Flying with Etihad Airways – a jarring experience


Being an avid traveler, I have flown on a variety of airlines, on both domestic and international routes. However, I have never written a review on any airlines as the experiences have ranged from satisfying to mildly annoying. None have been outstanding or exhaustingly frustrating – up until now.

For our annual trip to India this year, we were unable to secure bookings on our favourite airline, Emirates. The next best alternative was to fly on Etihad – UAE’s national carrier. I had flown on Etihad to London a few years ago and remembered the trip as being pretty good so we went ahead and booked our tickets without any hesitation. It was after all, an award winning airine.

Below is what travelling with the world-class airline had in store for us:

1) No seats on onward flight from Abu Dhabi to New Delhi

Our travel agent had booked us on a code share flight – this meant that we were flying on a South African Airways flight that was operated by Etihad. As a result, we could not check in online. However, I had called Etihad’s customer service weeks in advance and also a day before the actual travel date to confirm the flights and book our seats.

So imagine our surprise, when after queuing up for 20 mins and a further wait of 10 mins during which time the agent was trying to print our baggage tags all the way up to New Delhi but without much luck, we were told that apparently our travel agent had booked us on an overbooked flight from Abu Dhabi to New Delhi, and so we had NO SEATS!! Having waited for almost 20 mins by now at the counter, I was at the end of my patience and informed the agent and her supervisor that only yesterday Etihad had confirmed all my flights including the seats allocated to us. So how come we were on an overbooked flight? The supervisor then made a few calls and checked his system again, and miraculously we had seats again! We were told that they had been reading our reference number incorrectly all this time and that our flights and seats were in order.

While things like this can happen with any airline, it is not expected from an airline of Etihad’s stature.

2) Lost bags, no compensation and a 24hr helpline number that works only after 10am

Given the saga at Joburg, I confirmed more than once as to whether our bags had been through checked in – meaning that they would arrive at New Delhi without us having to check them in again in Abu Dhabi. The agent assured us that this was the case. We landed in New Delhi at 3 am and waited at the baggage claim for over an hour but when none of the bags arrived (three in total), we contacted the ground staff. We were taken aback to see that atleast 5 other passengers on the same flight as us had also not received their bags! They were all coming from various other ports and had changed flights in Abu Dhabi for Delhi. We filled out forms and were assured that our bags would be delivered to our homes/hotels in Delhi by that evening. No compensation was offered to even buy basic toiletries and clothes.

Later in the day, I was contacted by Etihad and was told that our bags had yet to be located in Abu Dhabi and hence, we would have to wait until later that night or early morning the next day. We were given a 24-hour helpline number for assistance and contact. The next day, I tried calling this number several times but found it to be switched offso much for a 24 hour helpline!

Meanwhile, I had been in touch with Etihad Help via Twitter. They asked me to email them the details of the bags and the trouble we were having. I did that promptly and received a reply saying they would resolve it at the earliest. However, when I was unable to reach Etihad on the phone numbers provided, I tweeted them again and was again asked to email my details. Having told them that I had already sent through the requested email, I was told they had not received any email from me!! I promptly sent them a screenshot of their email to me. After this, I did not hear back from them.

Anyway, after repeatedly trying to call them, I finally managed to reach the ground personnel in Delhi and was told that our bags had been found and would be delivered soon. Having spent more than 48 hours in the same clothes, we were desperate to get our bags back. They were finally delivered that afternoon.

Bags go missing all the time. But the least an airline can do is offer some basic compensation, a helpline number that actually works and the correct information without the guest having to lose their heads.

3) No seats on the return journey as well

Despite the fiasco on the way to India, I was prepared to forgive and forget Etihad for its appalling ground services. However, they were not done with us it seems! On the way back, I was able to web check in. This means that I was not only able to select my seats but I was also given a boarding card. We reached the New Delhi airport confidently. The flight had been delayed due to fog so we reached according to the re-scheduled time. However, the information board had not been updated so imagine our shock when we read that our flight had already closed! We ran to the Etihad counter, which had NO DISPLAY to show that they were Etihad counters and so we found them after several minutes of frantic running around. The agent began our check in and what should have taken 5 mins, had already taken her 10. By which time I knew that there was some problem. She told us that on our flight from Abu Dhabi to two seats together were not available. I lost it completely. I had check in online; I had seats allotted and a boarding pass copy to show the same. Then how was it possible that we didn’t have seats??

The agent was as baffled as us and could not explain what had happened. She then offered to allot us the emergency exit seats that come with extra leg room and are charged at a premium. Of course she did not expect us to pay – thank you for small mercies Etihad. On second thoughts, I enquired about the seats from New Delhi to Abu Dhabi. They had been changed as well! The flight had a configuration of 2-4-2, and I had booked the 2-seaters. But we were being given seats in the row of 4. This was totally unacceptable and only when I raised a hue and cry, did she allot us seats in the desired row.

As an airline that ‘claims’ to be world class, how does an Online Check In change on its own? What is the point of offering it, if you are not going to honour it?

In all this, I have not even talked about the delay in Abu Dhabi, the 2 hour wait on the tarmac and the manic state of the airport, which was in no way equipped to handle passengers from hundreds of flights that were delayed on 3rd Jan 2015 due to foggy conditions.

The only saving grace in the entire journey, was the in flight service and the aircrafts itself. Etihad planes are new and spacious with very good in flight entertainment. The crew is absolutely wonderful and food served is of a decent quality. For this reason alone, guests may choose to fly with Etihad. But all other services remain appalling and there is much to be desired.



10 thoughts on “Flying with Etihad Airways – a jarring experience

  1. Hi Mia. That sucks! I have never experienced anything like this when flying. But at-least the crew was kind and helpful. Though, I have experienced that in some airlines like Ryanair the crew are so rude. And the trip is so uncomfortable. They will do what they can to make that you sit far from travel companions, if you do not pay for sit together. But want you can expects with such cheap flights?
    Happy to hear that you finally got your luggage back in the end. It is horrible to be without, and especially when they do not make any compensations.
    I also want to wish you a happy new year, and I look forward to follow your blog in 2015 🙂

    1. Thank you Hanne. Indeed it was stressful and not at all expected from such a reknowned airline. Anyway…ita all done now. And I am happy to be back home in SA! Wish youba great new year too anrld lots of blog posts 🙂

  2. What a horrible flight experience. I am so sorry to hear that. It is really poor excuse for an airline to not honour their online check in service and not have an explanation as to why the seats you picked weren’t available. However, I heard this it happens to quite a bit of codeshare flights. It usually is probably miscommunication among the airline staff and the agent. Maybe the travel agent you were with wasn’t too honourable :/

    Losing bags for a day or so sounds horrid. I hope I never experience that. But I always make sure I have a carry on with a spare set of clothes, just to be safe.

    1. Well Etihad has a lot of explaining to do! The return flight was not codeshare…hence I was totally taken aback. Anyway…we know better now 🙂

  3. Do they happen to have an online feedback form thing? You could try sending this review there, if you haven’t already. This is appalling. I also agree with Mabel about the travel agent.

    1. They picked the review up from my twitter feed and sent me an email detailing in thrre paragraphs as to how there was fog IN AUH!! hardly any explanations to the lost bags etc. For the seats they said as per article xyz they can change/reallocate seats of passengers even after boardng! And lastly, as a goodwill gesture they awarded me 10000 points. But I couldn’t care less as they really let themselves down

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