I recently returned to the United Arab Emirates for a quick vacation with friends. My first trip to Dubai two years ago was a solo one and thus this recent adventure was a welcome opportunity to experience the tiny Muslim nation again, but this time with company. The reason for the return – the Christmas Day 2014 fare glitch with Etihad Airways. The cost: $200 RT from NYC to AUH including travel insurance. In this post, I will break down all you need to know about this airline and helpful tips for your next Dubai/Abu Dhabi trip.
1. Etihad Airways, started in 2003, is one of two flag carrier airlines of the United Arab Emirates alongside Emirates Airlines. Its head office is in Khalifa City near Abu Dhabi. Etihad’s fleet (generally accommodating 300+ flyers) ) are generally equipped with USB ports for charging and in-flight entertainment that includes games, movies etch. on your front panel screen. Etihad serves two full meals (the first one meat-based, the second one vegetable-based), one light meal (a sandwich) and one snack during the ~13 hour fight to Abu Dhabi. You’ll get the standard pillow, blanket and headphones but you will not receive the toiletries kit that I’ve seen available on many long international flights. I’d suggest having your own toiletries handy in your carry-on to freshen up.
2. Because of the fare glitch, it appears that Etihad has overbooked many of its flights this year. This was confirmed at the airport by Etihad employees and U.S Customs and Border Protection. This means there is a great chance you may get bumped off of your flight. ADVICE: CHECK IN ONLINE beginning 24 hours before your flight departure to guarantee yourself a seat. This is the only way to guarantee you will get on your flight with them. However, the website seems to get locked off within the last 10 hours before you travel. Thus – the earlier the better! If you show up at the counter without having checked in, it is possible you may have to be put on a priority/standby list. Eek!
3. Etihad seems to be pretty strict about their carry-on size/weight policy. The Economy fare limit is 7 kg (~ 15 pounds) which they stuck by on both legs of my flight. I had a small carry on that met the size limit but weighed 12 kg and they made me check it. If you are traveling first/business class, you have a 2 bag limit at 12 kg ( ~ 26.5 pounds). For more info about this, definitely check HERE.
4. It is highly recommended to reserve your seat in advance, especially if traveling with a group. Call 1-888 – 838 – 4423 to do this. As flights are so booked and several large parties/families were observed travelling together, it is rather difficult to try switch seats with others on board your flight. So reserve in advance!
5. At Abu Dhabi International airport, there is a US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) terminal (Terminal 3). The entrance is adjacent to gates 58-61 and you should proceed here at least 1.5 hours before your departure. It takes a while because Etihad flights are packed with hundreds. Thus, the earlier you go, the better. This is the only place in the entire Middle East where you check in and are technically on American soil! Hence, when your plane lands in the US, it will do so at a domestic gate. When you exit the plane, you’ll be able to go directly to baggage claim. No immigration lines needed upon your return. According to their website, the CBP is currently in use for passengers flying to the U.S. on Etihad Airways flight EY101 to New York (but not EY103), flight EY131 to Washington D.C. and flight EY151 to Chicago. For additional info, go HERE.
6. Given #2 & #5, it is extremely important that you arrive well in advance for your flight in the US and in AUH. You can get bumped off a flight or have zero time to souvenir shop or relax at the airport because of the time it takes to move through Customs.
7. You should book your free coach to Dubai and a return trip with Etihad using you Booking Reference Number. When you enter this info, you will view pick-up times based on your arrival and departure. Use THIS LINK to do so. At the airport (AUH), the coaches are located at the lower level of the arrivals hall. In Dubai, the primary pick-up and drop off point is at the Etihad Travel Mall. This is located on Sheikh Zayed Road (a major strip in Dubai and is located near the Noor Bank Metro Station 2). At the travel mall, you can actually check-in and receive your boarding pass – but only if you arrive much earlier than your coach departure time. Upon questioning, it is also possible to board a coach without a prior booking. However, this will only work if you can show proof of arrival or departure with Etihad Airways and there is available room on the coach. Once on board, you will enjoy a smooth ~1.25 hr ride between the two cities. Free bottled water is provided.
8. If you do not want to take the free coach between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, there are other options. Cab fare between cities will run about 200-300 Dirhams depending on traffic and your location in Dubai. This is about $55-$82 US dollars which can easily be split with up 3 people. You can also catch a local bus between cities. Buses for the 2 hour ride to Abu Dhabi leave the Dubai main bus station roughly between 6 am-10 pm daily with departures being typically every 40 minutes. Buses are run by the RTA Dubai bus line. Tickets are available at Dubai’s central Al Ghubaiba bus station, or you can buy a ticket or bus pass online before traveling. If buses fill up early, they may leave Dubai ahead of schedule; during these busy times, you may have to wait for the next bus. Buses are typically air-conditioned with plush comfy seats.
9. Exchange your own money for Dirhams at Travelex at the airport once you’ve deplaned. The exchange is roughly $3.66 for $1 US. You will be given a receipt. If you have leftover Dirhams at the end of your trip, you may go to the same booth and receive the exact conversion for your Dirhams back to your preferred currency. This is only honored with receipt proof that you exchanged money at AUH. Without it, you will receive slightly less on the exchange. So don’t lose it (the receipt)!
10. If you have some considerable down time/wait time at Terminal 3 at AUH, there is FREE WIFI (score!) and there are sleeping pods available for your comfort. The GoSleep Sleeping Pod was inspired by an airline business class seat and converts into a Sleeping Pod with a 180° fold-flat bed. The Sleeping Pods include secure storage for your luggage and other valuables, and allows customers to charge their laptops, mobile telephones, and other electronic devices.The cost: 1 hr = $14.00; 2 hrs = $26.00 ; 3 hrs = $37.00 ; 4 hrs = $47.00 (with $9.00 per hr beyond 4 hours). There are special promotions if you check in during certain times. Advance bookings are available through HERE and all charges will be made through PayPal and in US dollars.
Hopefully this helps. Happy travel planning!