Abu Dhabi Airport

Flying Etihad? There is a near-100% chance that you will get to experience Abu Dhabi International Airport. Use this guide to help you know what to expect
Customs: Customs was a complete mess when we arrived. Rumors spread through the lines that the agents’ system was down. Either way, it took us about 2 hours to move through the line and enter the United Arab Emirates – and that was in the Fast Track lane!

The Fast Track lanes are only available to “premium” customers (such as Etihad Business and First class passengers), as well as those who really befriend their flight attendants enough to get a pass themselves (like us). One guy behind us in line was told that he could also use the Fast Track lane since he had a US Global Entry card. While he was able to clear through, he may have just gotten lucky due to the long wait softening up the customs agents. After all, they never asked for our Fast Track cards. So, they may not have asked for his either. But, you might want to confirm this policy yourself before getting in line.

Arrivals terminal: You exit the international arrivals secure area into a not-so-spacious terminal space (compared to other international arrivals terminals we have seen). But, what they lack in size, they make up in glamour! There is a fancy coffee bar directly ahead, full-size cars, and a glitzy government lottery display.

A bank of 5 ATMs are located in the area to the left as you exit (in the middle-top of the picture below).

This photo is from the right side of the arrivals terminal looking back toward the point you exit the secure area (which is on the left side of the photo)

Taxis: There were probably ~100 empty black “airport taxis” outside of the international arrivals lounge. You likely will have no trouble getting a ride – although I’m not sure of the rates. I’m also not sure why they picked black as the color in one of the hottest places in the world.

Public transit: Instead of a taxi (which we had planned to use before the delay in customs altered our plans), we took public transit into town. There is a bus stop outside international arrivals, crossing the first lanes of traffic and then off to the left. You should notice the building-like structure with route names on nearby posts.

There are quite a few buses that stop at the airport, but we were only interest in the A1 that heads from the airport into the city. The bus is a coach-like bus with baggage storage underneath. This is nothing like any city bus you might be used to elsewhere! The price is just 4 dirhams.

Abu Dhabi “A1” bus line schedule and route

Terminal 3 of Abu Dhabi airport seems to be an Etihad-only terminal. As noted on the airport’s website, the terminal “Opened in spring 2009, Terminal 3 is designed to feel like a luxury hotel rather than an airport. And it’s only for you.” Well… you and 10,000s of others of various nationalities and cultures! That is, unless you are there at 3 am like we were:

An empty Terminal 3 (just outside the check-in desks, which are steps from customs and security) 

Shiny duty-free shops in Terminal 3

Sleeping in the airport: There are a few options of where to sleep in the airport during long layovers.
(1) Sleeping pods: This is located just before customs in international arrivals

(2) Sleeping in one of the lounges: There are two lounges just inside security in Terminal 1 that are open to anyone who is willing to pay the entrance fee. Katie and I had free passes through my Chase Ink Plus credit card‘s Lounge Pass membership, so we didn’t note the price. But, the website notices prices range from 150 dirham for 2 hours to 400 dirham for 10 hours. We planned to sleep during our first overnight layover in one of these lounges, but we were unable to clear customs before until 4 hours before our flight’s departure time. So…
(3) Sleeping in the terminal (outside security): The Abu Dhabi airport is fairly large and meandering. There are quite a few nooks and crannies that we found while walking around. However, none of them had semi-comfortable looking places to sleep except a series of long padded benches in the walkway between Terminal 1 and 3. This is where I got a few hours of sleep while Katie worked on her laptop using the airport’s free wifi
(4) Sleeping in the terminal (inside security): Rumors are that there are comfortable chairs specifically for sleeping in the terminal. We never ran across any.
(5) Sleeping in hotels: The “Premier Inn” is the airport hotel and is located a short walk from the terminal. The online reviews are quite positive and the prices seem reasonable. We would have booked a night there, if we weren’t planning on trying to enjoy Abu Dhabi with our short time there. All other hotels – including the very fancy ones – are a quite a bit away from the airport.
Premier Inn – as visible from Terminal 3 Gate 37
Check out hotel options here: Booking.com
Check out Sleeping in Airports for more info about sleeping in airports! http://www.sleepinginairports.net/mideast/abudhabi.htm

Bus gates: You are looking forward to settling into your seat and getting to your exciting (hopefully) destination. Well, in Abu Dhabi, there is likely a step between your terminal seat and your plane seat…. a crammed bus ride for perhaps a mile or two with dozens of your flightmates. Just what you wanted! If your flight departs out of Terminal 3 gates 36-57, you are going to get to experience this joy.

Part of the bus gate terminal 

Etihad bus departing from bus gate 37

Buses lined up to take you from your plane to the terminal

Buses lined up full of passengers waiting to be dropped at the terminal

New terminal: Not excited about taking a bus to/from your airplane? Well, you might be in luck. A new, very-large terminal is being built! Although you can easily walk between terminals 1 and 3, you might need to take a short flight over to the new terminal – which is located on the far side of the main runways that we used to arrive and depart (which themselves are a distance away from terminals 1 and 3). We were not able to figure out what the plan was for ferrying passengers between terminals. Buses would likely take quite a long time – using the roadways or tarmac – and we did not see any evidence of a tram being constructed.

New terminal in modal form outside security in Terminal 1
A photo of the current construction progress, taken from our seats during takeoff

Lounges: In addition to the Etihad premium lounges – accessible to Business and First class passengers – there are two general-access lounges in Abu Dhabi Airport: the Al Reem Lounge and the Al Dhabi Lounge. Both are located just inside security in Terminal 1 – either through security from the airport entrance or passing through security once you get to the terminal via bus.

As noted in the Sleep section above, we had two free passes to any Lounge Club lounges across the world thanks to my Chase Ink credit card, which include both of these lounges. We did not note the entrance price that one would have to pay otherwise, although their website indicates that prices range from 150 dirham for 2 hours to 400 dirham for 10 hours.

Once you clear security, there are clear signs to either lounge

Outside of the Al Reem Lounge. This lounge certainly has the much-more accessible entrance, as it is clearly visible from bus-gate-arrival security
You have to follow signs for a bit to find the hidden-away entrance to the Al Dhabi Lounge
The entrance to the Al Dhabi Lounge includes tea and dates (?) – as well as a conveniently-located departure board
Staffed bar serving alcohol and tea/coffee. As we were there in the early morning, we opted only for coffee. But, it does seem alcohol is included in your entrance price.

Cold food bar

JT’s hot-food breakfast. Nothing special.
Katie enjoying the wifi and relative quiet in the Al Dhabi Lounge

Etihad Premium Lounge after US customs in Abu Dhabi airport – a great option for those flying to the US in business/first class!

Traveling with kids: Etihad has placed quite a few racks of strollers throughout Terminal 3 – which is especially helpful for the sometimes-long walks from gates to customs and security to the gates.

Smokers rejoice: There are “smoking cubes” located in the airport to help you get your nicotine fix after a long flight. This one was located right before a very long customs line:

This Smoking Cube was located in the walkway between Terminal 1 and 3 (inside security):

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