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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I agree, I couldn’t care less. If they are ever available for miles it will be some ridiculous amount. I’d rather buy multiple economy/biz tickets for that and visit more places.
I think the key point (and smart move on EY’s part here) is that EY is the ONLY carrier that come up with an innovative, potentially REVENUE-GENERATING purpose for that ‘dead space’ at the front of the upper deck on the A380. On other carriers it simply goes to waste (in my opinion, of course). The lounges most A380 operators have put there don’t get much foot-traffic from what I’ve seen on my trips. LH’s use of that area for restrooms was up until now an okay use of the space, but very poorly designed being that F-class is on the upper deck (German efficiency yes, private and F-like, no).
I think it is overrated as well. To me, it seemed like EY combined the best parts of the Emirates and Singapore A380 to create the Residence. Showers and double beds are not new in commercial aviation. I really didn’t think anything was groundbreaking or revolutionary (or not as revolutionary when Emirates announced its showers back in 2008.)
It can be redeemed for 2 million points but is that even realistic? Etihad Guest miles expire after 2 years regardless of any activity (they expire after 3 years if you’re Etihad Guest gold elite.) Ok I guess it is realistic if you pay full fare first class all the time since you do earn 300% but I’d think even the above average business class traveler can’t earn that many miles in 3 years.
In regards to premium economy, I’m not surprised. Etihad’s main competitors, Emirates & Qatar Airways, never had a premium economy offering in any of their planes so perhaps that’s a reason Etihad opted to keep it a simple economy/business/first cabin (oh and Residence too.)
Thank you for including comments on the economy product – so many writers get so wrapped up in drooling over the premium offerings that they never even mention the cabins in which most of us spend most of our actual flying time!
Jealous? Haha, so am I. I applaud EY for the rollout. They’ve certainly received quite the media and blogger hype around their new product. Maybe that was the point??? Although showers and beds aren’t new, this combined set of products is. They shouldn’t offer it for redemption. Ever. With exclusivity comes a pricetag, and as you pointed out – private is still more expensive. I give Etihad props for trying a new concept in the world of flat-beds and suites being the standard. Only time will tell if it’s a profitable wager or not. I would be perfectly comfortable in their business class seat based on looks – and the service has been known to be pretty awesome. Compared to Emirates – the obvious competition – I think this is a stand out product and wish them the best. I did enjoy this post quite a bit! Thanks, Seth!
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