This weekend’s grand prix showdown in Abu Dhabi that drew the super-rich to the desert track in unprecedented numbers presented Etihad Airways PJSC with a perfect showcase for the world’s most luxurious airline cabin.
With its home sheikdom staging the F1 championship’s last race and the driver’s title still up for grabs, Etihad turned up the promotional campaign for its $20,000-a-trip Residence suite, seeking to maximize publicity for a product that comes later to the market than competing top-end berths.
While Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg fought it out on the track — with Hamilton winning to claim a second world championship — Etihad was busy shepherding prospective customers through a full-scale mock-up of the Residence, one of which will feature on each of the A380 superjumbos due to join the carrier’s fleet starting next month.
On hand to help with the campaign was one of the 13 “flying butlers” — trained at London’s prestigious Savoy Hotel and clad in immaculate white gloves and tailcoat — who will be assigned solely to Residence occupants once flights to London’s Heathrow airport commence on Dec. 27.
As official sponsor of the Abu Dhabi race, Etihad’s potential audience included music and movie stars, as well as Prince Harry, fourth in line to the British throne. The dozens of superyachts, some the size of mini cruise-ships, thronging the adjoining waterfront also suggested a solid crop of local and foreign billionaires were among the 60,000-strong crowd.
Formula 1, the highest class of competition in world motorsport, garners a global TV audience of about half a billion people over the course of a 19-race season. Attending the Abu Dhabi finale were the heads of Air Berlin Plc and Air Serbia, two airlines in which Etihad owns a stake.
While Residence passengers hit the en suite shower or relax in a separate living area, the butler will attend to their every need, Etihad’s guests were told, sewing on buttons, doing the laundry, removing stubborn stains from clothing, wrapping gifts or simply repacking bags to the “Savoy standard.”
The Residence will also provide flower arrangements, drinks and toiletries customized according to client specifications, while the butler can play concierge, booking dinner or theater reservations in destination cities, which will be expanded to include New York, Paris, Melbourne and Sydney.
On hand to help promote the double decker was Fabrice Bregier, who heads the airliner arm of A380 manufacturer Airbus Group NV. Though superjumbo deliveries to Qatar Airways began earlier this year and Dubai-based Emirates is the top customer for the model, Etihad has more than matched their promotional efforts since since unveiling its own A380 layout in May, with the Residence sold out for the first 10 flights.
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