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Sampling the Middle East’s premium air services

Upgrading on a flight can seem like the ultimate luxury for some customers or simply a bare essential for others. TTG tries out a few premium air services to see if they are worth the extra investment.

Relax and Recline 2.jpg
Relax and Recline 2.jpg

The lounge

By Pippa Jacks



Until last summer, Etihad’s First Class and Business Class passengers shared one lounge in Abu Dhabi but there is now a lavish First Class lounge and spa in Terminal 3 – which non-first class passengers can pay to



When I reach Abu Dhabi airport from Dar Es Salaam, I have spent 10 days bouncing around Tanzania in a Land Rover. A five-hour stint in Etihad’s new First Class Lounge – complimentary for First Class passengers and Platinum Club members – seems like a good way to address my dishevelment.


Inspired by private members clubs and five-star hotels, it comprises 16 zones over 1,700 square metres, decorated in Etihad cream, purple, gold and geometric patterns. An array of dates in the vestibule welcomes guests with a Middle Eastern flourish.


“Mission rejuvenate” begins in the nail salon, where I take advantage of the complimentary 15-minute “express” manicure. Next door, the Style & Shave area offers a complimentary 15-minute trim or shave.


The salons are open from 5.30am to 2.30pm, and then again from 5.30pm to 2.30am. As with spa treatments and use of the spa’s showers, guests must book a slot when they arrive at the lounge.


And parents can enjoy treatments in peace: the lounge’s playroom is staffed by a qualified nanny, and kids can be left with her free of charge. The playroom houses board games, bean bags, cuddly toys, books and a huge TV screen.


I move to the Six Senses Spa for another complimentary 15-minute treatment. There’s a choice of either a facial, a neck and back massage or a foot massage. Guests can choose from a wider list of treatments at extra cost. A soothing facial in one of the three treatment rooms, culminating in a singing bowl being pleasantly chimed around my head, is the perfect way to relax and hydrate before the next leg of my journey.


I don't have the energy (or wardrobe) to do a workout but am impressed by the gym facility (unique to this lounge), which includes Technogym treadmills and cross-trainers. It is a joy to have a hot shower (with Aqua di Parma products) and blow-dry my hair after all that time in the bush in Tanzania.


With an executive chef who’s worked with leading hotel brands including Shangri-La, Ritz-Carlton and Intercontinental, guests can expect good things from the a la carte menu. It changes every three months and combines Middle Eastern dishes with Indian and international options.


I don't have the appetite for the acclaimed five-course Emirati tasting menu but get a feel for it from the traditional mezze starter.


An exciting cocktail list designed by London-based consultancy Fluid Movement comprises beverages inspired by Etihad routes. I am intrigued by the Mumbai, with chickpea-infused gin, tomato consomme, bell pepper, chilli, mustard seed, black tea and coriander, and the Shanghai, with whiskey, jasmine, lemon, five-spice and soy. But in the end I plump for the rather less challenging Melbourne, with sweet mango liqueur, aged gold rum and fresh lime shaken with honey.


There is also a cigar room – unique to the First Class lounge – with three complimentary cigar brands and further options for sale.


The place I am most keen to make use of is the Relax & Recline zone, where six reclining chairs face a video wall that plays relaxing visuals and music. Sliding doors make thezone feel secluded, and I am so cosy tucked up in a blanket that I manage a two-hour snooze. My only gripe is that the video wall is rather bright, so I have to sleep in my sunglasses.


I reluctantly leave the lounge and am accompanied to the gate for my departure to London, fast-tracking all the way. When I take off at 02.35, I feel clean, groomed, relaxed, refreshed and pleasantly full.


Business class and Economy passengers can also pay for access to the new first-class lounge, from $200 per adult for two hours, to $340 for eight hours.

The flight

The flight

By April Hutchinson

Experiencing two Emirates flights on a recent return journey from the Maldives gave me the chance to see how different two business-class experiences can be. For the four-hour leg from Male, you could live without it (especially on a day flight) to be honest, but it comes into its own from Dubai to London. And that’s mainly down to the aircraft type. Stacking Emirates’ Male to Dubai flight on a Boeing 777 up against its service onwards from Dubai to Gatwick on the Airbus A380 is something of an unfair fight.


On the lounge front, in Male you experience a small room, adequate enough for an hour or so pre-flight; in Dubai – it’s supercharged, with the business lounge the size of some terminals. There’s a healthy corner, with bottles of Voss water and fresh fruit and snacks, areas for sleeping, a Costa Coffee to grab a free latte, and of course the (chargeable) Timeless Spa.


Emirates’ A380 business class has either 58 seats (if one of its two-class services) or 76 on the three-class services; either way, it looks vast when you first board, and so can seem less luxurious than a smaller business class cabin, but service standards are very high nonetheless.


On the A380, everything seems heightened in business class and more modern compared with the 777, where seats seem older and are angled, not fully lie-flat. Overall, it’s worth the upgrade, but remind clients that Emirates’ business cabins are not created equal. And look out for the roll-out of a new First Class; set to be showcased at the Dubai Air Show in November, it will make its debut onboard a 777-300ER, with six private suites compared with the existing eight. As president Sir Tim Clark puts it, the new First will take the “onboard experience to the next level”.

The cabin

The cabin



First a disclaimer: I did not leave the ground at Heathrow but the quality of what I saw and experienced left me wishing I was jetting off somewhere and spending longer enjoying what has been called a “game changer” in business-class aviation. Taking many of the principles of first class and applying them to its business cabin, Qatar Airways started showing off Qsuite at ITB earlier this year, and London-Doha was the first route to get it, onboard a daily Boeing 777-300ER service.


One key innovation is the “quad configuration”, which means that four seats which would otherwise be completely separate and private can be made – via various sliding panels – into an open section for four passengers travelling together, whether business colleagues or family members. There are 42 seats per Qsuite cabin, of which 20 can be configured into quads.


All the seats are designed as suites, though, meaning that you can be completely privatised (but not completely enclosed) via sliding panels, a door and a “do not disturb” button/light. Handy side storage (water, magazines, slippers) means you have a spot for keeping bits and pieces with you; then, when closed, it’s your armrest and each seat has personalised adjustable mood lighting.


Oryx One has 3,000 entertainment options; but the difference in Qsuite is watching them on a 21.5-inch screen. There is also a 180-degree lie-flat functionality on the seats, and should you so desire, those travelling together as a couple or family can have them made into a double bed – a first for business class, Qatar claims.


The cabin has been given a sophisticated makeover, with hallmark burgundy matched with slate grey and rose gold. There are also touches such as a dress pillow on the seats (even one emblazoned with “this is my happy place”), fleecy throws and mattress, and the amenity bag is by Bric with Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio treats.


The airline’s fleet is currently being retrofitted at the rate of one plane per month and should prove well worth the upgrade for your clients.

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