Flight EY460 to Melbourne, economy
It's not a well-known fact, but Abu Dhabi's flag carrier, Etihad Airways, offers a free, non-stop bus service from Dubai to connect with its flights departing this airport. The bus, which picks up on the fringe of downtown Dubai, takes two hours to travel 160 kilometres between the rival emirates. It's nowhere near full, so everyone gets two seats to themselves, and I arrive at the airport exactly two hours before my flight.
Terminal 3 is dedicated solely to Etihad flights, while T1 and T2 are for the other airlines. You'd think the government would therefore splash out on this terminal, but the décor is a positively utilitarian grey, compounded by the fact it's deathly quiet at 11pm, with none of its usual buzz. However, it gleams, as staff spray and polish every surface avidly.
I've already uploaded my PCR tests and vaccination status through Etihad's website and received my Verified to Fly status, so the staff merely double-check my paperwork and I'm through the check-in process so fast, I almost have whiplash. With requirements now changing (fully vaccinated travellers now no longer need a PCR test before flying into Abu Dhabi), it can only get faster.
Compared with Dubai, which opened its airport early and determinedly to all comers, as it resolutely went ahead with its much delayed Dubai Expo, Abu Dhabi has been far more reticent to fling open the doors as the global pandemic eases. Added to that several drone attacks by Yemeni Houthis near the airport just a few weeks before my flight, and as a result, there are tumbleweeds blowing through its corridors. With so few people passing through Abu Dhabi, passing through security is painless, with multiple scanners standing empty.
FOOD AND DRINK
Everything is winding down ahead of my flight back to Melbourne, which departs at 12.40 AM. I grab an enormous cup of tea and a toasted sandwich from Costa: the cafe chain is always a reliable choice in these parts, if you don't want to reek of cooking oil. There are the usual fast-food options, but as Etihad's 2021 results showed a passenger load of just under 40 percent over the full year (rising to 70 per cent in December 2021), the heavy toll on the travel industry is immediately apparent, even in such global hubs.
What to buy? There is a ridiculous amount of gift-boxed dates on sale, from beautiful, pistachio-stuffed dates from high-end brand Bateel (my choice) to boxes of the famed fruit from the Liwa oasis, where the movie Dune was filmed. The top-tier fashion, watch and sunglasses shops are open, but all the DIY perfume testers are packed away. Thanks for nothing, COVID.
Amazingly, there is a little red post box airside, so I finish and post all my unwritten postcards before jumping on the free wifi. I could have a free shower near gates 32 and 37, or take a PCR test for AED40. Many things change, but the gold kneeling camel, on which every kid who visits Abu Dhabi has been photographed sitting, is still there.
While cautious Abu Dhabi is coming out of hibernation, it's still a surprise to see just how sleepy the airport is. But if that means no queues and fast service, then sleepy is good.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE