A6-APC landing as EY454 in Sydney, and I’m in 4A! – Photo: Bernie Proctor
The Boeing 777 just can’t compete with the Airbus A380 when it comes to luxury, but I still enjoyed my previous 777-200LR flight on Etihad. You can’t even put a shower on a commercially configured one! Good thing Etihad ordered 10 Airbus A380s and they have five in service right now. I wanted to try the most supreme of airline products currently out there — the Etihad First Class Apartment — and I did. One cannot experience something like this alone. I had my friend AirlineReporter Senior Correspondent Jacob Pfleger along for the ride.
Jacob would, of course, take a photo of his future seat at the Dubai Airshow, but he did too good a job not to use it. Mine was a lighter brown over in 4A – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
My general rule of thumb for first class flying is “if it’s overnight, and you are paying with currency, fly business class.” I looked at AUH-JFK and that was out. So too were some of Etihad’s London flights. Besides that, seven hours on an A380 is nothing. Eventually, I realized the best way to maximize my enjoyment of First Class flying was to do a paradoxically timed “daylight” flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney. Which was good, because I needed to be in Sydney anyway.
Etihad Airbus A380 in Dubai
It seems like over the last few years, there have been almost weekly announcements of new routes from one of the ME3, the three major middle east airlines (Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad), to the United States. As of now, these three airlines fly, or have announced, routes from the middle east to the thirteen U.S. cities.
As a Denver-based flyer, I have heard a lot of talk about whether we can expect to see some exciting new liveries at Denver International Airport in the near future. I keep finding myself going back and forth between thinking, “yes, we’ll hear an announcement any day now” and “nope, it’s never going to happen.”
Warning: lots of analysis and numbers below. If you want the short version, skip down to the bottom. Otherwise, settle in and let’s look at some numbers.
The geographic reach of the ME3 airlines in the U.S. – Image: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter
As an engineer, I decided to do what I do best – start analyzing things and putting some numbers on paper. The first thing I did was chart the geographic reach of the ME3 within the United States. That resulted in the map above. The green areas are within 100 miles of an ME3-serviced airport, the yellow areas are 100-to-250 miles out, orange areas are 250-to-500 miles out, and the red areas are more than 500 miles away from any ME3-serviced airport.
Combining this information with the 2010 U.S. Census data gives us some interesting numbers. Of the U.S. population in the lower 48 states, approximately 44% live within 100 miles of an ME3-serviced airport, 64% live within 200 miles, and 95% live within 500 miles.
Somehow understated, but an amazing and easy to find mark in any airport – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
I seem to live in airport lounges these days. I’ve noticed a theme, especially within the United States. The concept of luxury, decadence, and modernity have been eschewed by small packs of American cheese, rubbery cookies, and buy-your-own ill-textured food provided by Sysco. On top of that, the lounges are usually dirty. The showers feel more “grandmother’s basement” than luxury. In the case of one overseas lounge, it cannot pass a health inspection to save its life!
Etihad Airways has had great lounges in the past, but now again succeeds with the introduction of Facets of Abu Dhabi brand. Etihad knew they had to not just lead, but cement that lead, as best in all classes. To be fair though, the older-style Etihad lounges are starting to merely be the best, not years beyond the competition.
That said, according to Calum Laming, Etihad’s Vice President of Guest Experience, what they came up with is really not a mere lounge.
The bar is the central fixture of the new Etihad JFK lounge. It’s truly beautiful. – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
He is right.
Imagine if you could, with the help of an airport facility design firm called Gensler (they do shopping malls as well), create something inside an airport that felt nothing like it, save for the spectacular ramp view?
Well, they did it. I knew, previously, that Etihad takes its design cues from Fairmont hotels. Except when you step into the lobby of this lounge, it feels as if you have left JFK; teleported to Vancouver, and walked into the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel.
A6-LRE, a 777-237LR, loading up at LAX for the long flight back to Abu Dhabi – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
“That was the bulliest experience I ever had. I envy you your professional conquest of space.”
Thing is, Teddy Roosevelt never flew Etihad. Guy missed out. If a small biplane could impress our only president to ever ride a moose, I think the sheer awesomeness of Etihad would likely have left him a gibbering fool!
AirlineReporter Senior Correspondent Jacob Pfleger flew Etihad’s first class product back in the days when it was still called “Diamond First Class.” It was amazing, but with the introduction of the Facets of Abu Dhabi scheme and removal of the word diamond, Etihad has taken it even further. Out of a sense of curiosity and jealousy, a need to travel to South Africa, and a desire to best Jacob, I found a good fare from Los Angeles to Johannesburg that would let me put Etihad to the test on their longest pair of flights. I flew from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi and back, the route that Etihad purchased their 777-200LR fleet from Air India specifically to launch.
The suite was too long to fit its entirety in my 14mm lens! – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
Now, when these planes came from Air India, they were in legendary Air India style. Missing parts, missing documents, pretty much close to the axe; the aircraft were not taken care of. Worse, Air India had decided to purchase the auxiliary fuel tanks from Boeing that were necessary for their dream routes to the U.S. West Coast that will only materialize this year (maybe). Etihad and Boeing worked for months to bring these aircraft up to scratch.
However, when you get on board, there is not a trace of the old horrors and neglect that these wonderful machines faced. The result is a first class cabin that is better than both Gulfstreams I have flown on.
The extremely wide seat extends into a bed well over six feet in length. Feeling exposed? Yeah, I would be too. Even though you can’t really see any other passengers when seated, that’s not the point – you have the ability to shut your doors and have ultimate privacy. When I fly, I’d rather not see anyone but the cabin crew. Commercial flights are not about socializing for me. Etihad understands.