Etihad Lounge and First Class Washington Dulles – Abu Dhabi

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Etihad will arrange car service pickup for business and first class passengers. Make your reservation online using your Etihad record locator (something I got from American, who issued my ticket, this confirmation number is different than American’s). You can also make the reservation over the phone with Etihad. The car service will ring you 1-2 days prior to the trip to confirm your pickup time.

I had them come get us about 3 hours prior to departure. That way I figured I’d be at the airport about 2 hours 15 minutes out, know that I’d want to spend a little while in the lounge. It’s not a great lounge, but it is a great lounge for Dulles, it’s only a little over a year old and I had only used it one time before.

At Dulles you arrive at the main terminal, where the check-in desks are, but for most flights you’re nowhere near.

Etihad’s check-in desks are on the back side of the main terminal, meaning there are check-in desks facing the doors for many airlines but not for Etihad, you walk around those desks and find Etihad behind.

When the flight is offering onboard internet, there is usually a banner promoting it at check-in here in DC. There was no banner today, so I was disappointed. I haven’t had great luck with it, managing internet only on Abu Dhabi – Dusseldorf last February and Abu Dhabi – Washington Dulles last November.

There was a banner, though, offering upgrades for sale.

There’s probably no airline more aggressive in selling upgrades than Etihad. They have an auction process in advance of travel, and then they’ll sell upgrades at a discount at check-in — and heavily promote that. Even though my flight was showing only 3 of 12 seats taken a day before, it wound up 10 of 12 full in first when the doors closed.

After check-in it was onward through security. That means heading downstairs to the main security queue. Flying Etihad there’s no access to PreCheck, and even though it’s beginning to roll out to non-US airlines (Air Canada is already set up) I imagine that Middle Eastern carriers won’t be at the front of the queue. But on a Tuesday night around 7:15pm there wasn’t much of a line and I was through my pat down quickly.

From there it was time to take the terminal train out to the midfield terminal. I suppose that’s better than the mobile lounges that used to drive across the tarmac, though I’d gladly take those for United flights instead since the train drops you off for those where they plan to build a new terminal in the future instead of where United’s flights depart from today. So you take the train and still have a hike.

The walk from the train to the terminal is fairly bizarre, I’ve never ‘gotten’ the choice of artwork to adorn the otherwise soul-sucking institutional walls.

Once inside the terminal Etihad’s lounge is immediately to the left. Etihad built their own lounge for just a single daily flight, although they’re not the only one using it, my recollection is that Saudia uses the Etihad lounge as well.

There’s no separate first/business sections of the lounge, and since the flights I’ve been on out of DC haven’t been full they have had the top level of the lounge roped off both times. The Washington Dulles flight is pretty reliable for award space, the lack of a full load is probably not a coincidence, I imagine the flight is offered less for its commercial potential and more to be able to offer service between the capital of the UAE and capital of the US.

A server will come around when you’re seated and offer you something to drink. There’s a sit down restaurant, but I asked for the menu at my seat which they brought me… with a little bit of trepidation. It was about an hour and a half until departure, and I was told that the kitchen was fairly backed up and would be closing soon. But then was told it would still be possible to order something if I liked.

Here’s the menu, different than last time. (Click to enlarge)

Nothing really appealed so I just had a look at the modest buffet and decided to skip that as well.

I decided I’d just eat onboard. It was late and part of me wanted to go straight to sleep, but I knew I’d prefer what was on offer onboard so I decided to wait and got a last minute blog post up, replied to a few emails before departure as well since I’d be without internet for the next 15 hours or so.

Etihad begins their boarding process 60 minutes prior to departure. Boarding is done from the lounge and they began encouraging people to leave and get on the plane. As with my last visit, when they kept coming over and letting me know boarding had commenced, I asked do I have to board yet? I was going to be on the aircraft for 14 hours, I didn’t especially want to get on so much earlier than necessary. And of course I didn’t have to board right away, it just seemed as though the lounge staff wanted their shift to end as quickly as possible and that wouldn’t happen until the passengers had all left the lounge.

Upon boarding you’re struck by how gorgeous the Etihad cabin is. It’s just really attractive. In a completely different way the only other first class cabin I find as visually appealing is British Airways (in that case largely due to their lighting concept).

With 10 of 12 first class seats taken, service suffers and there’s a lot of service for Etihad to get through. They just aren’t staffed up to a level that allows them to offer as much service as Etihad provides, to this many first class passengers, with the crew and training provided.

This clearly isn’t the reason but they probably do need to board first class passengers an hour early to offer them pajamas, an amenity kit, menus, predeparture beverages, Arabic coffee and dates, introduce themselves to passengers, and inquire as to food preferences.

    Click to enlarge

The seat has a built-in minibar with sparkling and still water, and snacks. I don’t understand this piece of their offering, other than that Emirates offers a more extensive minibar and this allows Etihad to say they have one too.

There’s also a closet built-into the suite. It’s the narrowest closet I’ve seen on a plane. The Cathay Pacific closet barely fits but does usually fit my rollaboard. The Etihad closet barely fits a pair of pants and a shirt, I find myself having to shove it in which defeats the purpose of hanging them.

I wasn’t the only one relaxing prior to departure.

Seat controls in the suite are all-electronics.

When it was finally time for takeoff there weren’t any planes ahead of us, Operations at Dulles are fairly limited after 10pm at night.

We had an exceptionally bumpy climb out, and I was surprised that we didn’t get above 10,000 feet until we were over Delaware. I was actually thinking that the inflight map was just wrong when it displayed that, but we finally continued our climb and were on our way.

Once at cruising altitude meal service began, and it started with an amuse bouche.

One thing I do have to say about Etihad is that I like their meal service — from the stylish tablecloths to the myriad food options. They have a ‘Kitchen Anytime’ concept with main meals and snacks, all available on a mix-and-match basis throughout the flight.

One of the flight attendants is a trained chef with restaurant experience. The quality of onboard chef varies tremendously, it matters a great deal who you get. Some are just going off the menu, others are engaged creatively with the ingredients they have onboard, interested in your food preferences, and creating something to taste (which is really hard in a galley). On my last Abu Dhabi – Washington Dulles flight I had a creative chef. On this flight I had someone offering exactly what was listed. Although even that is pretty good, and I say that as someone who isn’t especially keen on Middle Eastern cuisine.

When I’ve had biryani in the past it’s been a mix of overcooked rice with meat or fish pieces mixed in. Here’s the salmon biryani as presented by Etihad in first class, and it was outstanding.

A palate cleanser followed.

I ordered a steak next, a ribeye cooked perfectly, it was exceptionally flavorful. Etihad does a nice job with their onboard steak. I can’t resist ordering fries on a plane, either, though what I’ve gotten has varied a lot. Occasionally they come out crispy (my ideal) but this time not so much.

I finished the meal with a bread pudding.

After dinner I had the flight attendant make my bed while I changed into pajamas.

I slept for 3 or 4 hours, watched some television on my laptop for a couple of hours, and found myself about 8 hours into the flight. I ordered Etihad’s steak sandwich as a midflight snack. It was prepared by the flight attendant, rather than the chef who was on a break, and she was very concerned that it came out well and seemed thrilled when I told her that it did. The Etihad steak sandwich is a staple snack on their menu, and worth ordering.

I also had it with baklava. One of my favorite little things about flying Etihad is the baklava. My preference is for dense and gooey, and that’s usually what they board, although on one flight a year ago the baklava was dry and flaky.

A cappuccino with some ice cream as well.

All told that was more than enough food (and I didn’t finish it) and didn’t have a second meal service prior to landing.

Overall I wish the Etihad seat was a little wider although I find it more comfortable in bed mode when the armrests are down and the door is closed. It’s a great hard product, one of the better seats out there, though a notch below Cathay Pacific’s in my opinion even though Cathay doesn’t have doors. The meal service is one of the best out there because of the extensiveness of the menu and that it’s generally very well prepared. They have good main courses and as significant a snack menu as anyone in the sky. The amenities are good. The seat’s closet could be bigger, and there could either be another flight attendant (first choice) or fewer first class seats in the cabin (not something I’d want to see) in order to deliver a truly top notch experience. I do love flying Etihad first, though.

On arrival in Abu Dhabi we were quickly through fast track immigration with the fast track passes we were given, and on our way to the new Premier Inn attached to the airport.

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, 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 »

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  1. Gary,

    Any idea how much the upgrades are? Perhaps next time you can inquire for us who want to book Y and move to J or J and move to F. (I’m always fascinated with this as often you can do extremely well with last minute onboard upgrades via BA, for instance.)

  2. Food: “My preference is for dense and gooey”

    Seat: “Overall I wish the Etihad seat was a little wider”

    Coincidence?! LOL!!

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  4. In the past when I’ve taken this flight, upgrades from Y to J were $800 to 1000. Upgrades J to F were $600 to $800.

  5. I am taking this flight in July and will be arriving at DCA at 2pm for this flight that departs at around 10pm.. EY is picking me up at DCA.. Do you know what is the earliest I can checkin for the flight..

  6. Gary’s review convinces me all the more that EY is simply inconsistent. They’ve got great potential, but they’re still manned by poorly-trained staff who do not function well together across odd cultural divides. (Combo Arab, Czech, and Irish crew?) I flew in F in March using American miles and has to make 7 separate calls (routed to the Manchester call center) to convince EY that I was eligible to use the chauffeur service. In the end, I had a lovely ride out to Dulles but did not appreciate the long-running hassle and uncertainty. (I did get my revenge, though, by having them retrieve me from the Banyan Tree Al-Wadi in RAK and haul me down to AUH.) I had much better food in the Dulles lounge (seared sesame tuna) than on the plane (vile vinegared biryani). The lounge isn’t great, but other than the Virgin Clubhouse, what else is there? (Being shoehorned into the Lufthansa lounge? No.) As with Gary, I found the encouragement for early boarding annoying. When I did board, the ground staff were still stomping around provisioning the plane and the cabin crew were oblivious to the presence of passengers. No greeting. No water. No nothing. In the future, I will avoid EY at all costs unless they can fix the U.S. Customs facility at AUH to provide a first-class experience for first-class passengers. Their current arrangement is a DISGRACE for passengers of any class and should warn EK off of a similar arrangement in Dubai.

    On the upside of the inconsistency, however, I saw no icky bare feet on walls or suite doors. Ack!

  7. Gary, to book on EY, is it best to just call AA since I’ll be using AA miles to see availability? Wanting to do DUB-ABU-IAD in Oct.

  8. @Tony yes you have to call American to book Etihad. You’re not going to be able to book Dublin – Washington Dulles via Abu Dhabi as a single award, however. First, you cannot connect in a 3rd region enroute between Europe and North America (so no connections in Middle East). Second, Etihad does not publish a fare between Dublin and DC. Third, DUB-AUH-IAD is more than double the maximum allowable 25% over published maximum permitted mileage for DUB-IAD via the Atlantic.

  9. @Frederick – you can read the review of the Premier Inn, I thought it worked great as an airport overnight since it’s connected to the terminal and new. It’s cheap, too. But a bit of a dorm feel which was fine for the quick overnight.

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