Lounge Review: Etihad Airways First Class Lounge, Abu Dhabi

Brad Walters
By Brad Walters 
Edited by Mary M. Flory

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I recently found myself with some time to kill at Abu Dhabi International Airport (as one does) and thought I'd take the opportunity to check out the designated lounge for first-class passengers on Etihad Airways, which makes its home base here.

The lounge entrance is located just beyond Etihad's dedicated first-class check-in area and security checkpoint inside Terminal 3.

It's open 24 hours, but when I entered at around 6 a.m. it was pretty much dead, owing to the fact that no flights with first-class cabins were scheduled to depart for a while. There must have been at least four lounge staffers there for every passenger, at least at the outset.

Directly inside the entrance to the lounge is an easy-to-miss area with a variety of Arabic coffee and dates.

After checking in my heavy backpack at the luggage storage desk, I made my way immediately to the lounge's Six Senses Spa for a massage treatment. Lounge guests are entitled to one free 15-minute treatment, although longer sessions are available. While this isn't as generous as, say, Thai Airways' hourlong free massage for first-class guests in Bangkok, it's something the vast majority of U.S. lounges don't offer. (Some American Express Centurion lounges do, though.)

The spa is first-come, first-served, and although they keep a sign-up list I was able to be seen virtually right away. I opted for the back massage, which began with aromatherapy. I like a massage that's firm almost to the point of being painful, and this one fit the bill. I felt much more relaxed after it was over.

Note that the lounge formerly included a barbershop, where passengers could opt for a shave or a beard trim, but that fell victim to Etihad's recent spate of cost-cutting.

A children's play zone was located near the spa area ...

... as were the main restrooms, which were stocked with Acqua di Parma hand wash and hand cream.

After my massage, I did a quick lap around the various seating areas. While not as spacious as the massive business class lounge, there were still a variety of places to sit ...

... along with a station where you could stock up on tea, soft drinks or coffee if you so desired.

The lounge even has its own smoking room for those who wish to partake. It's easy to miss, so I suppose it could make a decent little private area if the lounge is empty — and if you don't mind the smell of smoke. When I walked in I could hardly smell anything, though.

In addition, the lounge has a cigar room and several other private areas, as well as a rather psychedelic "relaxation room," which provides recliner seats that could be useful for rest, provided you have eyeshades.

The lounge has two bars where you can order from an extensive list of beer, wine, liquor or "mocktinis." Near as I could tell, the full menu was on offer even at around 6:30 in the morning.

The lion's share of the lounge's real estate is dedicated to its dining area, where customers can order from an à la carte menu.

Grab a window seat here for an excellent view of the tarmac — and of the sunrise, if you happen to be there at that time of the morning.

This was the breakfast menu:

I tried the French toast with some sausage, and I'd call it decent but not especially memorable. By this time the lounge had become significantly more crowded, so maybe I caught the kitchen at a busy time.

At the edge of the dining area was a mini-buffet area with excellent small plates. I tried a few things and was impressed by all of them, particularly the smoked salmon. The adjacent pastries didn't taste particularly fresh, however.

Having eaten so much, it felt only proper to at least take a look at the lounge's small gym, even if I didn't actually use the equipment.

Of the lounge's many amenities, this may be its most unique: None of the dozen or so other premium first-class lounges I've seen has had a gym. As airport exercise goes, it certainly beats strolling through the crowded terminal — unless you're into plane spotting, of course.

The gym is stocked with cardio equipment (treadmill, elliptical, bike) along with its own private shower rooms, which supplement the separate private shower rooms located elsewhere in the lounge. Bottled water and fresh fruit were also on offer.

All of Etihad's lounges provide free Wi-Fi access (password not required), and it was fast and reliable when I tried it here. The airport itself also provides free Wi-Fi, which can be accessed from within the lounge.

By now, it was time to make my way to my boarding gate to Los Angeles for my 16-hour flight. Abu Dhabi is somewhat unique in that flights headed to the United States clear passengers through immigration and customs before taking off, which is one less thing to worry about after you land — but it does mean you need to leave yourself 60 to 90 minutes before your departure time to get to your gate.

This lounge has widely been considered one of the world's best since it opened in May 2016, and it mostly met my expectations. Etihad passengers who normally wouldn't be able to enter the lounge can pay a separate entry fee of around $200 for two hours' access, which is how I got in. (NerdWallet comped the fee for the purposes of this review.) Would I go out of my way to do that with my own money? Probably not.

But if you have a first-class ticket anyway, it's certainly worth getting to the airport a couple of hours early to check it out — especially if you're in the mood for a meal and a massage.

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