25 JUNE 2016 UPDATE: Etihad is now allowing passengers into the first class lounge who arrive in first class but are connecting in business class.
Here is the bottom line–
Access to the Etihad First Class Lounge & Spa in Abu Dhabi is reserved for the following guests:
- Passengers departing Abu Dhabi on a first class Etihad flight
- Passengers arriving in first class and continuing in business class have access if a first class tariff was paid for and the connecting flight does not offer a first class cabin
- Passengers holding Etihad Guest Platinum Status (and one guest)
- Passengers (+1 guest) in the following Etihad Airways Partner loyalty programs wtih top-tier status:
The story below is still entertaining, but now obsolete.
As I entered the Etihad First Class lounge and Spa in Abu Dhabi last week, there was an Australian couple bitterly arguing with a frazzled lounge attendant scanning boarding passes just inside the lounge entrance. They had been denied entrance because they had arrived in first class but were traveling in business class. Knowing that this implicates many of our tickets, I took in the conversation:
Australians: We purchased a first class ticket from Sydney to Birmingham (UK). We just flew from Sydney to Abu Dhabi in first class.
Lounge Attendant: I’m sorry, you do not have access to this lounge. It is only for first class passengers.
Australians: We are first class passengers.
Lounge Attendant: Your boarding pass says business class.
Australians: Yes, but we just stepped off a first class flight and we are only traveling in business class to Birmingham because it is a two-cabin aircraft and first class is not offered.
Lounge Attendant: I’m sorry, but in this case you would not have access. Your flight from Abu Dhabi must be in first class. Your lounge is down the hall.
Australians: But we bought a first class ticket! Can we speak to you supervisor?
Lounge Attendant: I’ve already summoned her.
[Supervisor Appears, Australians repeat story]
Supervisor: I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I cannot grant you access. This is only for passengers with a departure boarding pass in first class.
Australians: That is [rubbish]. We would be in first class but for the fact that you do not offer first class on our next flight.
Supervisor: Nevertheless, you cannot have access. It is only for first class passengers. This is a very exclusive lounge, but there is a nice lounge around the corner that you can use.
Australians: We know it is exclusive! That is why we wish to use it! We don’t want to use the business lounge.
Supervisor: I’m afraid I cannot make an exception. If I could I would, but I cannot. We have chosen to make this a very exclusive lounge and that should have been communicated to you when you bought the ticket. You can only access if you are leaving Abu Dhabi in first class or have Platinum status in our Guest program or with one of our partners.
Australians: The opposite was confirmed to us. We were told we would have access.
Supervisor: I find that hard to believe — all agents have been trained on this new policy.
Australian: Well, that was what we were told!
Supervisor: Let me see your ticket. I will send an e-mail to customer service on your behalf about this, but I cannot let you into the lounge today. I’m sorry.
Australians: We paid over $5,000 for these tickets and we will fly Emirates next time!
The Australian stormed off, angry.
I admired the agent’s calm, polite, composed demeanor and that she refused to disregard company policy under pressure, but in my estimation this is an unbelievably ridiculous policy that penalizes those based upon the equipment Etihad has selected to operate its flights.
Crowd control is admirable and the supervisor was right — a lounge cannot be exclusive if “everyone” has access, but even during its busiest time I did not count more than 40 people in the lounge and allowing access to passengers who search/book a “first class” ticket should not be penalized if their connecting flight has no first class. It distorts reasonable expectations and leaves customers with a very bad taste, like the couple above.
Look, I’d even be willing to limit this access to full-fare revenue tickets and not award tickets, but this is a glaring problem.
At the very least, though, Etihad needs to make this access policy very clear on its own website–the only official access language is in this press release:
Measuring just under 1,700 m², and boasting expansive views of the airport, the new facility is open round-the-clock for the exclusive use of guests of The Residence, Etihad First Class, Etihad Guest Exclusive, Etihad Guest Platinum members (plus one guest), Etihad Airways Partner (EAP) airline First Class guests, EAP ‘Invitation only’ members (plus two guests) and EAP equivalent Platinum members (plus one guest).
It is very easy to see how passengers traveling to Abu Dhabi in first class and connecting on a two-cabin aircraft would consider themselves “guests of Etihad First Class”.