Etihad Airways
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The Worst Etihad Airways Flight I Have Ever Taken — and Why

overheard a disappointed female passenger seated near me complain that she never received the Asian vegetarian meal which she had ordered in plenty of time before what I would later call the worst Etihad Airways flight I have ever taken. “I enjoy meals prepared Chinese-style”, she said. “I was initially glad I ordered the special meal, because I would not have enjoyed any of the meals shown on the menu.”

Almost initially mistaken as a response to that comment, a passenger behind me unexpectedly released an unpleasantly deep gurgles which initially resembled the massive failure of a toilet attempting to drain:


That was the noise which loudly emanated several times — and quite openly, I might add — from Mr. Garbage Disposal seated directly behind me throughout the duration of the flight. Fortunately, no regurgitated “garbage” as a result of reverse peristalsis erupted along with the eructation for all to hear — and no “excuse me” was to be heard either.

McNeil approached with the metal meal cart in the narrow aisle, serving food and beverages amongst a veritable sea of irate, uncomfortable and impatient passengers. I also had several minor issues which I wanted to be resolved.

The incredibly positive attitude of the flight attendant from Saint Lucia was infectious, as he was clearly and undoubtedly the only highlight aboard the Boeing 777-300 aircraft which operated as Etihad Airways flight 101 from Abu Dhabi International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. “Before you get upset,” he assured the woman with his Caribbean accent accompanied by a big smile, “everything will be all right. Tell me what is the problem; and I will fix it for you.”

Calmed by his demeanor, she politely related how she never received her special meal order.

“I will be right back” said McNeil, immediately abandoning the meal cart momentarily.

Imagine her surprise when the chef from the premium class cabin prepared her a special meal on fine china, delivered by McNeil. I asked her if I can photograph her meal, for I could not do it justice with words alone.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

It was a vegetarian meal which was a work of art. She dug into what turned out to be a gastronomic creation artfully presented with the perfect balance of flavors and textures: several crispy sticks topped with greens and accompanied by roasted pepper, tomato and eggplant topped with a marinara sauce.

When the chef actually arrived at her row to inquire as to how was the meal he created, she revealed to him that she would normally not eat half of the items on that plate; but that it was so delicious — and she thanked him and McNeil profusely.

With few exceptions, this was basically the bright spot on what was otherwise a dismal flight, which started off poorly with a delay which lasted at the gate for an hour and twenty minutes at the airport in Abu Dhabi — euphemistically not exactly an ideal way to start a flight which would last greater than 13 hours. I had taken this flight earlier this year at the same gate; and boarding started one hour before departure. With this flight, however, boarding started at least twenty minutes later than that — and we were warned that the economy class cabin of the aircraft was going to be full.

Once aboard the airplane, there were only two vague announcements from the pilot regarding the delay, with the first one including that “someone was not doing their job” in terms of having submitted the appropriate paperwork in a timely manner. During the boarding process, unpleasant attitudes were already on display.

A woman holding a baby wanted to sit next to her friend and saw a woman already sitting in the seat that she wanted. She demanded to the woman occupying the aisle seat to switch seats to her middle seat five rows further back in the center section of the aircraft because she needed to sit next to her friend.

“I am not moving”, replied the seated woman. “I spent a lot of time choosing and booking the seat that I wanted. Tell your friend to switch places with the person sitting next to me.”

Good for her for standing — or, should I say, sitting — her ground; and fortunately, McNeil supported her position and the situation was resolved in favor of the seated woman, as she stayed put after the two women went back and forth. How dare someone demand that someone give up an aisle seat for a middle seat further towards the back of the airplane?!?

There was actually a number of passengers switching seats during that time, and most were accommodating; but none were as egregious in terms of commanding their preferences as that woman holding the baby.

At least two hours elapsed since the airplane took off from the runway before the special meals were served — even longer before the regular meals were served — and that is not including the time of the aforementioned delay aboard the airplane at the gate. I sat in my seat wondering when — or if ever — they were going to serve the meals, as I was hungry.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.


The special seafood meals were good, as they had been on previous flights operated by Etihad Airways on which I was a passenger; and the seats were reasonably comfortable — they were the same as the ones I had documented in this article pertaining to my first flight operated by Etihad Airways — but there were other factors which inhibited the flight from being an enjoyable one, about which I will explain in more detail.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

My seafood meal consisted of white fish fried in batter — which was soft and not crispy, but that did not bother me — with a side order of what seemed broccoli or some other type of green vegetable mashed together with a potato, accompanied by a vegetable medley of corn, carrots and broccoli. This meal was served with a bland cucumber salad and a fruit salad comprised of watermelon, a honeydew-type of melon, and a chunk of pineapple. Crackers, a small sealed block of cheese, a roll and butter rounded out the meal.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

As with other seafood meals served on previous flights operated by Etihad Airways — such as my first flight; my second flight; and my third flight aboard a Jet Airways aircraft — the meal was very good.

Two toddlers were consistently crying throughout much of the duration of the flight. An explanation from the mother of one of the toddlers revealed that the food for the first meal was not served in a timely manner; and I would have to agree with that statement — not that it was really an excuse for the loud wailing; but I understood.

That same mother — whose family was seated in a bulkhead row three rows ahead of where I was seated and in the center section of the aircraft — took the liberty along with other passengers of removing the trays from the tables and piling them near the emergency exit door, which infuriated one flight attendant. It did seem to take forever for the flight crew to collect the trays; but that is still no reason to pile trays full of garbage and uneaten food onto the floor in front of a row of people seated next to the emergency exit. Despite his excellent attitude, McNeil let the women know politely — and firmly, in no uncertain terms — that what she did was unacceptable. She sheepishly collected the trays and placed them back on the tray tables.

Normally, I have no issue with someone seated in front of me who reclines his or her seat. In fact, the three passengers seated in the row in front of me reclined their seats and fell asleep immediately after the airplane took off from the runway; and they have a right to be as comfortable as possible. What irked me was that the person seated in front of me left the seat reclined during meal times — not exactly the end of the world; and if she prefers to dine in a reclined position, I can live with that — but I wound up pressing the button on the seat to release it from its reclined position every time she left the seat to either walk around the aircraft or use the lavatory. That is rather inconsiderate, in my opinion.

Being courteous for as long as I can so that she may get her rest, I asked the person in front of me ten hours into the flight to please not recline anymore; and that passenger fortunately complied. I wanted to ensure that that passenger had enough sleep; but I wanted to salvage some of the remaining time of the flight to work on my laptop computer — something which was almost impossible to do while the seat in front of me was reclined.

Not all of the impediments were the fault of Etihad Airways — nor have I implied that everything which occurred was the fault of Etihad Airways — but with the exception of McNeil, the service by members of the flight crew was not up to the standards set as precedence established on previous flights.

One glaring example is that the flight attendants did not serve basic drinks such as water as often as on other flights operated by Etihad Airways. Passengers could go to the galley at the rear of the aircraft to help themselves to water, orange juice and soda; but there were no snacks — except for the bag of sliced apples and bag of caramel popcorn which were served by the flight attendants — and there was no mid-snack service, such as a tuna sandwich.

Also, just getting to the rear of the aircraft was an exercise in futility — between the dodging of the appendages of people jutting out into the narrow aisle while they were sleeping and tiptoeing over the garbage strewn all over the floor. The lavatories were not well maintained, either. They stunk and were quite messy — not a pleasant experience, to say the least.

This is one of those rare times when an upgrade would have been most welcome; but I was not willing to pay the minimum of $1,150.00 one way — that is, if Etihad Airways would have accepted that offer.

Regardless, please allow me to end this article on a slightly more positive note: the second special seafood meal — served within two hours of landing in New York — was quite good as well.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I am not sure exactly what the meal was called; but it had what appeared to be onion straws — soft but not crisp; but that was all right with me — on a bed of rice.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Buried in the rice were tasty bites of white fish.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Served with the meal was a chickpea salad which I could have done without — I ate the peas, corn and carrots in the flavorful dressing, as the chickpeas were too mealy — and a Break candy bar, which is similar to a Kit Kat bar. Give me a Break.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I could not wait to get off of that airplane once it stopped at the gate. The late arrival ruined my chance to visit the One World Observatory after the flight, which would have allowed me to experience the views from daytime into the night, as I did at Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I went to One World Observatory the next day; but I could not stay into the night because I was scheduled to catch a flight that evening.

I normally have no problem traveling long distances in the economy class cabin. As long I am reasonably comfortable, fed well with reasonably good food, and always have something interesting to occupy my time, I am good. However — for some reason during this flight — the seats did not seem as comfortable even though they were the same seats as on virtually every other airplane operated by Etihad Airways on which I was a passenger.

In fact — except for the excellent service recovery continuously performed by the cheerful McNeil, who is a shining example from which other flight attendants can learn about proper customer service — this particular flight was not indicative of the level of comfort and service normally executed by employees of Etihad Airways. Hopefully, it was more of an isolated anomaly than a marked degradation in customer service.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. This is precisely why coach should be avoided like the plague on long-haul flights. As a BoardingArea blogger, surely you can earn enough miles to accomplish that?

    1. Not on Etihad Airways, Gene, as I did not have enough Etihad Guest or American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program miles to secure an upgrade from my accounts.

      As I said in the article, normally I am fine seated in the economy class cabin on long-haul flights. This flight was a rare exception for me.

  2. The majority of your complaints had to do with the passengers on your flight versus the flight itself. If you deem yourself above the hoi polloi, you’ll need to pay up to to get out of economy. The behaviors you described are, in my experience, quite common in coach cabins on long-haul flights.

    While I’m not a seat recliner myself, I think it’s bold to ask a fellow passenger to not recline. That is technically their right when they purchased the seat. I cannot believe you reached around to press the button every time she left! How long could she have possibly been gone for? Five minutes? I hope your temporary relief was worth meddling in her business.

    1. She was gone for as long as 45 minutes each time, Matthew; so I disagree…

      …and yes, I did enjoy my temporary relief. Thank you.

    2. I agree 100%. Asking a passenger not to recline in the absence of an emergency is outrageous and rude.

  3. I had somewhat of a similar situation on TK back in December. Both ways the crew was useless esp the one crew member all the way @ the back had rap music blasting. Not to mention kids hanging around the aircraft and throwing stuff @ each other. Anyway the second dish you had on the plane was a Biryani. Normally the lamb is the best in it but glad you tried the seafood. Hopefully you have better crowd in the future.

    1. I thought it might have been a biryani — I had a chicken version on a flight operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines several months ago — but I was not certain, as no menu description was given with the special meal.

      The rap “music” would have driven me insane. I am glad that was missing from my flight. Things could always be worse.

      Thank you, AH; and I wish the same to you: that you have a better crowd on your flights in your future travels.

  4. This article was like a train wreck. I couldn’t stop reading, but the whole time I was wondering “what is the point?”

  5. You got lucky. The person in front of you has a right to recline. Most would of told you to pound sand. Sometimes those awesome fare deals don’t always turn out to be awesome in real life.

    1. It was her indisputable right to recline as much as she wanted. Why didn’t buy yourself an upgrade for those $1,150??

  6. I would have asked the passenger in front of you to kindly not recline during meal times. That’s it though. You didn’t mention whether you reclined your seat.
    Anyway, the economy cabin was full and from my experience, I’ve never had a great flight when the economy cabin is full on a longhaul flight. I’ve flown EK on the JFK-DXB route several times in economy, but luckily I was EK Gold by the time holiday season came and thus always got an op-up when economy was oversold. However, during off-peak times the A380s would have a lot of empty seats in Economy that the likelihood of having no one sit next to me is quite high.
    Similar to you, I don’t mind flying longhaul economy at all especially if I have an aisle or a window seat *and* if the economy cabin isn’t full. I flew ANA from JFK-NRT two weeks ago in economy and the load was roughly 70%. I managed to get my own row in economy and was quite comfortable overall. Since it was an Asian airline, the restrooms were always very clean! 🙂
    There are also airlines out there who do try their best to make economy class as comfortable as possible. From my own experience, Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic, CX, ANA, JAL, SQ, Saudia and Asiana are pretty good on longhaul economy flights. I’m sure there are more but I haven’t flown them in economy yet.

    1. I agree that an aisle or window seat — preferably one where the wing does not block the view — combined with an economy class cabin which is not full usually translates into a reasonably comfortable flight, Joey; and thank you for relating your experiences and recommendations of airlines for long-haul flights.

      As for your question pertaining to whether or not I reclined my seat during the flight described in this article: yes, I did. I quoted you, Will and Matthew in this article with my thoughts and responses:

  7. Great review, felt like I was there *shudders*!

    I flew Etihad once, France-Australia return a few years ago, and on a whole was not impressed. There was no McNeil on my flight, just some rather snooty women who openly bitched about passengers over the dinner cart.

    I thought their food packaging was very wasteful too. They served coffee in disposable cups when they could easily be using recyclable ones.

    My Etihad economy experience was generally bad; it shows that they don’t give much of a toss about cattle class, it’s the big bucks up front that interests them (ie those rich enough to travel in the new ‘Residence’ or flying apartment with butler service!!)

    1. It seems as though there is a greater disparity in classes of service aboard airlines such as Etihad Aiways, Mavis M.

      Other than for obviously economic reasons, I cannot see why the service in the economy class cabin cannot be improved without compromising the service in the premium class cabin — unless, of course, the passengers seated in the economy class cabin would not appreciate the increased level of comfort and service…

      …and yes, they could reduce the amount of waste in the economy class cabin — which might naturally translate into less trash strewn all over the cabin…

  8. It never ceases to amaze me how people behave on airplanes. It doesn’t matter if its a domestic short-haul flight on an RJ, or an international long-haul flight on a premier carrier, you have to put up with unruly, entitled, and sometimes disgusting behavior by others on the flight. You don’t like the fact they didn’t run back and get your tray when you were done? Too bad. Throwing a heap of trays and half eaten food in front of an emergency exit, (or really anywhere) is not only stupid, it’s potentially dangerous. Oh, you need to use the restroom? Lets leave TP and tissues and debris all over the place, lets not be neat with your “business”. Were you raised by wolves? Didn’t anyone teach these people manners? It’s as if walking through the cabin door relieves them of any responsibility to act like a civilized human being. Frequent fliers like my father back in the 80s and then again in the late 2000’s used to say to me that flying was like stepping onto a bus with wings. He was right, and it has only gotten worse. I don’t know how to solve the problem but I seriously believe that at least part of the reason behind this behavior is the clientele and the cost of fares. When fares were double and triple what they are now back in the 1980s, you didn’t see and hear about this behavior, or at least to this degree. Just curious what you think Brian.

    1. I think that what happens aboard an airplane is simply an extension of society in general, Captain Kirk; but is exacerbated by being enclosed in a small space for many hours with few ways to escape — if in fact those few ways are even an option.

      People who are rude and inconsiderate aboard an airplane probably are rude and inconsiderate off of the airplane as well. They will insult people, litter, and do things that are only within their self-interests.

      The best I can come up with to help at least mitigate — and not solve — the problem begins with us: be as thoughtful, courteous, respectful and polite to others as possible regardless of where we are. Say “please” and “thank you” often. Offer to assist when an appropriate situation arises. Smile whenever possible and pay a heartfelt legitimate compliment to someone else to make his or her day.

      One example which I practice is simply taking my used paper towels in the lavatory and wiping the sink before I leave. It takes seconds to do and yet significantly improves the atmosphere of the lavatory for the next person.

      In other words, be a better person whenever possible and set a better example to others in the hopes that it is contagious to others.

      That is my opinion, anyway — and thank you for asking.

      1. I think you make a lot of sense. I need to be more positive myself. Maybe if everyone has a little better attitude when they step on board, the experience will be more positive for everyone!

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