Review: Etihad US Pre-Clearance Lounge Abu Dhabi Airport

Introduction
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Review: Cathay Pacific First Class 777 San Francisco To Hong Kong
Review: Cathay Pacific Arrivals Lounge Hong Kong Airport
Review: Grand Hyatt Hong Kong Grand Suite
Review: Cathay Pacific The Pier First Class Lounge Hong Kong Airport
Review: Cathay Pacific Business Class A330 Hong Kong To Kuala Lumpur
Review: Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur
Review: Malaysia Airlines First Class Lounge Kuala Lumpur Airport
Review: Malaysia Airlines Business Class 737 Kuala Lumpur To Bali
Review: St. Regis Bali Pool Suite
Review: St. Regis Bali Lagoon Villa
Review: St. Regis Bali Restaurants & Activities
Review: Premier Lounge Bali Denpasar Airport
Review: Qatar Airways Business Class 777 Bali To Doha
Review: St. Regis Doha
Review: Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha Airport
Review: Qatar Airways First Class 777 Doha To Abu Dhabi
Review: Le Meridien Abu Dhabi
Review: Rosewood Abu Dhabi
Interlude: 30 Hours In Abu Dhabi
Review: Etihad US Pre-Clearance Lounge Abu Dhabi Airport
Review: Etihad First Class A380 Abu Dhabi To New York
Review: Le Parker Meridien New York


I’ve reviewed Etihad’s Premium Lounge Abu Dhabi before. The lounge opened less than two years ago, and it’s shared between first & business class passengers. Eventually Etihad is supposed to open a first class lounge, though that has been delayed (seemingly) indefinitely.

In the meantime I quite like the Etihad Lounge Abu Dhabi, even as a first class passenger. It has a partitioned off section for first class passengers with more attentive service. Furthermore, as a first class passenger you receive a 15 minute spa treatment in the Six Senses Spa, as well as a treatment at the Style & Shave Salon. It’s quite nice to get a back rub and a razor shave before hopping on a longhaul flight.

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Etihad Premium Lounge Abu Dhabi Airport

So while I look forward to the first class lounge eventually opening, I think the solution they have for first class passengers in the meantime is quite nice. I won’t review the lounge beyond that, given that I have nothing to add to the previous review.

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Etihad Premium Lounge (First Class Section) Abu Dhabi Airport

What I will cover, however, is Etihad’s new mini-lounge, which is located past the US Pre-Clearance facility.

For several years now, Etihad has run a US Pre-Clearance facility in Abu Dhabi, where US-bound passengers clear customs & immigration prior to getting on their flight. At first the facility was a disaster and was consistently causing huge flight delays.

The problem is that if one or two people are being held up or are delayed, the entire plane needs to wait for them. So delays of a couple of hours became the norm.

Etihad’s facility seems to be getting better over time, and I was curious to check it out again.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 3:20AM, so we left the main lounge at around 2:15AM.

The entrance to the US Pre-Clearance facility is located just past the main lounge, and requires taking an escalator to the facility.

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US Pre-Clearance facility Abu Dhabi Airport

Nowadays there’s a separate queue for premium passengers. On the plus side, the facility seemed nearly empty when we were there. Etihad has a flight to New York and San Francisco around the same time, though I guess both flights were quite empty this time around. Or perhaps we just waited long enough so that most people had already cleared the facility.

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US Pre-Clearance facility Abu Dhabi Airport

There was a Global Entry kiosk, so within 30 seconds I had the standard Global Entry slip printed. However, in Abu Dhabi you have to talk to an immigration officer even if you have Global Entry, though it was painless — I was through within a couple of minutes.

After that there’s yet another security checkpoint, exclusively for US-bound flights. It’s much more involved than the first checkpoint, as you actually have to remove all the liquids from your bag, and you even have to power on your laptop. Fortunately the queue was short, so we were through quickly.

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US Pre-Clearance facility Abu Dhabi Airport

From there it was back up the escalator, where on the right we found the Etihad Lounge.

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US Pre-Clearance facility Abu Dhabi Airport

Again, this lounge is meant to be a mini-lounge, exclusively to use once you’ve gone through the Pre-Clearance facility. I commend Etihad for operating this lounge, as it’s quite an investment for just a few flights a day for a period lasting just a couple of hours.

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Etihad US Pre-Clearance Lounge exterior Abu Dhabi Airport 

Our boarding passes were verified as we entered the lounge, and we were informed that boarding would be announced.

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Etihad US Pre-Clearance Lounge entrance Abu Dhabi Airport

The lounge was larger than I was expecting, but still on the tight side, when you consider the number of premium passengers Etihad has on two US-bound flights. The design was very similar to Etihad’s other updated lounges (like the one at London Heathrow), so quite impressed me.

At the far end of the lounge were several couches.

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Etihad US Pre-Clearance Lounge seating Abu Dhabi Airport

Then along the back wall of the lounge was a counter with some high-top seats.

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Etihad US Pre-Clearance Lounge seating Abu Dhabi Airport

There was another area with some dining tables.

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Etihad US Pre-Clearance Lounge seating Abu Dhabi Airport

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Etihad Lounge US Pre-Clearance Abu Dhabi Airport

And then in the far corner was another seating area with several more couches.

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Etihad Lounge US Pre-Clearance Abu Dhabi Airport

One corner of the lounge had a roped off area, which I assume was for passengers traveling in The Residence. I thought the setup was rather hilarious. While The Residence is usually all about privacy, this area is completely exposed and even has a velvet rope, which attracts quite a bit of attention.

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Etihad The Residence Lounge US Pre-Clearance Abu Dhabi Airport

There was also a small business center, or perhaps more accurately just a single iMac on a desk.

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Etihad Lounge US Pre-Clearance Abu Dhabi Airport

The lounge also had a nice selection of light snacks available.

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Etihad Lounge food Abu Dhabi Airport

These included fresh fruit, some small canapés, desserts, finger sandwiches, etc.

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Etihad Lounge food Abu Dhabi Airport

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Etihad Lounge food Abu Dhabi Airport

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Etihad Lounge food Abu Dhabi Airport

Once settled in the staff came by to offer us drinks. I recognized the staff from the other lounge (they rotate between lounges). We ordered some champagne, which was Moet, due to their sponsorship of the Grand Prix, which was also going on in Abu Dhabi.

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Etihad Lounge chapagne Abu Dhabi Airport

At around 2:40AM the staff walked around the lounge proactively offering Arabic coffee and dates, which I thought was a nice touch.

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Etihad Lounge Arabic coffee & dates Abu Dhabi Airport

While boarding was scheduled to begin at around 2:30AM, it was 3AM before boarding was called.

We turned right out of the lounge.

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Etihad US departures gates Abu Dhabi Airport

Then we turned left, where the two gates for the New York and San Francisco flights were located. This was Etihad’s first ever A380 flight to New York, though aside from the posters in the gate area, there were no other festivities.

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Etihad US departures gates Abu Dhabi Airport

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Etihad A380 New York launch poster

The gate area looked super empty for a ~500 seat A380. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how the departure gate would even accommodate ~500 people.

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Etihad A380 departure gate for New York

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Etihad A380 departure gate for New York

The Etihad A380 looked gorgeous as always, parked at the terminal’s far gate.

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Etihad A380 Abu Dhabi Airport

Finally at 3AM boarding was announced, starting with first & business class.

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Etihad A380 departure gate for New York

And boy was I excited for the 14+ hour flight in Etihad’s A380 First Class Apartment!

Etihad’s US Pre-Clearance Lounge Abu Dhabi bottom line

While in the past my experiences with Etihad’s Pre-Clearance setup in Abu Dhabi were abysmal, I was impressed this time around. Now, this might partly have to do with the fact that both of the flights using the facility were really empty, or that we passed through it pretty late in the process. Either way, everything just seemed more functionally set up than last time.

While I prefer airports without Pre-Clearance (since I have Global Entry), this was a facility I was actually fine with.

Given that Etihad uses the Pre-Clearance facility, I was also impressed by the lounge they built for US-bound flights. Previously having to sit in the gate area as a first class passenger for upwards of an hour sucked. The new lounge at least makes that time a bit more enjoyable.

Have you used Etihad’s Pre-Clearance facility lately? What was your experience like?

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!

Comments

  1. I’ve been finding that the Global Entry printout also requires a conversation at YYZ and YUL. Anyone else?

  2. Since there is pre-clearance at AUH, what happens at JFK? Do one have to go through TSA security again if transfering to a domestic flight?

  3. I was there last week same flight in Apt. 4A 😉

    The lounge post pre-clearance can get really crowded. There is only one computer station and the internet was horrible.

    The flight was good but I did comment they should include complimentary onboard internet for First Class. Especially when their competition Qatar does.

  4. Its all about when you use the facility. I flew through AUH as a business passenger a few weeks back, and was on the AUH-IAD flight in the morning. As soon as I landed in AUH from BOM, I encountered a number of gate agents prompting all the passengers bound for the US to proceed to preclearance immediately, including First and Business passengers. I appreciate that this is to prevent delays, but I chose to go to the main lounge instead, and wait until 1.5 hours before the flight to proceed to preclearance, where it was just as empty as you described it. Had I gone soon after I landed, the queues would have been horrendous (given how many flights land at the same time). If flying in economy, there isn’t much to do other than duty free shopping, but as a premium flyer, its best just to wait until shortly before the flight to go through immigration.

  5. In YYZ T1, the only time i stop to talk to someone at the desk (rather than at the exit to get my BP stamped) is if I get a O or X on the receipt. Otherwise keep on walking to the exit!

  6. That lounge looks quite similar to what I experienced in Dublin. About the same size and features. If anything, Dublin is a bit more over the top given that they only have 2 flights a day departing.

  7. Lucky, I’m finding that your recent trip through Pre-Clearance wasn’t really ‘out-of-the-new-norm’. I’ve been through twice in the last 3 months, and that without GE, still breezed through without anyone in front of me. And my flight to LA was 90%+ full, with J and F at 100%. So it seems like they have it staffed up to par now. But the post-clearance lounge was a bit full, however I was only there for 20-30 minutes so I could linger at the gate for 10-15 prior to boarding call. I only comment because I was dreading the Pre-Clearance facility due to your reviews, but perhaps they read OMAAT too, and whipped it in to shape!!

  8. Hey Ben:

    Saw you on XRay Mega Airport on the Smithsonian Channel. Awesome! Also wanted to let you know that I just used PointsPros.com for the first time. Another Awesome! Alex went above and beyond the call of duty to get my wife and me two biz suits on Swiss and two First Class trips on Emirates (do the showers have rubber duckies?). I don’t know why I have not been using the PointsPros service for years? No more futile efforts for me. I will leave it to the Points Pros!

    That’s three exclamation points for you in one comment. That’s awesome!

  9. Yes, security is BEFORE US immigration/Customs, not after. There is no easy way to change that at AUH, so I attribute the above report to jet lag or too much champagne.

    Also, re. a comment above, even with GE one has to interact with a Homeland Security official at ANY airport, not just preclearance airports. That’s because GE is for immigration; you still have to go through Customs. This may be no more than someone taking your form and waiving you through, but it is still an interaction with a government employee. The only difference is that at AUH this person is sitting at a desk.

  10. Yep, it’s great that they have it, although when I was there last week the lounge was pretty crowded and seats were in short supply!

  11. Lucky,

    My wife and I will be flying through AUH tomorrow, and this will be our first time going through pre-clearance. We were lucky (pun intended) to snag 2 seats in A380 F (Apartment) – been watching seats for the last 6+ months. Have been following your blog for a while now, and had to use the AA Australia trick to make this happen. Thanks a ton!

    Regarding the lounge, should we spend time at the Etihad Lounge prior to pre-clearance (to use the spa / salon for a little bit), then go through pre-clearance, since the post pre-clearance lounge seems pretty bare-bones?

    Thanks,
    Nash

  12. Neil,

    YVR Pre Clearance facility also requires a chat with an officer for Global Entry / NEXUS members.

  13. Yes, I used the US preclearance facility a few weeks ago and had a similar experience. If I weren’t a US passport holder, I’d definitely fly EY in most if not all my flights to the USA from the middle east just to avoid the long queues at JFK immigration/customs.
    I had a connection from BOM before my flight AUH-JFK and had a similar experience to AVS. Upon arrival in AUH, the transit passenger security area was a madhouse since several flights arrived at the same time. The US preclearance area barely had queues by the time I arrived there after briefly stopping by the main lounge.

  14. I also flew on the Etihad 320 am flight to JFK and had a mixed experience overall w.r.t. pre-flight. When I arrived at the main lounge (around midnight) it was so chockablock full I could barely find a seat. But shortly thereafter it emptied out completely and was desolate. There must have been a large bank of flights leaving around that time. I found the pre-clearance efficient but at the end of the day from my passenger perspective, not worth it. First, it’s not straightforward – lots of looping around and going up and down. The check is also itself more involved– even if there aren’t lines, you have to empty your liquids, laptops, etc and they search everything more extensively. And regardless of whether you use an automatic kiosk or not you still have to speak with an officer. Yes, the benefit is that you don’t have to do any of that once you land. But I usually fly Emirates on the morning DXB-JFK flight and at that time of the day there is never a line at the immigration kiosks, and I have never experienced any delays.

    The post-clearance lounge is nice but quite small– don’t know how it would be able to accommodate passengers for multiple flights, especially A380s.

    Of course all of this was worth it once I boarded that lovely A380 (I was in the Studio, not, unfortunately either the apartment or residence!)

  15. Question on connecting flights after pre-clearance – we will be flying into JFK pre-cleared from AUH and have to take a connection to SFO. Do our checked bags have to be reclaimed and re-checked (at baggage drop) at JFK, or will they automatically be put on our final leg to SFO?

    Thanks,
    Nash

  16. Dublin airport also has US pre-clearance but they don’t hold up the planes for people stuck in the process. They bump them and remove them from the flight. Which is a huge problem for the bumped passenger who then has to go back through processing and re-book another flight. And most US cities just have one flight a day from there.

    Moreover the lounge is before pre-clearance and there is nowhere comfortable to wait after. Given you cannot know how long the process will take, it makes for a nervous and uncomfortable experience.

  17. Just booked an apartment with AA miles JFK-AUH-JFK (then Delhi) for Jan 20 and 28. Looking forward to your flight review!

    How is the arrival experience at JFK? Do you leave the plane into the airside of the terminal? Any access to the Etihad JFK lounge on arrival?

  18. Re: Dublin airport also has US pre-clearance but they don’t hold up the planes for people stuck in the process.

    But for passengers who have already checked in they cannot do that I believe, as the passengers are already technically on US soil once they go through immigration so they can’t really just go back out and rebook onto any other flight…. At least at AUH.

    Re: How is the arrival experience at JFK? Do you leave the plane into the airside of the terminal? Any access to the Etihad JFK lounge on arrival?

    Not sure about the Etihad JFK lounge. But you get off the plane and walk off using the same route you would use if you were boarding (in reverse). It’s different from standard arrivals where once you get off the plane you go through part of the jetway that opens out into the lower (arrivals) floor.

    Re: Do our checked bags have to be reclaimed and re-checked (at baggage drop) at JFK, or will they automatically be put on our final leg to SFO?

    Nash, yes that is a major plus: you can automatically check your bag in AUH to any US destination.

  19. Yes you loved it because flights at that time were empty, but I flew AUH JFK on NOV 30 , and airport was incredibly packed , so seats available on main lounge and even less in the mini lounge where 2 families from india traveling to SFO where using the couches as a bed so the main seating area was totally occupied. The area of the hallway getting to the gate was packed that you had to ask permission to arrive at the boarding area . That experience was a real nightmare.

  20. How long does the entire custom and security process takes at the AbuDhabi Airport? i have a flight to Chicago on Sep 16 at 3:55 AM. Any idea how long will it take me for that? and also once you get done with the entire process can yo go to terminal 1 as my friend will have a flight which is departing from terminal 1 so i would like to say hi to her ?

  21. Would it be possible to make use of the regular Premium Lounge at Abu Dhabi instead of the US Pre-clearance Premium Lounge? Seems like there are more services to be had this way.

  22. Im planning to visit dallas with two hours lay over at chicago airport.After facing pre clearance process at once on Abu Dhabi airport,do i get my baggage at chicago airport and need to face clearance process again or i get my baggage at my final destination.

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