Does Etihad’s New First Class Lounge Access Policy Make Sense?

Filed Under: Etihad

Ben wrote last week about Etihad’s new first class lounge in Abu Dhabi finally opening.


I’ve been paying particular attention to this opening because we’re flying Etihad to the Maldives.

Matthew at Live and Let’s Fly recently posted a review of the lounge. I’m excited to check out the lounge and see how it compares to other great first class lounges.

But according to Matthew, the access policy excludes passengers connecting from 3-cabin flights to 2-cabin flights:

Note that access is only for customers traveling in first class from Abu Dhabi or holding Etihad Guest Platinum status (or the equivalent status with an Etihad Airways Partner). Let’s say you bought a first class ticket and your leg to Abu Dhabi was in first class but your connecting flight has business class only — you will NOT have access to the lounge.

This makes no sense to me. At all.

If we were paying cash, our one-way flight from LAX to MLE would run $17,697.


I obviously didn’t pay cash. But for someone who did, how can Etihad justify denying access when the ticket costs nearly 18 grand?

If this is a worry about overcrowding, I can appreciate that. In fact, I think it’s smart of Etihad to be proactive about not having the lounge jam packed. But, wouldn’t it make sense to start by limiting access to elites on partner airlines instead of passengers flying Etihad’s metal?

This isn’t the end of the world for us. We’d already planned on heading to a hotel for the night. But, I wanted to get to the airport early in the morning to check out the new lounge. Now we’ll have to wait until our return trip to see it.

What do you guys think? Should Etihad rethink it’s policy that blocks access to passengers connecting from 3-cabin flights to 2-cabin flights?

  1. It makes no sense. Especially when you consider a F ticket from MLE to LAX costs “only” ~$7200, and this would get you access to the lounge. What a crazy policy.

  2. Agree this makes no sense but I believe EY isn’t the only one. Thai had the same policy the last time I transited BKK. Cathay is very good about this and automatically generates a first class lounge pass when you arrive into HKG on first but connect onward in business on a two-cabin flight (eg most Dragonair flights).

  3. Moreover, my friend has platinum status with 9W which is its own company got a refused to enter new first class lounge. Though he had been in the first class section of the old lounge….

  4. Fully understand if your on a pure biz to biz connection to keep you out as it is a first class lounge. But I agree if you come off a first class long haul and then connect (and of course do not have an option of first) that it’s only fair to let you in. From past experiences though I havn’t found the lounge ground staff to be particularly “on the ball” so maybe this approach just simplifies things for them.

    For example flew once with my son in first on his birthday (he was turning 5) I called and asked about a bday cake for him, asked again when I connected the night before (at the arrivals lounge as I needed a beard trim and we were connecting but sleeping at the premier inn) as again at check in the next morning and again at the biz/first lounge (this was in March so it was combined then). All 4 of the ground staff confirmed no problem we will have a bday cake for him on the flight.

    Guess what when we finally boarded on the a380 there wasn’t any bday cake for him and even better they didn’t even load a kids meal for him. Luckily the chef was able to whip something up and the crew really went above and beyond to make things happen.

    Ok ok I know this is a first world problem. 🙂 but to me Etihad is almost like 2 airlines one on the ground (which is falling apart) and one in the air (which might be the best in the world) and for the price you pay for one of those apartments I would really hope they could align the experience.

  5. Now, if I paid for it I guess it would be a bit disappointing but outgoing travel in BC on miles that were not even earned on the airline should not merit FC access of course. You can’t have it all in life.

  6. @ ron — For what it’s worth, virtually every other airline lets passengers connecting from first to business use the first class lounge, regardless of whether or not they paid with miles or cash.

  7. @ Jeff — Out of curiosity, which airlines are you thinking of? Certainly not the case at Air France, American, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, Qatar, United, etc.

  8. @lucky: ANA has a policy to access lounge base on departure flight too. I was arriving from LA by First class and my connecting flight to Bangkok was Business class on ANA (2 cabin flight). I was deny to use First class lounge and have to go to use Business class lounge.

  9. This doesn’t make sense if the connecting flight out of AUH ONLY offers 2 cabins. There must be a lot of passengers who are flying in F to AUH on EY and then connecting to a near by destination (Middle East, South Asia) on an EY flight that only offers J.

    Let consider two scenarios. Pax A flies JFK->AUH->South Asia all in J and Pax B flies JFK->AUH in F and then AUH->South Asia in J (because there is no F on AUH->South Asia).

    Despite paying WAY more $$$, Pax B gets to use (basically) he same lounge at JFK as Pax A and then same business lounge in AUH. Allowing Pax B into the first class lounge at AUH is a relatively cheap way of encouraging Pax B to spent all that extra $$$ for F on JFK to AUH.

  10. It makes -no- sense, especially since certain routes may only have a 2 cabin configuration on certain flights, but the price is the same (say going from New York to Bangkok.)

    That said, I believe most airlines have the same policy (for example, Singapore.)

  11. I agree that doesn’t make sense at all. It appears they made a rule without considering all the possible scenarios. If I flew First Class with them internationally I’d expect access. Hopefully they’ll revamp that rule.

  12. It makes no sense. To the commenter who said Thai does it: you are wrong. Several times I have arrived in first class and connected to a flight with a two class plane and I had access to Royal Forst Lounge as well as the full length massage.
    On Lufthansa, you can access the first class lounge as long as you are arriving or departing in Lufthansa first, even if you are connecting from inbound LH F to outbound on a * partner (or LH sub-F).
    And fwiw, the same is true on United, not that their first class lounges are anywhere near on par with foreign airline first class lounges.

  13. Although I’ve had Kris’s experiences on LH and UA re F lounge access, that’s actually not Star Alliance policy. Policy is that you have to be departing in F from the local airport where you’re trying to use the lounge.

    To no surprise, SQ are particularly uptight about this.

    Recently I flew LH from LHR-MUC-SFO, with MUC-SFO in F. They declined to allow me to enter the F side of the SQ lounge at LHR on the basis that my flight was in C from LHR to MUC. When I pushed them on this, they called LH to confirm and came to me in the C lounge and explained that access wasn’t permitted. The dragon explicitly said it was because SQ would not be paid for access to the F lounge (obviously a higher reimbursement than the C lounge).


  14. I personally travelled both with Thai and ANA in F, without any problems to get F lounge access in BKK or HND/NRT when await transit flights in Biz class. Ex: HND/CDG/FCO-BKK arrived in F, BKK-SIN/PEK/TPE depart in C ; or ANA JFK/LHR arrived in F, NRT/HND depart in C.

  15. I have experienced this many times flying BA from the US and connecting in London to another destination in the EU. BA first class on the transatlantic flight and then the only available option on the connecting flight (that terrible “block out the middle seat” approach to business class). Every time it happens I have to remind myself not to express my frustration to the ground staff as they are just following policy (someday I will take the time to complain to BA to see if they will change things).

  16. Lucky, I’m pretty sure Qatar has the same policy. I had CDG-DOH-PVG, with the first segment in first and the second in business (2-cabin flight). I was not allowed into the first class lounge.

  17. When I was in SIN two years ago they had the same policy. I arrived in first but left in business. It was the other way around on ther way back so I did end up seing both lounges.

    Most business lounges have showers now so I don’t mind that much.

  18. I wish I had elite status, and yes jealous I guess, but as a crewmember im forced to take what is left and boarded last(don’t get me wrong, im thankful for the free flts and all..kudos to DL & AA for putting me in F sometimes when nonrevving, or commuting to/from work. The only status I have is with an aspire member, with lots of points, and I do expect certain amenities..however Ben O. if I need a beard trim I can do that myself, and I wouldn’t expect an airline to provide a cake for my childs birthday, I can do that myself. I mean no disrespect, but it seems to scream self entitlement. I don’t stay at IHG resorts and expect a Birthday cake, just because of my status there.

  19. This past April (2016) I flew SQ First Class on miles SFO-CKG with a lay over in Singapore. My SIN-CKG plane was changed to a 2 class plane and I was downgraded to Business Class. In Singapore they allowed me to use the First Class lounge with no questions asked even though my departing/connecting flight was Business Class.
    May be they allowed me to do it because it was their home base.

  20. As long as you have paid full first class ticket for the whole journey but airline can only offer business seat on one segment, it would be fair that the airline allows you access to their first class lounge. It doesn’t make sense ?

  21. @Jim – I flew Qatar BKK-DOH in F and then DOH-CDG in J and was allowed in Al Safwa. It was a non-issue, in fact.

  22. FWIW, I was refused entry to the Air New Zealand lounge in Sydney while in transit between business class flights from JFK (NH & TG) connecting to a single-class NZ flight to Auckland.

    It’s crazy. If I’m paying the business or first class redemption rate, it’s not my fault if the airline won’t operate business or first class on the route I’m flying. I didn’t choose to endure an inferior on-board experience. Don’t penalise me for your aircraft utilisation choices by denying me lounge access too.

  23. Doesn’t matter what we think. It’s up to them to decide. If you want to question the policy, why not email Ethiad and report how they respond??

  24. @Josh — yes, you did choose, but electing to fly that airline on that route.

    Lots of people may think this policy is unfair because, in similar circumstances, they want to have access to the lounge. But people explicitly elect to fly a route that is served by a 2-class cabin. If you do not like that situation, complain to Etihad, but it will probably cost you more in miles if they did put on a 3-class service.

    And for people throwing the cash value of tickets around: please, in relative terms, very few readers of the blog would pay that amount in cash for a flight. I know that a lot of people would say that it does not matter whether you pay cash or miles but we all know it does.

    Also, flip the coin: if you arrive from a short first-class but then depart on long-haul Biz flight, why should you have access to the lounge?

  25. @ Lady Carnavon von villy – Is this your actual comment or some horrible Google translation? Even if English isn’t your first language, do try to clean up your grammar and spelling if you want anything you say to be taken seriously.

  26. It makes perfect sense – the departure lounge is available prior to your departure. If your next flight is on business or economy then you shouldn’t be allowed to use the first class lounge as you aren’t departing in a first class seat. Stop being a whiny princess about it

  27. Personally I don’t think ANY First Lounge should allow free loading frequent flyers using points to use the lounge. I pay $20k I want the gay riff faff outside.

  28. I am guessing they are treating it as a DEPARTURE lounge. And therefore, access like in so many situations, it is based on your DEPARTING flight.

    Of course, it sucks that the departing flight does not even offer first class.

  29. Yes, it makes perfect sense. The departure lounge is based on the class of your departing flight. When you pay actual $ for your flight you are paying for a first class and business class flight and not for 2 first class flights. When you pay miles you are paying for 2 first class flights even though the second is in business. So one may feel deprived – but that’s a miles redemption issue, and how airlines charge you a first class redemption even though a segment may be in business and economy. Airlines like cathay are generous, some are not.

  30. I’ve flown twice from ORD to SIN on CX F, and both times was told I had to use the business lounge in HKG as my departing flight to SIN was only two class. I could access the first class arrivals lounge if I wanted, but I think the arrivals lounge is mixed anyway.

    Admittedly, this was at checkin at ORD, and I never tried to wave my first class boarding pass at the First Class lounge entrance. But I think CX policy is also departing flight class dictates your lounge access.

  31. and the airlines don’t run a 3 cabin flight on all sectors because there aren’t enough paying passengers – but apparently enough entitled freeloaders!

  32. @ George — In the case of Cathay you should have definitely gotten first class lounge access. The agent was misinformed.

  33. @ _ar — That’s not true though. In most cases airlines charge the same whether you fly first class or business class on a connection. For example, say you fly from Los Angeles to Singapore on a paid first class fare on Cathay Pacific, connecting in Hong Kong. The fare is the same whether you fly in first class or business class from Hong Kong to Singapore, given that only certain planes offer first class on the route.

  34. @Lucky: At first I would like to thank you your great website 🙂

    My personal opinion is that this policy is unfair. The passenger pays the First Class fare for the whole trip but gets downgraded only due to the fact that the airline is not deploying an a/c with First on the short-haul connecting flight.

    So the customer doesn’t get the experience he has paid for. Additionally he is deprived the Lounge experience he also has paid for. IMHO there are no valid excuses for that policy.

    It would only be fair to grant the lounge access on the fare basis paid, not the actual travel class.

    Would avoid a lot of disappointment.

  35. I flew EY F from SFO to AUH had a connecting in two-class only J to AMM and got denied. The supe in the J lounge filed a formal complaint and said management is trying to figure out a solution given that it’s been only 2 days and tons of complaints already. Considering it took em years to open the lounge it’ll probably take em years to change policy; if they even change it

  36. For those who are saying this is a departures lounge and that’s all that matters, aren’t you overlooking the fact partner elites also have access? They’ve already opened the lounge to passengers who aren’t departing in Etihad first.

    My point is, wouldn’t it make sense to start with more Etihad passengers (particularly those in a 3-cabin to 2-cabin situation) before opening the lounge to partner elites? I’d suggest the complaints @Shahr mentioned are proof Etihad’s priorities are backward.

  37. I find that lounge access is probably one of the most inconsistently implemented benefits out there. Using Singapore Airlines as an example, last year I traveled in SQ Suites overnight from BOM to SIN arriving in the morning. The following day (after an overnight in Singapore), I was travelling on a separate economy class SQ ticket to BKK. I showed them the boarding card from my “connecting flight” with a date from two days prior, and was promptly admitted to the F lounge in SIN. On my return, I was travelling on SQ in Y from BKK to SIN, connecting the same day to an F ticket SIN to SYD. In BKK, both the SQ lounge and the TG lounge refused to admit me stating that my next flight was an economy flight, even though I had an boarding pass for a ticket in F the same day. Later that day, I was then admitted to the Suites lounge in SIN, once I arrived there.

  38. needless to say, the lounge is AMAZING! I couldn’t bring my friend who was in business class on my same flight so I checked it out for about two hours before going to the J lounge. Incredible service, almost personal butler like, as I was there before a “rush”. Not crowded at all. great lounge. I can see they want to keep it exclusive but this doesn’t seem fair what you are writing about.

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