THE LOCATION This Etihad business class lounge is located near gate 35 in Abu Dhabi international airport.
A haven for long layovers, it’s obvious this lounge is winding down ahead of the new airport terminal opening in November.
THE VIBE Very, very low key, with light muzak in the background, but this is forgiven as we arrived in the lounge at an unholy 5am, on a stopover from Melbourne to Cairo. In keeping with the low-key mood, this is a no-notification zone, so it’s up to you to keep an eye out for your flight’s boarding time from the many boards around the lounge, spooling in English and Arabic. The décor is in muted chocolate, cream and aqua.
THE FACILITIES If you’re not a long-haul traveller (and let’s face it, almost every Australian who’s left the country qualifies for this title), you don’t understand the beauty of a mid-journey shower after 13 hours in a pressurised tin can, before you board for the next leg of your adventure. There are six showers in the lounge, with a dedicated concierge who creates the wait list and gives you a buzzer to notify you when it’s your turn. Towels and toiletries are supplied, and the wait at 7am is just 10 minutes. The downside – that buzzer is SUPER loud and cannot be switched off, expect baleful glares from your (once-were) snoozing neighbours if you don’t nip to the showers quick smart.
THE FOOD At 5am, the food is limited to a small buffet of cold cuts, cheese, juices and – for a nice local touch – cardamom-spiced Arabic coffee, dates and traditional pistachio cookies and baklava. However, over the next hour, the full buffet cranks up, with loads of regional foods including masala-spiced eggs, ful (fava beans – the Arabian take on baked beans), a super delicious lamb and potato keema and plenty of mezze and paratha on the side. It’s finished off with the fruit station, and self-serve fridges with soft drinks and the local Al Ain water. I do spot a Western businessman searching in vain for bacon and eggs; happy to report it’s far more exciting than that tired fare. Walk past the self-serve coffee machine and ask the bar staff to crank their gleaming white La Marzocco machine up for a creamy brew. At this hour, there’s only one intrepid traveller sitting at the bar stools, nursing a glass of champagne.
THE SERVICES There is a bag concierge at the entrance where you can drop your gear, and beside it, a dedicated children’s room with toys and nest seats that little ones can curl up in. In better times, Etihad’s famed nannies ran this room, which meant you could drop your children and run off to the shower/buffet/bar . It was an amazing service that gave me sanity on long-haul travel with a toddler, let’s hope that better times see the London-trained nannies return.
The business hub has a line of computers with charging stations, and The Den has a series of single alcoves with a comfy leather armchair facing a tv, for those who need a news update or somewhere quiet to take a call. Regional magazines and The National newspaper are on offer at the entrance.
THE DOWNSIDE I’m going to preface this part by saying that the brand new, $3bn Midfield terminal opens in the next couple of months, with Etihad Airways, amongst others, moving to the new terminal the minute it opens. So it’s painfully obvious they’ve let this lounge run down – this is Etihad’s home ground, and this should be its flagship lounge. But the decor is tired and it misses the gloss and glamour of its regional rivals.
The biggest bugbear is the inability to charge your devices. You’ve got to search to find a chair close to a powerpoint, and the first couple I try simply don’t work, or the usb slots are actually broken. The wireless printer in the business hub isn’t working, though the staff smoothly proffer the front desk email, and have my docs printed in no time.
THE VERDICT For a five-hour layover, having a lounge to hide away in is bliss. If you’re not eligible to enter the Etihad lounge, Terminal 1 has a pay-as-you-go Priority Pass lounge. Every staff member I speak to is charming and helpful (although occasionally clueless, like the waiter who doesn’t know the correct name of the Arabian cookies – they’re ghraybeh), and everyone is dying to move to the new terminal. Me included.
Disclaimer: I paid for my own flight, but was hosted by Etihad to visit the lounge. This review aims to give fair and balanced coverage of the facilities.