I seem to live in airport lounges these days. I’ve noticed a theme, especially within the United States. The concept of luxury, decadence, and modernity have been eschewed by small packs of American cheese, rubbery cookies, and buy-your-own ill-textured food provided by Sysco. On top of that, the lounges are usually dirty. The showers feel more “grandmother’s basement” than luxury. In the case of one overseas lounge, it cannot pass a health inspection to save its life!
Etihad Airways has had great lounges in the past, but now again succeeds with the introduction of Facets of Abu Dhabi brand. Etihad knew they had to not just lead, but cement that lead, as best in all classes. To be fair though, the older-style Etihad lounges are starting to merely be the best, not years beyond the competition.
That said, according to Calum Laming, Etihad’s Vice President of Guest Experience, what they came up with is really not a mere lounge.
He is right.
Imagine if you could, with the help of an airport facility design firm called Gensler (they do shopping malls as well), create something inside an airport that felt nothing like it, save for the spectacular ramp view?
Well, they did it. I knew, previously, that Etihad takes its design cues from Fairmont hotels. Except when you step into the lobby of this lounge, it feels as if you have left JFK; teleported to Vancouver, and walked into the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel.
To call this a “lounge” is offensive to Etihad. they are about providing a synergistic customer experience. They want harmony. Etihad sees themselves more as a flying hotel than an airline. They have guests, and they want to make flying great again. In the words of CEO James Hogan, “the shareholder wants a class-leading experience.” That is one they offer.
Everything about this lounge has an elevated experience. The furniture is bespoke and designed by Etihad and a firm called Boss. Etihad even had a chair fair where they had a “sit-off” to pick the best furniture. It also flows with the room.
Of course if you are hungry, you can sit in the dining room. Unlike many lounges, the food comes from within. It’s truly outstanding. The light bites I had during my tour, from the lamb chop to the sambosaks, were of the highest quality.
Let’s discuss the bar, shall we. Etihad hired London-based mixology consultants “Fluid Movement” to design signature cocktails and mocktails named after various cities in the Etihad network. Now, obviously, not every city. There was no Chennai on the menu, nor was there a Toronto. The two I sampled were the New York and the Abu Dhabi. The New York is better, if you can consume alcohol. The Abu Dhabi – whilst a mocktail – is much too high in quinic acid for my liking!
On top of all that, the lounge features beautiful custom light fixtures from the Czech Republic.
That’s all lovely, of course, but what if you are flying a bit more private? So private, in fact, that your lounge is behind a seemingly innocuous wooden door.
The lounge is 7,300 square feet, but the “public” area is missing 500 of that. Inspired by the classically Arabian concept of the majlis, the private Residence lounge features a dining area, couches, a lovely Pacmin A380 in the Etihad livery, and a prayer room, as well as a private shower and bathroom. It’s a spectacularly private area. Complete with its own bespoke, and gorgeous, light fixture.
When you see the attention to detail Etihad has put into the lounge, even down to custom carpeting matching the Residence, it is really no wonder that Etihad Airways won ATW’s airline of the year for 2016.
West coast-based Etihad guest? Good news: Etihad’s new Los Angeles lounge will be opening in 2016 and could, eventually, be expanded to hold a Residence area. The latter chance being even better news as it means Etihad’s fantastic A380 could be gracing an airport slightly closer to my home!