A Quick Jaunt to Southern India: Clipper Lounge and Chennai – Abu Dhabi in Etihad Business Class

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Etihad has one flight a day in and out of Chennai. It arrives and departs in the middle of the night, scheduled for just over an hour on the ground. It departs Abu Dhabi from a bus gate, and perhaps that’s why the flight perenially runs a few minutes late and squeezes the turnaround time in Chennai. And as a result if leaves Abu Dhabi a bit late too.

That’s interesting to me not because the flight is unreliable, it isn’t, delays tend to be short. But because in the Middle East and India boarding times are listed so early. This flight is just not ever going to board one hour prior to departure. It’s the archetypical flight that’s going to show “Last Call” on the departure screens before boarding even begins.

I suppose that creates a sense of urgency for passengers, gets them to the gate, and helps the flight turn more quickly and make up time. But it’s just one of the things that seems to create a stressful atmosphere around flying out of Chennai.

The first piece is getting dropped off at the airport. There is a sea of people outside the terminal, they only let people in with confirmed travel reservations. You have to show your printed booking confirmation and ID in order to enter the terminal. This is very common in India and Southeast Asian destinations like Bali, Male, and Manila. But in an age of all-electronic tickets, it strikes me as strange.

It does mean that the terminal itself is less crowded than otherwise. I approached the Etihad check-in counter, and there was one person ahead of me in the business class check-in line. They checked me through to Washington Dulles, and handed me a lounge pass. Then I walked over to the very long departing immigration queue.

The line for immigration wrapped around several times, it felt like one of the more popular rides at Disneyland. There was no premium immigration queue. So I waited and waited, all in perhaps 30 minutes.

Then it was time to queue for security, there were a couple of lines for men and then a separate line for women. Everyone was being scanned after going through the metal detector, so the process took awhile as well.

Once through security, I turned right to head towards the Etihad gate and the lounge the airline uses. There’s another check of boarding passes and checking off of passengers to enter that section of the terminal. The bureaucratic checking at each stage is impressive, in a North Korea kind of way. (In Mumbai I almost wasn’t allowed to board with my carryon when the stamping of my bag at security was done on the permanent luggage tag instead of the one they provided for a carryon that had been checked, and security staff at the gate couldn’t find it at first.)

The Clipper lounge is directly beside the Etihad gate, but is otherwise not impressive in any way.

It did feature free wireless internet though, with the sort of password an idiot would use for his luggage (‘pass1234’).

The lounge was a large enough, non-descript room with restrooms and food on one side.

Liquor choice was limited, and the bottles were nearly empty.

There was hot food like scrambled eggs and sanbar, but in the middle of the night I wasn’t really interested and it didn’t look especially appetizing though it didn’t look bad — or unsafe, as I’ve had concerns about in some lounges in South Asia.

The bathroom reminded me of the Concorde Room at Heathrow.

Here’s the gate area, which made me grateful for the modest lounge.

Staff began to get everyone ready for boarding before the inbound aircraft had even offloaded. They put people in groups or pens based on their seating areas, or at least tried to.

They didn’t announce a separate business class queue until the end, but they did then board business first once it was finally time. Only they began boarding us too early, the crew wasn’t ready for us, so we stood waiting on the jetway for about 10 minutes.

Once onboard I got comfortable in the regional business class seating. For an overnight flight, even a short 4+ hour one, I’d love international premium seating but for a standard regional flight of this length I’m quite happy given the legroom and foot rest.

Menus were available at each seat:

Shortly after takeoff breakfast was served.

The flight itself was entirely uneventful and despite getting nearly a 30 minute late start we arrived within minutes of our scheduled time.

Just as departing from Abu Dhabi was done via bus gate, we were met on the tarmac by buses. There was a separate bus for business class which boarded first and departed first. We did run into traffic jams, though, and had to wait about 15 minutes to offload once we reached the terminal.

We arrived at terminal 1 and I had to transfer to terminal 3 for my onward flight to Washington DC. There’s no security check going in the other direction on arrival at terminal 1, since security is done there for each bank of gates. But going to terminal 3 you have to clear transit security. The line to do so stretched about halfway between the terminals.

The first airport employee I saw, I asked about jumping the queue as a premium passenger since there didn’t appear to be any business class or first class line. He was amenable, asked me “business class?” (I think he would have brought me much closer to the front) and I replied “first class.” He appeared to immediately ‘jump to attention’ and walked me around to the very front of the line, ahead of the person that was about to walk through the metal detector. What would have been a 30 or 40 minute wait to clear transit security took much less time.

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 InsideFlyer.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 »

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  1. I fly to Chennai several times a year on international flights and the airport / lounge are quite disgusting for an international traveler. The food looks nasty, cold and often reminds you of mystery meat.

    It is a shame that the new airport / terminal did not enhance the experience.

    The only plus point is that they have power points in the lounge for US adapters.

  2. I have used a soft copy of my ticket multiple times in India, and I’ve never had any problems. So you were not first class and you lied to get in front of someone who was ahead of you?

  3. @MikeKS – The reference was to Abu Dhabi where I had arrived in business class but was then a first class passenger departing for Washington Dulles, I did not lie about that.

    @Corky – not sure, I don’t have cogent, interesting or original thoughts that have seemed to make for a worthwhile blog post that’s more than just pictures. I have a ton of thoughts on the differences between Mumbai and Delhi, on ‘how the city works’ and its differences between other places I’ve been in the region, but when I start to write those out I think I come off sounding pretty ignorant. For now I haven’t had enough interesting to say. Not sure — but I admit I’ve wanted to get on with the flights because those are easier write-ups 🙂

  4. Each time I show an email or copy of my itinerary on a phone, the person guarding the terminal doesn’t accept it. I had one instance where I left the paper at a relative’s house several hours away and the guard (an Air Force officer) wouldn’t let me in — a relative dropping me off showed him his higher ranking Air Force ID, convincing the guard to walk all of 15 feet to the passenger manifest and confirm I actually was flying out of that airport (on the same itinerary I had a soft copy of, who’d a thunk it?!).

    Indian airports aren’t fun at all to depart of, especially in the middle of the night. I think I had an even longer rant of it in my last India trip report.

  5. Just like Middle Eastern airports create long-term employment opportunities by busing people to gates, India creates employment by setting up multiple ‘check points’ where airport employees check a traveler’s ID. The last time I was in Mumbai, I had my passport/ID checked 9 times from the moment I got out of the taxi to the moment I sat down in my seat.

  6. A very small note: That might be the password that an idiot uses for his luggage, but it’s fine for free internet access. Your connection will still be safe from other users, just like it is at home. There simply may be more users than intended.

    That is all!

  7. A very small note: That might be the password that an idiot uses for his luggage, but it’s fine for free internet access. Your connection will still be safe from other users, just like it is at home. There simply may be more users than intended.

    That is all!

  8. Your jaunt may have been quick, but this series sure isn’t. 🙂

    Is there any reason you don’t “abridge” your blog so that those of us who don’t care what gate areas at Indian airports look like could quickly peruse your blog? Even MillionMileSecrets — the points blogger who seems to have invented the endless multi-part trip report — does that!

  9. @iahphx – for what it’s worth, i always thought abridging posts was more a trick to get more clicks/page view/ad revenue. Maybe it’s useful, if folks think it is I can try it 🙂

  10. Gary —

    Yeah, I often wonder about those sites that have you click to keep reading/watching. I assume it’s generally to increase page view revenue.

    But I think your readers would appreciate a “click through” on your picture-heavy blog posts. Like when you want to include 20 photos of gates and food from your Etihad trip. 🙂 Folks thinking of an Etihad trip (or just curious of what it would be like) will want to click to see more. But I suspect the majority of your readers are looking for a “quick read” of the frequent flyer world and don’t want to have to scroll through all those, um, “esoteric” photos to get to your next post. So abridging would be a win-win, I think.

  11. When I left Chennai you could barely read my boarding pass it had so many stamps. I was told it is a custom they picked up from British. Everyone loves to stamp stuff.

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