1. Free Wifi
Yes. Literally one click. No signing away your first born our your personal freedom. No time limit.
2. Train Connection To Somewhere Worth Seeing On A Four-Hour Layover
No. Abu Dhabi has been talking about urban rail for years, but as of March, 2014 there were no shovels in the ground or tenders on the street. Someone important needs to say yalla already and make this happen. Until then, it’s a 30 minute cab ride to the city centre where you can shop or go to the beach or look at starchitect-designed skyscrapers. Etihad offers free bus transfer for passengers to Dubai (about 75 minutes), so if you’ve got a lengthy layover you can always go skiing in a shopping mall.
3. Duty Free Costs
It wouldn’t be the UAE without stores selling gold-plated Ray-Bans and overpriced handbags. Both Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 have a wide selection of duty free shopping.
1L Bombay Sapphire gin = AED85 (CAD$25)
Coco Mademoiselle eau de parfum 50ml = AED364 (CAD$110)
4. Security Screening
Variable. I landed in the new Terminal 3 and was among the first 10 people to arrive at immigration. Three of the eight counters were open, but one was reserved for UAE nationals or expats with residency permits. The customs officers at the other two counters moved like actors in a beautiful slow motion film, except when they answered their mobile phones.
At first there appeared to be only one visa stamp between the three counters, so a fourth officer had to walk the visa stamp from counter to counter, pretty much grinding the whole process to a halt.
One of the richest countries in the world and they share a visa stamp.
I took this all in stride, having seen this (and worse) in previous landings. The German couple behind me who were unfamiliar with this inshallah work ethic got increasingly annoyed at the visible inefficiency and the growing line. I wanted to say, if this annoys you, it’s probably best that you just stay inside the airport.
I flew out of the older Terminal 1 on my way to Hong Kong and exit procedures took five minutes. So maybe new isn’t always better.
5. Ease of Orientation
Watch for construction. Every time I land at AUH the airport is configured differently. New bits have been built; old bits are walled off for renovation. Most Etihad flights arrive and depart from the swish, well-signed Terminal 3. The major European and Asian carriers often use the original Terminal 1. It’s a 5 to 10 minute walk between the two terminals, usually through construction hoarding. There are also well-hidden Terminals 1A and 2 that host flights to the Asian countries that supply the UAE’s army of low cost labourers. You only need to know where these terminals are if you’re flying a budget airline to Mumbai.
6. Pre-Flight Food
Unimaginative. There are passable cafes in both terminals, but no proper restaurants or lounges. It’s best to be a business traveller in Abu Dhabi so you can graze the hotel-style buffet in the Etihad business lounge and chase your omlette with a glass of bubbly.
7. Architecture/Interior Design
If The Jetsons built an airport… Terminal 3 is a simple, modern glass and steel airport that looks like all the other simple modern glass and steel airports I fly through and don’t really notice. Terminal 1, on the other hand, is an architectural marvel. The terminal originally opened in 1932 but feels like it was designed in the 1960s to look like the 25th century. The long, low entry corridor opens into a round circular room with a curved blue and green tile ceiling that feels like the underside of a giant psychedelic mushroom.
Overall Rating for AUH: 84%