The days of neck pillows and kids kicking your seat are over, at least if you can afford to fly to Dubai on the new Etihad Airways planes. Etihad has revamped two of their aircraft, the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, in order to turn them in flying luxury hotel rooms. These new commercial planes have the feel of the world's best private jets, complete with an en-suite shower, mini bar, vanity, plush beds, leather couches and, of course, a butler.
James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “These new living spaces will raise inflight product and service standards to their highest level yet in commercial aviation and alter air travellers’ expectations of inflight comfort and luxury forever."
Living spaces is exactly what these planes provide. The first class cabin is a small apartment rather than a chair. The highest end seat is the "The Residence", which offers a three-room VIP suite, including a living room, double bedroom and a shower. The Residence also comes with a personal butler, who has received "specialist training at the Savoy Butler Academy in London," and a travel concierge team which coordinates ground transportation, dining, and other amenities.
Down one ring on the luxury ladder is the "First Apartment". Buying this ticket gets you a private room, with a 64-inch sliding door, an ottoman, and a recliner. They also have access to a shower room. The room transforms to have an 80-inch bed for ample comfort and comes equipped with a vanity, massive TV, and mini bar. Business class seats have similar accommodations.
Anyone staying in the business class, first class or Residence seats has access to The Lobby. The Lobby is a lounge and bar, complete with flatscreen TVs. Luckily the TV in The Lobby has a USB connection, which can be used for "sharing content," so when the flyers aren't busy making money, they can share their secrets to fabulous wealth with one another. Or pictures of their kids. Whichever. Etihad says the space is "designed for relaxing and socialising." Because when you're in the sky with millionaires, you should all hang out together.
As for those lesser people flying in coach, Etihad has upgraded their seats as well. The new economy seats offer a redesign to support the head and lumbar region, as well as a 11-inch personal screen installed with the latest Panasonic eX3 entertainment system. It's no Savoy butler, but it'll do.
Catering to a predominantly Muslim region, Etihad has also built prayer areas "which can be curtained off for privacy and are equipped with a real-time electronic Qibla-finder showing the exact direction of Mecca based on the aircraft’s geographical position." As devout Muslims pray five times a day at set hours, this added luxury will be well received by the Islamic community, who often face logistical problems with in-flight prayer, such as tracking the time, location of Mecca, or even finding a free space on a crowded plane in which to kneel.
Etihad says that the redesign has not forced them to raise prices: “Etihad Airways’ A380 and B787 will deliver the most advanced airline cabins in the industry, while meeting all weight, range and cost targets at our desired seat count. This will allow us to offer products unparalleled in quality and style, yet at competitive prices across all three cabins.”
While they haven't increased ticket costs, a ride on Etihad does not come cheap. A summer (the off-season for the United Arab Emirates) round trip flight runs about $1,800 on United and $1,950 on Delta for coach seats. First-class seats are in the $5,000 range on Delta. The same economy seats are about $2,200 on Etihad, but a first-class suite is almost $9,000. As for the ultra-high-end Residence, Etihad does not appear to be selling seats in this most luxurious cabin yet. Based on the $9,000 ticket for the now second-tier first-class suite, it'll be a pretty penny.
While the price is a brutal hit, it's still less expensive than chartering a private plane to take you the other side of the globe, and those don't even come with a butler.