Review: Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi Airport

Filed Under: Etihad, Travel

The flight from Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles was scheduled for 8:45AM, so I ordered Etihad’s chauffeur service to pick me up at 4:30AM.

Yes, that’s super early, but:

  • I planned on it taking 45 minutes to get to the airport, which would get me there by 5:15AM
  • I wanted to leave about two hours in the lounge, so that I could have breakfast and a spa treatment
  • You’re supposed to leave the lounge and head towards the US pre-clearance facility two hours before departure, though I wanted to be a bit earlier since I assumed there would be some pre-flight festivities for an inaugural flight

Since I was on a screwed up schedule to begin with, the early departure worked out quite well for me. I had napped the previous afternoon, so just pulled an all nighter, and was planning on sleeping aboard the flight.

When I arrived outside the hotel at 4:20AM the driver was already waiting for me in an Audi. One thing I find interesting about Etihad’s chauffeur is that they don’t do anything to differentiate between the first and business class chauffeur service. That’s no big deal, ultimately, though Emirates does provide first class passengers with different cars.

Etihad Chauffeur Abu Dhabi

The driver was friendly, though drove below the speed limit the entire way to the airport. So it did in fact take about 40 minutes to get there, and we arrived right at 5AM.

Etihad Chauffeur Abu Dhabi

The Etihad first & business class check-in is located at the far end of Terminal 3, so he dropped me off there. Usually there are bellmen waiting to assist with your bags, though I was surprised to find no one waiting outside.

Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi first & business class check-in

Abu Dhabi Airport terminal exterior

Abu Dhabi Airport terminal exterior

As a matter of fact, I was surprised to walk inside and find no agents at the counters either. I kind of assumed Abu Dhabi Airport was 24/7, given the around the clock departures. But an agent approached me and explained that check-in apparently only opens at 5:30AM. Hmmm….

Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi first & business class check-in

Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi first & business class check-in

So I took a seat on the couch by the entrance and connected to the free Wi-Fi for a few minutes.

Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi first & business class check-in

After about 15 minutes an agent approached me and said she could check me in. We walked past the business class counters (which don’t have seating), to the first class section, where I was invited to take a seat while she processed my check-in.

Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi business class check-in

Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi first class check-in

She commented that I was on the inaugural flight to Los Angeles, and handed me a gift, which I thought was cute.

I was quickly checked in, though in the meantime another passenger showed up and was also helped. He was also on the Los Angeles flight, and within a few minutes asked about the possibility of upgrading. And when I say “asked about an upgrade,” I mean that he informed the agent to give him an upgrade. “I want to upgrade and have more than enough miles, so do it.” She tried to be polite, though the guy sure was demanding…

Etihad Airways LAX inaugural flight gift

I quickly proceeded through the UAE immigration checkpoint, which took only a few seconds. I then cleared security, which is an absolute joke. I put my stuff on the belt, but the “screener” was having a conversation and looking the other direction the entire time that my bags went through the x-ray.

Immediately past the checkpoint is some duty free shopping. While the shops are high end, the airport itself is relatively modest for the UAE.

Abu Dhabi Airport airside terminal

Immediately to the right of the security checkpoint is the entrance to the Etihad Lounge.

Etihad Airways First & Business Class Lounge entrance Abu Dhabi

There’s an elevator which leads up to the second floor, where the lounge reception is located.

Etihad Airways First & Business Class Lounge elevator Abu Dhabi

The first and business class lounges share a single reception desk, and if you’re in first class you’ll be escorted to the door which leads to the first class lounge.

The Etihad first class lounge is small but nicely appointed. There’s a hallway at the entrance, and if you walk all the way through you’ll get to the main seating area.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi

There are several couches and comfortable lounge chairs (sort of) overlooking the tarmac.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi seating area

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi seating area

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi view

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi view

Immediately next to that is an entertainment center.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi entertainment center

Then there’s a TV room.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi TV room

And a small business center with two iMacs.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi business center

I settled into one of the seats by the windows, and was quickly approached by a server and offered a hot towel and beverage. They’re fairly attentive about serving drinks and offering the food menu anywhere in the lounge. I tried to connect to the Wi-Fi, though it’s exceptionally slow in this lounge, unfortunately.

I briefly stopped at the Six Senses Spa to try to schedule an appointment. The first available appointment was at 6:30AM, so I took that. Treatments are 15 minutes, and you have the choice between a few different types of treatments — I selected a neck and shoulder massage.

I had to fill out a form, and was told to return shortly before 6:30AM.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi Six Senses Spa

At that point I figured I’d have breakfast, so headed to the restaurant area. It’s a really nice setup, with quite a bit of privacy thanks to partitions and curtains.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi restaurant

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi restaurant

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi restaurant

All the food in the lounge is a la carte, and they have a fairly extensive menu.

The breakfast menu read as follows:


And for reference, the lunch/dinner menu read as follows:





I started my meal with a mimosa and cappuccino, which was accompanied by a hot towel.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi breakfast

Then to start I had a fruit plate, which was tasty and unique — not your usual pineapple, watermelon, and cantaloupe.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi breakfast — fruit starter

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi breakfast — fruit starter

Then I had a side of wheat toast.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi breakfast — wheat toast

And a veggie egg white scramble, which was served on toast.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi breakfast — scrambled eggs

All-in-all, a very tasty and filling breakfast!

I sat at the table a bit longer getting some work done, and at 6:25AM headed over to the spa. There I was introduced to my massage therapist, who was Sri Lankan. I generally have low expectations for a 15 minute chair massage, but this guy was simply amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so refreshed after a 15 minute chair massage.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi Six Senses Spa massage room

While I didn’t shower at the airport, the Six Senses Spa does have a couple of shower rooms, which are reasonably nice (though not quite like the Cabanas at the Cathay Pacific Wing in Hong Kong).

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi Six Senses Spa shower room

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi Six Senses Spa shower room

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi Six Senses Spa shower room

I decided to leave the lounge at around 6:45AM. I realize that’s probably earlier than I had to leave, but I was assuming there would be some sort of gate party due to the inaugural, and had checked out all the features of the lounge. And for everything from hereon out I leave you with my post about the Abu Dhabi Airport United States Immigration Pre-Clearance Facility.

Clue: it’s an absolute clusterf&^#!

Bottom Line on Etihad First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi

As far as I’m concerned these are four of the best airport lounges in the world:

The Etihad First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi is nice. For such a small lounge they really do maximize it well, between the Six Senses Spa and dining area. However, other than that I really don’t think it’s that special.

I’d say this lounge is in the same general league as:

Again, I’m not suggesting all those lounges are equal in quality, but I do believe they’re all not quite as good as the top four lounges, yet much better than your “average” business/first class lounge.

If you’ve visited the Etihad first class lounge in Abu Dhabi, what did you think?

  1. Where does the VS LHR Clubhouse fit in your ranking? I would say that’s definitely better than the JFK one.

  2. @ Bgriff — I’d say in the same general category — agree it’s on par, if not better, than the JFK one.

  3. “And when I say “asked about an upgrade,” I mean that he informed the agent to give him an upgrade. “I want to upgrade and have more than enough miles, so do it.””

    Doesn’t he know tweeting for an upgrade is much more effective?

    “the airport itself is relatively modest for the UAE”

    I think a better statement would be “modest compared to DXB”, since most airports in the UAE aren’t over-the-top like DXB is.

    Looks like the menu for the lounge restaurant has a similar structure to the one used in first class in the air.

    it’s interesting that Etihad seems to want to one-up Emirates with their product in the air, but don’t seem to want to compete with them with their on-ground services. Maybe they do have plans and just haven’t announced it? Too bad. While the Emirates A380 lounge does look nice, from a decor standpoint, I definitely prefer the style of the Etihad lounge.

  4. QF’s Flounges don’t make your ranking? I think they’re more than the equal of the Concorde Room.

    P.S. The breakfast looks nice, but breakfast without bacon is a very sad thing.

  5. Out of curiosity….how would you like the chauffeur service to differ between first and business class? A giant sign that says “hey I’m in first class” isn’t the idea behind car service not to attract attention?

  6. @ Seth — I was simply stating an observation and not saying it was a problem. But to answer your question, Emirates actually does “slap” first class on the side of the cars in Dubai:

    But I do think there can actually be reasonable differences. For example, in London, Emirates gives first class passengers an S-class Mercedes, and business class passengers an E-class Mercedes.

    That makes sense, no?

  7. @ Jeff R — Sorry. list wasn’t meant to be comprehensive. Qantas first class lounges are definitely on list of “superior” lounges.

  8. “…isn’t the idea behind car service not to attract attention?” You’re joking, right?

    A car service has nothing whatsoever to do with attention, or lack of attention, at all.

    One way to distinguish between service levels in the transfer experience could be offering biz. class flyers a Mercedes E class, and F pax a Mercedes S class. Or and Audi 4/6 for biz. and then an Audi 8 for first. None of this is difficult to understand, and has nothing to do with attention. It has to do with product differentiation between biz. and first. Nothing more, nothing less, and, um, no attention.

  9. @Ben,

    Because I can’t edit my post, I didn’t realize that what I was suggesting had already been done. I only saw your post about it after I submitted mine, above, and the screen refreshed.

    So Emirates and I both have great minds when it comes to transfer services in London. 🙂

  10. last year one of my team had an issue coming in to UAE. We had to get a special visas to cover a certain situation, which took a few hours of negotiations. The immigration folks were very courteous and generously provided us with a couple of limousines, one for me and my colleague the other for our equipment. “Which palace” said the driver. I said “oh no, we are in this hotel down town”. “I’ve never heard of that” said he. Perhaps next time I’ll take him up on the Palace option and see where it leads.

  11. Anyone realize that in the third picture in the “first and business class” metal check in signage, the sun is reflected in the three letters “ASS”?

  12. I never understand why people rate the TG F lounge that highly. Is it just because you get a one hour massage? Food wise and decor wise I think it is lackluster and even the service is not that amazing. Sure, the massage is great and the buggy transfer as well, but I consider the latter not to be part of the lounge.

    QF First lounge beats TG First lounge by miles IMHO, with its superior wines and food selection(and you do get a 20minute spa treatment as well).

  13. @ KG — For me the Thai first class lounge gets high marks because of the massages, the incredibly attentive service, the semi-private “living room” you get, and the escort service to/from the plane.

  14. Hi lucky

    We passed through the lounge in Feb on our way back to the US from the Maldives and would agree with your review. But did you notice that they use the same champaign in the lounge that used on board? Makes for one of the best mimosas I have had, or four. 🙂

  15. “I briefly stopped at the Six Senses Spa to try and schedule an appointment.”
    Just wanted to comment that the proper usage is to say “try to schedule”, not “try and”.

  16. I visited the Etihad F lounge in April. The tiny F lounge gets REALLY busy during the morning peak hours with all 3 US flights departing at roughly the same time. You seemed to have left WAY early to the gate. The seating in the lounge is decent, but not really comfortable. But I’m happy the decor isn’t over-the-top gold and glitter.

    I also found the spa foot massage to be amazing for a 15-minute treatment. My feet have never been so happy. I showered in one of the suites, the one I had was twice the size with a massive rainfall shower. I agree CX Cabana is still the ultimate.

    I recommend highly the newly-opened Premier Inn airport hotel right at the terminal building for those with long layovers (like coming back from the Maldives requires). Very reasonable rates and a simple 3 minute walk from their lobby right across the street to the First Class entrance. Very, very convenient.

  17. @ Lucky – any idea what happened to the passenger that demanded an upgrade?

    P.S. Does Abu Dhabi have automatic cameras that catch speeding drivers?

  18. @ Ivan Y — Yep, they do have cameras, which would explain why he went the speed limit, though not sure why he went so far under. Maybe he got a few tickets in the past?

    The guy was in business class in the end, if I recall correctly.

  19. Any idea how difficult it’d be to schedule 2 spa appointments for an 8pm-11pm layover this weekend?

    Looking forward to your AUH-LAX part … flying the reverse tomorrow!

  20. @ Amol — They do tend to book out, though late night shouldn’t be an especially tough time to schedule your appointment.

    Enjoy the trip!

  21. This was a great lounge but it’s now closed!!!!Etihad have closed their existing business and First lounges in Terminal 3 and opened a new combined lounge (no separate First) near Gate 35 in Terminal 3.
    First impressions were that this is a high-quality lounge, very spacious and a lot more capacity than the existing lounge. Typical design of new Etihad lounges around the World which are very nice. Food and beverages on a par with their existing buffet-style business lounges which are very good. Good business area and nice childrens area.
    Where this lounge really fails is the SiX Senses Spa which is shambolic. I have just queued for 65 minutes for a shower. They had no waitlist so you had to just grab a seat and wait (could not nip out to get food). They had a booking system for spa treatments but the earliest slot was over two hours later so most people could not avail of this. I use their First lounge normally as Gold Elite so the experience going through Abu Dhabi today is significantly worse than before. Lot of unhappy people here. It’s a pity as it otherwise looks like a nice lounge.
    I believe that when they renovate the old lounge area near teh shops that that will be a dedicated First lounge which will hopefully take the pressure off in this lounge. Poor experience overall

  22. I’ll be flying first AUH to IAD in a few weeks…how early before a flight can you get to the lounge? My flight is 11:30am…could I arrive the night before and have dinner, sleep, eat breakfast, shower there before the flight?

  23. @ Brennan — There’s not really anywhere to sleep, so I wouldn’t arrive the day before. But you can arrive any time the same calendar day, technically.

  24. Aspects of the new Etihad First Class lounge are excellent. But there are stupid design oversights like the fact that all outlets for electric plugs only fit English plugs. Why in God’s name would you design an airline lounge without multi-plug outlets? I have notified them about this on three separate visits since the lounge opened six weeks ago and each time the staff member offers to ‘make a note’. The first time I was here, which was five days after they opened, the staff member I spoke to assured me that they would get some universal adapters. On my second visit I was told that they had bought some but they had ‘all gone’ – presumably been taken. Today the staff member suggested that I go buy one in duty free…
    Second problem is their internet server for some reason blocks access to a number of people’s email it is possible to get online but not to send or receive emails.
    For a First Class lounge, they need to sort these problems out FAST. Emirates and Qatar are breathing down EY’s neck.

  25. We are traveling from Seychelles to LAX transiting through Abu Dhabi. Seychelles to Abu Dhabi on AA economy award. Abu Dhabi to LAX on AA first class award. Both on Etihad. Flight from Seychelles arrives at 1915. Flight to LAX departs at 850 next day.

    Just learning about the US pre clearance thanks to your post. We have global entry but still sounds like we need to leave significant time between lounge and gate.

    What’s your advice on transit? It seems we would not be able to use the lounge until after midnight. We could either stay overnight at airport hotel or stay somewhere offsite and arrive very early in the morning. I’m concerned if checkin won’t be open early am…Can we check in for LAX flight in Seychelles even though they are different award tickets? If we checkin in Seychelles can we leave the airport and return without having to check in again?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!!

  26. @ Jennifer Mitchell — The middle of the night is the busiest time in the UAE. The counters will definitely be open, but with that long of a layover I would personally want a hotel.

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