Etihad Airways has raised the stakes to win the loyalty of luxury travellers with a US$20,000 flying hotel suite complete with a Savoy-trained butler.
The premium travel experience is being offered on its Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft as rival Gulf carriers compete to win high-spending business and first class passengers.
“I think we have set the new standard in premium travel,” said James Hogan, the president and chief executive of Etihad Airways.
“The Residence by Etihad” will be a forward upper-deck cabin configuration on the A380. Accommodating single or double occupancy, it includes a living room, separate double bedroom and en suite shower room. Guests in The Residence will also have a personal butler – trained by the Savoy Butler Academy in London.
Ticket prices start at about $20,000 for either one or two people. The service is being initially offered on London routes starting from this December.
In addition, the upper deck will have a number of fully private suites, branded First Apartments, with a separate reclining lounge seat and full-length bed, as well as a chilled mini-bar, personal vanity unit and wardrobe.
“Etihad’s new product is above premium. What they are trying to do with the A380 residence is like a hotel in the air. If you look at Qatar Airways, they are starting a business class only flight from London to Doha, so Etihad’s product puts them head-to-head for competition to snare high fare, high yield customers” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research.
“Etihad is significantly more expensive than Qatar and Emirates, but this is for the exclusivity of their product. It trendsetting and I wonder how long it will take until an airline comes with a similar product if Etihad’s cabin offerings deliver significant revenues.”
While Etihad does not operate a fleet of private jets like rival Qatar Airways, which has Qatar Executive business, it believes it can charter the premium part of its A380 to accommodate families or government delegations in the region.
“We are a scheduled carrier, so we don’t compete with private jets. All we have taken is the concept of private jets of service into the A380 cabin and the 787 cabin,” said Mr Hogan.
“We certainly believe in the strong market for the residence and the apartments. We can charter that premium part of the aircraft. And frankly we believe we are better than the private jets.”
In 2008, Etihad set up Etihad Design Consortium to conduct consumer research and workshops in Abu Dhabi, Sydney, London, and New York. The research focused on consumers’ demands and needs in a flight.
Etihad did not disclose its investment in the new product.
“There are such exciting changes coming up in Abu Dhabi with the Louvre coming, the Guggenheim, the hospital groups. This city is vibrant and dynamic. We are fortunate to grow alongside of that,” said Mr Hogan.
Etihad has 10 Airbus A380s on firm order. The first A380 will arrive in December and will fly to London. Next year, four A380s will be delivered. They will fly to Sydney, Melbourne, New York and Paris. In 2016, another three A380 aircraft will be delivered to be followed by the last two in 2017.
For the 787 Dreamliners, Etihad has a total of 71 aircraft to be delivered between 2014 and 2023 – making it the largest operator of 787 in the world.
Unlike some European carriers that may struggle to find enough demand for their first class, Mr Hogan said the demand coming from this region is significant.
“There is a market there for this kind of product. We wouldn’t introduce this product unless we felt there’s a return,” said Mr Hogan.
“If you consider we are based here in Abu Dhabi, with the GCC, we are in the middle of this. There’s a huge market … here in the Emirates in peak season, you can’t get a seat in the business class,” Mr Hogan added.