"How was it?" I asked Aannsha as she strolled back to the table where I sat tucking into the cooked breakfast and beer I'd promised myself. Aannsha smiled and said "Really good, I went at just the right time and got straight in, now I feel really refreshed." Another perk of flying business class and transiting through the Etihad Airways main hub in Abu Dhabi is the complimentary use of shower facilities in the business lounge area. I'm fairly sure that my wife didn't need a shower, but if it's there, you've got to try it, was the theme for this trip.
Our stopover in Abu Dhabi was a short 2 hours and 25 minutes and after clearing in, there was just enough time to hook into the free Wi-Fi, eat, drink, shower and go through security to board our next plane which would whisk us off to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
Normally short stopovers are the ideal on a long haul flight, but this time around both Aannsha and I were a little disappointed that they were so short because we wanted to get as much bang for our buck by checking out all the facilities on offer, after all this business class thing was a once in a lifetime treat.
At 8.20am we were welcomed aboard the Etihad Boeing 777-300ER by the ever smiling crew. I have often wondered if cabin crew attend special classes where they learn how to do the perfect smile. Business seats on this aircraft are split into two sections. Forward of the door there are eight seats in a 1-2-1 configuration and I was in seat 6C which was a window seat, Aannsha's seat was next to me across the aisle. Once again my jacket was taken and hung up, champagne and hot towels were offered and we settled in ready for departure at 9.05am. Just as we were enjoying a champagne refill one of the smiling ladies came and asked if we'd like to move to two seats that were together in the other business section. Aannsha had the good smarts to go check them out and it's good that she did. If we'd moved we would have had a 6 month old baby right next to us for the next 7 hours and 40 minutes.
The menu on this flight was almost identical to that of our first flight, so sticking with the theme of 'if it's there, you've got to try it', I opted for the pea and mint soup with crème fraiche to start, followed by the grass fed fillet of beef with polenta chips, asparagus, red onion jam and beef jus. All washed down with a couple of glasses of 2014 Chateaux Trebiac Bordeaux. I'm not normally a big fan of desserts, but because everything else that I'd eaten had been so perfectly cooked and very tasty I stepped out of my comfort zone and requested the chocolate soufflé served warm with pistachio anglaise. My taste buds thought they'd died and gone to heaven, had I not been so full I might have been tempted to order a second one. After eating, I eased my seat into a reclining position, switched the seat control to full body massage and settled down to watch a movie with a glass of Remy Martin. All very civillised.
At some point I must have drifted off to sleep because when I checked the time, we were just 90 minutes away from landing. The smiling ladies must also be trained in telepathy too, I was thinking that I should go to the bathroom and splash some water on my face, but as if by magic, before I could unbuckle my seat belt, I was being offered a hot towel. What sorcery is this?
Right on schedule we landed at Charles de Gaulle airport which was shrouded in a thick fog created by the 5 degree Celsius temperature. The plane taxied a long way and paused before crossing live runways, taxied some more, crossed over a two lane road via a bridge and taxied some more. It was the longest airplane taxi I had ever had, all done with visibility down to just five metres in some spots. I'm not a nervous flyer but in the back of my mind was the memory of the deadliest accident in aviation history in which 583 souls perished when two 747 aircraft collided in fog at Tenerife's north airport in 1977.
Without incident we pulled up to the terminal and exited the plane, our stopover time in Paris was only 1 hour 45 minutes and we were disappointed when we found the Etihad lounge closed. With no other choice we decided to head for the departure gate and with hindsight it's good that we did.
Charles de Gaulle airport is huge and the signage is woeful. After passing through security my carryon luggage was singled out for inspection, ahead of me were four other people who's bags had also raised suspicion when x-rayed. The French lady whose job it was to ask questions and open the bags seemed to be all fingers and thumbs so the process was time consuming. She also refused to speak any other language but French and an American in front of me was totally confused as to what she was being asked and handled the situation by being loud and complaining.
Once I was standing in front of my bag my very rusty school boy French got me through and the lady explained that all my electronic gear was the reason for the search and that she was going to swab the bag for explosive residue. As far as I could tell the only explosive thing around was the American who was wandering off complaining that she'd missed her connecting flight because of all this stupid messing about. Personally I was just glad they were taking security very seriously. I like to get to my destination in one piece.
Once through security we boarded a bus for a 6 minute drive to our departure terminal somewhere in the fog shrouded confines of the airport. We arrived at the terminal and went through passport control and entered the fray of humanity that I hadn't encountered for 20 years. In Australia, places never really get crowded, it's just too big of a country with very few people. But we were not in Kansas anymore Toto. We were in one of the busiest airports in Europe, where people barge past, refuse to move to let you through and only the strong and determined win.
Luckily our gate was only a short distance and as we got there priority boarding had just opened up, so it was with great relief that we showed our boarding passes and walked down the passenger boarding bridge. This plane for the final leg of our journey was on an Air Europa Boeing 737-800 and it was disappointing. There was no turning left as we entered unless you were the pilot. Their idea of business class was to place a small drinks table in the middle seat of three. We did get offered champagne though and when the French guy in the seat behind me asked the smiling lady if he could have some too, he was politely told that it was only served to business class customers and he'd have to wait until the flight was airborne and trolley service was available.
The flight time was only 1 hour and 40 minutes so I decided to get some shut eye. We still had a 90 minute drive ahead of us once we landed in Valencia in Spain and I wanted my wits about me. It turned out to be a good decision.
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