The Almaty airport has to go down as one of the worst major airports in the world. First, you scan your bags, and then proceed to the check-in area. Etihad staff were quite nice, and when I asked if the flight was full in business class today, they couldn’t understand. Switching into Russian he said “oh no, there are only two passengers, but economy is very very overbooked, so it will be full.” Great, just my luck, 14 people getting for free what I paid extra for. Oh well!
Through passport control and security, and into departures. Departures is one large hall with one lounge, a few cafes and smoking lounges, and a large duty free shop. At least I was able to get some caffeine duty free while I waited:
I’m quite amazed that for such a modern city with such so many high end luxury malls, Starbucks, and tons of international brands, the airport is so poor. In the business lounge, you get two drink coupons…but not valid on alcoholic drinks! Only coffee, tea, juice, and water…and only two of them. Probably the poorest excuse for a business class lounge I’ve seen at a major international airport. Only Abidjan was almost as bad. To its credit, it did have reasonable AC which almost kept it cool…and compared to the departures hall that was very welcome.
Walked over to where my bus was boarding from (since everything here is a bus gate) and there were only like 50 people waiting….and then, looking over to security, it was obvious what had happened. There was a group of 100+ Indians clearing connecting security. It was a large sports team that was coming from Uzbekistan and just connecting, which explained why the flight was so oversold. On the bus to the plane, we passed the very unfortunately named SCAT Airlines:
Etihad flight 297
Almaty, Kazakhstan (ALA) to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (AUH)
Depart 17:20, Arrive 20:25, Flight Time: 5:05
Airbus A319, Registration A6-EIE, Manufactured 2003, Seat 3D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 122,245
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,311,382
It was easy to determine which plane we would be on, as Etihad only has one A319 with business class. Fortunately, it was on time, and we boarded right on schedule. Pre-departure beverages were offered, and champagne was no problem:
The mezze starter was rather tasty, and great presentation for a narrowbody flight:
The lamb tikka was delicious, and went quite well with a glass of wine:
Chocolate cheesecake dessert was nothing special, but went well with red wine:
The flight took a very roundabout route, presumably to avoid Afghan airspace:
Not terribly much to say about the flight. Five hours is a bit long on an A319, but Etihad gives plenty of legroom, way more than US carriers do on a narrowbody. Only one of the free upgraders was a bit obnoxious, constantly putting his bare feet up on the armrest of the woman in front of him. Oddly enough, despite banging her arms with his bare feet repeatedly, she didn’t seem to mind at all.
No line at immigration which was nice, so it was off to the Etihad Chauffeur service to get a drive to the hotel. No wait at all, unlike my last time, and was in the car and off instantly. About 20 minutes later, checked into the Aloft Abu Dhabi. I had stayed there a couple months prior, and been really impressed for an Aloft. This time, wasn’t as good. The staff seemed a bit overworked and puzzled, and not quite sure how to do their jobs. They were incredibly nice, but it was just a little bit off. As an example, previous visit they had offered two complimentary drink coupons. This time, it was one. When I asked for a second, she said, “oh, well, I guess that is ok.”
At least they upgraded me to a larger room, same type as previously, and the AC operated on arctic:
Typical functional Aloft washroom, but plenty spacious:
Nice selection of little cakes was waiting in the room:
Decided to head upstairs to the top floor sports bar and enjoy my free drink coupons. Apparently, they were about to show games from the European Football championship and the floors were covered with tacky green fake grass and there were flags everywhere. Did enjoy a couple of beers, and then headed back to call it a night just as all the football fans were beginning to show up.
Woke up, went downstairs, and enjoyed their rather large buffet. It’s no St. Regis, but for an Aloft it was rather amazing. I’ve been rather impressed overall with Aloft properties – they’re at a lower price point, but not as old and run down as many Four Points. I’d be happy to stay in one again.
Elevator up to the room encouraged me to take a selfie, and always one to listen to elevators, I complied:
This is when disaster struck in the form of a notification from TripIt. Apparently my flight from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne had been delayed. Opened up Etihad’s website to look…and it was delayed seven hours! Instead of a 5pm arrival into Melbourne in time to do a planned dinner and evening with friends, I would be arriving at midnight! Did lots of frantic research for the next couple hours using Etihad’s website along with FlightRadar24, FlightAware, and a few other tools to map out Etihad’s fleet of A380s. Fortunately there are only eight of them, so it was easy to tell where they were coming/going from.
Etihad flies the A380 to New York JFK, London, Mumbai, Sydney, and Melbourne. I was able to trace the delay to one of the A380s going mechanical in Melbourne, and being out of service for over 48 hours. They seemed to be trying to run all flights with just seven planes, which meant JFK was delayed as well…by 14 hours! Apparently JFK and Melbourne worked best, because the other routes were still operating on time. I waited a couple hours to confirm the two A380s that COULD help me leave near on time did leave (to London and Mumbai) and once they had, it was set. My delay officially meant the point of my going to Melbourne was moot and while I considered still going, it just wasn’t going to be worth it.
So, I did what I’ve never done before: canceled all my onward flights, and decided to throw caution to the wind and live in the moment.
Called the front desk and extended my room for one more night since it looked like I wouldn’t make it out. Then, it was time to start thinking where to go next. But first, caffeine would be needed. Headed off to Yas Island Mall, where Jerab got some Starbucks:
Now, all together please, say YAAAAAAAS!
Back to the hotel after a couple hours and started to sort out a plan. I really wanted to try the A380 apartments again, and it looked like I could do that if I headed to Mumbai the next day. So, why not! Decided to book a ticket to Mumbai and go to India for a few days…from there, who knew where the rest of the trip would lead me!
Headed back up to the sports bar planning to get a burger or something for dinner, but was promptly refused entry for wearing shorts. Sports Bar apparently means classy in Dubai, so back to the room to put on some trousers and headed up. I began to wish very quickly that I hadn’t. The place was filled with smoke and eastern european women that I had a hard time telling if they were expatriates, flight attendants, or what. I was like some trashy eastern european nightclub in there…and so bad I couldn’t even stay for a beer there was so much smoke.
This is where Aloft continued to lose me. Apparently, room service also isn’t a thing at this property. You can get something from the takeout cafe and have it brought to your room for a small charge, but you actually have to go down and pay for it yourself…then they will bring it up for you if you want. Overall, it was beginning to feel much more like the budget experience I expected and less like a nice relaxing stay…next morning it was up, and hopefully my car would show up to take me to the airport…