- Etihad Airways is likely retiring its Airbus A380 fleet due to the pandemic, CEO Tony Douglas told The National.
- Premium flyers will lose “The Residence,” Etihad’s high-flying apartments found only on A380s.
- The three-room suites feature private living rooms, showers, bedrooms, chefs, and butlers.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Etihad Airways is the latest airline that’s preparing to say goodbye to the world’s largest passenger jet.
Tony Douglas, CEO of Etihad Aviation Group, said in an interview with The National that the airline’s Airbus A380s may soon become a casualty of the pandemic.
“We have now taken the strategic decision to park the A380s, I’m sure it’s very likely that we won’t see them operating with Etihad again,” Douglas told the publication.
The move is the latest nail in the coffin for the dying aircraft program and would mean the end of Etihad’s ultra-exclusive cabin, known as “The Residence,” found exclusively on the A380s. A step above even first class, The Residence is among the pinnacles of luxury travel that offered flyers multi-room apartments in the skies.
Ticket prices regularly exceeded $20,000 for a one-way journey, and securing a seat was a bucket-list item for aviation enthusiasts.
Entrepreneurial frequent flyers could also find themselves in the cabin without paying the exorbitant costs. Travel blogger Sam Huang, for example, paid only 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles and $108 for a $23,000 flight in the cabin from Abu Dhabi, UAE to Sydney, Australia in 2016.
A ticket for The Residence granted access to the most exclusive areas of the airport including secret areas of Etihad’s newest lounges complete with full bars, sit-down dining, and showers, followed by chauffeur service to the departure gate.
The fully-enclosed suites, more comparable to a New York City studio apartment than first class on any US carrier, come complete with a sofa, recliner chair, closet, minibar, and a full vanity mirror. Connected to the suite are a private bedroom and en suite bathroom with its own shower, all on the upper level of the Airbus A380.
Flight attendants serving the cabin are also complemented by a Savoy Hotel-trained butler that roams the cabin, as well as an onboard chef to prepare meals. High-end champagne and expensive caviar were frequent choices of the well-to-do guests.
Etihad, unlike fellow UAE-based airline Emirates, didn’t invest in having a large fleet of A380s and only operated 10 prior to the pandemic that served its top routes to cities including London, UK; New York; Sydney, Australia; Paris, France; and Seoul, South Korea.
The strategy was similar to Middle Eastern rival Qatar Airways, which is also downsizing its A380 fleet as it charts a post-pandemic recovery.
“The A380, I think, is one of the worst aircraft when it comes to emissions that is flying around today,” Akbar Al Baker, group chief executive officer of Qatar Airways, said in January at a Centre for Aviation CAPA Live event, as CNN reported.
Qatar Airways has already retired half of its formerly 10-aircraft-strong A380 fleet, primarily used on routes to popular European and Asian-Pacific cities. Both Qatar Airways and Etihad have invested more in twin-engine aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing 777X, and Airbus A350 XWB over the A380, which served more as a status symbol.
Airbus’ largest passenger jet was among the earliest casualties of the pandemic as airlines struggled to fill the massive cabins intended to shuttle hundreds of flyers at a time. Air France abruptly retired its A380 fleet in May while Lufthansa, Qantas, and British Airways have sent their double-decker fleets into storage to ride out the pandemic.
Read more: 5 charts reveal how badly the loss of business travel is hurting America’s biggest airlines – and why a COVID-19 vaccine won’t ease the pain
Of Lufthansa’s 14 A380s, six are slated for retirement, and eight have been “temporarily decommissioned” with little prospects for a return to passenger service, according to the company’s 2020 annual report.
The Boeing 747 was similarly dropped by countless passenger carriers like Virgin Atlantic Airways, British Airways, and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. But the jet proved invaluable to the cargo realm of the industry that carried everything from personal protective equipment that kept healthcare workers safe to home office equipment that fueled the protracted work-from-home economy.
Portuguese charter airline Hi Fly began flying A380 cargo flights during the pandemic but ultimately parted with the aircraft in 2020 at the end of its lease.
The Airbus A380 entered passenger service at a time when airlines were starting to look for smaller aircraft and the pandemic only accelerated its increasingly short-lived tenure. All Nippon Airways was the last new customer to take delivery of a new A380 in 2019, just 14 years following the aircraft’s first test flight in 2015.
Emirates will likely be the last carrier to fly the A380 as the world’s largest operator of the model. Airbus is gearing up for the final delivery, slated for May 2022, and has already trucked the final fuselage to its Toulouse production facility.
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