Cabin crew retrained as butlers at London’s prestigious Savoy Hotel will wear tailcoats and white cotton gloves for their new role pampering some of the world’s wealthiest flyers on Etihad Airways PJSC’s superjumbo aircraft.
Thirteen “flying butlers” have completed a three-week course on etiquette, protocol, valet skills and concierge services and are ready to attend passengers in what will be the airline industry’s swankiest cabin, the $20,000-a-trip, three-room Residence with double bed, living area and shower cubicle.
Etihad is introducing the luxury product on its first A380 double-deckers as the third-biggest Gulf carrier vies for top-paying travelers with Emirates, the No. 1 operator of the Airbus Group NV plane, Qatar Airways and global rivals including Singapore Airlines Ltd.
The butlers were previously in-flight chefs or food and beverage managers and have undergone training and work experience at the Savoy, where the two-bed Royal Suite costs 12,000 pounds ($19,000) a night, plus instruction at the London School of Hospitality and Tourism.
“The flying butlers will provide a level of service that no traveler has ever experienced in commercial aviation,” Abu Dhabi-based Etihad’s Aubrey Tiedt, vice president for guest services, said in a statement today.
The 13 staff, 11 men and two women, are unique at Etihad in wearing brown tails and white gloves used to shine cutlery, and will combine “the discretion of a traditional English butler with the efficiency of a 21st century personal assistant,” said Savoy Head Butler Sean Davoren, who led the course.
Etihad’s first A380 will enter commercial service on the Abu Dhabi-London Heathrow route on Dec. 27. With the superjumbo joining the fleet years after debuting with other premium carriers, Chief Executive Officer James Hogan has said the planes’ premium berths will borrow concepts from private-jet travel in order to make the biggest splash.
In addition to The Residence, the A380s will feature nine first-class “apartments” on the upper deck that Hogan says will be 74 percent bigger than currently, with a full-flat bed and separate reclining lounge-style seat. Customers for the premium offerings, which can also be chartered en bloc, could include wealthy families and government delegations, he says.
The 10 A380s on order, including three due for delivery in 2015, will also serve routes including New York, Paris, Sydney and Melbourne. Etihad is likely to require more butlers to staff the whole fleet, Savoy spokeswoman Charlotte Faith said.
Dubai-based Emirates has had the A380 since 2008, with around 50 planes in the fleet and a total of 140 on order.
Qatar Airways is buying 10 planes, with the first starting operations on the Doha-London route last week and two more due this year. CEO Akbar Al Baker said at a handover ceremony at Airbus’s Toulouse base that he favors a conservative approach to service standards in premium cabins and that the company will “do enough to maintain the class — and be profitable.”
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