My mom always said that if she managed to win the lottery and become a billionaire, she would have a few houses dotted around the world, and because money would be no object, she would have an identical set of possessions in each house so that she would never have to pack again – everything would simply be there when she arrived. I, on the other hand, often lie in my bed the night before a long-haul flight and dream of the ability to be teleported, still asleep in my comfy double bed, to my destination and to arrive feeling refreshed and calm, not flustered, sleep-deprived and jet-lagged. My mom never did win that lottery to fulfill her billionaire dreams, and I very much doubt that even my fantasy will become possible in my lifetime. But judging by what I saw on the Etihad Airways stand at the World Travel Market a couple of weeks ago, it certainly is a lot closer than one might think.
Etihad is the flag carried of the United Arab Emirates, established by royal decree in 2003 and based in Abu Dhabi. Since then it had grown to be the fourth largest airline in the Middle East, carrying 10.3 million passengers in 2012. Starting in December 2014, the airline will will commence flights with its brand new Airbus A380 superjumbos and will roll out new livery and new cabin products across its fleet of Boeings and Airbuses. It was this new livery and the new cabin products that I recently got to explore at the World Travel Market 2014 and I have to say it’s very impressive.
Billed as the only 3-room suite in the sky, with a living room, separate bedroom and ensuite bathroom, The Residence is truly something unique in air travel. To be launched on Etihad’s new Airbus A380s, there will only be one of these on each plane, situated (naturally!) on the upper deck. Other airlines may have suites but Etihad takes things to a whole new level with this 125 square foot (11.5 sqm) mini apartment. Before you’ve even left the ground, Etihad’s VIP Travel Concierge Service takes care of guests booked into The Residence from the moment of reservation right through until the end of their stay flight – think a luxury chauffeur-driven ride to the airport and a private check-in and lounge. Once on board The Residence passengers have access to their own personal trained butler who takes care of their needs in-flight, and can arrange their itinerary after landing. One enters The Residence via sliding doors into the living room, which is equipped with a butter-soft leather double-seat sofa with ottoman, two dining tables, a chilled drinks cabinet and a 32″ (81 cm) flat screen TV. Pad along the plush carpeted corridor and you will find your own private bathroom complete with shower, toiletries and bathrobes. And just a few steps further along you will find the bedroom furnished with an 82″ (208 cm) long, 47.5″ (120 cm) wide, almost-full-width double bed, natural fibre mattress, Egyptian cotton sheets and a choice of pillows.
As ever, I was interested to hear what guests in the residence would be eating and I had a look at the sample menu on display. Starters included black & red caviar with dusted candied lemon zest, creme fraiche and melba toast; or cream of lobster bisque, with langoustine & chive dumplings and tangerine essence. Mains included grilled ocean trout with saffron risotto, caramelised red cabbage, creamed leeks and a malt vinegar sauce; or chargrilled tenderloin of 45 day dry-aged Australian grass-fed beef with Paris mashed potato and horseradish relish. And if those don’t take your fancy, never fear – The Residence patrons have access to an in-flight chef and can pre-order absolutely anything they like (including, I am told, KFC!). Naturally, passengers are also able to request breakfast in bed…! Flights on the A380s fitted with The Residence suites will operate commercially from Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow starting December 2014 and no, in case you are wondering, this Does Not Come Cheap. The price for a one-way ticket from Abu Dhabi starts at an eye-watering £13,000 or so. On the plus side, each Residence is able to accommodate 2 adults plus a child under the age of 2 years and realistically, nobody is expecting anybody to upgrade from Economy to The Residence – I imagine that the service is aimed at those whose private jet is temporarily out of action (!), or who were going to fly First Class anyway.
First Class Apartments and Suites
I also had a look at the new regular First Class cabin products on the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787. On each A380 there are a total of 9 Apartments, configured 1-1 across a single aisle, each providing 39 square feet (3.6 sqm) of secluded privacy behind sliding doors. The Apartments feature a 30.3″ (77cm) wide reclining chair set at a 90 degree angle to a full length ottoman which is made up as a bed at night. On the Boeing 787 there are eight First Class Suites (as the aircraft is narrower) featuring a 26″ (66 cm) wide reclining lounge chair which converts into an 80.5″ (204cm) long fully flat bed. Both Apartments and Suites feature 24″ (61 cm) flat screen TV, a personal wardrobe, chilled drinks cabinet and space that allows passengers to entertain another guest.
Although I did not have a look at the Business Class cabin products, I did have a seat on Etihad’s new Economy Class seats and I was very impressed with their width: 17 – 19 ” (44.5-50 cm) depending on the aircraft. The new seats have a 31 to 33″ (80-85 cm) inch pitch (in some cases slightly less than the old seats), 6″ (30 cm) recline and 11″ (28 cm) seatback touch-screen TVs (larger than the present 10.5 inch). What I liked best though was the comfy padded adjustable headrest and the neck pillows for each passenger – no more wasting my money on these at the airport! Given the comfort of the seats, and the fact that Etihad handily fly to Johannesburg from London via Abu Dhabi, I would definitely be tempted. Now I just need to find out how good the Economy class catering is… 🙂