To start with, I wanted to tell you about the terrific manner in which one may travel nowadays. Think beyond Business. As a frequent flyer informs me, ‘Forget it, everyone flies business nowadays’. The thing is that one can actually have an ‘apartment’ or even lord over a ‘residence’ in the air. Here I see you rolling your eyes and thinking, ‘what on earth’, before proceeding to inform me that it has been around for some time. But in 2014 Etihad amplified the definition of luxury in the sky. This made the first-class cabins of European and American carriers look like old fogeys. The first-class suites of Singapore (the old ones) and Emirates were suitably snubbed too.
On each of its double-decker Airbus A380s, Etihad introduced nine first-class suites that are known as Apartments if you will and a hoity-toity affair called The Residence.
I would be a pretentious twat if I said that I was not overwhelmed. That my senses did not go into a tizzy at the sight of a whole suite to myself on a flight. That I did not want to run the whole length of the plane, to and fro, like a crazed creature. That the dapper butler with his fine accent did not make a difference.
‘A butler! Did you just say there was a butler on board?’ I hear you ask. Damn right, sistah. Downton Abbey-style. A younger, handsome version of Carson. To this, bung in a chef too.
Three days before Christmas, we were leaving behind the city of immeasurable charm, Paris. Along with that a delightfully relaxed celebration of our wedding anniversary (to think that we have been married for seven whole years already). When we boarded the upper deck of the A380 at Charles de Gaulle that would whisk us into Abu Dhabi in a matter of 7 hours, it took off the edge of the sting (a part of it anyway) of leaving Paris.
The suite was splendid. Its latticed doors came together with the consistency of butter to slide shut. The beige armchair by the window could accommodate three of me in its cushy Italian leather seat. Opposite it was a swivel 24-inch flat screen telly and an ottoman that would be transformed into a twin-size bed, long enough to fit Adi. The making of this bed would naturally be taken care of by the flight attendant because remember you are a helpless ninny, to be cosseted and cared for. Why should you have to lift a finger for your cake?
What got me going was the discovery of Bose headsets (so nickable, but cannot be) and a full-size vanity mirror. Then the fact that I could slip in my book, travel journal and kindle into a drawer (this proved to be my undoing) and stow my bags into a space beneath the ottoman (I hate putting my bag into the overhead bin because I always want to fish out something from it).
Adi was adjacent my suite. A partition halfway between the two suites could be lowered when we were in bed.
Now as soon as we were on board, we were offered the customary welcome drink of Champagne and dates — and a change of clothes accompanied by an amenity kit in a beautiful yellow leather bag from Acqua di Parma. ‘I am going to change into mine straight away,’ I announced to Adi and hopped off to the loo which turned out to be oh so lovely. It had a shower. The entire affair was so swanky with beautifully lit interiors that I kept thinking it was all a dream.
Before the flight took off, a chef appeared in my suite and offered anything at all. He could customise dishes outside of the menu. Maybe I should have come up with something ridiculous but I just went with whatever was on the menu, simply because there was enough to choose from. Next he enquired if I would like a hot shower — they need notice so that they can prepare a shower for you. Of course, you have to take a five-minute bath. I was too lazy, but for those who travel longer distances it is a blessing.
Later, Adi and I dined together in his suite. A retractable table was unfolded for us and the food was exactly as I would find in a fine-dining restaurant. With the best of Champagne and service. This was followed by the flight attendant making up our beds in some time so that we could slide our doors on the world outside — and let me say this that I would have never believed the decadence of it all till I stepped into the Apartment.
P.S.: I came back with four lessons from our stay in the Apartment.
- The importance of using miles. A single ticket would have cost us anywhere near $8,000 for a long-haul flight between Paris and Abu Dhabi. This is where Adi’s banking miles with American Airlines rewarded us. Etihad has airline partners and American Airlines is one of them. Each of our ticket could be booked for 65,000 miles.
- Take a super-long flight to avail of the luxury of such experiences. For us, 7 hours seemed way too short.
- Never slide the contents of your bag into the drawers. If you are as scatty as me, you are bound to leave them behind even when your husband asks you twice if you have collected everything. I have just received my Kindle back, but lost my book of Love Poems from Shakespeare & Co. and my beloved journal. Whoever nicked them has taste.
- The Residence which is the pinnacle of grandeur on board, can cost upto $32,000 (above 2 million miles) for a single ticket for long-distance flights. I found it meh given the astronomical figure it demands. Our butler took us in when Adi asked if we could peep in. The only differences I found significant were that you could queen over your private loo and a double bedroom (but the bed was mighty tiny, like the ones those old-time kings and queens slept in).
Helpfully I have reminders in hand if my head gets detached and starts to float. Midway through our dinner, Adi looked at me over a glass of bubbly and said with a gentle smile, ‘I hope you are not getting used to it. If the Apartment is for our 7-year anniversary, for our 10th, it will be the Shatabdi Express.’