Etihad, this amazing Airline deserves attention!
By Noah Arre
I had migrated to North America in the early eighties and soon graduated from an American university in 1984. I had also worked in the USA for many years. But since I had always wanted my U.S. born children to learn more about Islam, my faith, I had often solicited jobs in the Middle East and fortunately, I got one in the UAE in the late nineties. And because my job paid for our tickets, my family and I had traveled a lot.
So, naturally, we had tried different airlines. We had flown the European, the North American, the Asian, the Middle Eastern, the African and the Latin American airlines. And certainly, we had experienced the services of each and every airline most of which were always great.
Unfortunately, “for cost control purposes”, lately, many airlines are performing poor and may be soon failing. And it is absurd that leaders of organizations and international businesses, proponents of free trade, top customer service and respect of international trade laws are angry today and as a result, are pressuring their governments to restrict access to their markets and accusing others who perform better because they woo most customers.
For instance, I had recently flown from North America where I had settled years ago to the United Arab Emirates. And I was to change my flight three times using different airlines and in the process noticed strange new realities.
In the first leg of my flight which was due at 3:00 pm my home town local time, my flight was to take off from an airport in the deep south of the U.S. So, I asked my daughter to drop me at exactly 1:00pm and she did. However, call me naive if you may, but I am the kind of a person who does not use credit cards and what a coincidence! I had forgotten the only debit card I had, at home and had no time to call someone to bring it to me at the airport. So, I had to forget it and hope for the best!
At boarding time, another unexpected thing happened as the flight attendant at the exit gate announced “for those of you who are in zones 5 & 6, there is no space for your carry-on bags and we must load them too.”
Then, as soon as the airplane attained the desired altitude and the seat belt signs went off, the crew said “ladies and gentlemen, we will be in Philadelphia International Airport by 7:30pm Eastern Time and right now, we are happy to serve you soft drinks, tea and coffee and of course anyone interested to buy snacks, etc. etc., …. for $7.00 apiece is welcome. But please remember, we accept only major credit cards and the US dollar…..” And surprised for hearing that news, I whispered to myself “selling snacks, what a shame! What a difference a few years make!” So, I had the juice and ignored the rest.
The duration of our flight was three hours and by chance, I checked the sticker they gave me for my second luggage and was surprised to learn that it was different from the one they gave me for my other luggage. So, I requested for help and the crew advised me to check with their agent at Philadelphia Airport.
So, as soon as we landed, I had to rush and though I was at the rear of the plane, I was one of the first few people to exit the airplane. And one thing, Americans are known for, is courtesy because once they see you rush, all you have to say is “please excuse me!” And all will, because they understand you may have no time to waste! That is an area which many people in this global village may have to learn from the great American public. It is one of the qualities I admire of them!
And as soon the plane parked, I walked out and asked the first counter attendant, “where is terminal F please?”And he said: “go through that double door, take left; go straight, then take the next left and go straight all the way; it is about a mile and a quarter altogether, from here, good luck!”
My dear readers, trust me, though I was carrying my lap-top which was relatively heavy, I had probably made to there in less than 10 minutes and fortunately, there were only two ladies at the counter though there was no agent as the counter was not open for service. And because I wanted to be the first, I requested the ladies to let me queue before them and they said “no problem; please go ahead.”
At 9:00pm Philadelphia time or just 50 minutes before our departure, a young guy came to the counter and assuming he was in for our service, I said, “sir, I have a problem could you check my bag stickers? The destination of one is at London Heathrow Airport and the other is checked to my final destination which is Abu Dhabi, UAE.” He checked both and said “you are right, something is wrong here; please be seated; we will call you!” He took them and showed them to his supervisor who apparently instructed him to go to the loading zone. That guy was my savior or else, my bag which had no lock, no label or tag would probably be lost forever!
So, I took a seat and fortunately soon, someone announced, “Mr. Noah Arre”, please come to counter number 23.” And of course, anxious, I went there and the young guy gave me both stickers and said; “please be assured that both bags are there to your final destination!” Thank goodness, that gave me a big relief!
In less than thirty minutes, we checked in and the plane took off. But as soon as the seat belt signs were turned off, the crew served us juices and that was followed by dinner which was a choice of either macaroni with cheese or chicken with rice. And my choice was the chicken with rice because for medical reasons, I do not eat fatty foods.
And now, my dear readers tell me, “what is the most delicious food you can ever have? Is it basmati rice with chicken? Lamb chops, steak or macaroni with cheese or what?” Friends, whatever your answer is, I know for sure that the most wholesome food you can ever have is the one you get when you are really hungry! And boy; I had swallowed everything they gave me in one go! In fact, I had licked the last bits and pieces in my plate and had even licked my fingers from top to bottom for one reason because I was really hungry and for the other it was too little. And then tilted my seat and slept!
The next morning, an hour or so before landing time at London Heathrow Airport, I woke up and there was, the crew serving water, tea, coffee or juices. Naturally, I took the juice and then a cup of coffee. But to my surprise, our whole breakfast was a tinny wrap (as big as my paw) of Danish which is of course rich in cheese and eggs both of which are off my limits and I had to say, “no, thank you!” And soon we landed.
At Heathrow International Airport, I had to zoom to catch my connection flight which was at terminal 4 where luckily a courtesy bus waiting took us to that terminal. But since it was too early, the Etihad Airlines counter was not manned and I had to loiter in the terminal areas for hours.
However, about 50 minutes before flight time, an announcement said “…. Passenger Mr. Noah Arre, please come to Etihad Airlines counter!” And when I did, a young lady in Etihad Airlines uniform enthusiastically said “hello Mr. Noah, how is your day?” And my answer was “I am doing fine, thanks.” And then she said “can I have your documents please?” And of course, I gave them. After she checked them, I asked “how many bags do I have checked to Abu Dhabi?” And she said “you have two bags sir; please go to gate number 10 to catch your flight to Abu Dhabi and have a pleasant flight.”
About thirty minutes later, a crew member said “ladies and gentlemen, please pick up the safety instructions and in the pocket in front of you and in case of emergency, follow the directions clearly marked while I am explaining. Kindly, know also we speak English, Arabic, Urdu, Chinese, French, Malay, etc, etc…..” And we took off.
But since I was really tired and hungry, I barely listened and was contemplating to sleep. And then suddenly I saw a young lady, in Etihad Airlines uniform, apparently from Eastern Europe, as per her accent, sitting up on the passage next to my aisle seat. Surprised and wondering as to why she was doing that, I looked at her and she softly said, “sir, what would you like to drink, water, juice, tea, coffee?” And I said “Can I have water, juice and tea?” And she said, “of course.” And in minutes, she brought all. And amazed of the swiftness of the service and courtesy at my disposal, I whispered to myself “why is America, the leader of all modern innovations, pioneer of courtesy, customer care and hospitality, falling behind?”
Then, just minutes later, an enthusiastic young Arab guy in Etihad Airlines uniform, came to me and asked “hello sir, what would you like to eat? We have lasagna, we have Moroccan lamb with basmati rice, we have grilled chicken with rice, we have macaroni with broccoli and cheese and we have…………” Impressed with the varieties in hand, I said “can I have the Moroccan lamb with basmati rice?” And his response was “why not sir, and what would you like to drink with it?”, he said. And my answer was “apple juice please.”
Minutes later, my whole table was full because in addition to my order, he gave me dark chocolate cake, my favorite and a fresh salad with olive oil dressing, a loaf of bread, a cup of water and soda! And surprisingly, as soon my table was cleared, another Etihad Airlines crew member asked me “would you like tea or coffee?” and I said “coffee please; could it be cappuccino?” and she said “why not sir!” And as soon as I had my coffee, I fell asleep possibly snoring in minutes! And now, tell me which other airline in this global village, cares its passengers this much and feeds them this good!
The duration of our flight was six hours and about two hours before our landing time, I woke up. And there was again the crew serving barbeque chicken snacks. But I was too full to have one and got only water.
Finally, at 12:45am, UAE time, we landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport and believe you me our luggage was already rolling at the carousel before we passed the immigration exit. And within minutes I collected one of my bags but could not locate the other.
Unfortunately, it was the same bag that was mislabeled before. But before I had any time to think, I saw a young boy in Etihad Airlines uniform holding a board with my name and he said “sir, are you the person on this board?” I said, “yes, why?” And he said “could you kindly come with me to Etihad Airlines office?” And I did!
At there, a young guy in Etihad Airlines uniform who seemed really concerned greeted me and said “hello sir, we know you are missing a bag and we are really sorry. Please forgive us. But we have found it and it is in our Heathrow office. We promise we will bring it to you at home. Please fill up this form and give us your contact number.”
Twenty four hours later, someone brought it requesting me to check if I am missing anything. My blackberry was there; my other mobile phone was there; my expensive prescription eye glass was there, all my ties were there; my shirts and pants were there. And fully satisfied, I filled up the form and gave it back saying “thank you and thanks Etihad Airlines. You will be always my choice provided…….” and gave the boy a tip!
By Noah Arre
Friends, now tell me which other airline treats its customers this good! And which other airline respects its passengers this great! And one thing is clear; I will fly this airline to USA but hope it will soon land at my home town.