PackThePJs recently flew all the way to the paradise island of Kandima in the Maldives. We booked flights with Etihad Airways. London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi, followed by a second Etihad flight down to Male in the Maldives. Etihad Airways all the way – we like to keep things simple! We have never flown with Etihad Airways before, so were looking forward to the new experience. Likewise, we discovered we would fly on an Airbus A380 – the ‘double decker’ massive plane – another first for us.
Upon arrival at Heathrow we were told of a delay of up to an hour. We checked that it wouldn’t affect our connection in Abu Dhabi and we were assured it wouldn’t. We checked our luggage all the way to Male – the next time we’d see it we’d be in paradise!
Outward Flight: Heathrow to Abu Dhabi
There’s a lot of people to be seated, so the loading took quite some time. Talking of seats – wow, really uncomfortable. It took less than half an hour (while still loading the plane) before total buttock numbing kicked in! Lower back pain – yep, that too. It just wasn’t possible to find a comfortable position. And when the person in front reclines their seat (a pet hate of mine), well, I could have given them a head massage as they were literally in my lap 🙂 The seat-back screen felt too close for comfortable viewing – it just felt very ‘packed in’. I know it was economy – I wish we could have afforded the flat beds and ‘Residences’ upstairs – but I am a regular user of economy seating, and this was the worst experienced in a long while.
The cabin crew were efficient and polite, though I didn’t like the way (on the outward flight) that one kept referring to Toby as ‘the boy’. “Can you tell the boy to put the blind up”, “does the boy want a drink?”. All she had to do was ask him and he’d happily have given her his name! Etihad Airways promotes their ‘Flying Nannies’. These are London-trained nannies on board every flight to help out parents with young children. They play with them and generally lend a hand and give some respite to the parents. Great idea – see more here. However, on the flight out there were really young twins in front of me and not once did I see an Etihad nanny (more of this later).
In terms of in-flight entertainment, it was ‘ok’. The movies left a lot to be desired, personally. I found it difficult to find something I wanted to watch; usually I get on a flight and have too many to choose from. I watched Boss Baby and the new Chips film on the way out. The remainder of the flight I listened to Ed Sheeran’s new album, though struggled to hold back tears when I got to a song called Supermarket Flowers. (This song is about a mum who dies. My mum died a month ago.) Anyway, there were also some games, so I indulged in Tetris, Solitaire and I took on Toby with a game of Battleships. There was no point in trying to sleep because it was too uncomfortable. Food was typical flight food – quite bland and quite unappetising.
Connecting to Flight 2: Abu Dhabi to Male, Maldives
Eventually we arrived in Abu Dhabi. We had 45 mins before the next flight took off: we were ready to run! Luckily it was only a few gates away. But then you realise that the A380 has hundreds of people on board. And you happen to be right near the back, and they unload from the front. We missed the connection 🙁
We were directed to a help desk where we joined a long queue of passengers who had also missed their connections. Then we were told the next available flight was in around 18 hours’ time – at 1am the following morning – but they’d put us up in a hotel until then. They had already printed out our new boarding cards before we’d even arrived. There was nothing we could do. Knowing we only had 5 nights once we got to the Maldives we were all really upset. This wasn’t helped by a night of no sleep. To say it straight, we were gutted and incredibly fed up. Resigned to spend the day in Abu Dhabi (with no luggage) we were whisked away by a taxi and taken to the hotel.
Rescuing the Dream Holiday
The hotel, Southern Sun, was just off the Corniche in the heart of Abu Dhabi centre. To be fair to them it was a lovely hotel. The room was beautiful and would easily be called a Suite in the UK. Breakfast and dinner provided by Etihad Airways. We were able to have a wash, get some sleep and enjoy good food … but it wasn’t the Maldives.
I spoke with the resort to tell them what had happened. We had transfers booked from Male to the island that needed rearranging, and it was mentioned that if we could change our flights they could accommodate us an additional night in the Maldives to make up for the night we were going to lose. Brilliant idea – surely Etihad Airways, if they had the available seats, would honour this idea … the delay was their fault after all and not ours?
Etihad Airways Customer Service
Using skyscanner I found that there were seats available on flights leaving 24 hours after our booked ones. Same price that we paid. I contacted their customer services who said it sounded do-able but that we needed to speak with a different department. We were (eventually, after messaging the airline on Facebook) called back by a sales person, based in Ethiopia who had a strong accent that didn’t help with the crackly line we spoke on. I explained what we’d like to do and he said he’d get back to me. We had another long wait.
All the while I was checking the Etihad app on my mobile – and I noticed new flights were being added – the ones we had asked for! Brilliant! I then started contacting all the people that would be affected by the change – the Maldives resort (who were amazing), the kennels where our dogs were staying, the airport carpark etc … It was all in place, and then the sales guy called again. The flights were available and had been reserved for us, but that the cost of making the change was just under £1500. This is £1500 that we simply didn’t have.
I won’t lie, I had a bit of a meltdown. This trip was part of my healing process having buried my mum only the week before. The Maldives is a long way to travel for 4 nights. I think Etihad Airways took pity on me (or were worried about adverse PR that I may have mentioned), because the flights were eventually changed, free of charge. The process took over 5 hours, so I had little time to rest in the lovely Southern Sun hotel. But at least we were heading to the Maldives for 5 nights as planned.
A quick note about the Maldives …
The Maldives are AMAZING. You’ll be bored of my many posts I’ll be adding over the coming weeks … it’s paradise – and some! Heaven on earth. Beautiful. But let’s skip straight to the flights home as this post is about the airline and the plane 🙂
Flight: Male to Abu Dhabi
The flight from Male to Abu Dhabi is around 4 hours. I think the plane was an Airbus A330. Same uncomfortable seats as the larger A380. However this time the back seat entertainment didn’t have the detachable game handset … so when Toby and I started to play games, which required tapping on the screens, the lady in front turned around and really laid into us. The temptation to pour my coffee over her head – given that she’d reclined into our laps at the first opportunity – was strong! So that was a hellish flight … every time Toby spoke, she shot me a killer glare 🙂
We had two nights scheduled in Abu Dhabi, so there was no worries about missing connections going home! Yay!
Final Flight: Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow
And then we come to the A380 flight home – Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow…
Bottom was numb before the plane had even been pushed back. Similar ‘near the back’ economy seats as on the way out. LOTS of very young children this time though. Lots of fraught-looking parents desperately trying to keep their young one’s calm and quiet. Many failing, as flying is exciting! Thank goodness for the flying nannies …
…Well I’m sure they’d have been really helpful to those poor parents had they actually turned up! I counted seven children under the age of 2 in the few rows of seats around mine. When one cried, it set off another, who set off another. It was six hours of non-stop crying and screaming. I’m a parent and it didn’t bother me. I actually wanted to help as I really felt for the parents. But what is the point of advertising and promoting a service that wasn’t available?
The cabin crew were really nice – on this return flight the lady assisting our row took time out to talk to Toby – but these Sky Nannies would have been worth their weight in gold. At one point the 2 year old in front of me started climbing over a businessman trying to sleep (her mother had gone off to the loo at the time). It was rather chaotic!
Millie-Mae wasn’t offered the children’s gift pack on any of the four flights. Luckily Toby gave all his to her!
The A380 is a beast of a plane. It’s a monster. I appreciate airports have had to adapt to accommodate them, with longer runways and additional air bridges, but I think there’s still a long way to go before these planes are loaded/unloaded efficiently. It takes forever. And as for collecting your baggage back in Heathrow – the baggage carousels don’t seem man enough to cope with the volume of suitcases from these huge flights. We waited for AGES for two of our suitcases, only to find out that they’d been offloaded by airport employees and lined up in the middle of the hall!
I really wanted to fly on an A380. Now that I have, give me the Dreamliner any day! You feel like you have a lot more space on a Dreamliner. The seats are more comfortable, you don’t feel so penned in. And there’s fewer passengers, so loading and unloading is swift and efficient.
And as for Etihad Airways, well they ‘came good’ in the end for us with regards to the flight changes. But I didn’t like how they tried to profit from the misery they had caused us when their flight was delayed. Would I fly with them again? Probably not if there are other good airline options. I expected more, and those seats are SO uncomfortable!
I’ll end this by linking to a video I took of our plane taking off. It was the highlight of my flight, if I’m honest, the Flight Tracker where you could follow the flight map and also look at the views from three cameras mounted outside the plane. This video is the view I had on the back-seat screen, from the tail camera!