x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Al Ayala Down Under

Traditional singers and Dancers from the Gulf played a fitting send off for the inaugural Etihad Virgin Blue flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi.

Sydney Airport was filled with the sights and sounds of Al Ayala, the traditional Arabian stick dance, as V Australia prepared to make its first kangaroo hop into Abu Dhabi.

A group of Emirati singers had been asked by the Australian airline and its new partner Etihad Airways to give passengers an early taste of Arabic culture.

Flight VA29 pulled out of the gate at 4.15pm with 180 passengers, marking the first time an Australian carrier would fly to the UAE, and the first time an Australian carrier was about to fly to the Middle East since 1991. Minutes later the Boeing 777-300ER lifted off over Botany Bay, and then over the city itself with landmarks in view such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

John Borghetti, the chief executive of Virgin Blue, which operates the V Australia service, helped with the festival mood as he took a turn serving passengers.

He was aided by a larger than usual complement of cabin crew who helped enliven the inaugural 14-hour flight.

Two Etihad attendants who will be seconded to the service for the first month were also aboard.

Ian Thorpe, the Australian swimming champion, was a passenger with a documentary film crew following him as he prepares to launch his Olympic comeback bid in the UAE capital.

At 11.20pm local time, the flight touched down into Abu Dhabi, 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

The customary water cannon salute sent water cascading over the plane and obscuring the windows as the passengers applauded.