Saturday, December 5, 2009

Emirates - You've won my heart!
(Scroll over the main screen, select the four arrows pointing outwards at the bottom left and return cursor to the middle of the page. Enjoy!)

My flights with Emirates in November has truly allowed me to say that "Emirates - You've won my heart". The service on board has improved tremendously, the quality of the food quite literally is of a much higher quality, and flying on those magnificent Boeing 777 aircraft was a pleasure. For all the flights on the Boeing 777 I was in the last seat of the aircraft, 49A on the -300ER and 39A on the -200LR. I chose these seats as the last thing on a long haul such as the ones to and from New York to Dubai, you want to have some kicking you in the back of your seat. Even with the restricted recline in my own seat, and the person fully reclined in the seat in front I am happy to say I still had enough breathing space, and I found it to be even more on the Boeing 777-200LR. The seats at the back are in the 2-4-2 and not 3-4-3 configuration in front which I believe is quite tight. I had travelled on the Boeing 777-300 on another short haul sector and had found the seat pitch to be quite nice

I had a three hour wait or more after arriving on Air Canada from Toronto to La Guardia, and using the local shuttle to JFK. The Security line up was a nightmare, with a line long enough that it made me wonder when I would clear it. Final boarding calls were being made for Singapore Airlines and Air India while it's passengers were still left to be found in the line ups. A very smart Qatar Airways crew had to zip by through our lines, to make it to the front. They are to date the smartest looking Middle Eastern bunch I have seen, and an airline who's inflight service I have yet to savour! We finally made it to the front where many wheel chaired passengers were lined up hoping to make their flight on time. Once inside after passing security it was less chaotic and I used the time to photograph the airlines at their gates including the Air India 777-200LR and Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER. My Emirates jet had not yet arrived at our gate so I continued to wander around the terminal. In the distance one could see the jets climbing off Rwy 31L with a truly dramatic left turn made by a KLM 772 just moments after lifting off the runway. Others turned much higher up! Soon boarding commenced and were on board the Boeing 777-300ER.

We left New York using the 31L departure where we start to make that long left turn no sooner we were off the runway to head out towards the ocean. It was a clear night and the lights of the city of New York sparkled underneath. We momentarily crossed the stretch of Long Island, then flew alongside it for a bit before turning left again and heading North before turning north east out towards the Atlantic after crossing over most of Eastern Canada. Dinner service kicked in almost immediately and there was no run of the usual peanuts and drinks service. (I need to remember if this is what Emirates provided previously). The menu cards on board were distributed and they were of the Dubai-New York sector. Later while chatting with some of the FA's I brought that to their attention. I cannot remember the options available but I know I took the Roasted chicken with herbs which was the only thing good on the tray! The dessert of assorted dried fruits was well not quite a dessert at all. Dinner service was completed two hours after we took off, and soon the lights on the jet were turned off, to reveal the starry night sky on the ceiling above! That is a truly wonderful feature on board these jets, and I quite prefer it over the mood lighting. The starry ceiling on the sky remained on for the entire duration of the flight and the windows shades remain shut as well. We were about five hours into the flight when I was drifting in and out of slumber land, when I opened my eyes and saw this clothes hanger pass by my face! A petite FA saw my frightened look and giggled as she indicated the window shades needed shutting, as in the distance dawn began to break over the Atlantic! For some reason I am the type that annoyingly opens and closes the window shades to see the landscape below as indicated on the flight map on the large seat back videos in front of you, but for some reason on this flight I think I did that just once or twice, and only took a photo of the sunny skies outside as we were about to begin our crossing over Iraq! I think that starry night sky and the dark cabin made you want the night to never end! During the flight a few water runs were made and a mid flight snack of Chicken Tikka or Pepperoni sandwhiches were served. Those were really delicious and kept me going for another few hours. Just before landing in Dubai at 1930 (7:30pm) we were served breakfast, which I believe had to do more with the local time in New York, than the evening of Dubai. Delicious scrambled eggs made up the great breakfast.

Now regarding the FA's on this flight, and as Emirates has been termed "a bag of mixed nuts" well the good nuts seemed to outnumber the bad ones. One particular mention is an FA who had the most arduous task of handling an irate passenger who was separated by a few rows from his son due to the error of the check in staff. He kept on telling this poor FA "All I want is to sit with my son" and was starting to get louder as time passed as passengers continued to board the aircaft. We had now pulled out of the gate, and were getting closer to the take off roll. The FA pleaded with him to sit down in his assigned seat to make the change later, but he stubbornly refused and I thought if this carried on this might delay our take-off or have this guy taken off the flight. Fortunately just in time a rather large man was seen leaving his seat and moving to the front of the plane, to allow this father to sit with his son. Later on in the flight I commended the FA on how patiently she handled the situation all by herself, and she told me the person who moved out his seat to allow the father to sit with his son, was actually on the phone and she could disturb him, or else it might have been resolved faster. Then later during the middle of the flight there were these two guys who were between the galley and the last few seats and were yaking as loud as they would at home. Even with my headphones and ear plugs on I could hear their annoying drone! I signalled to one of the FAs who during the entire flight so far, was very friendly, actively performing her duty with the nicest and warmest smile to top it off, to have these two talk at a reasonable tone or return to their seats. She said she would talk to them and then in an instant I saw both men return to their seats!! Nice!! I later thanked her for it and she joked it was better to do that or else I would have been pressing the call button all the time. She had a sense of humor! Most of the crew on board this flight were really warm, friendly and quite literally smiled warmly at every passenger on board. Call bells were quickly attended to except for that one portion of the flight when most of the crew are hibernating in their bunks and the lone FA (or two) in the back choose not to attend the calls, that FA was also one of the few that quite literally never smiled. I guess you win some you lose some.

After a short transit in Dubai at the new Terminal 3, it was time to leave for Karachi! I don't really like the new terminal as compared to the old Shaikh Rashid which was narrow, smaller and the most chaotic at peak times, but had this cozy feeling to it. The new one is big, bright with lofty ceilings and feels cold and unfriendly in comparison. However there are tons of gates some of which are empty where you can take a short nap and are on the other side of the main flow of the shops, so you don't have people hustling and bustling right in front of you. Back to the flight to Karachi, this short hop was a tease compared to the super long haul I had just taken. The crew on this flight due to the 0130 (1:30am) departure had already set the tone for the flight. Who wants to be pulled out to do a turnaround at that part of the night. The excellent meal on board this flight made up for the lack of otherwise great service, I had gotten used to on the previous sector. The meal was really delicious and the Kheer dessert especially on this flight had me scrapping the bowl! I was tempted to ask for seconds but decided not to go ahead with it!! We had an uneventful flight in general and were soon landing in Karchi at 0430 local time.

The return flight from Karachi to Dubai at 2230 (10:30pm) was pleasantly head over shoulders far better than the inbound flight. The crew on this flight were quite literally the best bunch of EK FA's I have ever found on any flight. Particular attention to the two Middle Eastern and European lads who couldn't do enough to make sure you had a great flight. The latter got a little punch in the tummy on exit and was proudly told when I gave him the title "The most friendliest FA of the entire lot". He was actually quite surprised to know someone took the time out to say that, as he stared at me, and then broke into a smile as i turned back to look at him! !! And the food on this sector was on parallel with the inbound, absolutely delicious meals especially with that warm touch of two pieces of paratha to go with it, a standard and welcome feature on these sectors! And the Shahi Tukray dessert too was to die for! Well done Emirates, you completely bowled me over with the meals on the Dubai-Karachi-Dubai sectors! No detail was left undone including the condiments that accompany the meals. We landed in Dubai with the most glorious views of the Dubai skyline from the starboard side of the aircraft as we landed in from the sea! The Burj Dubai clearly the winner as it's lights reached highest up into the night sky! That building is truly awesome and when taking off from Dubai on another trip on board an LH 747-400 we passed directly over it, and it clearly seemed to reach out to us from the ground, while the other skyscapers were dwarfed around it and seemed so much closer to the ground. Looking forward to visiting the observation deck in the near future. Unfortunately it only opened or will be opening some weeks after I left Dubai.

After 48 hours in Dubai it was time to leave back for New York. It was going to be on board the Boeing 777-200LR! We were not gathered together in a waiting area before boarding and as soon as I checked in at the gate we were allowed to proceed to the aircraft, where passengers trailed in a less chaotic flow. (Unless I was late getting to the gate and the passengers had already boarded, which I doubt as I got there at the assigned time of 0115 (1:15am) or our 0200 (2:00am) departure). It would be nice if it could be this way always instead of the stampede that usually begins when boarding any flight! Two Indian FA's welcomed us on board and since there was no real rush I used it as an opportunity to photograph them. I am getting less notorious that way in being a paparazzi with the airline cabin crews as I have been in the past. Must be the age! I soon settled into the last seat once again, and was really happy that a compartment behind me separated me from the toilet. The swooshing of the flush would not be felt that much as as I did on the inbound flight, every time someone used it. I had no one at the side of me this time, as I think I cleverly indicated this to the check in agent when she checked me in, that I hoped no one would be seated next to me. It's surprising I could not check myself in online from my friend's computer in Dubai that evening, neither from the airport kiosks in Dubai but had to check in at the specially designated US check in desks at the airport. Probably due to security reasons. However fortunately I could select my seat when I had initially booked the ticket some two months earlier. The load was not much on this flight and the three last rows in the middle had it's sole occupants in each row sprawled out flat across the four seats. I enviously looked at them but remained content at the same time I had the little area all to myself. In front of me were two women of African descent who had such strong perfume on that I had the option to move to the last seat on the other side, but have the FA landing seats behind me and no real barrier between that seat and the galley, or stay in my seat and enjoy the almost private space. I stayed put where I was and instead used both air vents opened to the fullest to reduce the strong fragrance that had bombarded that section of the aircraft. Why someone would spray themselves so literally and cause someone else to faint from it, is beyond me.

We left the gate on time and after a ten minute taxi from one end of the terminal to the other side we took off to the West from Dubai. The take off on these Boeing 777s are just wonderful, strong, powerful with a great climb! We passed the city lights of Dubai on the port side, with another view of the skyline though less dramatic than the one experienced when landing. Also clouds broke the view as the city danced in and out from underneath them until it disappeared completely from view momentarily, and then clear views again of a lone flame on an oil rig burning in the distance, the only light seen for a while in the dark night outside. Once again dinner service commenced as soon as we departed, and I forgot to mention that hot towels were distributed on all flights before take off. The FA serving me my meal did not have the option I wanted and said she would have to go to the back to get it. I then told her I was fine with the lamb option available in her cart and she gave me that. I was quite surprised when she came by later to collect my tray while I was still halfway through my meal. I had to indicate I was still eating, and was then appalled when she came by later again asking if she could clear my tray. I was not eating a snail's pace and neither was I going to eat fast enough just because she was in a hurry to clear my tray. I had to indicate once again I was still finishing my meal. I then noticed that the others around me had their trays cleared and I wondered if they too were forced to give up their meals halfway through or if I was really eating that slowly? She did not come by again and my tray actually lay there waiting to be picked up. Had they forgotten to take my tray? I used the traytable of the empty seat at the side of me to stack my tray on it, and it was picked up much later. I do not know why they were in such a hurry to get the trays collected. I think due to the fact it was going to be lights out soon and they were eager to get into the sleep bunks on board this aircraft, which were carefully guarded behind a door lock that came with numerous buttons and a code to open it.

We continued to cross the Middle Eastern corridor passing Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and then finally directly over Baghdad, while the name on board the flight map on the seat back video indicated Mesopotamia instead of the modern day name of Iraq. From there we crossed into Eastern Turkey, then over the Black sea close to Odessa then directly over Warsaw, onwards to the Scandinavian countries and city of Goteborg, then over the Norwegian Sea to Reykjavik, across the Northern Atlantic down to Goose Bay and finally New York. There were no starry ceilings on this flight and the jet remained in a somewhat pre-dusk like mode yet somewhat dark, but enough to see the occupants in their seats unlike other flights where there is a complete black out except for the lights from the seat back monitors or reading lights on if any. Halfway throught the flight we had a chicken tikka or Cheese and Spinach wrap distributed with the usual round of drinks of water or juice. I used the two seats I had to myself to raise the armrest in the middle, and tried to manage to lie flat with half the amount of space my neighbours across me had to themselves. I did manage to sleep a bit but my aching back woke me up as the fetal position I adopted was clearly not ergonomically feasible. I didn't do much in terms of using the renowned ICE system on board with it's many movie titles available at one's fingertips. I found I actually watched more movies on Qantas with the limited options available there. There were just too many options available that I was in a dilemma which one I should watch. I did however watch UP on this flight and Star Trek on the inbound. I had unfortunately checked my USB cord in my checked baggage or else I could have used my Ipod or Digital camera to view the photos and listen to the music on the seat back video, using the USB connectivity available. This was apart from the laptop option available, if my memory serves me right.

The window shades on this flight remained up for the entire duration as we only hit dawn as we were over Canadian Airspace. No hangers in my face on this flight!! By now not only had the whole cabin woken up, but the first rays of sunlight started to fill the cabin. Some shades went down but I kept mine open. Breakfast service commenced and the "Welcome to the United States" videos rudely interrupted whatever video you were watching or audio you were listening to. Immigration forms were distributed and I was glad I had already taken two at the airport in Toronto, one to hand on the flight to New York on Air Canada, and one to hand on this flight! The last thing you want at the end of this super long haul is to pull out your passport, go scrambling for a pen and make sure you put in all the correct details. After all you were landing in the United States of America and you don't want to be sent back due to incorrect details!! The breakfast trays cleared with no real rush to have them removed this time, and in fact I was served by this really wonderful Spanish FA who carried herself professionally yet demurely attended to her passengers. She was truly the nicest one on this flight. By the end of every flight of whichever FAs have served in my zone, I mentally award one of them the title of "Nicest FA" and depending on my boldness and opportunity to do so, I let them know prior to deplaning of the auspicious title that had earned due to their dedication, warmth and charm. And yes, if a photographic opportunity should also arise, I seize the moment to capture my dream FA!! (To the FA's out there, believe me there are some that thank you for your dedicated service on the flight and might have some like me come and address you about it lol). Unfortunately this FA was nowhere to be found when deplaning. (Had she been a figment of my imagination lol)

We were soon over Long Island and were going down the length of it in preparation to turn out to sea and then head back to make an approach on Rwy 4R. It was Deja Vu all over again except the last one was on board the Emirates Airbus A340-500. The captain had announced the weather was cloudy and cold and no sooner had we broken through the clouds we were on finals to 4R with the gloomiest of weather I had since in three weeks of nothing but sunshine. I truly enjoy the approach to 4R you pass over the beach with it's long line of homes, buildings, then pass over marshlands if you can call them that, and then touchdown on 4R while enjoying excellent views of the aircraft lining up on 4L that make up the early morning rush of jets departing JFK. We landed exactly 14 hours and 15 minutes later and were soon approaching our gate while passing Virgin America jets, some Delta jets and finally parked alongside aircrafts of TAM Brazil Airbus A300-200 and Air India's Boeing 777-200LR. I love the views of the aircraft from inside the terminal and I took some photos from there, but once in the main Immigration area I put my camera and made my way to the lines trying to rush out of JFK and make my way to La Guardia where I yet had the return flight to Toronto.

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