A Quick Jaunt to Southern India: Etihad First Class Lounge, and Etihad First Class Abu Dhabi – Washington Dulles

Previous Installments:

Transit security entering terminal 3, just like the regular security queue after passport control for Abu Dhabi-originating passengers, drops you off right in front of Etihad’s business and first class lounges (which share a common entrance).

The lounges are upstairs, so you can either take an elevator up or a stairway where you’re greeted by Etihad agents ready to check your credentials, guide you to the appropriate lounge, and encourage you to make a spa booking.

I visited this Etihad First Class lounge earlier in the year with more time to sample its offerings. This time I would have just enough time to shower, I figured, after my middle of the night flight in from Chennai.

Etihad First Class Abu Dhabi Airport LoungeEtihad First Class Abu Dhabi Airport LoungeEtihad First Class Abu Dhabi Airport Lounge

A shame, really, because this Etihad First Class lounge is one of my favorite lounges in the world for food. The facilities aren’t at the level of some of the best lounges. I’ve found internet to be spotty at best. But there are servers roaming constantly to help you, and an extensive kitchen offering. Next to the Singapore Airlines Private Room in Singapore (which I think is #1 for food) and the Lufthansa First Class terminal and lounges in Frankfurt and Munich, I’d say the variety and quality of the made-or-order offerings are are among the best (although there’s a big dropoff after The Private Room’s food in my view, it’s too bad the lounge itself isn’t more inviting).

I walked over to the spa area where the showers are and was told I would have to wait a few minutes for a shower room. Once it was cleaned I was invited in and freshened up.

Etihad First Class Abu Dhabi Airport LoungeEtihad First Class Abu Dhabi Airport Lounge

It was about 45 minutes until departure of my Washington Dulles flight. I was feeling pretty hungry since I hadn’t eaten much of my meal in the middle of the night that I was served onboard from Chennai, and it was now after 9 o’clock in the morning.

Figuring I wouldn’t eat until about 11:30am local time on the plane I wanted something so I asked what the fastest thing they could offer would be and they told me I could have some eggs in just 5 minutes.

I decided to wait, which was likely a bad idea as the gates for US departing flights are very much on the other end of the terminal and US-bound flights require clearing security again.

Etihad First Class Abu Dhabi Airport LoungeEtihad First Class Abu Dhabi Airport Lounge

I quickly had a few bites of breakfast, and then left the lounge about 35 minutes prior to departure. Security for the bank of gates used for US departures is a good 10 minute walk at a brisk pace. I got there and entered the queue for premium passengers to pass through security.

Unfortunately that line was moving slowly. Very slowly. Two x-ray machine lines were converging on a single metal detector. And my line wasn’t making much progress. It seems we had the single most careful and thorough screeners in the airport looking at carryon bags.

I burned about 15 minutes in line, and then when it was time to go through the metal detector there was only 10 minutes left until scheduled departure. I went through, didn’t alarm, and walked over to collect my belongings. The screener though decided he didn’t like the way something looked in my bag. And the only way to clear the concern was to unpack it, pocket by pocket and item by item. And repack it. Slowly.

I now had 5 minutes until scheduled departure. My flight had shown on-time throughout. This being Abu Dhabi I just had to hope we were running a few minutes behind (schedules always seem padded so that we can be with Middle Eastern carriers) and that enough others might be held up in security that the aircraft will be waiting for several passengers.

Walking briskly to my gate, fortunately it was the first one in the set of US-bound flights. I ran on as an agent yelled out, “Washington?” There were a couple of other passengers trailing right behind us.

I boarded and immediately entered a sense of normalcy. The first class cabin was half full, and the crew seemed unrushed. I was shown to my seat, and went through the entire Etihad First Class standard welcome drill of being offered a beverage, pajamas and an amenity kit, having the menu out to look over, and being brought Arabic coffee and dates to enjoy.

Etihad First Class Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Abu Dhabi - Washington Dulles

We were actually on the ground for 30 minutes after I boarded, prior to pushing back from the gate (without any explanation, but I certainly wasn’t complaining!).

Etihad First Class Abu Dhabi - Washington Dulles

Just prior to departure the chef came around to discuss meal options. I’ve found that Etihad’s onboard chef concept holds great potential, but the execution really does depend on your luck with the individual chef you draw for the flight. In this case I lucked out more than on any of my previous long haul first class flights with the airline.

We had an Indian chef who had cooked in Europe and was interested in being creative within the bounds of the ingredients onboard and the equipment in the galley. He suggested that if we didn’t have allergies or foods we didn’t like, he could take the existing tasting menu and modify it a bit to be somewhat more creative.

Etihad First Class Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Dinner Service Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Dinner Service Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Dinner Service Abu Dhabi - Washington Dulles

He also recommended the steak, which I was quite keen on having just spent several days in India, and he prepared a champagne sauce to accompany it.

Etihad First Class Dinner Service Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Dinner Service Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Dinner Service Abu Dhabi - Washington Dulles

I enjoyed the meal, and then changed into pajamas while a flight attendant made my bed. Having been up the whole night and the entire day before I was ready to get some rest, and I went to sleep immediately.

Etihad First Class Bed Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Bed Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Bed Abu Dhabi - Washington Dulles

I woke up after about 6 hours and normally would have tried to sleep some more, but the three other men in the cabin we all talking amongst themselves in the next suite over. Loudly. Almost as though they were at a football match. Even worse than unruly kids.

Only partially awake it took me awhile to get my bearings and decide what to do, I simply wasn’t coherent enough to knock and say something at first. Having mustered myself, and just about to, the party broke up. First one of the three men left the suite, and things quieted down a little. Then the other left, and they decided to get some shut eye.

I was awake, so I watched some television and after a couple of hours had a snack. The chef recommended a butter chicken pot pie, which was really excellent.

Etihad First Class Breakfast Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Breakfast Abu Dhabi - Washington DullesEtihad First Class Breakfast Abu Dhabi - Washington Dulles

I also caught up with e-mail because the flight was equipped with wifi. Sadly it’s no longer being offered free to first class passengers, but it’s an investment work making for me so that I can return to much greater peace and quiet when I land rather than being inundated … by work and by my readers whom I love very much and appreciate the correspondence but that even I must admit can be a little bit stressful after being offline for 15 hours, 24 hours, or even a little bit longer.

I want to reply to everyone, reply right away, and one of the great ironies is the stress that happens upon returning from being gone. Having internet lets me ease back into things and catch up before the rest of the world hits me.

Soon enough though the flight time had passed. I changed back out of my pajamas (I mentioned in my last post, one quirk about the seat that annoys me still is how narrow the closets are, they really don’t feet my shirt and pants even so those do wrinkle). And we began descending into Washington Dulles.

Many airlines suffer from a real failure of the last mile with their first class products. Whereas Thai Airways meets you on the jetway in Bangkok and also in Hong Kong, at outstations you’re on your own. Very few airlines actually offer a first class arrival experience, even where the ground departure experience is first class. Etihad actually does a better job on arrival at Washington Dulles than they do in Abu Dhabi.

The Washington Dulles arrival experience can be quite bad coming off of international flights. Arriving at a midfield concourse you walk to the ‘mobile lounges’ where you then wait for yours to fill up before being bused over to immigration. When you get on a mobile lounge, sit down immediately, don’t proceed into the car to the far end to make room for other passengers, or else you will be behind them all at immigration — these lounges will board and disembark from the same doorway. All of a sudden first class passengers find themselves with less space on the ground than they had in the air, waiting, and preparing for an immigration run (“Make a run for the border.”)

Etihad is the only carrier I know of that escorts first class passengers down the stairs next to the mobile lounges and into a waiting van, transporting them immediately to immigration ahead of the rest of the flight.

Etihad First Class Arrival Service Washington DullesEtihad First Class Arrival Service Washington DullesEtihad First Class Arrival Service Washington DullesEtihad First Class Arrival Service Washington Dulles

And they also manage to do a good job with luggage, which I find impressive at this airport — I was driven across the tarmac in the van instead of waiting for the mobile lounge to fill up, and I have Global Entry so cleared immigration quickly, and my bags were already at baggage claim when I made it through!

The queue for customs was long, but Global Entry allows for a separate line to skip to the head of customs. I was off the plane and out of the terminal in minutes. Etihad had a representative past customs to assist with re-checking bags for connections, and also facilitating complimentary car transfers. I stopped to confirm with her that my pre-arranged complimentary driver would be waiting, and she let me know that he would have a sign with my name on it at door 1.

The driver escorted me out to his waiting Mercedes parked in the short term lot in front of the terminal, and I was home 40 minutes later.


      You can join the 30,000+ people who see these deals and analysis every day — sign up to

receive posts by email

      (just one e-mail per day) or subscribe to

the RSS feed

      . It’s

free

      . You can also

follow me on Twitter

      for the latest deals.

Don’t miss out!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Comments

  1. Great report, Gary. Thanks for sharing.

    Just FYI, Lufthansa also offers IAD ground services for F passengers. I flew FRA-IAD in late December and there was an employee waiting in the jetway to lead us to a Mercedes Sprinter van downstairs. We were then driven to Immigration and dropped off right at the GE kiosks.

    No car service after immigration, though.

  2. Len, that is surprising. I flew First on LH into IAD this past Sunday and had no such treatment.

    We were met by a LH representative outside the plane, but she just led us straight to the mobile lounge. A private van transfer would have been much appreciated.

  3. Hey Gary – Two questions: 1) How far are the drivers willing to drive from IAD as part of this service? 2) There seems to be no first class award availability on their new planes for AUH-IAD next June/July. Any thoughts here? Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *