Etihad Airways only started San Francisco flights about 1.5 years ago and joined Emirates as the second major Middle East carrier to fly to San Francisco. Qatar Airways is rumored to start service as well if and when they have an aircraft. We had used 67,500 American AAdvantage miles for the whole trip from New Delhi to San Francisco.
Etihad has a ‘make shift’ Pre-Cleareance facility at the end of Terminal 3. I’m sure facilities will look better once the new airport opens but so far it’s not exactly great. Fortunately there are two Global Entry kiosks and the airline recently also added a mini lounge to sit down after you are technically on ‘US soil’.
The flight time for Etihad’s flight to San Francisco is late at 2.25 AM, but New York and Chicago are closer to 4 AM – I’m not anyone wants to fly that late!
Even with Global Entry and Business Class fast track lane it would still take 35 minutes to go through the whole process of additional security and finding someone to accept the Global Entry Receipt.
Boarding was just announced as we sat down in the mini lounge (it has just snacks and a few drinks).
We had gotten two mini suites that are open towards the inside of the cabin in the 1-2-1 configuration. The staggered layout is odd and has half the seats open into the aisle (so that anyone can bump into you). The seats we got were well isolated from the aisle.
However the trouble with the seat is that it’s just very small. The seat (and the whole area) felt cramped. Even worse – and we only realized that much later- it does go flat but leaves a major hole in your back support. This is similar to my issues I had with Emirates First Class (Review).
Since we were tired enough we simply ordered a drink after take off and wanted no food unless we wake up. I ordered an ‘Old Fashioned’ and would get a huge glass full of whiskey just after take off – never saw that coming!
The flight attendants were extremely friendly but a bit overwhelmed at times – likely they were also anticipating a level of stress with the completely full cabin in Business and Economy and the long flight time. I was surprised by how many passengers had the full meal after take off at 3 AM local time.
Just when I was planning to watch a movie my e-box system would go into a lengthy reboot (it all fixed itself but it took about 20 minutes to come back).
Just after take off we hit some turbulence and what I noticed was a ‘humm’ – it wasn’t super loud but very different than the typical plane noise. This wasn’t the newest aircraft (delivered in 2005) but still it wasn’t ancient either. My seat mate to the left (next to the fuselage) heard it too and when I switched seats with him for a second it was very loud and noticeable. It seemed to emanate from the outside – he could see the wing and engine from his window. I found it a bit concerning – I had no idea what it is.
I told the flight attendants and that it might be a good idea to have the captain check it out it from himself. To my surprise he actually came out a few minutes later and sat down and listened and decided – it was nothing – likely a broken fan from the AC. Oh well, we trusted him and of course the sound would disappear about 30 minutes later. It was now almost 4 AM and I was more than ready to sleep. I reclined my seat and felt it was really cramped. At 6’4 I was not able to stretch out and when on my side or back I could feel those two inches of missing back support (where the seat back was).
We also had a raucous toddler next to us who would wake up a lot and torture the whole business class cabin with loud shrieks. Despite all this we managed to sleep an astounding 12 hours. I would not say we did this because the atmosphere was so good but rather despite all this.
When I woke up we just had 2.5 hours left and were about to fly over Vancouver – I had missed the whole polar cruise (and no turbulence there as usual). The engine was still attached (despite my sounds earlier to the contrary).
I pinged the flight attendants and my meal would be served in just 15 minutes. That was awesome! I liked the food though it lacked taste a bit. The only dessert option were cold fruit which I went for as well.
In general I feel the food could have been better – not that it was terrible but I was expecting more from Etihad.
I also had a consistent back pain when I woke that would only go away much later that day.
I managed to watch a movie and use the Etihad Noise Canceling headphones – there were a ton of movies and TV shows with the ebox system – you won’t get bored even with these ultra-long flights.
Landing in San Francisco was 5 minutes ahead of schedule into a foggy morning. USCIS had a number of agents out who wanted to see that we all had a passport.
That only took a few seconds and without checked bags we walked straight out of security (the San Francisco International Terminal has no real process for flights that went through Pre-Clearance) and the Etihad chauffeur waited for us near the bag carousel.
He was super friendly and on we were on our way to beat the notorious Bay Area rush hour.
In summary – this wasn’t my favorite flight – I can sleep much better with Cathay Pacific (usually better in Business Class since you are ore ‘enclosed’) .
However it was a solid flight in a somewhat ageing equipment.
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