You hear the sound long before you see it, the military jet flying low. Then a thunderclap as it accelerates into the distance, accompanied by the shattering of fragile windows. The noise of the sound barrier being broken… A singular event that changed aviation forever leading to the creation of the now defunct Concorde, reducing the flight time between Paris and New York to three and a half hours. And that service was for passengers that could pay the premium.

Competition for company passengers created the business class race back in the 1980s. Seats grew wider and reclined more. First class comforts filtered down to business class. The menu options got better. The Asian and European airlines got into, and changed the game with upgraded cabin offerings. By the 2000s, British Airways became the first airline to offer completely flat beds in business class with other airlines following. Premium economy products became the in-between of economy and business class and resembled the old style business class products. Competition is clearly good for the passenger.

What happened to first class? First class was made for the well heeled traveller who can afford luxury and for more luxury to be provided, a new barrier had to be broken in aviation to make the service offerings even better. And as if on cue, enter the A380, the most anticipated aircraft build in recent aviation history. First class service had found a new home.

The A380 came with two full length decks, allowing airlines to create cabin configurations that accommodated more passengers in greater comfort and deliver even more services. Economy passengers had the lower deck while first and business passengers were on the upper deck. Business class on some airlines became semi-cabins with configurations that gave passengers direct access to the aisle. No more stepping over the sleeping passenger to get to the bathroom on overnight flights. First class introduced personal cabins with full height sliding doors for total privacy. On some airlines, cabins could be combined to create a first class suite with a double bed. Hot showers during flights became a norm though required booking. First class had gone stratospheric, or so it seemed…

Enter Etihad Airways’ The Residence. The Residence is a new travel product, destination in its own right, and experience presented by Etihad and lives in a class of its own above first class travel on the A380. If first class was a five star hotel in the air, then The Residence is the seven star sibling. A VIP Travel Concierge service takes care of guests booked into The Residence from the moment of reservation right through until the end of their stay with Etihad. Guests proceed to the flight via a private entrance at the Abu Dhabi airport, home of Etihad Airways, and are led to a private lounge separated from the ‘ordinary’ first class passengers. All pre-boarding protocols are taken care of, and the passenger simply receives the boarding pass. The private lounge has a butler on call, a gourmet chef, along with a Six Senses spa. The guests can choose to get on the flight as the first or last passengers. The Residence is a three room property on board the A380 comprising a living room, separate double bedroom and en-suite bathroom and comes with the butler and gourmet chef. The ‘ordinary’ first and even ‘lowlier’ business passengers have certainly not been left out…

The first class section on the A380, renamed First Apartments, is also located on the upper deck of the A380 and features private suites with a separate reclining lounge seat and full-length bed, and comes with a chilled mini-bar, personal vanity unit and wardrobe. The new business class studio cabin includes smaller ‘suites’ with an area to freshen up and the option of creating ‘double’ beds.

There is no doubt that the thrown gauntlet represented by The Residence, First Apartments and the business class studio cabins will be picked up by other airlines around the globe as they continue to compete to be the first port of call for air passengers. The customer continues to get better value for more or less the same amount of money.

Many privileged Nigerians from the private sector, the public sector and political decision makers are some of the customers these airlines are competing for. They enjoy the innovations and improved services offered by these airlines. Yet they are responsible for creating a conducive environment for Nigerians. When will the passengers on the Nigerian flight matter? When will there be a reason to give them better services? What service barriers need to be broken?

(Images are of Etihad’s The Residence – Private Airport Lounge, The Onboard Living Room, Onboard Bedroom and Onboard En-Suite Bathroom with Shower)

Written by Babatunde Olaoluwa Jeje and published in This Day Style