Erbil International Airport offers VIP treatment

Access to the VIP lounge at Erbil International Airport is by invitation only. The National takes a look.

The Kurdish city of Erbil. Lee Hoagland / The National
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Erbil may have been named the Arab tourism capital in 2014, but the Kurdish city is not attracting many tourists now. Instead, because of local tensions, many visitors flying into its airport are there for business and Erbil International Airport caters well to such visitors.

It has differing grades of lounges, but for the more important dignitaries, diplomats and those with wasta, the VIP lounge is the initial stepping point.

Situated a short car ride away from the main terminal, the invitation-only VIP lounge offers a quiet meeting point for travellers. If you are destined for this lounge, you are likely to be part of an important business delegation or a diplomat, so a quick access and exit from the airport, without the hassle of passport and luggage checkpoints, is key.

The lounge is a spacious room segmented into private areas with a bar serving hot and cold drinks and nibbles such as nuts and crisps. The gold decor, plush sofas and French baroque-inspired furniture amplify the sense of grandeur. But don’t expect a spa, business centre or sleep area. This is literally just one big room divided into six sections – each with a table, sofa and chairs.

Several waiters are on hand to fetch anything you may need. The staff here also check in your luggage and reclaim it too, which takes much longer than if you were to do it yourself.

But it’s a nice option to have and you can use the time to get some work done or network.

The Wi-Fi is freely available and of a decent enough speed.

The one primary snag is that the only tables in the lounge are coffee tables – not particularly comfortable for working on a laptop.

Access to and from the plane is via black luxury cars (for the VIPs) or small vans (for business class ticket holders) that drive up to the steps of the aircraft.

For those who prefer to have as little interaction with other travellers as possible, this lounge is ideal but you need to know the right people to get in.

For the more social traveller, the CIP lounge is an alternative option. It is available to business class ticket holders who must pay US$130 for the privilege of accessing its small minibar and selection of pizzas and crisps.

q&a refuge from the turmoil

Triska Hamid reveals more about Erbil International Airport:

When was the airport built?

It was first built in the 1970s as a military base. Work on the civil airport began in 2003 with the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and was finished in May 2005. Its current reincarnation as Erbil International Airport (EIA) was completed in 2010 with an investment of $500 million. The UAE’s Dnata handles EIA’s services and operations.

Which airlines fly to EIA?

Several European and regional carriers fly into EIA including Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Royal Jordanian Airlines, flydubai, Emirates and Qatar Airways. Iraqi Airways has several international and national flights daily.

Is it safe to fly into Erbil?

Yes, although travel to Iraq is discouraged by many governments around the world. A few planes flying over Iraq have been the target of anti-aircraft fire, but all airlines are now operating flights in and out of Erbil and Baghdad. ISIL has certainly affected the mood of the country and the terrorists do share a border with the Kurdish region, but Erbil remains a safe haven.

How many visitors travelled through Erbil International Airport last year?

About 1.5 million visitors travelled through Erbil, rising from 1.2 million in 2013. Travel has waned since the onslaught of ISIL last June, but with Mosul’s airport under ISIL control, most residents in the surrounding provinces travel through Erbil instead.

The writer was a guest of the Erbil International Airport VIP lounge

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