Etihad Airways has an answer to the problem of air travel in coach becoming more and more uncomfortable. At the Global Business Travel Association convention in California, Etihad displayed the newest example of luxury in commercial flying.
“The Residence,” a three-room suite Etihad will install in first-class sections of its A380 superjumbo airplanes, the first one is scheduled for service December 27. The 125 square foot suite has a living room with two couches, a 32-inch television set and a refrigerator, a bathroom with a shower, a bedroom with a double bed and a private butler.
“I want them to forget they’re sitting on an airplane,” said Aubrey Tiedt, Etihad’s vice president for guest services, who helped create the idea and the design. The idea is to make the space feel like a hotel suite, she said.
The initial one-way fare is about $20,000, which is the same price for one person as it is for two. The first flights, starting in December will fly from Etihad’s base in Abu Dhabi, United Emirates, to London. Since this is only a six and a half hour flight, there may not be a lot of time to fully enjoy the amazing meals and wine served by your own personal butler, watch a movie on the 32-inch screen TV or use the double bed. However, as Etihad receives more of the 10 ordered A380s, each having a suite, there will be longer routes planned.
This may seem like a marketing stunt to gain a larger share of the high-end international market. Even though this may seem like the height of excess on international premium airlines, experts believe that there is an adequate market for this level of luxury on selected routes.
“There is definitely a market, on selected routes,” said Ron Peri, the chief executive of Radixx International, a global airline reservations systems company. “Emirates has a great first-class product, but this definitely ups the ante” for all airlines’ premium first-class or even business-class products on long routes, he said.
“In my opinion it is both a marketing stunt as well as a clever use of the real estate of the A380,” said Raymond Kollau, the founder of Airlinetrends.com, a research company. “For many airlines, especially from the Gulf region, first class can be regarded as a sort of upscale loss leader that also serves as a flagship product, similar to flagship stores of luxury brands, which increase the overall public perception of the brand,” as Emirates did when it introduced showers on its A380s, Mr. Kollau said.