane. This consisted of EY ground stuff rummaging through our hand luggage in case we were smuggling hot beverages or vast quantities of drinking water onto the plane. The man in front of my had some roll-on deodorant in his bag, and the EY staff started thrusting it in his face and loudly asking him “How big is this? Is this bigger than 100mL?”.
Firstly: no, it wasn’t. It was nowhere near big enough to be 100mL, so it was a silly question.
Secondly: Why are you relying on *passengers* to tell you whether or not they’re complying with your regulations? If you’re going to conduct these silly checks, train your staff to have some vague idea of what 100mL looks like
Thirdly: printed right on the front of the bottle, it says “30mL”.
I know this because I happened to have exactly the same thing in my luggage. I made a point of pointing at the label when mine was being searched, which saved a lot of time.
The second thing that happened was that one of the EY staff asked me, as I was about to board the plane, if I’d enjoyed my time in AUH. I told him I hadn’t, which made him ask for details. He ended up taking my contact details and promising to try to find my kindle for me, but a few days later he had to tell me that no-one had reported it.
Would I fly with VA/EY again? Well, now that I’ve got Gold status, I had been thinking of giving it a try, to see if AUH is less hellish once you’re inside the lounges – but as EY have effectively rescinded lounge access for anyone not travelling business class (even their own Gold status frequent flyers don’t get lounge access any more, unless they’re travelling Business), I won’t even get the chance to find out. I could get into the Al Reem lounge in T1, maybe, if they have space – but I could have done that last time I flew too, as it’s open to anyone with $39USD to spare.