Etihad A380 Inaugural Is On!!!!

Yesterday was a rough day for me, to put it mildly. For those of you that weren’t online and did something crazy on Christmas (like spend time with your family 😉 ), check out my previous post: I Missed My Flight… By A Day… F*CK!

So let me pick up where I left off.

Chinese food yum!

I took a taxi from the airport to the Sheraton in Bahrain to try and sort things out and collect my thoughts. There I sat down in the cafe and had a cappuccino. It was oddly crunchy… because it had a bug in it!

I hadn’t eaten all day (well, other than perhaps part of that bug) and realized that was probably contributing to my unhappiness with life at the moment. Good thing the Sheraton has a pretty good Chinese restaurant, so I set up central command there. I had my laptop, iPad, and iPhone out, and headphones in. I was the only one not having a family dinner.

Chinese-Restaurant

On second thought I realized that maybe garlic prawns and hot and sour soup before trying to negotiate/beg wasn’t the best technique. But I digress…

Evaluating the options

At this point I realized I had to get to Abu Dhabi. There was no way to get to Colombo in time for my original flight, and I figured my best chance of negotiation would be in Abu Dhabi at the airport.

The way I saw it, I had three possibilities:

  • Find someone that was willing to drop the first segment so that I could just fly Abu Dhabi to London
  • Have them rebook me on the late night Colombo to Abu Dhabi flight the following day, which would leave me 90 minutes on the ground in Abu Dhabi, and book a separate paid ticket to Colombo
  •  Just cancel my flight on the inaugural and call it a day

Obviously the first choice was the ideal scenario. My issue with the second option was that the Colombo to Abu Dhabi flight is consistently delayed, and if I flew to Colombo and missed the inaugural flight, I’d cut a bitch be quite sad. Beyond that, I’d miss all the pre-departure festivities.

Regardless, I realized my best bet of getting this sorted would be in Abu Dhabi rather than Bahrain.

Off to Abu Dhabi!

So I booked an award ticket from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi on Etihad, departing at 10:50PM and arriving at 1AM. It was a perfectly pleasant flight on Etihad’s oldest A320.

Etihad-A320

On the plus side, their snack service was pretty decent (not that I was hungry at this point).

Etihad-Business-Class-Food

And in trying to find a silver lining, at least I wasn’t on the flight from Bahrain to Lahore…

Lahore

Our flight was a bit delayed, so we ended up getting to the gate at around 1:30AM. The inaugural flight to London left 25 hours after I arrived, so I had a bit of time to get things sorted. But not much, because my flight from Colombo was leaving an hour after I arrived, and I was scared my itinerary would almost immediately be cancelled if I no showed.

Off to the transit desk

The transit desk was an absolute mess due to a few cancellations, so I had to wait almost 30 minutes before I was helped. Obviously the situation was really complex, so I took the straightforward approach. I explained to the agent I was on the inaugural A380 flight from Abu Dhabi to London and wanted to check-in. She had heard all about the plane, so was quite excited about me being on the inaugural.

Within a minute a boarding pass popped out for the inaugural flight from Abu Dhabi to London. Hmmmm.

Etihad-Boarding-Pass

I said “to clarify, I’m good to go? I had a separate segment on this itinerary I couldn’t make, but I’m fine with this Abu Dhabi to London flight on EY11?”

“Yes sir.”

Obviously it wasn’t that straightforward, though at least I had a boarding pass for the flight I wanted, without her acknowledging I was supposed to be in Colombo. I figured maybe an angel at Etihad had been hard at work and somehow removed the first segment from the itinerary already.

Trying to get a second opinion

I decided I’d go to another transit desk for a second opinion. I didn’t want to jinx my luck, but was also concerned my flight would be canceled after I no showed for the Colombo to Abu Dhabi flight, despite the agent suggesting otherwise. The queue at the other transit desk was so long that I didn’t even bother.

Instead I decided to clear security and go to the business class lounge, figuring I could get more help there.

The real adventure begins

This was my first time in Etihad’s new Abu Dhabi lounge, which was quite nice.

Etihad-Lounge-1

Lounge supervisor Amal welcomed me and was super friendly, and I explained to him the situation in as much detail as I could. He and his colleagues actually seemed to “get” the situation, and I provided them with “documentation” of the other itineraries I had booked.

Amal gave me a tour of the lounge while his colleagues worked on my ticket, and then invited me to sit down and have a drink (said cappuccino was some of the only love I felt this Christmas). 😉

Cappuccino

I figured it would maybe be a 15 minute wait and then we would have an update one way or another.

An hour later they were still working on it.

Two hours later they were still working on it.

Three hours later they were still working on it.

I should note I had gotten up at 4AM the previous day, and it was now 5AM.

At this point I became impatient. Not with the agents, because they were doing their best, but rather at the situation, and was starting to think I was just best off cancelling and calling it a day. I was so sleep deprived and frustrated I didn’t know what to do.

At this point I asked if they could just book me on the SriLankan codeshare from Colombo to Abu Dhabi, since the fare allowed that. The benefit was that it left a few hours before the late night Etihad flight, meaning I’d have more time to make my connection in Abu Dhabi on the return, and also witness the pre-flight festivities.

I was about to pull the trigger on an Emirates nonstop flight from Dubai to Colombo, which would get in just in time to make the return flight. They claimed that the fare didn’t allow for codeshares, which wasn’t my understanding based on the fare rules.

Things take a turn for the better

Well after 5AM there was a shimmer of hope. The lounge supervisor said “I promise we’re working on it and we’re have the duty manager see if we can somehow void the first segment for you.” They had been trying to do this for hours (or figure out a solution in general), but it seemed they were about ready to take some sort of action. He also explained that they were “starting to get emails from higher ups” at this point.

The suits show up…

It’s always a bit intimidating when two managers in suits show up at once. “Have a seat,” they said. It was the Terminal Operations Manager, Mohammed, and the Duty Operations Manager, Osama.

They apologized for the wait and said that it wasn’t because they weren’t aware of the situation, but rather because they had been working on it for a while to figure out a solution. As travel agents and ticket agents can attest to, “voiding out” the first segment of an itinerary isn’t something that can easily be done (it’s easier when it’s not the first segment you’re trying to cancel).

Since I had booked so many different tickets to/from Abu Dhabi (one from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi and two from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi to Colomb0), they seemed to think I was genuinely confused about ticketing rules. They seemed to be under the impression that I thought it was okay to just skip the first segment by choice, and I explained that was never my intention and that I realized the challenge it presents.

“Do you know the price difference between a nonstop Abu Dhabi to London flight and what you booked?”

“No, not exactly.”

“It’s more than double.”

I explained again that it was never my intention to skip the first segment and that I’m well aware of ticketing rules and the challenge this poses.

But then he said “we’re managers, and one of the things that means is that we can waive that fare difference. So we’ll go ahead and just confirm you on the Abu Dhabi to London flight tomorrow.”

Yay!

“Do you have a hotel booked for tonight yet?”

“Multiple, actually… don’t ask.”

“Well how about we at least get you a chauffeur there? Let me walk you through immigration.”

I got to my hotel at around 7AM, and slept for most of the day (which is perfect, since I want to be wide awake for the redeye inaugural flight).

Bottom line

Amal, Mohammed, and Osama: thank you!

Was the process an absolute pain in the rear? Of course it was. I literally sat in that lounge for nearly five hours in the middle of the night. But I know that wasn’t because they were slacking off, but rather because this was logistically a very difficult change to make.

Humans are supposed to run computers as opposed to the other way around, but with airline ticketing systems that’s sometimes not how it works out. So it’s lovely when you can find an agent that can apply logic to a situation and have some compassion, as opposed to just doing what their computer allows them to.

I asked a couple of travel agent friends about the situation and they basically said something along the lines of “even if they wanted to they couldn’t really void out the first segment.”

So thank you, thank you, thank you, Amal, Mohammed, and Osama… you guys made my Christmas!

Why I don’t mind this stuff

I’ve been doing this for close to a decade and have flown about four million miles, but I feel like I learn something new in this hobby every day.

And I’m not afraid of sharing when I screw up, because I know for every mistake I write about, a million similar mistakes are made without anyone admitting it.

This has been an awesome learning experience for me, even if it took away a year of my life expectancy.

Follow along!

I’ve been told that Etihad has a lot planned around tonight’s inaugural flight. Be sure you’re following along, as I’ll be posting updates to social media nonstop:

The flight should have wifi as well, so you can expect more live updates than you’ll know what to do with.

Comments

  1. lucky,

    Excellent news! Glad you found a group of people with the understanding and authority (and love….what people really want 😉 ) to solve your problem.

    I was beginning to think maybe it was time for you to give it up and retire; after all…you’re losing your luggage, oversleeping and failing to check your itineraries for errors.

    Happy Holidays Big Guy!

  2. Glad it worked out! I knew in the end you would figure out something, even if it was a miserable process getting to the right result.

  3. I still can’t understand when you found out you didn’t have a business class ticket for the necessary connecting flight to Colombo, why you just didn’t buy a walk up coach fare to get on the flight so that you could have made it to your starting destination.

    Hopefully this wasn’t bc you can’t fly coach right? I can’t think of why else you wouldn’t have just bought a seat on that flight…

  4. Sorta jumping off from what John DELTA said – maybe it’s time to keep feet firmly planted on the ground, and be with family, for, I don’t know, as week? Just to recharge and reload.

    I got a Christmas gift (well, I did earn it) of my 1K status for 2015 posting from a trip I made to spend Christmas with my family. 16 years a 1K for 2015. But not without a lot of travel in the past month. 2x Hawaii, Panama, Guam, Seoul, Houston, Los Angeles. It will be nice to be on the ground for – 12 days! before I do it all over again in 2015.

    Enjoy the trip, and be safe and well.

  5. I have been following your dilemma and I am happy to hear you are going to at least make part of the inaugural flight! I will break out at the champagne and share a toast with you, well its not like I have been drinking it for days already for Christmas! Now I can’t wait to see the pictures etc, and if you can make an instagram video on board and share it with us!!!! Gute Reise. Tom R

  6. Glad to hear it worked out for you in the end. I’m not one to believe in “someone looking out for you” but it’s nice to see your honesty and ability to handle things rationally paid off. As someone who works in a service related industry it’s amazing/refreshing when a manager works to find a solution rather than telling you all the reasons they “can’t” do it for you. Enjoy every moment of the flight and I look forward to following your journey.

  7. What do you plan to do with American for screwing this up in the first place? Seems like they could pull the tape, verify that they messed up and then send some serious compensation your way.

  8. So glad things worked out for the best Ben! I love that in this rather cynical world, the human touch is always out there, waiting to be found. Lots of love to Amal, Osama and Mohammed for their efforts!

  9. I don’t understand why all the trouble and so many supervisors. Why couldn’t you just simply get Precious to help you with this issue? Would have been a lot faster?

  10. well done. we are very happy for you and look forward to you reports. i see getting your boarding pass in the transit area wasn’t such a bad suggestion after all. who was i that called me a genius yesterday ? safe travels, enjoy the experience and try to de-stress so you can take it all in. we really enjoy your reports immensely.

  11. Well Done !!! We are very happy for you and look forward to you reports. i see getting your boarding pass in the transit area wasn’t such a bad suggestion after all. who was i that called me a genius yesterday ? safe travels, enjoy the experience and try to de-stress so you can take it all in. we really enjoy your reports immensely.

  12. Lucky, I’ve been a long time reader but this is actually my first time commenting. I’m so happy to hear that this worked out for you, and I eagerly await your Etihad A380 updates! I’m flying the inaugural as well vicariously through you!

  13. Ben –

    Not to get maudlin on you, but I’m curious as to whether you will one day look back at this experience as a turning point in your life. Not that you’ll stop doing crazy trips, but that perhaps you’ll do them differently. You were stuck solo in Bahrain for Christmas and you didn’t know how to get home. That’s not something that you forget.

    Back in the ’90’s, pre-Flyertalk, etc., I used to do stuff like this with regularity. At one point, I got stuck in HKG due to a variety of weird issues on a MR when, it turned out that my mom had only a few weeks left to live. Talking to my dad, explaining what was happening and why I was going to be a day or two late getting back to the US, he said “you need to get home.” I’ll never forget that call.

    After that, I kept doing different MR’s, but I always remembered what my priority in life actually was, and never left myself without a Plan B. After I had kids, this awareness became more acute. I stopped optimizing routings to the nth degree for that last mile, etc. My time with my family became more important.

    You’re in a little bit different situation than I was/am, because this isn’t just a hobby for you – it’s also your job. That said, living “on the edge” as it were, doing things like this starts to take its toll.

    I do enjoy your reports and in many ways envy your travel and your lifestyle, but life moves on and I have new priorities. I suspect that you will, too – undoubtedly different from mine, but new and important nonetheless. I am curious to watch whether, looking back, we (most of us who don’t know you other than online or an occasional meeting in passing) will see your life choices change from this point forward.

    Happy holidays, happy travels and best wishes for 2015!
    Greg

  14. Awesome!!!

    Glad to hear it worked out well in the end 🙂

    Kudos to the managers at Etihad.

    Looking forward for the trip report!!!

  15. Can’t wait to read your full trip report and look at the pics. Would it be too much trouble if you uploaded some more videos to youtube of the boarding, gate operations, cabin ambience, takeoffs and landings (when allowed), etc? Mainly the exciting bits of the experience.

    thanks 🙂 love your site

  16. Hopefully you’ve gotten some sleep and eaten some food. I glad you’ll be in the inaugural flight but the only valid reason you have for not making it is that you were low blood sugar at the Bahrain airport. Are you so determined to only use miles or buy flights that require positioning that you couldn’t think on your feet to buy a walk up fare? Not having eaten actually dues explain it and I get feeling sorry for yourself when you’re traveling and flustered and away from home by yourself for Christmas.

    This blog is a place to learn and what you’ve fibe here is show that rules can be broken. I can’t wait for one of your readers to try this. And inshallah those employees who changed your ticket and voided the fare difference don’t have to pay it themselves. Sorry to be harsh but maybe you need a non flying vacation. It’s okay and makes you more human.

  17. Fantastic news, I’m happy things worked out for you! Enjoy the festivities and the flight, hopefully you’ll also get a glimpse of The Residence!

  18. To those who complain that the only reason this worked out is because Ben got special treatment as a blogger, to an extent that’s true, but I think what this incident really demonstrated is how tenacity, flexibility, creativity, and patience can make things work when travel arrangements go pear-shaped. While I haven’t experienced anything nearly as drastic as this in my travels, I have had to deal with travel disasters with no status to get me the benefit of the doubt.

    This post is invaluable in demonstrating how to properly deal with such a situation. Sure, if he had just rebooked on the flight to CMB with cash immediately instead of trying to sort out the situation he probably would have had no issues, but who knows how much that flight cost or if there were even seats available. Regardless, an initial amount of panic is likely and rebounding from it as Ben did is important to do.

  19. Happy for you Ben that you would be making the EY A380 inaugural. I could feel your anxiety last night after reading your previous post as It would have been gutting to not make this “event”flight for which you had booked 6 months ahead(but I was sure you would make it not for nothing you have flown 4Million miles:)

    I was wondering why in the first place you decided to change your original flight from BAH to AUH to CMB only for a reason to avoid the 8 hour layover at CMB? You would have your own reasons for this but since I follow your blog regularly I have noticed that on most in fact all of your trips you have pretty long layovers as you plan to review the airport lounge or an airport hotel as this is your core work. You are not a businessman who would always look for the shortest connections to get from Point A to B. Not you!

    So why did you try to avoid the 8 hour layover in CMB? You could have easily done a short trip to the city for dinner or so get back to the airport and spend time at the lounge before your early morning departure. And CMB is a city which you have never been to except for the airport.

  20. @ Lucky – What a relief! That was exceptional customer service. We were all rooting for you, so happy that it worked out. Can’t wait for the updates and photos!

  21. Hi Lucky! I rang up Etihad Gold Guest Services earlier today after reading your first post to inform them of the trouble you are having and to make sure they will be prepared for the situation upon your arrival. I hope this made your day 🙂 Etihad Guest Gold probably helped. They thanked me for letting them know, and they will make the respective arrangements for you… Enjoy your flight, Simon 😉
    BTW do you think Oman Air will retrofit all the old aircraft with the new A330-300 Business Class used on the high density Asia Routes?

  22. Ben,

    You seem to be risking health for planes rides.

    Take a break or find a BF smell the roses so to speak.

    If you love flying SO much might I suggest flight school.

    23,000 pilots retire in the next 10 years between UA DL AA SW not counting pilots that medical out.

    AA alone loses 60% of current pilots by 2025. You could get on now and be a wide body Captain by the time you are 40.

    Oh and Emirates, Qatar and Etihad are all hiring pilots. Forget sitting in F, how about flying the A-380!

  23. Very good customer service. Given your recent history of bringing up how you’ve had great luck regarding such and such, you might want to avoid saying how great it is that you’ve never had rabies, or been subject to violent crime. Who knows, the jinx may be in…

  24. Ben,
    Glad to see it worked out well for you. You have a lot of fans routing for you.

    It is ironic that economic refugees (expats) who probably were missing their families during the holiday season stepped up to help you out. I hope their supervisors/ management sense the love and respect we have for them.

    Keep smiling and have an awesome flight. I hope the guy in the residence allows you a sneak peek and some pictures for us.

  25. So let’s make this about me for a moment: on Christmas day I’m checking your blog to see if you’re going to be able to fix all this or not! And I’m obviously not the only one.

    More seriously, congratulations! One lesson here for all of us is indeed that “tenacity, flexibility, creativity, and patience can make things work when travel.” A second lesson is that sometimes still the only thing that stands between us and travel-plan disaster is Blanche Dubois’s “kindness of strangers” — so we all need to remember to be nice. And a third lesson, maybe the key lesson, is to double check everything, not just tickets but also seeming-fine boarding passes.

    We all already know not to skip sleeping or eating, right?

  26. Bottom line is Ben was waived thousands of dollars of fare, the normal fare for this flight. He tried to take advantage of a pricing loophole and it fell apart on him by an error he didn’t catch, that occurred as he continued to try and make late changes. What he got was extremely special treatment that most would not get and there were implications here that emails at higher levels worked this resolution. This is not a strategy that we can leverage ourselves successfully.
    It’s hard to think that this will not have influence on him and his reports on this airline in the future and that’s what the execs are hoping.

  27. This is not a strategy that we can leverage ourselves successfully.

    Many of us travel as much as Ben does on revenue tickets. I doubt even my beloved USAir would tell a ticketed first class passenger sitting in the first class lounge to screw. If you are a once a year coach passenger? You are probably right, but not for most of us.

  28. I wonder what would have happened if you hadn’t asked for help in the business class lounge and just used the boarding pass AUH-LHR. I have the feeling that if this happened in US on US carriers the ticket would most likely be void.

  29. I must admit i have to agree with dmodemd above, Lucky should have had to pay the fare difference.

    Am really surprised he was not in Colombo at least a day prior, rather than goofing around Bahrain and then missing his positioning flight. On separate ticketing, i always allow myself an extra day and a contingency plan for another flight in case that positioning flight gets cancelled.

  30. Comments here have been very critical lately, what’s that about? Envy? As one of Lucky’s travel companions commented, Lucky works *all the time*. He earns his travel perks, partly by had-won knowledge of how to work the system.

    Lucky, please do yourself a favor and take a real vacation. A week visiting your parents, a multi-day redemption in a comfortable spa, even a cruise. You’ll probably get antsy after a couple of nights but clearly you need to recharge your batteries. Your readers won’t forget you if you post minimally over a week. Where’s Travis when you need him?

    But meanwhile, I’m eager to read about the Etihad A389 inaugural flight!

  31. I love that those managers did that for you. Good karma for your honesty. Everyone doing the right thing – super!

  32. @Greg99, @dmodmed – bravo

    It’s Christmas Day Ben. Hope next year you’re able to stay home with your family.

  33. it’s a cautionary tale. It happened to me too once, that I changed a flight and it was for the wrong date. It’s a horrible, sinking feeling. Don’t criticize Lucky too much, it can happen to anybody. And I’m happy that we get the review!

  34. Lucky!!

    So happy that you were able to make it! Looking forward to your review. Loving the pictures on Instagram!!

  35. Lucky!!

    So happy that you were able to make it! Looking forward to your review. Loving the pictures on Instagram!!

  36. Ginny, thanks for directing my attention to the Instagram pictures. Love the latest one, showing the aisle! I’ll be taking this flight in 2015. I can’t remember a time when I felt compelled to dress up for a flight but I surely will for this one! It reminds me of an era of flying I’ve only been able to see in documentaries, when people dressed to fly and flying was elegant. Can’t wait for my trip!

  37. Wow — I can’t get over all the self-righteous folks who feel like they should impose their own priorities/values on Ben. Isn’t it his choice on how he chooses to spend the holidays? And, if I’m not mistaken, it was only a few weeks ago that y’all were (rightfully) gushing over how wonderful a son Ben is for taking his Dad (and earlier his Mom) on such an incredible trip. Especially after that, I don’t see how anyone can say that Ben doesn’t value family time just because he chose to spend Christmas on what’s a pretty special opportunity for someone in his line of work and with his lifelong hobby.

    Maybe those of you so quick to remind Ben how important Christmas is should try extending some Christmas spirt yourselves.

  38. @ Carl — As I said before, it’s the same plane both ways. Under normal circumstances that’s the safest possible connection. And “goofing around in Bahrain?” Have you been there? Not much “goofing around” to do. 😀

  39. @ Tom — Even so, not really much that could be done. It was an honest error on the agent’s part (and on my part for not double checking), so not something I want to pursue further.

  40. If there were higher-ups involved, beyond the airport based managers, they probably realised who you were and wanted to accommodate.

  41. If I was in Lucky’s situation myself, I would have just given up on even trying to rebook any of the repositioning flights to CMB and instead just head to AUH right away and call it a day and admit that I have made a loss on this ex-CMB fare “low fare loophole” and simply pay EY the fare difference between the CMB-AUH-LHR and AUH-LHR (which is higher) fares.

    It would be easier for EY to cancel the CMB-AUH-LHR (married segments together [that’s why they had a hard time cancelling just the CMB-AUH segment]) and rebook on just AUH-LHR then do a ticket exchange with an add/collect of the fare difference.

    I guess in Lucky’s case, EY went beyond their duty and instead of doing a ticket exchange with add/collect of the fare difference, they probably just reassociated (SSR TKNE) the original AUH-LHR e-ticket coupon with the new AUH-LHR segment (with CMB-AUH removed) and let him board the flight.

  42. @ Lucky — glad everything worked out for you! Hopefully you will get a chance to have a few days of rest sometime soon to relax after all the recent almost-mishaps (e.g. sleeping in, A380 inaugural).

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