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I landed in Abu Dhabi at 12:30 AM from Chennai, about three hours before my scheduled departure to New York of 3:20 AM. I was excited to spend time in the Etihad Premium Lounge, though I didn’t know how I’d fit everything in since my boarding pass listed a boarding time of 1:50 AM.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.19.39 PM For now, First Class and Business Class (even Residence) passengers all share the Etihad Premium Lounge. A new lounge for First Class and Residence passengers is scheduled to open in May. First Class passengers have a special section that is roped off, which is where I set my bags to have a look around.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.09 PMAt the back of the First Class area is another roped off private room for the Residence passengers, which was empty.

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The lounge is fairly large with several buffet stations that mostly repeat each other. In the back of the lounge are a salon and a spa.

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Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.20.10 PMEach offer a free service to First Class passengers.

At the salon, the options are an “Express Clipper Cut,” “Express Wet Shave,” and “Express Beard Trim and Tidy.” I love a true wet shave and hadn’t had a proper shave in about two years, so I scheduled one for 1 AM.
Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.19.46 PM Then I went next door to the spa where there were five options for free 15 minute massages: back, foot, hand, “The Hedonist,” and “The Realignment.” Plus there two facial options. In retrospect, I should have gotten my first facial, but I scheduled “The Hedonist” instead for 1:40 AM. If I had been even a few minutes later, I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze a massage in before my flight because the spots book up quickly.Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.20.16 PM


I had about 15 minutes to kill before my shave, so I took a look around. The buffets have a wide range of Western and Eastern foods. Here’s just a small sample of what was available.Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.21.35 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.21.44 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.21.50 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.21.56 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.01 PM a Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.27 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.33 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.37 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.46 PMThe buffets were spread out in the lounge among the many seating areas, which had a variety of possible seats and were all relatively full.

Seating Areas

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First Class Menu & Secret Menu

A few of the food options intrigued, but I wanted to see if First Class passengers had other options, so I held off on food for the moment. and went back to the First Class section. A waiter appeared with a menu, which read as follows:Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.57 PM I immediately recognized all of the items from the various buffets, which was a bit of a letdown. When I asked, “Oh so it’s basically the stuff from the buffet, but you bring us the plate?,” he said, “Yes, but there is also a secret menu for First Class.”

The “secret” menu is unwritten, but he offered me steak, shrimp, and chicken curry.

When I selected the filet medium, he offered several possible sauces and sides, and I went with mushroom sauce and mashed potatoes. He also listed the fresh juices, and I selected orange. I asked him to bring the steak at 1:15 AM, since that’s when my shave was scheduled to end, and I headed back to the salon.

The Shave

I really enjoyed the shave! I was sporting several weeks of growth, so it was a tall order, but the barber was up to the task. The salon area had two chairs and two friendly and skilled barbers who were working nonstop on appointment after appointment.

Fifteen minutes after this…

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.14 PM …I looked five years younger. (Booo! Good thing it grew back in a few days.) 🙂Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.27 PM

Midnight Snack

When the shave wrapped up, I headed back the First Class section, and when the waiter saw me, he brought my meal right out. Overall the waiter was excellent and very solicitous. “Can I bring you some bread? Another drink? Dessert?” etc. He was really trying to give away the free food.Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.35 PM I supplemented my steak with a plate of mashed potatoes, chili, and jalapeños from the buffet.Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.40 PM Both plates were excellent, though skipping food entirely is also a reasonable choice since the onboard food is amazing as well. After my midnight snack, I headed to the spa for my massage.


“The Hedonist” is designed to “release headaches and stress, and induce relaxation with a gentle massage of pressure points.” All of that appealed to me, since I planned on sleeping as soon as I boarded. (And that is what happened.)
Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.23.46 PM For the massage, I laid on the table, and the masseuse stood near my head. She massaged head, face, neck, and shoulders. It was a fantastic massage that I wish had lasted a full hour like the free massage you get when flying Thai Airways First Class out of Bangkok, but beggars can’t be choosers.

The massage ended at 1:55 AM, 85 minutes before my flight, but five minutes after the boarding time listed on my boarding pass. By this point, the lounge had emptied out considerably, and I headed straight to the boarding gate.

U.S. Preclearance

Abu Dhabi has U.S. Preclearance, which means United States Customs and Border Patrol performs immigration, customs, and agriculture inspections in Abu Dhabi, and you arrive in the United States as if you were a domestic passenger.

In theory, I’m sure this is great for a lot of people. I have Global Entry, though, and I would have spent a lot less time in U.S. customs and immigrations had preclearance not existed. Here’s the process.

Step 1: Get in the Premium Boarding Line to have your passport and boarding pass checked. I’m sure having a separate line is useful a little bit earlier, but by the time I arrived both lines were deserted.

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Step 2: Wait, wait, wait. Apparently when I got there, immigration was so backed up that they had us wait in a holding area before going any further. I was able to access free wifi here, so the 35 minutes sitting down was no big deal. A huge crowd had assembled by 2:36 AM when Etihad representatives began allowing First and Business Class passengers to proceed.

Step 3: Security, which was my third security screening for only two flights. (Pre-Chennai flight, upon landing in Abu Dhabi, and pre-Abu Dhabi flight.)

Step 4: U.S. immigration, which did have Global Entry machines. Good thing I have that because there were still a lot of people in the regular lines.

Step 5: U.S. customs, which is a breeze if you have Global Entry.

Until going through preclearance, I wasn’t sure whether there were Global Entry machines in Abu Dhabi. Now that I know that there are, I would have asked Etihad personnel if I could go through instead of waiting 35 minutes before security, since I had Global Entry. Test out their response and share it in the comments if you get a chance.

Because you are requested to start this process 90 minutes before your flight, you might finish with a lot of time before boarding. For that reason, Etihad has a U.S. Premium Lounge by the gates for flights to the United States.

U.S. Premium Lounge, Abu Dhabi

By the time I arrived, my flight’s boarding was already underway, so I just popped in for some photos. It was a smaller version of the main Etihad Premium Lounge with a limited selection of the same food and drink options.Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.22 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.28 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.38 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.43 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.48 PM


Finally at 2:51 AM, I boarded the plane while Group 2 was boarding, only 29 minutes before the scheduled departure. (We ended up not pushing back until 4:07 AM. No reason was given on board, which would have annoyed me if I were in economy, but I was thrilled to get extra time in First Class. I assume the delay was for people passing customs and immigration.)Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.25.00 PM

Continue reading about the flight itself here.

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Bottom Line & How to Access the Etihad Premium Lounge

Etihad’s ground services stand out the free 15 minute shave or hair cut and the free 15 minute massage for First Class passengers. The food options are very good, but a half step below some other world class lounges. Overall I preferred the Thai Airways First Class lounge in Bangkok and Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai.

The rest of the ground experience in Abu Dhabi is annoying–having to clear customs and immigration and sit around for 35 minutes greatly took away from my lounge time. This was partially, but not completely, made up for by the smooth arrival as a domestic passenger in New York.

Business and First Class passengers can access the Etihad Premium Lounge.

In May 2015, I booked my First Class suite for 90,000 American Airlines miles + $39 (including Business Class from India to Abu Dhabi and American Airlines First Class from New York to Los Angeles.). The same award will cost 115,000 miles if booked March 22, 2016 or later. If you can book by March 21, you can lock in the current price for travel through February 2017.

Business Class costs 67,500 American Airlines miles right now and goes up to 70,000 miles on March 22.

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