We recently learned that Etihad Airways will reactivate some Airbus A380s in 2023. Concretely, the airline will bring back four of these planes from the summer, and they will fly between Abu Dhabi and London.
While the Etihad passenger experience on the A380 is excellent across the board, perhaps most intriguingly, it marks the return of The Residence, the most exclusive experience in commercial aviation. However, it seems to me that Etihad could foresee major changes to this product.
The basics of The Residence, Etihad’s stunning A380 suite
While Etihad’s Airbus A380s feature nine incredible first-class apartments, the jewel in the plane’s crown is The Residence. This is located at the far left front of the first class cabin.
The residence is a private three-room suite that occupies 125 square feet. It includes a living room, a bedroom and a private bathroom with a shower. Physically, it is such a spectacular product.
What really sets the experience apart, however, is the level of service. You would have a private lounge in Abu Dhabi and a team of people taking care of you on the ground. Then, upon boarding, you’ll be introduced to your onboard butler, who was there to look after you and customize the experience however you like (including putting a signed photo of Shawn Mendes on your pillow with turndown service, if that’s what you want).
I reviewed The Residence several years ago on a flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney. While The Residence is usually $25,000+ for a one-way flight, I found a pretty good fare at the time when departing from Cairo. I smile to this day thinking back on what an epic experience it was, because I don’t think I’ll ever experience a flight like that again.
The economy of The Residence has always been a bit questionable, as it didn’t sell consistently and Etihad never upgraded people there. So on the majority of flights it was empty. On the positive side, The Residence had an incredible halo effect for the company, as it received so much publicity and really made Etihad better known around the world.
Does Etihad plan to modify The Residence?
Etihad bringing back its Airbus A380s, what does this mean for The Residence? Well, something tells me it will be a little different than before the A380s were grounded. What makes me say that?
First of all, The Residence won’t be bookable until March 2023, so it’s worth the airline waiting several months to sell it. Then, speaking of The Residence, you’ll notice that the airline only talks about the hard product, and doesn’t mention anything about the butler or other upgraded services:
The world’s only three-room suite in the sky. The residence offers the ultimate flight experience with exclusivity, privacy and comfort. Featuring a dedicated bedroom, bathroom and living room, you can relax in cocooning in a secluded world all your own.
Finally, Etihad also specifies that The Residence will “eventually” be available as an option for first class customers:
For the first time, Etihad plans to eventually offer The Residence as an optional extra for customers to further enhance their first experience.
All of this makes it pretty obvious to me that The Residence will be totally different than it was before the pandemic. It’s pure speculation on my part, but I’m guessing The Residence will be sold at a much more reasonable price than before the pandemic, or it will just be sold first class, with a seat assignment fee extra (I’m guessing the amount will be in the low four figures).
That would be smart of Etihad, if you ask me:
- Keep in mind that there is no real opportunity cost to having The Residence, since the bedroom is at the very front of the upper deck where there could be no seating otherwise, so this does not It’s not like the airline can reconfigure the plane in a better way
- The residence would be empty most of the time, whereas first class has historically sold very well, so the airline might instead have 10 first class seats, rather than nine (or maybe even 11, since the residence can accommodate up to two people)
- With such a small sub-fleet of A380s, the cost of offering dedicated passenger services in The Residence would make economics difficult, as at most four planes will fly
- Etihad has eliminated the butler and in-flight chef roles, and I’m guessing the airline won’t want to bring them back just for four planes, especially since the airline doesn’t seem otherwise committed to keeping first class
I could certainly be wrong, but I think it’s highly likely that The Residence will be more accessible than before. Ideally, it will only be available as a seat assignment fee for first class passengers, so you can potentially redeem miles for first class and then pay cash to ‘upgrade’.
At the end of the line
The Etihad Airbus A380 will return in 2023, with four of the planes flying between Abu Dhabi and London. This is an exciting development for those of us who are passionate about the A380. What I find most intriguing, however, is how Etihad seems to be planning changes at The Residence.
The airline will start selling this product in March 2023 and says it will be available as an upgrade from first class. With Etihad being much more disciplined, I guess The Residence will be all about the hard product, and also be much more reasonably priced than before.
What do you expect from the return of The Residence?