How will the ‘Ultra First Class’ airline experience compare to a private jet?

In December, Etihad Airlines will carry out its initial A380 Airbus flight from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow. And the 10-strong fleet of A380s operated by the Middle East carrier will each include a ‘Residence’ option for its highest ticket price passengers.

Etihad Residence bedroom

Image: Etihad Airways

Billed as a new level of luxury within the airline product offering, for $20,000, airline passengers will have private use of one of nine, 125 sq feet compartments for a one-way journey from London to Abu Dhabi or Dubai. These are essentially hotel rooms within the aircraft, including a double bed, shower cubicle and seating area. They will also have access to a ‘butler’ – a dedicated member of the cabin crew.

It certainly looks amazing and other airlines are reportedly working on a similar concept. The experience has been described as ‘like flying on a private jet’. But in fact it differs from private jet travel in several respects.

How does the price compare?

Comparing the cost really depends on how many people are travelling. The Residence allows one or two people to share the room, for the $20,000 ticket price from the Middle East to London.

For a private jet, the cost for a one-way charter on a Challenger 300 – which is a typical aircraft for this route – would be around $85,000 for the whole aircraft. This accommodates up to 9 passengers plus a cabin steward and crew. So if only one person is travelling, the cost for the private jet is higher. But for a group of 4 passengers travelling together, the cost becomes comparable. And if all nine seats are taken, the cost per head is $9,450 – less than half the cost of the airline ticket.

Challenger 300 exterior

A private jet such as the Challenger 300 lets you set the schedule. Image: Bombardier Aerospace


Which is more luxurious?

Well that really depends on your definition of luxury.

There is no denying the immediate surroundings of the airline room are very comfortable and a big step up from other airline offerings. But at this top end of the travel budget spectrum, luxury for many travellers is less about a bed or a butler – but about bespoke service and saving time. The appeal of private aviation is the ability it gives to travel relaxed, discreetly and conveniently – when and how you want to.

Etihad Residence bathroom

Image: Etihad Airways

Such as being able to define your departure time (and adjust it if schedules change); arrive at the airport minutes rather than hours before take-off; and drive your car can drive up to the aircraft steps at some airports. This level of customisation isn’t possible on even the most luxurious of airline flight tickets.

For some, luxury also means discretion and avoiding the crowds. When you charter a private jet, the whole aircraft is for your exclusive use – not just an area within a very large, busy airliner. And you can travel very discreetly using a separate VIP terminal at the airport – or a smaller airport altogether. For some high profile individuals, this has very strong appeal compared to an airline flight.

Private jets offer the ultimate in customised, VIP air travel

The crew service and catering onboard is also completely customised for the individual on a private jet flight. Passengers can specify their requirements before the trip. Whether that’s dinner from a favourite restaurant; a particular brand of tea; a birthday cake with a guest’s name on; a specific newspaper or music choice; or your pet’s favourite brand of dog food. We’ve arranged all this and more. And the crew will be ready to serve at the best time for you.

Challenger 300 interior

The spacious cabin of a Challenger 300. Image: Bombardier Aerospace

In terms of cabin facilities, these can be very ultra-luxurious on some private jets. Bedrooms and bathrooms are available on larger jets, but all long range jet aircraft are very comfortable for a journey of 6 or 7 hours. The spacious cabin area on a Challenger 300 (146 square feet) includes fully adjustable and reclining seats, tables and individual power supplies. Two-zone air conditioning keeps both the pilots and the passengers comfortable and there is a state-of-the-art cabin entertainment system.

So while there’s no denying that airline ultra first class will give passengers a strong sense of luxury, the question is – is this worth paying the premium for, when you are still travelling within the limitations of an airline service? As these flights begin later in the year, it will be interesting to find out.

Our Flight Team can give advice on flights to and from the Middle East and the right aircraft for your itinerary. Contact us 24 hours on +44 1747 642 777.