Review: Etihad Airways First Class A340 Seoul Incheon to Abu Dhabi

Introduction
Star Alliance First Class Lounge Los Angeles Airport LAX
Star Alliance Business Class Lounge Los Angeles Airport LAX
Asiana First Class A380 Los Angeles to Seoul Incheon
Park Hyatt Seoul
How Etihad Handled My 14 Hour Flight Delay
Grand Hyatt Incheon Airport
Korean Air Business Class Lounge Seoul Incheon Airport ICN
Etihad Airways First Class A340 Seoul Incheon to Abu Dhabi
Etihad Airways Business Class Lounge Abu Dhabi Airport AUH
Etihad Airways Business Class A320 Abu Dhabi to Cairo
Le Meridien Cairo Airport
Cairo Airport VIP Lounge
Qatar Airways First Class A330 Cairo to Doha
Crowne Plaza Doha The Business Park
Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge Doha Airport DOH
Qatar Airways First Class A380 Doha to London Heathrow
American Airlines Flagship Lounge London Heathrow LHR
US Airways Business Class A330 London Heathrow to Charlotte


Etihad 873
Seoul Incheon (ICN) – Abu Dhabi (AUH)
Tuesday, October 7
Depart: 1:30PM
Arrive: 6:30PM
Duration: 10hr
Aircraft: Airbus A340-600
Seat: 2K (First Class)

I can’t even begin to describe how excited I was by the time we actually boarded.

And it seemed the crew was equally excited, as the chef, flight attendant, and first officer were all at the door to greet first class passengers.

I quickly snapped a few cabin pictures. I had flown Etihad’s A340-500 before, though this was my first time on the A340-600. In terms of the first class cabin they’re virtually the same.

Etihad’s A340 first class cabin consists of a total of 12 seats spread across three rows, in a 1-2-1 configuration. Each suite is fully enclosed. Unlike Emirates’ cabins, Etihad’s are actually somewhat modestly designed and not super-blingy (well, perhaps with the exception of the “diamond” on the bulkheads in front of and behind the cabin).

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Etihad first class cabin A340

I had select seat 2K. On the A340 I prefer sitting on the right side of the cabin, since that’s where the first class lavatory is located. If you’re seated on the left side you have to pass through the galley to get to the lavatory, and that can get sort of awkward at times.

Not only are the seats a nice, neutral color, but the pillow and blanket also complement the design nicely.

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Etihad first class suite A340

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Etihad first class suite A340

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Etihad first class suite A340

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Etihad first class blanket A340

To the right of the seat is a small screen from which you can control the seat functions.

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Etihad first class seat controls A340

Then immediately behind that is a compartment with the entertainment controller, headphone jack, and power outlets (both 110v and USB).

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Etihad first class seat controls A340

At the very front corner of the seat is the minibar, which features a bottle of still and sparkling water, as well as some trail mix. While Emirates’ minibar is more extensive, they’re both utterly useless. The drinks are warmer than room temperature since the compartment has lighting, which acts as a heating lamp of sorts.

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Etihad first class minibar A340

Waiting at my seat were a pair of headphones. I do wish Etihad would use higher quality headphones, as the ones they have aren’t very comfortable, and aren’t very good at cancelling noise, for that matter.

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Etihad first class headphones A340

Waiting at my seat were the usual food menu, wine list, tea menu, cabin manager business card, and box of chocolates.

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Etihad first class menus A340

As soon as I settled in, the first officer came over to chat. He was an absolute delight. He apologized profusely for the delay and said they’d make up as much time as they could. The flight had three pilots, so I think he was the relief first officer and figured he’d spend the time chatting with passengers rather than being in the way in the cockpit.

He was just an all around awesome guy, and pretty clearly an aviation geek.

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Etihad first class view A340

Once settled in, Chef Alejandro came by to introduce himself. I’m a pretty vocal critic of Etihad’s onboard chefs, given that they’re not very good at rationing food.

But this guy was awesome. I ordered a glass of champagne, and he brought out the bottle. I commented that it was no longer Billecart-Salmon, as they were instead serving Gosset. He took a couple of minutes to explain why he thought I’d like it as well.

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Etihad first class Gosset champagne A340

And he was right. It was lovely. So lovely that I had a few glasses while at the gate.

At that point I was also offered a hot towel, pajamas, and an amenity kit.

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Etihad first class pre-departure goodies A340

I do prefer Etihad’s new pajamas to the ones they used to offer. They’re lighter and a bit more neutral-colored.

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Etihad first class pajamas

Etihad has reasonably nice amenity kits, which are stocked with Bergamote 22 goodies.

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Etihad first class amenity kit

I was also offered Arabic coffee and dates — while I’m not a fan of Arabic coffee alone, it does go well with dates!

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Etihad first class Arabic coffee and dates A340

After that Chef Alejandro came back to my seat to explain the food “situation” on the flight. He apologized for the fact that the flight was still catered as it originally would have been for the redeye, which he was really unhappy with. He said they weren’t able to change up the catering, but he’d make it work.

He said “forgot the menu, why don’t you tell me what kind of food you like, and I’ll prepare something just for you.” I explained I love everything except veal, pork, and lamb, to which he responded “perfect, let me surprise you.”

Around departure time, the captain came on the PA to inform us of our flight time of 9hr30min, though he explained they’d try to make up as much time as possible.

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At gate Incheon Airport

The door closed at 1:45PM, and shortly thereafter the cabin manager, Izzaree, came by to introduce herself. At this point the first class cabin was a third full — there was an Emirati woman in 2A, and then a younger British couple in 1D & 1G. So the cabin was nice and private, and it was the lightest load I’ve had in Etihad first class.

We began our pushback at around 1:50PM, at which point the travel prayer and safety video began to play.

The traffic on the taxi out was pretty interesting to look at, including of a Korean Air 747, Jin Air 737, etc.

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Korean Air 747 Incheon Airport

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Taxiing Incheon Airport

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Jin Air 737 Incheon Airport

Our taxi to runway 34 took maybe 10 minutes, though once there we were number five for takeoff. There were two China Southern Airbus aircraft ahead of us, as well as a Korean Air A330.

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Taxiing Incheon Airport

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China Southern A320 Incheon Airport

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China Southern A321 Incheon Airport

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Korean Air A330 Incheon Airport

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Etihad first class camera

At around 2:15PM we were cleared to taxi into position, and then a minute later we began our gradual but powerful takeoff roll.

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Taking off Incheon Airport

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Asiana A380 Incheon Airport

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Taking off Incheon Airport

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Taking off Incheon Airport

We used up about two thirds of the runway, and from there it was a smooth and super-gradual climb to our cruising altitude.

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Shortly after takeoff Incheon Airport

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Shortly after takeoff Incheon Airport

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Shortly after takeoff Incheon Airport

I first turned on the airshow to see what our route of flight would be.

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Etihad Airways airshow between Incheon and Abu Dhabi

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Etihad Airways airshow between Incheon and Abu Dhabi

Then I browsed the entertainment selection.

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Etihad Airways E-Box entertainment system

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Etihad Airways E-Box entertainment system

I decided to watch a couple of episodes of 2 Broke Girls, which is always amusing.

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Etihad Airways E-Box entertainment system

This flight also featured inflight internet, which kicked in about 20 minutes after takeoff. Etihad has very reasonable wifi pricing, as they charge $21.95 for a flight pass, which includes unlimited data. That’s tough to beat!

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Etihad Airways wifi cost

At this point the crew had already sprung into action — curtains were closed between the galley and the cabin, and mood lighting was turned on.

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Etihad Airways first class cabin mood lighting

As I mentioned above, the flight was catered based on the original schedule, which had the flight leaving at midnight and landing at 5AM. So there was basically a snack menu, and then a full breakfast menu. That was slightly less practical on a flight that was on exactly the “opposite side” of the clock.

Anyway, the menu read as follows:

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And the wine/cocktail list read as follows:

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And the tea menu read as follows:

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Service began with a glass of champagne and an amuse bouche, which was some sort of a veggie roll in something resembling thousand island dressing. It wasn’t the fanciest amuse bouche, but was surprisingly tasty.

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Etihad first class amuse bouche

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Etihad first class amuse bouche

The lovely Romanian flight attendant came by to ask if I wanted to maybe have lunch an hour into the flight, which worked for me. In the meantime she brought me some mixed nuts while I sipped on some more champagne.

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Etihad first class mixed nuts

An hour into the flight — to the minute — my table was set for lunch. Etihad does score a lot of points on presentation, in my opinion. They had a huge tablecloth, and then a table liner of sorts, which adds nice contrast. There’s a breadbasket, olive oil, salt & pepper, and butter.

For the starter, Chef Alejandro had prepared a spicy Asian noodle dish. When I first saw it I was kind of thinking “hmmm, really?” since it looked so simple. But it was incredibly flavorful, much to my surprise.

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Etihad first class starter

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Etihad first class starter

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Etihad first class bread basket

Next I was served a salad with salmon. Again, it was simple but delicious.

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Etihad first class salad

Most impressive was the main course, where Chef Alejandro prepared a “surf & turf and mixed grill.” It was possibly the best main course I’ve had on Etihad, and if you look at what he had to work with based on the menu, it’s damn impressive that he pulled it off. It had beef, shrimp, chicken, and potatoes.

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Etihad first class main course

Then for dessert I had baklava and a cappuccino.

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Etihad first class cappuccino and baklava

The meal service was done about two hours into the flight. It was an absolutely lovely meal with incredible service. The food was great, the flight attendant was charming and engaging, and Chef Alejandro was a true testament to what an onboard chef can be when they put some effort into it.

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View enroute from Incheon to Abu Dhabi

At this point we had wiggled our way past Beijing (as you can see based on the airshow, we really did “wiggle our way”), and had 7hr30min to go to Abu Dhabi.

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Airshow enroute from Incheon to Abu Dhabi

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Airshow enroute from Incheon to Abu Dhabi

I had only slept for a few hours the night before and it was still nighttime in the US, so I figured I’d get some sleep for a few hours, and then work for the last few hours as the US east coast was waking up.

I requested for turndown service in seat 3K, which was taken care of towards the end of the meal service. So once I was ready to sleep I headed back there. I loved the attention to detail — as you can see, the flight attendant left a chocolate on a napkin on the side console.

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Etihad first class bed A340

Etihad’s bedding is excellent. It’s not the best in the sky necessarily, but it is very good. The pillow, mattress pad, and duvet are all well padded.

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Etihad first class bed A340

Surprisingly I got a solid four hours of sleep, which is more than I was expecting to get. I was thrilled about that, because I had an almost five hour connection in Abu Dhabi, followed by a four hour flight to Cairo.

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Airshow enroute from Incheon to Abu Dhabi

At this point we had a bit over three hours to go to Abu Dhabi.

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Airshow enroute from Incheon to Abu Dhabi

Once I headed back to 2K I ordered some still water and another cappuccino, which were promptly served. As the flight attendant cleaned up my bed she said “you forgot your chocolate,” and brought it to my seat. I thought that was cute.

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Etihad first class cappuccino

As we continued flying west the sun began to set. As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing in the world like a sunset from 40,000 feet. It’s tough for me to put into words, but my mind is always moving at a million miles an hour, and I rarely take the time to just stop and watch the world. Sunsets from planes always make me stop and reflect for a minute… they’re captivating somehow.

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Sunset enroute from Incheon to Abu Dhabi

I decided to take a look at business class for a few minutes. Business class was wide open, with maybe a bit over a dozen seats occupied. This flight actually featured Etihad’s old business class seats. They’re still excellent fully flat staggered seats, but they’re not quite as modern as their new business class seats.

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Etihad business class A340

About two hours out of Abu Dhabi Chef Alejandro asked if he could prepare me anything. While it was evening, oddly I felt like having breakfast, given that my body clock was on some random timezone. So that worked out quite well, since the flight had more breakfast-type food than an IHOP.

Since Chef Alejandro surprised me nicely with lunch, I asked him to also surprise me with breakfast.

To start he made me a fruit bowl with a smoothie poured on top. It was as delicious as it looked!

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Etihad first class breakfast starter

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Etihad first class breakfast starter

Then there was a bread basket with a chocolate croissant and a pastry.

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Etihad first class breakfast pastry basket

Then for the main course I had the breakfast sampler, which consisted of a smoothie, fresh fruit, yogurt, and a potato dish. It was excellent.

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Etihad first class breakfast sampler

I spent the rest of the flight getting some work done thanks to the inflight wifi, which was reasonably fast.

About 30 minutes out of Abu Dhabi the captain came on the PA to inform us of our expected arrival time. I changed out of my pajamas and stowed all my carry-ons, and cabin manager Izzaree made her rounds through the cabin to distribute fast track landing forms and ask how the flight was. I commended the chef and flight attendant, and shortly thereafter they both came by to bid farewell too.

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Etihad first class fast track card

Our descent was smooth, and at 6:50PM we touched down in Abu Dhabi.

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Etihad airshow enroute from Incheon to Abu Dhabi

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Etihad airshow enroute from Incheon to Abu Dhabi

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Etihad airshow enroute from Incheon to Abu Dhabi

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Etihad first class mood lighting A340

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Approach into Abu Dhabi

I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said this was literally the smoothest touchdown in the history of the universe. I’ve had a lot of smooth landings in my day, though this landing was so smooth that I literally didn’t know we had touched down until the nose wheel hit the runway. And the nose wheel didn’t hit the runway with the usual “thump” noise, but instead could hardly be felt either. Between that, the lack of reverse thrust, and us just rolling off the runway without any sharp stop, it was the most perfect landing I’ve ever experienced.

Unfortunately the taxi to our gate took 20 minutes. Like, holy crap, I’m not sure if we landed in Dubai and taxied to Abu Dhabi or what, but it was unreal. And unfortunately it wasn’t even a 20 minute taxi to the gate, but rather a 20 minute taxi to a remote stand.

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Etihad A340 upon landing

Upon arriving at the remote stand it took the ground crew another 10 minutes to open the door, so I was a bit peeved at that point. Well, until I saw three BMW 7-Series waiting on the tarmac next to the buses.

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BMW tarmac service Abu Dhabi Airport

I can’t say I really mind arriving at a remote stand when it involves a 7-Series transfer to the terminal!

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BMW tarmac service Abu Dhabi Airport

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BMW tarmac service Abu Dhabi Airport

From there I tried to make my way to Terminal 1, where my flight to Cairo was departing from. That became quite an adventure…

Etihad Airways first class bottom line

Despite operationally being my worst Etihad flight ever (and that’s saying a lot), it was also my best. The crew was actually of the caliber I’d expect from one of the world’s top airlines. The chef was creative and showed the value such a position can have, given how well he adapted to the situation (I guess you could say he learned quick, fast, and in a hurry). The flight attendant was attentive, charming, and had an eye for detail.

Etihad’s hard product has always impressed me, so between the excellent bed, comfortable fully enclosed suite, wifi, and great service, this was an all around great flight.

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Comments

  1. @Lantean – 1+2+1=3 Four rows x three seats, = 12, no?

    That is honestly one of the most “wiggly” routes I’ve seen on a long haul…

  2. @Greg N – not sure when 1+2+1 = 3, perhaps you better check your own math before commenting on someone else’s 🙂

  3. The BMW transfer is just for First? Or business as well?

    Also, if you’re already booked into Biz on points (AA), and you get the feeling First is going to be pretty empty – chances of upgrade and how to go about it? Points? Cash?

    Thanks!

    JFK – AUH – CAI – AUH – JFK, this December.

  4. I recall you saying that OZ A380 F’s decor was hideous and that “barf colored tones” weren’t visually appealing. Yet somehow Etihad has “nice, neutral colors?”

    They’re both hideous, man. Don’t upsell it.

  5. @ David — To me the decor looks completely different. There’s a difference between a beige leather and barf-colored cloth, in my opinion.

  6. @ Ben — Just first class. Best way to upgrade to first is to pay the difference in miles, since it’s 22,500 each way.

  7. The chef was creative and showed the value such a position can have, given how well he adopted to the situation (I guess you could say he learned quick, fast, and in a hurry). The flight attendant was attentive, charming, and had an eye for detail. –
    Pardon me ben but I think it is supposed to be adapted instead of adopted? Hehehe

  8. “We used up about two thirds of the runway, and from there it was a smooth and super-gradual climb to our cruising altitude.”

    What a nice way to say that the A340 is slow, can hardly climb and borderline underpowered. Thankfully these birds are almost all gone. I had a pilot explain to me onetime that we were 30 minutes behind schedule because we were in a trans Atlantic track behind an A340 who was at top speed.

  9. Disappointed that the sparkling water is San Pelligrino rather than Perrier or Voss, and the still water is Aqua Panna instead of pretty much anything else. Also that they don’t have peppermint tea. But it still sounds worth trying.

  10. “I’m not sure if we landed in Dubai and taxied to Abu Dhabi or what, but it was unreal”
    Lol!!! 😉 I couldn’t stop laughing.
    Kudos to the chef and a great review!
    This blog is really good..and a little addicting for an aviation enthusiast like me..I read all the way from your latest blog till this one already!
    Keep it up! 🙂

  11. Flew this route last week starting out in Paris. Fully agree with your glowing review. The plane, seat, staff, food were excellent and the performance of the WiFi just blew me away.
    Did you see the fantastic view of the Himalayas about 90 minutes out of or before Abu Dhabi? That alone was worth the 1st Class ticket.
    Only downside was that I got moved without being told, onto a later connecting flight (+20 hours!) from Abu Dhabi to CDG as a result of the French Air traffic strike. With some haggling got moved onto a LHR flight and the world was good again!

  12. Hi Ben, Just arrived in abu dhabi after 14 hr flight. Flew first and i think we got the same chef! He was awesome. The Tarmac transfer was just the ordinary bus no BMW!

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