ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Talk about some serious legroom.
Etihad Airways, a fast-growing Mideast carrier, laid out plans Sunday to offer passengers who find first-class seats a bit too tight a miniature suite featuring a closed-off bedroom, private bathroom and a dedicated butler.
It is the latest salvo in the worldwide battle among airlines for well-heeled customers. Their willingness to spend big on premium seats can make a big difference to an airline's bottom line.
The Abu Dhabi-based carrier revealed the front-of-plane amenities as part of a broader rollout of plush new cabin offerings for dozens of long-range jetliners it plans to receive over the coming years.
Etihad Chief Executive James Hogan conceded that offering what the airline says is the first-of-its-kind multi-room suite helps generate buzz, but that ultimately it is a serious effort to bring in more cash. The carrier already woos the flying elite with perks including first-class onboard chefs and in-flight nannies.
"Obviously there's going to be a halo effect in the positioning of Etihad Air as a premium carrier," he said. "But we wouldn't do it unless we felt we could make money with it. ... This is a top-end market. There is demand here."
Etihad is the smallest of three rapidly expanding, government-backed Gulf carriers redrawing global aviation maps by funneling travelers through their desert hubs.
Its base in the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi, this year became the first in the Mideast to open a U.S. preclearance facility staffed by American customs and border officials. U.S. pilots and members of Congress have criticized the facility, which is largely funded by the UAE, alleging it puts American carriers at a disadvantage.
Since starting operations in 2003, Etihad has built a fleet of 96 planes. It carried 11.5 million passengers and posted a profit of $62 million last year.