Saturday, January 10, 2015

Abu Dhabi Pre-Clearance for US Immigration and Customs Experience

Hope this is helpful to all who transit through Abu Dhabi to the United States. I flew EY 275 to Abu Dhabi yesterday from Hyderabad India. Our flight was delayed by 30 minutes from Hyderabad and due to Fog over abu Dhabi we circled the Abu Dhabi Airport for over an hour and landed. Once we landed we were taken by bus to Termnal 3. We originally had 4.5 hours to transit and due to the weather and circling this was reduced to 3,5 hours. Our niece who traveled with us was going to New York and her transit was reduced to 2.5 hours from 3,5 hours. My recommendations is that you need at least 2 hours to transit.
Between the wait for the bus and walk to Terminal 3 it will take at least an hour. If you have more than 3 hours I would recommend stopping at a food court to eat before you go to the gates 59-61 where US preclearence is done. At the US preclearence gates there is only a small coffee shop.
Due to the weather delays on the day we landed in Abu Dhabi they were rushing passengers to Chicago and New York and told us passengers toWashington DC to say in a holding gate to prevent the Pre Clearance area from being too crowded.
To enter the pre clearance area you will have to show your travel documents at least twice and then enter a security zone. This security cone is manned by UAE personnel and even though it sounds like it, their intention is not be rude but try to hurry you. HEre you have to remove shoes, belts etc like at any US airport and additionally also take out electronics like iPad, cameras etc. It was quick and there were several people controlling the lines.
Once you are through security you enter the US Immigration line. This is just like the Immigration counter at any US airport. Depending on the time and the lines, they may send you to a self serve Automatic Passport control if you have a U.S. and Canadian passport and international visitors from Visa Waiver Program countries.
The APC lets you answer questions instead of a paper custom form and takes your picture and gives you receipts for all family members. . Once you are done a self serve immigration officer looks at your receipts and boarding cards and then shoes you your luggage photographs. If your luggage does not arrive you will be asked to wait till they transfer the luggage.
After this you go back to the gate and wait. Boarding process is orderly and when you arrive in the US you do not have to claim baggage if you are traveling to the another destination. in Washington we went through the gates like a domestic flight.
You hear rumblings about the Pre-Clearance at bu Dhabi but the biggest advantage is that all passengers traveling to the US have a convenient way to go through US Customs and Immigration and not have to lug their luggage at their post of entry into the US.
I think there is a disadvantage for First and Business class passengers which I hope Etihad will fix. Economy passengers should rejoice at flying Eithad to the US.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Check List for traveling from India

Thought these few points will be useful if you are returning back from your trip to India.
1. Remember to carry a printed copy of your travel itinerary.  Without this you will not be allowed into the airport for check-in.  They do see Mobile boarding passes but I would advice carrying a printed copy.
2. Hand baggage  tags. While passing through airport security,  your hand baggage tags will be stamped.  At the gate a have to is done to see if the  carry-on baggage has a security seal.  If you don't have one,  you will have to go back to security.  An avoidable inconvenience.
3. No embarkation card for non-Indian citizens.  After check-in you had to fill out an embarkation card and that's not a requirement so you now save time.
4. Carry-on baggage.  Many airlines limit the weight of the carry-on baggage to 7 kgs (about 15 pounds). If they feel your carry-on luggage is heavy they may weigh your carry-on,

5. Separate lines for men and women at security.  If traveling together families can expect to go through security separately. Just don't be surprised.  I have seen kids choose to go either with  mom or dad.

Special note for OCI (overseas v citizen of India) card holders.  You must carry the  OCI card along with the passport having the  lifelong visa.  If the visa is in an expired passport,  you must carry the expired passport as well.
It is quite stress free to travel through most Indian airports.  Hope these points will help you.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Flying from Washington DC to India on Etihad Airways

Washington Dulles Airport DC (IAD) is a major hub for for flights to the Middle East and connecting to many asian countries including India. Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Emirates, all fly to Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. United flies to Dubai, Kuwait and Bahrain. Saudia has a flight to Jeddah but I am not sure if that route is used much..

 In the past few years I have traveled to India via the Middle East and reviewed United and Emirates airlines.
This was the first time I flew on Etihad even though I have been a member of their Guest program for over a decade. Here is my experience.

Booking the Ticket 
This was a somber occasion and we needed to get tickets in a hurry. I used SkyScanner, Hipmunk to check flights and sent the best fare I found online to my travel agent Rommel Patel  whom I have been using for over 10 years and have recommended to many of my friends. He is the best Travel agent for tickets to India, Africa and Europe. 

My wife and son got a good rate on Etihad and then the price for the 3rd ticket for my daughter was more expensive and by then all economy tickets were sold out. As we continue to research alternative routes to travel, I remembered that I had a Chase INK card with a lot of miles and lo behold I found a ticket where I could use the miles for the same flight my family was traveling and use my miles for half the  Business Class fare on Etihad and pay the other half by cash. 

Pre-flight experience

Etihad Chaffeur: All Etihad Diamond First Class and Pearl Business Class .customers get a great door to door travel experience that starts with a chauffeur driven Executive Car Service  from home to the airport Since I was traveling with my family I asked the limo company for a larger car and paid the difference. A very nice Cadillac Escalade arrived at our door to take us to the airport. The limo company calls you 24 hours in advance and sets up the pickup time. Since we like to reach the airport early we chose a 6 p.m pickup time for a 9.50 p.m flight.

Checkin:  We were traveling on my daughter's birthday  and  the airport manager stopped by to wish her a very Happy Birthday. That was a great customer service moment and I am so glad that Etihad did so well. The airport check in counter saw that we had seats a bit apart and took the time to give us seats together.

 Eithad offers an Instant Airport upgrade and I believe the rate varies and on this day it was $1350 to upgrade or you could use the miles if you have them.

Eithad Lounge Washington Dulles Airport.

The Etihad lounge is  located  close to A16 where our flight EY130 was departing that day. You can choose from an a la carte menu or use the buffet for a light snack or dinner. Service was superb and attentive, they always were watching to see if you needed anything else. Starting touch of hospitality is a welcome offer of dates. I would give the lounge a 5 star.

On board :Etihad EY 130 Washington Dulles to Abu Dhabi

Etihad Business Class:

Since it was my daughter's birthday, we swapped seats and she traveled Business Class. In the new aircraft, Etihad has made changes to the business class and I think this A350-500 had the existing configuration. The best advantage I saw compared to my travel on Emirates is that Etihad Business Class has a fully flat bed. They have a nice amenity kit and cotton loungewear. I was however surprised that there was no turndown service and a mattress. On Emirates after dinner, they brought a mattress and sheets and made a nice bed. Neverthless, the service on Etihad was excellent and very friendly. The business class configuration makes sure all the seats have access to the aisle. If I were to choose again I would choose a window seat as that have more privacy and access to the Aisle.

Etihad Economy:

We were very impressed by the leg space in the seats on economy. The pillow that can convert to a neck pillow was innovative. Food and service on board was great and very attentive crew. The flight had a lot of turbulence and so the crew had to stop service for a few minutes but it did not affect the Dinner and express dinner service. In between these two services you get ice cream, a sandwich and of course a lot of water service.

I heard the call buttons for the crew go off too many times and I wonder if this can be changed by having galley stations with water and snacks that passengers could self serve.

A small observation on the express menu is that both the appetizer and the main course were with chick peas. A small detail but having been a chef in qc previous life the repetition on the menu for the same meal could have been avoided.

Going above and beyond in customer service
With so much of logistics to oversee, we really appreciated the crew's gesture in improvising a cheesecake to help us celebrate. Thank you Etihad.

Abu Dhabi AAirp
 Loved seeing strollers that were for use aircraft side for passengers with small kids. This is a good amenity for airports. Be prepared to walk a lot if you are transferring. We had a very short transfer time so we could not use the Business class lounge. I heard that you can get a spa message or hair done.

Abu Dhabi to Hyderabad

Be prepared for the long lines to form when the aircraft starts boarding due to the volume of passengers. Once on board you feel like you are in an excellent hotel with friendly crew and comfortable seats.

I was thrilled to see them stock Victoria Bitter beer on this sector. I love this beer and have only had it on flights to Asia.

Service was great and food was fantastic again a good choice of meals in business class.

Even though this was a short flight, I managed to get a little bit of shut eye in the extremely flat Business Class seats.

To sum up no matter which class of travel you are in, the crew work very hard to make you comfortable. They seem to care about their aircraft and passengers.

Landing in Hyderabad, we got a great ride home using the Etihad Chauffeur - Executive Car service adding a nice touch to the wonderful journey.

I am looking forward to the return trip in a few days , the same way from Hyderabad to Abu Dhabi and then on to Washington DC. Abu Dhabi is one of the few airports in the region that has US Customs and Immigration preclearence. So all formalities are completed in Abu Dhabi and our arrival in DC will be like a domestic flight. Look for my next post on the return trip.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

President George Washington Responds to Ava

What a great idea that had to soothe the tears of the  4 year old toddler Ava who wanted to see George Washington. Ava's original video:

What do you think ?