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Review: Etihad’s First and Business Class Lounge at JFK

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TO THE POINT: Like its counterpart at LAX, Etihad’s stylish lounge at JFK is the perfect place to unwind before a flight. The pros: a gorgeous aesthetic that matches the plane you’ll be flying, lots of seating areas, excellent service and a private space for Residence passengers. The cons: there’s no Six Senses Spa or men’s shaving salon.

After successfully bidding on an upgrade from business class to the first-class Apartment on a recent Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi (AUH), TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen checked out Etihad’s swanky lounge in JFK. Here’s his review. (All photos are by the author.)

Because I was flying in first class on Etihad, I had access to the airline’s lounge at the airport before my flight. It opened in December 2015, and was just the second Etihad lounge in the US (the first, at IAD). The airline operates out of Terminal 4 at JFK, so after check-in, I was directed to security and told to turn left to find the lounge itself.

Though first- and business-class passengers share the lounge, there’s a separate lounge-within-a-lounge for passengers flying in the Residence, which you can read about in TPG’s review here. According to the airline’s policy, Etihad elites (Silver, Gold and Platinum) should also be able to access the lounge when flying Etihad, even in economy.

Etihad's lounge is just past security in Terminal 4 - so it can also be a bit of a walk to your plane!
Etihad’s lounge is just past security in Terminal 4, so it can be a bit of a walk to your plane!

Check-In

I headed straight to the lounge and was greeted by not one, but three attendants at an angular white podium. I loved the look of the entry, with polished, dark paneling backing the podium and a whimsical chandelier that looked like a bunch of little champagne bubbles floating overhead.

One of the attendants verified my boarding pass and passport, while another stowed my carry-on bag for me until my flight. Once my documents were handed back, I was shown into the lounge and given a brief, informal tour of the space.

By the time I got to the lounge, I had about an hour before boarding, so I went through taking pictures and generally being nosy, leafing through some of the books and checking out the various seating areas.

The overall design aesthetic is mid-century modern meets traditional Emirati.
The overall design aesthetic is mid-century modern meets traditional Emirati.

The Lounge

Meant to match the interiors and aesthetic of the airline’s newest aircraft — including the A380 I was flying and the 787 Dreamliner — the design is titled ‘Facets of Abu Dhabi’ and is inspired by traditional Emirati designs and desert landscapes.

The more exposed dining area just inside the lounge entrance.
The more exposed dining area just inside the lounge entrance.

The entrance leads right into a small sitting area with armchairs surrounding low coffee tables. Just behind it, you’ll find the bar, which is quite long, featuring high stools running its length and a long banquette facing it.

A shot of the bar, which is just beyond a sitting area at the entrance.
A shot of the bar, located just beyond a sitting area at the entrance.

I loved the bar’s aesthetic. It was naturally backlit by floor-to-ceiling windows, and along the back and ceiling there was a geometric installation with orange-gold light that hearkened to the geometrical patterns of traditional Middle Eastern design. Back to the bar in a moment, though.

The bar was backlit by natural light from the tarmac.
The bar was backlit by natural light from the tarmac.

On the opposite side was a small dining area, part of which was out in the open as part of the main lounge, while another side of it was in a sort of semi-private, dimly lit dining room.

The small inner dining room.
The small inner dining room.

Along the length of the lounge were more sitting areas facing the windows.

Looking back down the length of the lounge from the far end.
Looking back down the length of the lounge from the far end.

I loved the little space at the end that felt more like a parlor or library, with comfortable, contemporary swiveling armchairs looking out at the tarmac and shelves full of art books.

The little sitting areas at the quiter back of the lounge.
The little sitting areas at the back of the lounge.

Opposite the windows and adjacent to the dining room was a small buffet with fresh food and non-alcoholic beverages. Along a small hallway just past this were the bathrooms and showers, as well as separate male and female prayer rooms.

Separate male and female prayer rooms.
Separate male and female prayer rooms.

Amenities

Unlike the airline’s lounges in Abu Dhabi, this one, unfortunately, doesn’t have a Six Senses Spa or a men’s shaving salon, so maybe it’ll consider adding those facilities if expanded.

Even the bathrooms were cool.
Even the bathrooms were cool.

Basically, the main thing to do here is get some work done and have a pre-flight snack or meal. Speaking of work, the Wi-Fi was free. I did a test of the Wi-Fi speed, and it clocked in at a fairly speedy 22.87 Mbps for downloads and 39.30 Mbps for uploads.

The free Wi-Fi was operating at a fair clip.
The free Wi-Fi was operating at a fair clip.

Food and Beverage

As I mentioned, one of the main things to do is enjoy the food and have a drink, especially since the bar is such a showcase. It’s pretty spectacular, in fact. Not only is it very swanky, but there’s a premium selection of spirits (the wines were a bit less impressive), as well as a list of custom cocktails created especially for the lounge by a London “beverage consultancy” called Fluid Movement.

In addition to the usual list of classic cocktails, the specialty drinks are named after and meant to represent some of the airline’s major destinations, like Mumbai, Sydney, New York and Los Angeles. The bartender was extremely friendly and offered to whip up a Los Angeles for me just to photograph.

The friendly bartender made me one of the specialty cocktails - the Los Angeles - just to take a picture of!
The friendly bartender made me one of the specialty cocktails — the Los Angeles — just so I could take a picture of it.

The Los Angeles is tequila-based, with rice milk, cocoa nibs, chili, sugar, coffee and a cotton-candy topper with dried dahlia petals. The New York, on the other hand, was a twist on the Manhattan, with applejack, walnut-infused bourbon, clarified pressed apple juice and maple syrup.

In case you’re not drinking alcohol, there are also some interesting mocktails on offer. The Abu Dhabi comes with cold brew coffee, rose petals, cardamom and tonic; while the Winglet features pressed pear juice, pineapple, elderflower and olive oil. Aside from that, there was Laurent-Perrier NV Brut Champagne and the wines were mostly standard, like a Liberty School Merlot and Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

I kept it simple...and opted for the champagne!
I kept it simple … and opted for the Champagne!

My flight left around 3:00pm, so I wanted to wait and eat onboard. I was still feeling a bit peckish though, so I browsed the buffet.

The cold selection included fresh-sliced fruit, vegetables, cheeses and salads. There was one with baby spinach, little gem lettuce and red leaf lettuce; a sort of antipasti selection of roasted red pepper, grilled asparagus, mozzarella, grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes and marinated tofu with red onions and roasted beets. There was also a selection of Arabic mezze.

On the hot side of the buffet, I spotted steamed vegetables, rice and chicken tikka masala, none of which was too tempting.

Another shot of the buffet with the drinks behind.
A shot of the buffet. with the drinks behind it.

Everything looked fine, but I usually prefer to have something made fresh, so I grabbed one of the dining tables and perused the à la carte menu instead.

Appetizers included mezze and Lebanese lentil soup, which I skipped in favor of a main course — my options were chicken tikka masala, spiced rack of lamb with mashed potato and grilled asparagus, pan-seared flounder with red beet hummus or sautéed Swiss chard and pistachios. I opted for the lightest choice, a vegetable garam masala curry with house-made roti.

The refrigerated and hot beverage selections for non-alcoholic drinks.
A look at the refrigerated and hot beverage selections for non-alcoholic drinks.

My meal was light but still flavorful, though it could have used a few more veggies. Most of them seemed to be red peppers, but the cauliflower and broccoli were good, too. Another passenger near me ordered the lamb chops, and they looked delicious. I definitely would have ordered those if I’d wanted something more substantial.

I ordered the vegetarian garam masala for something light.
I ordered the vegetarian garam masala for something light before my flight.

Service

The level of service at the lounge was really impressive — from the three-person greeting when I checked in to the efficiency of the dining staff and the bartender’s sheer delight in showing me some of the drink specialties.

I think the longest interval that went by without someone asking me if I needed anything was about five or six minutes. While I understand that might be a bit cloying for some folks, I didn’t mind because I was up and about in the lounge, so it just felt like they were taking good care of me.

Finding a little quiet space at the back of the lounge.
Finding a little quiet space at the back of the lounge.

Aside from the bartender taking the time to show me all the wine selections, I thought the other standout moment was when a young lady manning the buffet saw me struggling to find the right button on the espresso machine. She stepped right over and made a joke that it had taken her a while to get used to the machine, too, so not to mind it. She asked what kind of drink I would like and then set the machine up for me.

While it was being made, she gathered a saucer, spoon and sugar for me, then carried it back to my table since I had a small plate in my other hand. When she left me at the table, she must have noticed I was out of water, because she came back with another little bottle of San Pellegrino before I’d even gotten settled. It was the combination of all those little touches and her friendliness, as well as that of the rest of the staff, that colored the experience and set it apart.

The reading selection.
A selection of magazines were available.

Overall Impression

When even the lounges of major international carriers in the US can be a bit lackluster, it’s always very nice to come across one that’s not only a relaxing place to spend a little time before your flight, but one that offers unique amenities and a cohesive design aesthetic to help set the mood before your flight.

Etihad’s First- and Business-Class Lounge at JFK is one of those places. The décor was swanky without being over the top, the à la carte options were varied and the bar as well as the signature cocktails were really quite unique. All in all, I think this is a fantastic addition to JFK’s lounge scene. But more than that, though I was already excited to fly to Abu Dhabi in the Apartment, the lounge and its incredible staff made me that much more eager for my flight.

Have you been in Etihad’s JFK lounge? What did you think of it?

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