A Jetway Fit For a Prince, or a Pope

Feb 4, 2019

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If you’ve flown commercially within the past 50 years, you’ve probably encountered a jetway. Many travelers refer to this aviation staple by one of its other popular names, too — it’s also known as a jetbridge, air bridge, or gangway. Regardless of what you call it, the jetway is probably one of the most defining characteristics of the modern airport terminal. A typical jetway is small, cramped, very industrial-looking and likely hot in summer and cold in winter. However, we just discovered that this isn’t the case with every jetway on the planet. Take the jetbridge attached to the Presidential Flight terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). At first glance, you probably won’t even realize you’re looking at a jetbridge. This is what it looked like on Sunday, when Pope Francis was welcomed there by the crown price of Abu Dhabi.

Screenshot retrieved from a video by Al Arabiya English sent via Twitter @AlArabiya_Eng
Screenshot retrieved from a video by Al Arabiya English sent via Twitter @AlArabiya_Eng

Francis made history on Monday when he arrived at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH), as the first Pope to visit the United Arab Emirates. While the religious and political significance cannot be understated, the aviation angle involved in any papal visit is also quite unique and significant.

Pope Francis waves as he boards a plane at Fiumicino airport on February 3, 2019, on his way to a three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates. (Image by TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves as he boards his plane at Fiumicino airport on February 3, 2019, on his way to a three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates. (Image by TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis arrived at Abu Dhabi International Airport at around 10 PM local time Sunday night. He flew aboard Italian flag-carrier Alitalia, on special flight AZ4000, operated by a 15-year-old Boeing 777-200ER. Upon arrival at AUH, the Boeing 777, operating under the call sign Shepherd One, taxied not to the passenger terminal or a remote stand but to Abu Dhabi’s Presidential Flight terminal.

Video from Pope Francis’ arrival in Abu Dhabi appears to show the Pope and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan walking through the hallways of a royal palace or some elaborate private terminal. At first glance, it might even appear that the Pope and the Crown Prince were strolling through the ornate Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi. This, however, is not the case. The two are actually just steps from the door of the Pope’s Boeing 777. The video was taken inside a jetbridge.

Before you jump to the conclusion that the jetbridge in the video isn’t a jetbridge at all but rather a fixed structure attached to the terminal, a quick amateur analysis of the video shows that the structure is in fact, a jetbridge.

On either side of the lavish red carpet are gaps just a few inches in width separating the carpeted walkway from the walls. These silver gaps allow the jetway to extended and retract depending on the size of the aircraft. These small gaps can be seen on either side of any jetway on the planet.

The coolest most ornate jetbridge ever at AUH Airport (Image via Al Arabiya English on Twitter)
The coolest most ornate jetbridge ever at AUH Airport (Image via Al Arabiya English on Twitter)

Second, halfway through the video, the Crown Prince and multiple other figures motion towards the ground as if to warn the Pope of an obstacle on their path from the aircraft. This obstacle is a small inclined ramp that also allows the jetway to be extended and detract depending on the size of the aircraft.

Yes, this is an actual jetbridge. (Image via Al Arabiya English on Twitter)
Yes, this is an actual jetbridge. (Image via Al Arabiya English on Twitter)

So, how can one experience this elaborate jetbridge for themselves? Which airlines use this elegant gate? Unfortunately, you probably won’t be walking through this anytime soon — unless you get yourself elected leader of your country.

The jetbridge in which the Pope was received by the Crown Prince is attached to the reception hall at the Presidential Flight terminal just north of the current passenger terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport. The Presidential Flight terminal was inaugurated in 2010 and is accessible to a very few top UAE officials and guests of the state. There is no way to purchase access to the facility. The terminal features just one gate. That gate is the location of what might be the most insane and over-the-top jetbridge on the planet.

Featuring wood accents, elegant lighting fixtures, red carpeting, and an ultra-wide passageway, this jetbridge is nicer and larger than some airport lounges. While the interior of the jetbridge is in and of itself quite stunning, it’s the size that is truly jaw-dropping.

The exact dimensions of the Presidential Flight jetbridge aren’t available to the public. However, a quick comparison of a standard jetway at the Abu Dhabi passenger terminal and the jetway at the Presidential Flight terminal is quite telling.

While the Presidential Flight jetbridge is one for the books, it is not the only odd and unique jetway. Another is this jetbridge at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 that appears to go on forever. The comically long jetbridge is typically used by widebody British Airways aircraft. Another favorite is a jetbridge at Amsterdam Schipol International Airport (AMS) that extends over the wing of the aircraft to allow passengers to disembark via both the forward and rear doors. In the US, Albany, NY (ALB) also boasts one of the few over-the-wing jetways still in service. Still, for the majority of travelers, a cramped grey tunnel will have to do for now.

An earlier version of this story misidentified a jetbridge at London’s Heathrow airport as being part of Terminal 4; it is in fact at Terminal 5. We have corrected the mistake.    

(Featured image by Andrew Medichini/AFP/Getty Images)

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