When you’re talking first-class airline luxury, amenities like lie-flat seats and gourmet menus often elicit polite responses of the “Oh, that’s nice” variety. But now some Mideast-based airlines are taking luxury flying to new extremes so ridiculous, so crazy, you can only gasp, shake your head, and say, “That’s just sick.”
We’re going to see such sick extremes this week.
On Dec. 27, Etihad Airways will debut the first of 10 Airbus A380s that feature The Residence — a three-room suite complete with bedroom, bathroom, and its own dedicated butler. This inaugural Residence will be on the Abu Dhabi-to-London route. Price of a one-way ticket: $21,000 (still a bargain compared to a private jet, which could easily run into six figures).
Meanwhile, Etihad’s UAE rival, Dubai-based Emirates, isn’t taking this bedroom-suite news lying down. It has been dropping hints that it’s about to unveil an airborne bedroom suite of its own.
Let the other guys fight over legroom and Wi-Fi; these two Mideast airlines are fighting over who can offer the most (with apologies to The Jeffersons) “deluxe apartment in the sky.”
1. Etihad’s new suite: The Residence
Yahoo Travel recently got an early peek at Etihad’s Residence suites as we toured a mockup in San Francisco. Our guided tour was led by Tomas, one of the 13 elite butlers Etihad is deploying to staff the Residence suites. Tomas, like each of the new Residence butlers, received special training at the University of West London and at London’s famous Savoy Hotel.
"You can travel alone or with your partner," Tomas tells us of the three-room suite. "The reason why I’m saying partner is you have two seats in the living room. But you have one bedroom, so you’d better like the person who is next to you."
Looking at the Residence, it’s clear Tomas is right; you’d better like your travel partner: While still palatial compared to airline seating, this 125 square-foot suite is still on the cozy side.
The bedroom features an 84-inch double bed with Egyptian cotton sheets and a seatbelt (being able to say “strap yourself in” to you travel partner as you lie in bed may be worth the fare price alone). The bedroom also has a 27-inch HDTV.
The living room has a 32-inch HDTV and seats padded with the same kind of leather used in Ferraris. Just off the small hallway between the bedroom and living room is a private bathroom with shower.
All the while a butler like Tomas will be there at your beck and call. “If you would like to have breakfast in bed, no problem,” he says. He points out that, unlike traditional airline cabins in which hundreds of passengers have to share multiple flight attendants, each Residence butler is there to serve you alone. “I’m the butler, and I’ll be the one serving you through the whole flight,” he says.
2. Emirates’ new suite: To be announced
While Etihad is upping the ante in the in-flight high luxury game, Emirates is keeping its cards very close to the chest. All we do know is that Emirates is planning some kind of bedroom suite of its own,
"It’s all about privacy," Emirates President Tim Clark told the Wall Street Journal back in May. “Our new bedroom concept will take it to the next level.”
What that new bedroom concept will be is anyone’s guess. “At this time we have no information to share on this topic,” the airline told Yahoo Travel.
What we do know is that the new bedroom suites will be a significant expansion of Emirates’ current first-class seating. Again, as far as air travel goes, these mini-suites are incredible. But they’re aerial ghettos compared to Etihad’s planned Residence.
For one, Emirates’ current suites aren’t completely enclosed; they’re more like flying cubicles than rooms. Emirates knows that won’t cut it against The Residence; an Emirates vice president told Gulf News, their new suite is “based on our [first class] cabin but more as a room concept and private.”
Currently, first-class customers on Emirates flights must make do with a two shared “shower spas,” which they can only reserve for about 25 minutes at a time. (How ever do they manage?) Australian Business Traveller reports that, like The Residence, Emirates’ new suite is widely expected to offer a private bathroom with shower.
One thing we may not see on Emirates’ new suite: butlers. An Emirates official told Gulf News their new suites won’t have ‘em. But all’s fair in love and airline wars, so after the adoring press Etihad has received for its Residence butlers no one would be too shocked if Emirates finally does trot out its own butler corps.
However, Etihad’s new bedroom suite will be the first to get off the ground, becoming the new standard in luxury commercial air travel. And until Emirates makes its counter move, Etihad — like a passenger in its deluxe Residence suite — will have the perks all to itself.
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