Fly like a falcon

Birds on a plane? At first that idea seems a little ridiculous, but several airlines that fly in the Middle East allow falcons to  travel in the passenger cabin.

(Lufthansa)

These birds of prey, who compete in pursuit events across the region, are highly prized by their owners and are worth considerable sums. And, no, they can’t just fly to their destination (after all, they are not homing pigeons). Continue reading Fly like a falcon

Fly your own way

Do you remember your first kiss? Or the thrill you got from doing something a little naughty when the grownups weren’t watching? Or the rush you received from your first roller-coaster ride? Of course you do.

Etihad Airways B787 first class

It may have happened a long time ago, and it was over in seconds, but you’ll never forget it. And every time you remember it, it makes you feel happy and good about yourself.

Continue reading Fly your own way

Turbulence explained

Nobody likes turbulence. If you’re a nervous flyer, a serious bout of it is enough to make you want to catch the bus next time.

But what exactly is turbulence? After 31 people on an Etihad Airways flight were injured last week, The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi asked a forecaster at Dubai international airport.

Continue reading Turbulence explained

Another class act

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I’ve written before about flying first class with Etihad Airways. And, to be honest, I thought I’d be writing now about the business class experience on my flight from Abu Dhabi to Munich.

But then they upgraded me to first class. So this is about that experience. And it was slightly different to last time, because it was a different aircraft. Continue reading Another class act

Lounging around

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One of the best benefits of frequent-flyer scheme membership is access to airport lounges. They certainly enhance the trip — to the point where some travellers prefer the pre- (and sometimes post-) flight experience to the flight itself.

My flight-cruise adventure began properly in the Etihad Premium Lounge at Abu Dhabi airport. Or, more correctly, lounges — because I sampled both the Terminal 3 Premium Lounge, where I’ve been many times, and the Terminal 1 Premium Lounge, which was located closer to my departure gate. Continue reading Lounging around

Best in the business

Etihad Dreamliner (Etihad.com)
Etihad Dreamliner (Etihad.com)

The news that Etihad airways has been named airline of the year by Air Transport World magazine, raises a question: What makes a great airline?

In accepting, Etihad’s boss, James Hogan, said the award “recognises what we set out to do as an airline 13 years ago – to be safe, profit­able and simply the best”.

It’s interesting that he put the safety factor first, because it might have been tempting to put profit at number 1. Maybe that’s what the shareholders would expect. But Hogan, like all astute business operators, knows that one follows the other.

With any business where the customer has a choice, priorities are important. Nobody is going to fly with an airline they think is unsafe.

After safety and profit — essential to keep any business afloat — comes the intangible idea of being “the best”.

For airline passengers, that means a combination of things, including comfort and confidence.

Flying can be an unpleasant experience — just the idea of speeding through the air in a metal cylinder puts some people on edge. The ageing aircraft, cramped seats, rude service and cattle-herding mentality at the terminal gates that are par for the course on some airlines make things no easier.

So a good airline has to do all it can do to make passengers comfortable. That means both on the ground and in the air. There has to be a basic level of comfort and efficient, friendly service for economy passengers, and something special for premium passengers. That’s where business- and first-class lounges, limousine transfers, airport greeting services and other frills come in.

Confidence applies not just to the safety factor, but to the whole experience. Passengers need to be sure that they will have zero problems getting where they want to go. They want a no-fuss experience, and for the plane and their bags to arrive on time.

No airline gets this right all the time. As I’ve said before, Etihad has always got it right for me, but I know other people who’ve had problems. Again, the test of a good business is how they handle customers problems and how they put in place procedures to minimise or eliminate recurrences.

By winning this award, and a slew of others in recent years, Etihad is showing that it’s getting it right most of the time for most of the people.

Life’s a Dreamliner

Etihad Dreamliner (Etihad.com)
Etihad Dreamliner (Etihad.com)

 

It took a while for me to get around to my first flight on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, but it was certainly worth the wait.

Sweetening the deal on my Etihad Airways flight from Brisbane to Abu Dhabi was the fact that I was upgraded from business class to first class. (Yes, this has been happening to me quite a bit lately. I try to explain why here.)

Continue reading Life’s a Dreamliner

Third time lucky

Etihad first class
Etihad first class

It’s becoming an embarrassingly common occurrence. I rock up to the terminal gate with my ticket in my hand, the attendant takes it from me and a little red light shows up on the scanner.

She presses a few buttons on the keyboard and then says: “Oh, you’ve been upgraded. And, just like that, seat 5E becomes seat 1A.

I’ve just scored a hat trick with Etihad Airways. For the third time in a row, my business class seat has been upgraded to first class. On a long haul flight (from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne in this case), it’s simply the best way to fly.

The experience was, of course, luxurious. The seat is huge, even for a big bloke like me and makes for a comfortable bed, and there was plenty of attention from the cabin crew, including the onboard chef, who made me a marvellous steak, — and, remarkably — the same person who looked after me on my previous flight, from Munich to Abu Dhabi (She said: “I know you; the last time you were wearing a very colourful shirt.”)

As I’ve written before, I don’t really know why I’ve been so lucky to get these upgrades. However, I think being happy to share the experience is definitely part of the mix.

So too are these common tips (after photo):

Etihad first class
Etihad first class seat

+ Be polite and cheerful in all your dealings with airlines staff. That really shouldn’t have to be said, but a lot of people do get grumpy when they’ve had to queue, or they are tired or running late. I’ve done it myself. The trick is to try to snap out of it when you’re face to face with the person who can make your life more enjoyable (or miserable).

+ Be a frequent flyer with that airline.

+ Be flexible. I once got an upgrade and 20,000 Etihad Guest points and a US$300 voucher because I changed flights — it cost me all of 10 minutes in terms of arriving at my destination.

+ As I’ve already said, spread the word and say thank you to the airline, which is easy to do in this age of social media.

The only problem, as I’ve also said before, is that you might just get hooked on the experience.

A class act?

Etihad first class
Etihad first class

I understand why travel advertisements often feature pictures of beautiful young people frolicking about in exotic destinations or relaxing in impossibly large airline seats. It’s because young people do travel a lot and airlines and hotels want their business. But these pictures don’t reflect reality.

The real money in the tourism industry isn’t made from beautiful young people, because beautiful young people generally travel on the cheap.

Continue reading A class act?

Flights I fancy

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On my recent trip between Abu Dhabi and Munich, flying Eithad Airways, I was fortunate enough to be upgraded from business class to first class in both directions.

When I mentioned (boasted about?) this on social media, I received replies from envious folk wanting to know how I’d managed this feat. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.

Like everybody else, I’ve read those “how to get an upgrade” stories and blog posts — which are mostly about getting promoted from economy to business class — and what I did doesn’t fit their recommendations. That’s because what I did was nothing. (By the way, a lot of the advice they give is often contradictory: arrive early, or be the last to check-in; be nice to the staff, or be angry …)

On both occasions, I was simply told at the gate that my seat number had changed. The first leg was a reward flight, so I thought they were going to move me around in the business cabin, perhaps to a less-desirable seat (although they’re all pretty good) to accommodate a full-paying passenger. Instead, they put me into first class.

On the second occasion, the flight was part of a fully paid business-class return fare (yes, I splurged on myself*) to Australia, with a stopover in Abu Dhabi, which is where I am now. (Brisbane, you’ll see me in mid-December.)

So on the first occasion, I could think that it was an extra reward for being a Gold Etihad Guest member and having accrued enough points to afford the reward flight. On the second occasion, it may have been a reward for paying full fare. But they seem like contradictory things.

I’m only guessing here, but I think that travelling on my own (cue: sad violins) has something to do with getting an upgrade, especially on Etihad. Unlike other airlines I’ve used, where business class is full of suits, there seem to be a lot of couples and family groups on Etihad, and one person is easier to move than two, three or five.

I suppose the biggest factor is that I’ve become quite a loyal Etihad customer, which is not difficult when a) I live in their home port of Abu Dhabi, and they are the airline with the widest possible choice of destinations and greatest convenience, and b) Etihad is a truly top-notch airline, with its in-flight service running rings around almost every other carrier I’ve ever flown (and that’s quite a few).

Also, I have no idea whether Etihad (or any other business) keeps a record of these things, but I’m almost always a fuss-free passenger. I can’t imagine any business really wanting to look after a customer who constantly complains. It may work once, but I’d like to think that there’s a little list somewhere to make sure that the difficult people don’t get rewarded in the future.

Oh, and I’m not reluctant to broadcast it when I get good service. I tweeted my delight at getting upgraded, with shout-outs to Etihad’s Twitter account. But I have not done that with the expectation of getting further upgrades, I’ve done it because I appreciate being looked after and I know that word-of-mouth is important to all businesses.

Because I care about my personal credibility, I’m not going to promote a product or service that sucks just because they did me a favour. And even if a business I like doesn’t quite measure up on occasions, I’m not going to be afraid to say so.

Without exception, I’ve found Etihad’s ground and cabin crew to be friendly, cool under pressure and competent. It’s always pleasure to recommend a business that serves me well, be it a corner store or an international airline.

(By the way, if you are travelling first class on Etihad, I recommend the New York eye fillet — one of the best steaks I had in a long, long time, and certainly the best ever in the sky.)

* And, as I’ve noted before, I’m a big guy, I like to be comfortable when I fly and I’m prepared to pay for it.