Executive travel: Two lounges and a comfy seat on Etihad’s business-class flight to San Francisco

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There's a lot to do in Abu Dhabi International Airport before Etihad's direct red-eye flight to San Francisco takes off at 2.25am. At about 10pm, I arrive at the business class check-in area at Terminal 3, and a uniformed concierge is on hand to take my case from the taxi. After immigration and security – both pleasantly uncrowded – my next stop is the expansive Etihad-only business class lounge.

For premium passengers wanting a late dinner in the lounge, there are two separate buffet areas serving a range of cold starters and a changing menu of hot dishes; the curries being my favourite. Spa services have been chargeable since last year, so I pass on these.

But don't get too comfortable, because US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) closes its pre-clearance facilities to all passengers one hour before departure. Abu Dhabi is one of a handful of airports outside North America that offers CBP. While the facility is a great asset, there is a real risk of missing your flight. So I proceed early through the secondary passport and security scanning apparatus and then the pre-clearance operation downstairs next to gates 58 to 61 in Terminal 3 – a clean model of efficiency compared to most US airports – and get stamped into the US before heading back upstairs and into a mini-business class lounge, with sandwiches, snacks and drinks, before boarding.

Once you board your flight, you’re cleared to land in the US as a domestic passenger with no further checks.

On board the Boeing 777-200LR, which has 40 seats in business class in a 1-2-1 layout, a half-hour delay is no issue and I use it to change into the provided pyjamas.

After take-off, unfortunately the masala dosa from the all-day dining menu runs out, so I settle for the Bohemian dumplings with mushrooms and blue cheese.

I sleep for about six hours before watching the film La La Land on the E-Box entertainment system. The flight is pleasantly smooth and lands on a clear morning at San Francisco airport at 7.30am.

q&a pre-cleared and set to go

Rosemary Behan expands on Etihad Airways’ direct service between Abu Dhabi and San Francisco:

Were you affected by the US device ban?

Because I was flying just a few days before the ban on devices from passenger cabins was introduced, I had my laptop with me. However, to ease the issue, Etihad now lends approved tablets and offers unlimited Wi-Fi to premium passengers travelling on US-bound flights. In addition, there are several desktop computers in the business lounge that can be used.

How often do these flights operate and how long is the flight?

The route launched in 2014 and since February this year has been a thrice-weekly service, departing on Saturdays, Mondays and Thursdays. The flight takes 16 hours. On the return, the flight leaves San Francisco at 9.50am, arriving in Abu Dhabi at 12.35pm the following day.

What else is there to know about the pre-clearance facility at Abu Dhabi airport?

The service applies to all passengers flying to the US with Etihad and comes at no extra charge. Assuming your documentation is valid, this enables you to clear both immigration and customs before take-off.

How much do tickets cost to San Francisco?

Currently from Dh5,680 return in economy and from Dh19,570 return in business.

Where is the airport in San Francisco?

San Francisco airport sits between the city of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.


* The writer was a guest of the airline.

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