How Etihad Handled My 14 Hour Flight Delay

Filed Under: Etihad, Travel

As I hinted at on Monday, I just flew Etihad Airways from Seoul Incheon to Abu Dhabi, and had a 14 hour delay. It ended up being my best Etihad flight ever, though I’ll have more on that in a separate post.

After having virtually no delays for the past couple of years I’ve been having an unlucky streak lately, whereby I’ve had several 4-6 hour delays. However, it has been years since I’ve had a 14 hour delay.

Anyway, I figured I’d share the story of what happened, since it ended up being pretty amusing… or something like that.

My flight from Seoul Incheon to Abu Dhabi was scheduled to depart at 12:20AM, and I showed up at the airport at around 8:30PM.

Incheon Airport check-in termal

As it turns out, check-in only opens at 9:05PM, which was annoying, but such is life. I got an iced coffee at the McCafe on the arrivals level, and was back at check-in by 9PM.

Etihad Diamond First check-in counter Incheon Airport

At 9PM the ground staff arrived at the check-in counter. There was one agent in an Etihad uniform, while the others were all contract workers in Korean Air uniforms. Usually check-in counters open with punctuality at Incheon Airport, though in this case they all seemed to be huddled up in a corner.

At 9:10PM they finally made an announcement along the lines of “Attention passengers booked on Etihad Airways 873, Air Seychelles 5377, Air Berlin 4015, Asiana Airlines 6971, Korean Air 7901 to Abu Dhabi. This flight has been delayed due to aircraft maintenance. We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

Well that’s an odd announcement… they left out the most important detail! After a few people started yelling they made another announcement: “Attention passengers booked on Etihad Airways 873, Air Seychelles 5377, Air Berlin 4015, Asiana Airlines 6971, Korean Air 7901 to Abu Dhabi. The new scheduled departure time for this flight is 1:30. The cause of this delay is aircraft maintenance. We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

Loud moans were heard throughout the check-in area… and that’s based on passengers thinking there was a 70 minute delay (they said the new departure time was 1:30, and didn’t specific AM or PM).

Next the agents put up posters around the check-in area indicating the flight was departing at 1:30PM, not 1:30AM (notice how they didn’t even spell Abu Dhabi right).

Etihad flight delay poster

The news quickly spread that the flight wasn’t delayed 1hr10min, but rather 13hr10min, at which point a near riot began.

Let me start with my philosophy on delays:

  • Delays suck just as much for airline employees as for passengers. You think your 14 hour delay sucks? How do you think that delay is for the agent that has to deal with hundreds of angry passengers? I can assure you they hate the delay at least as much, if not more.
  • In the case of delays I have higher expectations at a hub than at an outstation. Airlines have a lot more resources at their hubs than at outstations. For example, I’d be pissed if they had just a couple of employees dealing with a delay at a hub, while I expect that at an outstation, since they can’t really create resources out of thin air.
  • It’s all about communication. I’m happy as long as the delay is being communicated well. Communicate it as early and realistically as possible, in my opinion.

With that in mind….

People were just flipping. Flipping the hell out. “No, this can’t be, you can’t delay my flight for this long.” “F*ck you Etihad!” “No, you will fly me now and you will take my bags.” “I want to talk to the CEO of Etihad.” Right….

One pair of guys got into an especially heated (and dumb) argument. I’m not actually sure what they were arguing over:

“F*ck you.”
“No, f*ck you.”
“F*ck you, [something in a different language].”
“If you’re going to call me names, be a man and do it in English.”
“Because you’re too stupid to learn other languages?”
“[Cusses in a different language, presumably].”
“[Cusses something in a different language, presumably].”

At this point they look like they’re about to get physical, so I just said “guys, we’re all tired and frustrated, but you know this isn’t helping. Please stop.”

At that point the guy turns to me and says “f*ck you, pussy.” Okie dokie…

The part that left me puzzled is that Etihad’s flight from Abu Dhabi to Incheon arrived before 12PM, so it had already been sitting on the ground for a long time. Did they really not know the maintenance delay would happen until the time that check-in opens? Some people brought this up, and the agent claimed that Etihad “just got the call from Airbus and can’t fix the plane without a new part, which won’t arrive until tomorrow.”

Fortunately I was the only passenger in first class, meaning I was the first person in the first class queue at the time. The Korean Air contract agent explained that they were putting everyone up at the Grand Hyatt Incheon Airport, so was going to give me a hotel voucher.

Of course I tried to be one step ahead of them, because while she was getting started on a hotel voucher I was looking up alternatives. Emirates had a flight leaving 30 minutes before Etihad’s original departure time, with a convenient connection to Cairo, and had first class availability. In the cases of irregular operations that are within the airline’s control, it’s reasonable to expect to be rebooked on a flight like that.

I asked the agent about the possibility of being rebooked on this routing, and she referred me to the one Etihad agent, who had “set up shop” one counter over. At this point there was a queue of about a dozen people at the Etihad counter, so it was an hour before I was being helped.

When it was my turn I presented her with the Emirates flight numbers and explained they had availability for a comparable routing. She appreciated that I had already found options and was open to the routing, so she called up “head office” (as she called it — presumably just central reservations), and within three minutes they had me booked on Emirates. She wrote down the flight numbers and ticket number, and told me to go to the Emirates counter. Woohoo, A380 shower, here I come!

I get to the Emirates counter and the agent is lovely. She tries checking me in but has an issue. After a minute she says “hmmm, it looks like they canceled your ticket.” The Emirates agent goes over to the Etihad counter, and then the Etihad agent follows her back to the Emirates counter. The Etihad agent says to me “they canceled your ticket because you’re on an industry discount ticket, why don’t you come back to the counter with me and I can help you?”

Go figure at this point there’s a line about a 100 people deep for the agent, and I just follow her. They all think I’m trying to cut, so I get a few words yelled at me. She finishes up with one passenger, and then explains that since I’m on an industry discount ticket I can’t be rebooked on another airline. I explained that I’m not on an ID ticket (which is usually used for airline employees), and after calling “head office” again they explain that the issue is that I’m on another airline’s ticket stock, so they can’t rebook me on another airline (I was on American ticket stock, for what it’s worth).

I explain that if they just put the segments in the record I can get it reissued. But then I also realized that Emirates check-in was about to close, that I was fighting an uphill battle, and that I was unlikely to win. So rather than chance it and ending up in line behind 100 people to get a hotel voucher, I might as well just get a voucher for the Grand Hyatt Incheon and call it a night, since my Emirates plans were unlikely to work due to time constraints.

She quickly issued me a voucher, and said check-in opens tomorrow at 10:30AM at counters G30-36. She did everything she could, and I certainly don’t envy her job of having to deal with all of us.

Delay letter from Etihad

The Grand Hyatt Incheon was stunning, and was completely different than the Hyatt Regency I stayed at before the property was rebranded.

Grand Hyatt Incheon room

The next day I showed up at the airport at 10:30AM, and everything went more smoothly. At this point they had a good number of Etihad employees on hand, including the station manager and assistant station manager, who both apologized profusely. They explained it was their first major delay of the year, and how embarrassed they were by the situation.

The good service continued aboard. As I said above, this was the first Etihad flight I’ve taken that actually blew me away, so stay tuned for that next.

Bottom line

The delay was of course a pain, though all things considered I think they did a reasonably good job handling it. I was a bit surprised they didn’t proactively offer any sort of compensation/gesture of goodwill, which I’ve certainly seen other airlines do in similar situations.

What I took away from the experience more than anything is how rude some people are, and how they completely lack tact when dealing with frontline employees. I don’t know what they hope to accomplish by cussing out or arguing with frontline employees — it’s just pathetic.

The delay made for an interesting evening, if nothing else…

  1. Ben, you’re a good man. I love your attitude and ability to roll with the punches when needed.

    Those ‘fuck you’ shouters – were they Americans? Asian? Gulfians?

  2. I don’t understand why people get so upset. I was delayed a few weeks ago and one guy got so upset the USAir gate agent threatened to have him arrested. Are you the chief of transplant medicine? Do you have a liver in your laptop bag? Calm down.

    You gotta roll with the punches.

  3. It’s interesting that EY couldn’t rebook you on another flight as a paid ticket. Last year, I was on an EY flight with an AA issued ticket. The flight went mechanical and we all had to be rebooked when the flight was cancelled. AA told me it was EY’s responsibility to rebook me and EY rebooked me on BA (which earned me AA miles). AA even went the extra step and refunded me the miles used to pay for the original EY ticket. I will say that the EY call center was pretty unhelpful until I spoke with a supervisor. Also, EY did not do the best job at communicating where to be and when, but in the end it all worked out.

  4. The root of the evil in irregular ops, IMO, started decades ago when airlines stopped using check-in staff highly trained in ticketing and fare construction, and replaced them with a bunch of lower-level staff and just gave them the bare minimum training to check people in and handle changes to tickets only in the simplest situations. And e-tickets for all their benefits, are actually a drawback in this situation, since they can’t be physically endorsed/re validated with a rubber stamp to send Lucky on his way on EK.

  5. “I explain that if they just put the segments in the record I can get it reissued.”

    How were you planning on getting it reissued? Phoning AA after flights were put in the record? They can re-issue a ticket with non partner segments?

    Looking forward to the flight review, though somewhat disappointed by the notion that it may have been you’re best EY flight because you were the sole F pax.

    Love me some EY!

  6. Hi Ben, I read this with great interest. I would love to know what we can expect in situations like this where an airline goes mechanical and has a long (over 8 hour delay)

    Is there a difference between an award ticket and paid ticket as far as endorsing the ticket over to another airline? What “language” do you use to help aid the agents into pressing the right keys and getting you a ticket?

    Is there a resource where we can see what airlines are capable of doing?

    I for one have not had the same success you have.
    Paid ticket – I once had a 16 hour delay when travelling from Phoenix to Vancouver on Alaska Airlines. I was travelling in coach and upgraded with miles. I had to push pretty hard, but eventually got them to put me on a flight on United through San Francisco. They would only put me in coach (which was fine as I had only originally purchased a coach ticket) but it was a tough fight to get them to put me onto another carrier. They were originally only going to offer me a hotel voucher for the 16 hour delay. It would have meant missing a day of work and I would have been out a fair bit of money. After, I think took about two hours to get the ticket on united – and she said she was doing me a huge favor even though it was Alaska who had the mechanical problem and all their other flight options were over booked.

    I was once on an award ticket and they refused to put me onto another carrier and would only put me on their own metal claiming it was an award ticket.

    Finally, what North American airlines have good availability close in? I find with most besides booking 11 months out, close in inventory is usually worse.

  7. It sounds like they handled your 14 hour delay poorly. The could have (and should have) put you on the Emirates flight. They could have (and should have) had more staff there to deal with the issue. The Station Manager could have (and should have) shown up at the airport to personally handle the delay, especially as this was — according to him — the first major delay they had in some time. And they could have (and should have) proactively offered compensation. But then, again this is the same airline that consistently runs out of food in First Class.

    Tell me again why someone should choose this airline instead of Emirates or Qatar when heading to the Middle East, especially if you then have to deal with the immigration cluster that is Abu Dhabi on the return?

  8. The “I” in “ID” stands for Interline. ID90 is Interline Discount 90% off of usually the Y fare. There are also IDs for business travel and personal travel. Travel agents get AD75, which stands for Agent Discount.

  9. Fun Post.
    Like yourself, I find it frustrating when certain passengers go nuts with delays. They seem to forget that 300 other people are on the flight and having the same problem and that they are the most important person in the world.

  10. Ben
    Sounds like you handled it very nicely. Nothing more frustrating for crew handling a delay than to have idiot pax yelling and swearing – as if that is going to produce a ready to fly aircraft. Great job and nice recap.
    @Brian -(should have/could have) really? Things happen and they got him comfortable for that night in a good property. Calm down

  11. in this situations normally AA agents can rebook you on other airlines, even award tickets. any reason why u didnt try EXP agents directly? they have done that for me a few times.

  12. When can we expect a review of the rebranded hyatt? Trying to decide between going into seoul for the park or staying close to the airport. Land around 5 in the evening and then out of incheon the next morning at 1030….Thoughts?

  13. “I asked the agent about the possibility of being rebooked on this routing, and she referred me to the one Etihad agent, who had “set up shop” one counter over. At this point there was a queue of about a dozen people at the Etihad counter, so it was an hour before I was being helped.”

    I would have just played along like you did, but really shouldn’t the agent have walked you to the front of the line, as a first class passenger, so you didn’t have to wait for an hour when you were actually first in line to start with?

    I totally agree people flipping out usually isn’t going to change anything, but unfortunately, it seems that sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease. E.g., no big deal, but I was once offered a bump, took it, so did some others – on the ride over to the new gate, one pax revealed she had also snagged a meal voucher none of the rest of us got – because she asked and we didn’t.

    Also, Greg’s story about seems to indicate if he just left it at asking Alaska what they could do, and accepted their answer at face value, he’d have never been rebooked.

    I think airlines ought to offer the best they can do up front, but clearly they don’t play that way, and hence are in part responsible for everyone pushing and insisting on this and that – and most of these folks are not going to be exprienced enough flyers to know what is and isn’t required, possible, or reasonable under the circumstances.

  14. I agree with your sentiment about people getting upset, but keep in mind that many of these folks have jobs and families to return to. You are in a different place in your life than they are, with fewer responsibilities.

  15. I agree with others that EY treated this situation poorly.

    They knew there was going to be 13+ hour delay. Someone should have automatically rebooked their First class passengers to Emirates First class given that was the only other airline departing at that time towards the Middle East.

    I remember that’s what British Airways did for you back in late 2012 when your SEA-LHR flight was delayed, thus you would have missed the LHR-DXB segment on BA.

    I still do not fully understand why EY could not do it since the ticket was from AA stock but whatever. I’ll admit though that I would have been very impressed with EY had they proactively paid a ticket for you on EK F.

  16. @ Eric — Best I could tell, one was probably Korean and the other probably from some part of Africa (though I couldn’t figure out where).

  17. @ AJK — Yes, was going go try and call American to reissue, or otherwise call Etihad’s reservations center and work it out with them. But didn’t have time.

  18. @ Greg — There shouldn’t be a difference whether you’re on an award or paid ticket. The bigger difference is who issued your ticket, as that potentially makes reissuing the ticket more complicated. Sometimes you just have to be persistent and explain that you’re entitled to the same things as long as you have a confirmed ticket.

    Most North American airlines have good award space close to departure, assuming there are open seats.

  19. @ Brian — Don’t think I can be accused of being an Etihad apologist, so certainly won’t sell you on them over the competition. 😀

  20. @ wpj — Because ultimately they couldn’t rebook me on a non-partner airline without award space since they didn’t cause the delay. And there were no other acceptable options I would have gone for other than Emirates.

  21. @ Dawk — With that short of a layover definitely stay at the new Grand Hyatt. Takes a while to get into the city, so much better staying at the airport hotel for the night, in my opinion.

  22. @ Joe — Right, but even if you’re attending a funeral, the reality is that yelling at people and being rude won’t get you anywhere. I think it’s a much better idea to try to get sympathy out of the agent by being emotional in a positive way, if going that route.

  23. Hi Lucky,

    Any compensation you would expect to get out of this delay (besides the hotel stay & the points for staying at the Grand Hyatt)?

  24. I was on your side Lucky when you asked the louge food stealer to stop shoveling snacks in to bags. I think asking adults to not have an argument with one another though is questionable at best. Were they harming you? Surely it wasn’t just their language if as you say many other passengers were angry, just not approaching becoming to blows…

  25. @ Mr. N — I do think some gesture of goodwill is appropriate, though I doubt I’ll complain. Just not sure there’s any value to me in having Etihad Guest miles or a voucher for travel on them.

  26. @ Sunrise089 — To clarify, they were maybe ten people apart in line, so they were literally yelling this across the check-in area. There were families and kids in the way, and it looked like it might get physical. Given the people inbetween, yes, I do think there was more potential “harm” than with the guy stealing food. And after I asked them to stop they did, since I wasn’t going to respond to what they called me.

  27. I had a great experience flying business class on Emirates from Ath-Dxb-Dfw. For some reason, they are getting picky about award flights on business/first access to the lounges. I asked at check in at dxb they said my ticket didn’t qualify. But I tried anyways and got in. Hmm weird. No complaints here ! I like how each lounge has direct access to the gates. Boarding was a cinch.

  28. @ Lucky — what is an appropriate compensation for a day-long delay like this? For many of us with limited vacation time and/or certain commitments that require arriving on a set date, missing an entire day can be quite costly.

  29. @ Ivan Y — It’s a good question, I really don’t know. The airlines would certainly make the point that no compensation is due since they don’t guarantee arrival times in the contract of carriage, so unless EU regulations apply, none is due. That being said, some “gesture of goodwill” is more likely, as they like to call it. Not sure what’s reasonable, though.

  30. Wow, the guy called you a pussy? What a class act! I give you credit for holding you temper. I’ve seen situations like that escalate dramaticly, and in a very short period of time.

  31. Did the airline cover all of your food/beverage and internet while you were at the hotel? I had a similar experience, with much worse communication recently flying Qatar, where flight was cancelled and we were rebooked almost 18 hours later. They gave us one meal and I had to pay for internet.

  32. @ desiblogger — I’m Diamond with Hyatt and had club lounge access, so while I didn’t have to pay for that, it wasn’t Etihad covering those costs.

  33. Wat een hufters met hun first en business class tickets. Ja dan is het makkelijk praten en klagen over boze economie reizigers! Achterlijke snobistische aidshonden krijg de tyfus of DROP DEATH.

  34. Hi Everybody,

    My first and last experience with Eithad. I had a flight from Athens to Banglore. The flights were Athens- Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi – Bangalore.

    Now starts the fun. I was given Aegean Airlines ticket for ATH-AUH. Eithad airways coperates with other airlines like Aegean in Greece, Jet Airways in India etc.

    I get my ticket from Aegean countr for ATH-AUH. I asked her where my connection flight ticket(Boarding Pass) AUH-BLR. She said you will get it from Abu Dhabi. i was like “WHAT”. why? She said, we cannot issue Eithad Airways ticket from Aegean Counter. I had 1 hours 15 minutes in Abu Dhabi for connection flight.

    Yes you guessed it like, i did not get the time to take out my Boarding Pass. The ATH-AUH flight had delayed 20 minutes, and i was running to find a ticket counter. I reached at Eithad Counter, there was huge line. I knew i would not make it to the AUH-BLR flight. I was trying hard, talking to passengers ahead of me to let me pass, shouting at the counter, that my flight is in 30 minutes. But the lousie Eithad Staff, i believe, this was not something new for them.

    I had a American family in front of me. They also missed their conneciton flight. They were given restaurant vouchers, and room in Hotel. When my turn came. I was said, sir, you have to wait till tomorrow morning, that’s it. I left politely the counter. Generally i am quite slient guy, i don’t lose my patience easily.

    I left the counter, i realized, i was not given not vouchers or place to stay for the night 16 hours to my next flight.

    I went back in queue, and requested for restaurant voucher and hotel room. The first thing they asked me, sir what is your Nationality?
    I said, Indian. Sir, furiously, they said, we can give you few vouchers, and a capsule bed in airport. I said, why cannot i have a room? They said, sir, we have not more rooms available.

    I left. I understood, this was clear case of Racism. Guess what, the person at the Counter was also Indian.

    Well never travelling again by Eithad.


  35. Racist in so many ways Madhu. I recently bought a business class ticket Sydney Geneva return. On the long 13 hour plus Sydney-Abu Dhabi leg my seat back would not recline… broken. An economy class seat at business prices. I politely expressed my displeasure and get 20,000 miles… that’s it… 20,000 miles. Not enough miles for an upgrade anywhere, not enough to get from Sydney to Melbourne… just enough to buy a $60 backpack and a useless $30 satchel. Questioned if they thought 20k was enough and the response remained… racists. I have received more from other airlines if my headphones don’t work properly. Etihad are clueless.

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