I am not a fan of flying. Not even a bit, not even for the smallest part. I am more of a "train guy", of course, but this aversion to the air has got less to do to with the vehicle and more to do with the experience. In fact, I love planes (almost) as much as I love trains. What I don't like is cattle class (don't outrage, it is a euphemism for Economy Class). I can't understand what is so glamorous about being held prisoner in a metal tube, squeezed into a thin, 50 cm wide seat for hours on end with little or no mobility and all the accompanying irritations that come from being crammed into a confined space with hundreds of other human beings, with all the view you get being though a small oval-shaped porthole, if you are lucky. I seriously don't understand what people mean when they gush about "aircraft -like features" to describe something new in design when it actually is the most uncomfortable means of travel human civilization has envisaged.
However, uninformed "me-too-doing-what-the-rich-guy-does" wannabes aside, there is a class of people for whom air travel really means luxury, romance and sensory experience, who can't understand why people complain of air travel to be uncomfortable. They usually the uber rich, Arab princes and various internationalists, the 1 to 10% who inhabit the front or upper decks of airplanes, secluded and mysterious places, abodes of the Gods where there is no past or present or future, where laws of space and time unravel and inhabitants experience trans-dimensional sensory experiences, where entry or even a peek by common mortals is forbidden, where trespassing can bring forth very unpleasant consequences for generations to come.
I can only laugh at those idiots who think they are "rich" because they own some plot in Bangalore or travel to work in an SUV. They have no idea. In these days of degenerating decency where your worth is gauged by the amounts of cash you can splurge on things the more senseless the better, where every rich degenerate worth their Caviar and such French words crave for exclusivity in their decadent social circles where the hyperbole never ends, nothing speaks more "bling" than "traveling only First Class".
"Oh! Sharon, sweetheart, I almost forgot darling, but I have to make a quick hop to Zurich and then Dubai to pick up some diamonds and stuff. Edward, please find me a quick first class seat on Douche Airlines, will you?"
"Chantel, darling, Flying commercial? What happened dear? Nobody I know flies commercial! It is a horrible thought, sharing space with common people! They might have something, you know!"
"I know! I too can't stand the thought of sharing space with commoners in First Class! Even the Caviar they serve is not up to the mark these days. And the Champagne and wine are either too cheap or not properly chilled. But when Mr.Rothschild takes all the private jets with him, what else can I do? Exasperating, it is!"
"Oh, so true! These common people cannot seem to understand our needs at all! We need something more than First Class, something 'tres exclusif'!"
So what can be more exclusive than a first class ticket?
Presenting, "The Residence" by Etihad Airways, the epitome, the ultimate, the Bugatti Veyron of exclusive, exaggerated luxury air travel. The Residence is not any old first class seat or semi-cabin where you have to be crammed into some kind of eggshell or pod-like contraption like some peasant, but is your very own 1BH(K) in the sky, a closed-off three-room "suite" consisting of a living room, a bathroom and a goddamn bedroom in the forward (aft) end of the upper deck of the Etihad Airways' Airbus A380, your own private jet on a commercial airliner, complete with personal assistant and
cook chef! Mind blowing? Just wait.
Your own space, any food you want, a sofa, ottoman and your own private bathroom on a plane apart, the biggest highlight, of course, is the bed. There have been full lie-down flat beds of various kinds available on long-haul flights of most airlines For a long time now, with Singapore Airlines' "Suites" class being the most famous. But even there, though you don't sleep on a converted seat per se, you still get only a pull-down bed folded up in the wall, on which a mattress is laid. Etihad has no time for such shit. They actually brought in a real full double-bed (double-cot) like the ones we have at home on the plane, a permanent one with four legs and all, a historical first, with a double mattress and six pillows for it, because why the fuck not?
The Residence is currently available (one each) on Etihad Airways Airbus A380 flights between Abu Dhabi and London/New York/Sydney and yeah, Mumbai, else how would all our Bollywooders ever afFord to travel? Of course, it does not come cheap, but how expensive can it be? The cost of the ticket for The Residence on the Etihad Airlines A380s for a one-way flight from Abu Dhabi to New York can go up to, hold your breath, $32,000/GBP 22,000/EUR 29,000/AUD 44,500/AED 117,500 or a shattering 22 lakh (2.2 million) Indian Rupees. A Residence ticket on the Etihad A380 to Mumbai from Abu Dhabi costs around 2 lakhs, all about two to three times that of regular First Class. But the good news is, the price is for the suite, like in a hotel, and not for the passenger(s). You can bring in an extra passenger for the same fare! Remember kids, it is not the price, but the experience that matters. What are a few dollars when it comes to the most exclusive experience up in the sky in the world and this part of the Universe? And this can be booked online. Go ahead, have a look! Fancy a ride? Let us see what happens.
The Residence Experience
So, you have blown what is the cost for a medium-sized apartment in a 2-tier Indian city on a 14-hour plane ticket. Within fifteen minutes of your purchase, you get a call from Etihad's VIP customer facilitation team in Abu Dhabi, UAE (look out for a call from a phone number starting with +971) confirming your booking, congratulating your purchase and welcoming you to Etihad. They will also have Adele sing a welcome song custom-made just for you (Ok, kidding). You will also receive e-mails and stuff informing you what lies ahead, I guess. As the great day dawns, you ready your stuff to go to the airport and as you wait for your pick up as Etihad had told they would send you a car. But then, you see TWO cars arriving, that too not any old Toyotas or Fords but BMWs or Mercedeses or Cadillacs! Two cars. Two chauffeurs. For one person to travel, because we all need our choices in life, right? You can choose which one you want to travel in, while the other one will return empty carrying nothing but your luggage. I will probably put my legs up in the Mercedes S500 and sip some Champagne while my bags chill in the BMW 7. Your entourage, empty car and all, arrive at the airport, and sadly there won't be a brass band to welcome you which would've been awesome, though there will be a six to seven member welcoming committee waiting for you, including one person just to carry your pre-printed boarding pass, because check-ins, standing in queues and all are only for mortals, you are like God now. And in case you are boarding from Abu Dhabi airport, you will have your very own exclusive entrance as well!
You will be whisked past immigration and security (sorry, even God has to go through security) and will be taken to the First Class lounge and then to your own private lounge complete with a shower a personal assistant who knows everything about you, like a long-lost childhood friend, where you will be given a choice of everything in the world. In fact, all the staff and crew who greet you will seem like long-lost friends to you. It is surreal. And while you are showering, wining, dining and lounging away in your own lounge-within-a-lounge, you will be greeted by your butler. Yes, you read that right. Your. Butler. As in the guy/lady in a tuxedo or trench coat and gloves who speaks in clipped English while standing ramrod straight and addresses everyone as sir and will do all your bidding. He/she will wine and dine you, prepare your bed, take away the trash, stand by your every command, even cook whatever you ask them to, even a full Thanksgiving dinner! Yes, in The Residence, you are Bruce Wayne with your very own Alfred at your side.
After shaking hands and taking selfies with everyone from the boarding pass-collector to the Captain, you will be ushered aboard the A380 by
the your butler through the first door on the upper deck of the A380. You will be graciously led past all the peasants in their First Class "Apartments" (those have only seats that have to be folded to be converted into beds! pfft, the travails of being poor, I tell you) to your very own Suite in the sky. You enter The Residence through double doors and take in all the luxury presented before you, all the intricate attention to every little detail everywhere like the pattern-designing on all the plush carpeting and the rich leather everywhere. You look at the "living room" with its enormous leather sofa on one side (the "seat"), a cushioned Ottoman (TV stand in Indian lingo) facing it, the huge 32-inch flatscreen Samsung LED TV on the wall, the storage compartments everywhere but out of sight and so on. You then move to your own private bathroom which features a full shower compartment and a heated floor! Then you open a lockable door and step into the bedroom, and congratulations, you have scaled the pinnacle of human existence. You will be sleeping on a bed, in the clouds, ten kilometers up in the sky. And of course, you don't have to awkwardly wriggle around in cattle-class airplane lavatories to join the Mile-High club anymore!
Please Note: Traveling First Class or in First-er Classes like The Residence will be incredibly intimidating for the common street-stompers like (most of) us, because that requires an immense knowledge of rich people things, like rich people food for instance. The menus will be full of French tongue twisters such as Truffles, Caviars, Foie Gras, Chateaubriands and other Haute Cuisine stuff served in such high-artsy manners that you will feel guilty of eating them. So, prepare yourself beforehand and learn some useful French menu items (and their pronunciations) so the crew might take you for a Michelin-starred high-dining haute-something kinda person who chills in Monaco and not the fast-food junkie from Marathahalli that you really are.
You will be paying Rs.2600 ($39) for every minute you spend in The Residence, so make maximum utilization of that time. As you settle down, you are greeted with a welcome drink of Champagne (Bollinger, of course) and then you are presented with Bose headphones for use during the flight. Then, you will maybe move around to fraternize with the lower classes in first class or feast on your own multi-course infinite-star dinner. After a quick shower in your own onboard bathroom, you will be ready for to sleep in your own private bedroom (don't sleep too much, though) and you will to your surprise find the bed already made! (there is even a name for that, it is called Turndown Service). I can't imagine how it would be to sleep flat, stretched out in an airplane. After you wake up, your butler brings you breakfast in bed while you are still flying 35000 feet in the air. After breakfast, you sit around a bit more, drinking in the goodness of it all, while the plane, sadly lands and you have to exit the aircraft. But it does not end there. You will be led to the "arrival lounge" where you wallow in more 5-star luxury while your assigned minions fetch your bags and stuff. The arrival lounge among other things has a shower and a hairdresser on call, lest should your hair have grown too much drinking in all the luxury during the flight.
Now you know what to do when your private jet breaks down or you can't find one on short notice.
How Etihad has Changed the Rules of the Airline Industry Game
The airline industry is (was?) traditionally always considered to be the epitome of efficiency in operations and space utilization, where every minutest of spaces on planes was always put to full use; everything was done and designed to cram maximum amount of stuff (and human tissue) into the minimum amount of space possible. And now with the advent of things like The Residence and The Apartments, Etihad has silently changed the rules of this game, something everyone seems to have missed amidst all the celebration of the arrival of uber-luxury. While carriers' prime focus, of course, is still on space-saving and maintaining efficiencies, it does look like that focus has definitely been diluted in quite a noticeable manner in the form of the race to offer the most luxurious experiences to the mega-rich.
One could argue The Residence makes good use of "dead" space in the front of the plane while charging 4.5 times the cost of a regular First Class "Apartment". Yes, true. However, this uber-suite has all but started a war among carriers to outdo each other on luxury. But this case is more in point for Etihad's "regular" First Class, the "Apartment" cabins. Etihad has 9 apartment cabins at two per row on either side of a single aisle (including a standalone one opposite to The Residence), while the Emirates A380 has 16 First Class cabin Suites at four per row! And Etihad charges the same (or even less than) as Emirates for a comparable flight (AUH-JFK/DXB-JFK) check below.
So this means on a comparable full flight (and they are almost always full), Emirates earns almost twice that of Etihad from First Class, from the same cabin space, if you discount The Residence. Emirates is definitely the more luxurious of the two, but with flyers and #avgeeks going ga-ga about Etihad's The Residence and its more spacious First Class Apartment cabins, Emirates suddenly seems a bit less "sophisticated" than its smaller Emirati rival. So what do you do now? You have to outdo them! This trend is both decadent and dangerous at the same time, reminding one of the tamasha of the Indian startup world where new companies burn cash like there is no tomorrow offering ridiculous discounts to consumers trying to stay ahead with most (perceived) market share and useless valuations, ending up a laughable dick-measuring contest that looks good only on paper but is worth nothing in the real world, where only cash balances and profits count. Most of these startups hence crash out and go under, taking the lives of hundreds of people along the way. Hope these airlines do not fall into the same trap.
Airlines have long since turned into real estate enterprises and today are only thinly disguised as travel service providers. Coming to think of it, all major industries today are real estate enterprises, right from software companies to banks to hospitals, which is where all these unscrupulous rich people can screw over the hardworking middle-class guy by leeching off his earnings in the form of various types of rent so they can stay rich and sleep in ridiculously priced sky beds. With the 10% rich getting richer and everyone else getting screwed, it is only imperative that everything and everyone in the world focus on making their life easier and more luxurious, and so why should airline carriers, the monopoly option for inter (and intra in many parts of the world)-continental travel be any farther behind? And it seems to be working if occupancy rates of First Class seats (oops, Suites) are anything to go by. Hopefully the extra leather on the super-plush First Class seats don't come off the backs of the Economy Class' passengers' seat backs (literally and metaphorically), who still have to pay through their noses to endure 15 hours of captivity ten kilometers up in the air sitting upright on an uncomfortable seat, squeezed between two other equally irritated human beings, fighting for a couple of millimeters of elbow space, while uber-menschen above them (again, literally and figuratively) have trouble figuring out what to do with all the space they have got in their decadent cabins above. To make up for their loss in revenue, airlines are now thinking of a class below economy, the airline industry equivalent of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
Your move, Emirates! I am hoping to see a convertible double-bedroom Presidential Suite that occupies the entire nose of the aircraft or something like that.