The new Etihad Residence announced over the weekend for their A380 aircraft is definitely impressive. And yet I’m having a hard time getting too excited about it. Heck, I’m having trouble mustering the energy to even care. All I can seem to come up with is that the Residence is overrated.
Yes, it is a huge space. It has a 32″ TV, an en suite bathroom and a double bed tucked into the nose of the plane. I like all of those things. At least in theory. I also recognize that, pending some significant change in the way the offering is priced or marketed there’s absolutely no chance I end up flying in it. That makes it hard to be too ecstatic. Plus there’s the part where I’m wondering just how they’ll make any money with it.
A flight from London to Abu Dhabi prices at GBP 12630, roughly $21,000.
And, yes, that’s less than flying private would cost over the same distance. But you’re also stuck on their schedule and you’re limited to only two passengers. Flying private would be more flexible on both accounts. On the plus side, the fare covers either one or two passengers (per passenger taxes are charged extra). On the down side, the fare has a penalty if you want to refund it, though it is fully changeable without penalty. And if you connect onward there may be an increase for the non-Residence part of the fare.
I think that the double bed is a creative use of the space in the nose, an area which other airlines have used as either a lavatory (most common) or a bar area. Still, Etihad ends up with fewer passengers in the same space versus all the other airlines. And that’s before you get in to the huge bar/lounge area behind the first class cabin. It seems reasonably unlikely to me that they’ll actually sell the Residence all that often. Then again, I’m writing about it here (as are lots of others) so they’re clearly getting the PR boost they wanted with the announcement.
And there’s the part where it is likely not targeted towards commercial passengers anyways. I doubt that many are going to read this post (or any other news coverage from this week) and suddenly decide to drop $20K+ on a plane ticket. It seems that offering the Residences as an option for members of the royal family is much less expensive than maintaining the fleet of private configured jets.
The “normal” first class seats are a very interesting design as well. Rather than sleeping facing forward, backward or at an angle passengers in Etihad’s first class “Apartments” will sleep sideways. It is a very creative way to stagger the seats and get an 81″ long bed into a reasonable amount of overall space. There is also a regular seat in the “Apartment” which allows passengers to switch between sitting and sleeping without completely shifting the bed around. It is not quite clear what the reclining option is in the seat so that may ultimately change my view of the offering, but I’m not so sure that first class passengers are going to suffer too much versus Residence customers. Plus, the Apartments seem more likely to open up as awards (or at least be reasonably affordable in the world of paid first class travel). Oh, and it also means a single aisle in the front of the upper deck on the A380. That will be cool to see.
Given that I spend a decent amount of my life flying around in economy class I figured I’d look at those seats, too; a bit of a mixed bag, I think. Etihad is not offering a premium economy option which means that you need to be ready to spend a lot of time in 31″-ish pitch. Not so spectacular, though it is pretty much the accepted standard in the industry. They are promising a wider seat than most with 19″ in their spec. That’s good news. And then there’s the fixed-wing headrest offering. I’m not a fan at all. It is all too rare that I meet a fixed comfort option which is actually comfortable for most passengers versus adjustable versions. Oh, well.
That said, a couple people I know got to try the seats out on the ground as guests of Etihad this week and they say it isn’t all that bad. I suppose I’ll fly it soon enough to judge for myself.
Also, the carrier thinks that the limited economy class product is sufficient that they wont need a premium economy option on board. Seeing as how that’s the fastest growing segment in long-haul travel I’m a bit surprised by the decision. I suppose they can always add one in downstairs if they change their mind.
So, yes, the new product is definitely creative and sets a new bar for the luxury travel market. And that’s even without the Residences offering. I suppose I should be in favor of that.
More thoughts from others on the topic:
- Etihad’s A380 First Class – Overkill
- Etihad doesn’t see need for Premium Economy on A380s, 787s
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