Residence in the sky
Etihad has raised the bar in luxury airline travel with its new offering of comfort and class for movers and shakers, writes Peter Holmes
THEY don’t mess around when it comes to aviation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
While Dubai-based carrier Emirates rewrote the rules of the sky in recent years by putting bars and showers in its A380s, fellow UAE airline Etihad Airways, based 120km down the way in the capital of Abu Dhabi, has gone one better by creating The Residence, possibly the most extravagant travel experience in the history of commercial aviation.
The Residence, which will be in Etihad’s A380 megaliners from the end of this year, is a private, 11.5sq m, three-room self-contained cabin located on the upper forward deck. It features a living room, double bedroom, separate ensuite shower and a dedicated butler trained at The Savoy Butler Academy in London.
The Residence has custom carpets, table marquetry and soft furnishings, can be used by up to two passengers, and will set you back an eye-watering $US20,000 ($A21,500) for a one-way flight from Abu Dhabi to London. Fares for flights from Australia are yet to be set.
The A380 will fly between Melbourne, Sydney, Abu Dhabi, London, New York and Paris.
Etihad, the 10-year-old airline headed by Australian James Hogan, is attempting to lure passengers away from not only other commercial airlines but from the private jet industry.
On Monday, as part of the multimillion-dollar launch, Hogan and a bevy of Etihad heavies fronted more than 100 media flown in from around the world at Abu Dhabi’s Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel.
Hogan said the airline spent five years researching customer expectations and building prototypes for its new configurations and service offerings, including The Residence.
By taking advantage of currently unused space on the plane and by reconfiguring seat layouts Etihad was able to create more room in its business and first-class offerings. One of the designers told Escape that among the original concepts was a twolevel apartment, however even outrageous luxury has its limits.
While the A380’s The Residence was the big ticket item at the press conference, Etihad also announced new offerings for first, business and economy class travellers.
For those with plenty, but not enough to book The Residence, the A380’s First Apartments will be fully private suites with a separate reclining lounge seat, full-length bed, wardrobe, personal vanity and mini bar. Nine First Apartments will be built on the upper deck in a 1-1 configuration, creating the only single aisle first class cabin available today. It is 74 per cent larger than Etihad’s current first-class suites. Guests in First Apartments will have access to a shower. Fifteen minutes of hot water is available.
On Etihad’s forthcoming B787 Dreamliners the First Suite will be constructed in a 1-2-1 configuration along a unique curved aisle that looks appealing and creates more space. Each First Suite has a large seat and ottoman which converts into a flat bed.
On the A380 and B787, Etihad’s Business Studios all have aisle access and 20 per cent more personal space than current offerings.
Economy passengers will have access to the new Smart Seat which has a fixed wing headrest, lumbar support and 11-inch monitor.
Another of the new features on the A380 is The Lobby, an area for First and Business Class guests with a semicircular lounge, large screen satellite TV and bar. It can be used for meetings, playing board games or watching live sporting events.
The airline is also redesigning its galleys, hiding the equipment behind screens displaying Arabic fretwork.
The A380s will have full mobile and Wi-Fi service, while the B787 will be equipped with Wi-Fi.
“These new living spaces will raise in-flight product and service standards to the highest level yet in commercial aviation,” said Mr Hogan.
“When we took a new business model to the sky in 2004 it was with a clear mandate from our shareholders to be safe, best in class and to be profitable, and all that criteria during the last 10 years we’ve ticked off.
“Everything we’ve achieved has been about benchmarking against the finest in restaurants, hotels and of course other commercial airlines.
“Pre-2008 we had no orders booked and it was very hard for us to get the attention of the manufacturers. In 2008, we signed on for 200 Boeing and Airbus aircraft with a list price of $US43 billion, and that has given us a clear road map until 2020. We’re very focused on how we create points of difference so the journey for our guests is remarkable. The first commercial flights inspired the guests, they promised luxury, exclusivity and it was an era of romance. At Etihad we are keen to recreate those feelings. It’s not about being the biggest.”
Hogan told Escape that, unlike in other categories, no passenger would ever be upgraded to The Residence. You’ve either got it, or you ain’t.