Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Experiencing the Etihad Residence

What is it like on board in the most ridiculous, over-the-top seating offering commercial aviation has seen in decades? Well, I’m pretty sure that neither “ridiculous” nor “over-the-top” is anywhere close to sufficient to describing the scene inside the Etihad Residence. As I lay down in the double bed, laughing while Georgina (my butler) took a photo to prove I really was there I could not help but wonder about the offering, who would ever truly pay their own money for it and what the future truly holds for premium cabin luxury. And then I remembered that I was actually in the bed and it was time to have fun, not ponder the real world.

Etihad Residence Suite living room

The living room area in the Etihad Residence is bigger than any other personal space I’ve seen on a plane. And it is just one of three rooms the Etihad Residence offers.

I was greeted at the door to the suite (and the Etihad Residence is probably the only offering which deserves the “suite” moniker as it has multiple rooms) by Georgiana, one of the 15 specially trained butlers (she just finished her training at the Savoy) and shown in to the living room. This space is larger than any other private area I’ve seen on a commercial aircraft, with a luxurious leather couch for two facing the 32″ television, a private refrigerator for your preferred drinks and space to set up fine dining for two. There’s also an ottoman on the right where others can sit such that there really is room for 3-5 to dine comfortably in the living room area but it will not be configured to support that many passengers.

After a short stop in the living room where we discussed the training of the butlers and amenities available for the service Georgiana showed me in to the bathroom area. This is a full bath, including a private shower for the Etihad Residence passengers. And it is pretty darn impressive. The shower is a different shape than that offered by Emirates and actually larger, I believe. If not it is still quite a comfortable size and most ridiculous for a private facility on a commercial aircraft.

Etihad Residence Cabin ShowerEtihad residence suite bathroom

And then it was time to visit the crown jewel of the Etihad Residence class: The bedroom.

A bed truly made for two in the Etihad Residence suite.

A bed truly made for two in the Etihad Residence.

The double bed really is that large. Plenty of room for two passengers and a seatbelt which goes across the entire bed to meet safety regulations. And, while it is hard to know what the specific comfort level will be in the air, I found it to be more than sufficiently pleasant.

That's me enjoying the Etihad Residence bed.

That’s me enjoying the Etihad Residence bed. Absurd, right??

The Etihad Residence Suite is more than just the space on board. It is also about the services provided. Currently Etihad has only 15 crewmembers trained to serve the passengers of the Residence. And the training is significant. Passengers will be catered to in nearly every conceivable aspect of the visit. Buy a present for someone from the duty-free catalog? The butler can gift wrap it for you on board? Need a dinner reservation upon arrival? The butler will phone ahead from the plane to make plans. Expect total privacy on board? So does Etihad; only the butler and the pilots will even know the name of the booked passengers in the Etihad Residence; the rest of the cabin crew is never informed who is occupying the luxury suite. Dining preferences are arranged in advance of the trip and special requests are considered standard (though in some cases the carrier may charge extra if the cost to provide is out of the normal range; a Bentley rather than the normal limousine is one example of an up-charge mentioned).

The version of the Etihad Residence I got to experience is a mock-up the airline has on display at this year’s World Travel Market conference in London. It is not the fully functional suite but the setup is built full scale and all of the features are identical to what will be available when the Etihad Residence Suite enters service on the carrier’s A380s flying between Abu Dhabi and London in December of this year. Sydney will follow as a destination and New York City is strongly rumored to be the third city which will see the service, though that is a few years away pending future A380 deliveries.

I didn’t get to fly in the Etihad Residence and I probably never will. But I did get a brief experience inside. And I know for certain that it is way more ridiculous than anything I’m likely to ever fly.

Read more about the Etihad Residence:


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