The Dh200m business lounge at Abu Dhabi Airport opens its doors after a makeover that has taken seven months to complete.
New five-star lounge lifts off at Terminal 1
ABU DHABI // Formula One race car simulators, Cartier diamonds and prawn cocktails - such are the luxuries on offer at the renovated Abu Dhabi Airport.
The Abu Dhabi Airports Authority unveiled its completed Terminal 1 expansion project on Tuesday, which aims to entertain passengers with luxury shops and a world-class business lounge.
"We have moved from three star to five star," said Ahmed Al Haddabi, chief operating officer of Abu Dhabi Airport Company. "We have taken into consideration the needs of every passenger. Now I can say that the capacity is almost challenging the demand and we will make sure we continue to make sure the capacity more or less exceeds the demand in all aspects."
The results of the seven-month makeover, which cost between Dh150 million and Dh200m, are first visible in the car park. The airport now has 1,800 air-conditioned parking spaces - there are 1,200 more outdoors - and a waterless car wash facility.
There are 54 check-in counters, a 40 per cent increase, to speed passengers on their way. Going through immigration will also be quicker. There are now 34 counters, including one for the disabled and a closed counter where veiled women will have privacy to show their faces to female immigration officials. All of this is to make travelling easier for the eight million tourists a year Abu Dhabi plans to attract by 2030, four times its current number.
Fifty-five per cent of passengers at the airport are in transit, and it is inside the gates that the biggest difference will be noticed. Twelve million passengers are expected at the airport this year, or more than 32,000 a day, an 8 per cent increase over last year.
In the new business lounge, a room marked by plush carpet and heavy lattice work, passengers can browse Sheikh Khalifa: The Life and Times while they nibble on hors d'oeuvres. If they are not interested in the buffet menu that changes every two days, they can place special orders with the head chef.
After, guests can recline in eggshell-shaped chairs, viewing video on flatscreen televisions. Laptops are also available.
One of the regulars at the lounge is a Lebanese woman who lives in Sharjah. She said she now makes a point of passing through Abu Dhabi airport to buy Jimmy Choo shoes at a duty free price.
The best distractions are to be had outside the lounges. There are Formula One simulators - installed a few days ago - which are available for free. Here, you can "drive" around the Yas Island track. There are 10 consoles that offer internet access and 10 others that offer computer games.
In the waiting area, Stephanie Ferrigo, 30, and her partner, Aron O'Maolruaigh, spent their a 26-hour layover from New York to Cape Town browsing on their iPads at the newly opened McDonald's. Previously, the airport had a lone coffee shop. It now shares space with 27 other food and beverage outlets.
"We spent the night at the Airport Hotel but we don't have any wi-fi in the rooms," Ms Ferrigo said. "It was a bit of a nightmare when we were here in January. It's much better. We've been using the free Wi-Fi, I bought a gift for my Gran, a pashmina."
Next year a personal shopping service will be introduced.
In recent days the first airport Givenchy boutique in the Middle East was opened, and the first Burberry ready-to-wear line is now available at the Duty Free shop.
Perfume remains one of the most popular items, and the biggest spenders are the Chinese, who make up less than 1 per cent of the traffic but represent 4 per cent of sales.
"It's a very small base but they are prolific shoppers and they love all the premium brands," said Daniel Cappell, the senior vice-president of the Revenue Development.
The changes are welcome to Nasser Al Saadi, a Qatari medical student who missed his flight to Dublin and was stuck in the airport for 14 hours. He accepted his fate, bought an Arabic copy of a Dan Brown book and stretched out on one of the airport's 80 new reclining chairs to pass the time.
"The airport appears small but it seems like there are many things here," said Mr Al Saadi. "I went to McDonald's and the prayer hall. Everything is so amazing."