Back in March 2015, I wrote about how to book partner award flights on Etihad Airways. We originally booked First Apartments both to Abu Dhabi from London and from Abu Dhabi back to London over the Thanksgiving 2015 holiday, but unfortunately, the airplane for our flight from London was switched from an A380 (which has First Apartments) to an A340 (which has Etihad's standard First Class). The airplane switch was somewhat devastating, but at least we will still experience the Apartments on our way home. We planned a whirlwind luxury long weekend in Dubai around these flights and I'll be covering all the details in upcoming posts.
Guest Reviewer: Chris
An avid traveler and obsessive points and miles hound, Chris is my travel buddy extraordinaire. I love him for his enthusiasm, his sense of adventure, and his many lounge access credit cards. Hope you enjoy his perspective!
Review: British Airways Club World SFO - LHR
Review: LHR Etihad Airways First & Business Class Lounge
Review: Etihad Airways First Class LHR - AUH
Review: Park Hyatt Dubai
Review: Afternoon Tea at At.mosphere Burj Khalifa
Review: Burj al Arab Part I: One Bedroom Suite
Review: Burj al Arab Part II: Grounds and Amenities
Review: AUH Etihad Airways Premium Lounge
Review: Etihad Airways First Apartments AUH - LHR
After we finished our afternoon tea at the Burj Khalifa, we took an Uber back to the Burj al Arab to wait for our Etihad chauffeur to arrive. A few minutes before the pickup time we'd scheduled, we got a text from Etihad that our chauffeur had arrived to collect us. We headed outside to find a black Audi A6 waiting, so we hopped in and had an uneventful hour-long drive to the Abu Dhabi airport.
The chauffeur dropped us off at the premium check-in area in Terminal 3, which is a separate wing reserved for business and first class passengers. In the first class section, it consists of a long row of desks with seating across from the agents, so there's no need to stand while you check in. An Etihad employee led us to a pair of seats, and our agent began checking us in.
One disadvantage of all the personalized, accompanied service is that it's hard to get some time for yourself. Jen wanted to move some items from her carry-on bag to her check-in bag before dropping it off, and she hadn't had an opportunity to do so since there hadn't been a break in the action. She excused herself for a moment while I remained with the agent. Unfortunately he seemed visibly annoyed at having to wait, despite there being plenty of agents and no other customers in the check-in area. In her words, "that guy was a dick."
We headed to the security checkpoint a few steps away, where we were once again the only passengers. There was no need to remove laptops, liquids, jackets, or shoes, so it was basically TSA Pre-Check, Middle East Edition. I'm pretty sure the metal detector beeped at me, but I was just waved through.
Once we were in the departures concourse, we followed the directions to the Etihad Premium Lounge, which is a lounge for both business and first class passengers. Etihad is constructing a first class lounge which is scheduled to open in May 2016, but this date has been pushed back a few times (originally it was supposed to open long before our trip, and we'd been hoping to be able to visit it), so who knows if it will actually open then.
We were greeted at the entrance desk by an agent, who offered to give us a tour of the lounge once she saw that we were flying in first class. She explained the services and facilities available, and apologized that there was no first class lounge and that the lounge may get crowded. As a consolation, she explained that they had cordoned off a section for first class passengers, and dropped us off there.
The first class area didn't look any different from the rest of the lounge, but it was behind a rope, so I guess that made it special. One disadvantage is that there weren't many power outlets in this section - we were lucky to snag one of the few sets of seats that had a nearby plug. A waiter came by to ask whether we wanted anything to drink, and I ordered a sparkling water.
The lounge is pretty large, but it also gets extremely crowded. When we first arrived, there were a fair number of open seats, but as we got closer to departure it filled up like crazy. Some people ended up sitting on the floor; even the first class section was completely full. The crowdedness and noise, combined with relatively low ceilings and harsh fluorescent lights, made the lounge feel anything but relaxing. It was mostly just stressful. Additionally, we quickly realized that the wifi was essentially useless. It was incredibly slow and I eventually gave up trying to use it.
The one upside is that there are a lot of services available. There's both a hair salon and a spa, so you can get a hair cut, a shave, a manicure, or a massage. First class passengers get a complimentary treatment, while business class passengers have to pay. Both Jen and I had gotten massages earlier that day, and neither of us were in need of a hair cut or a manicure, so we passed on the treatments, but it's a nice option to have.
Jen decided to take a shower, so she headed to the Six Senses Spa, where the shower facilities looked to be pretty nice and were near identical to those at the LHR Etihad lounge. In the mean time, I stayed in the first class section and guarded our seats.
We weren't particularly hungry, but there's an extensive buffet available with sushi, soup, sandwiches, hot dishes, cheeses, desserts, and more. These options are spread out on counters throughout the lounge, which means you're never far from food. It's also possible to order à la carte options, although I'm not sure if that's just available within the first class section or if it applies to the entire lounge. For those who just want a drink, there are two full-service bars.
About an hour before the flight was scheduled to depart, we decided we couldn't stand being in the lounge any longer and headed to the gate.
The Etihad Premium Lounge is a tricky lounge to rate. On paper, it's amazing: it's got everything you'd ever need and more. In practice, it gets so full that none of it matters. The one thing a lounge absolutely, critically needs to do is provide a relaxing environment, and this one failed that test hard. I would visit it again if I was hungry or needed a haircut, but if I just wanted some peace and quiet, I'd find an empty area of the terminal to sit in.
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.