A $4000 Eye Mask? Only On Virgin Atlantic

virgin atlantic eye masksVirgin Atlantic has done it again – this time teaming with Swarovski crystals to create the most over-the-top flight accessory we’ve seen in some time, a $4,000 sleep mask decorated with crystals depicting sunglasses ranging from the classic Wayfarer to the shutter shade made famous by Kanye West.

The cheeky masks, which, sans crystals, are now part of the Economy Class amenities kit, will be hidden in five flights from New York and LAX and hopefully discovered by newly styling passengers.

The bespoke eyeshades feature thousands of tiny red, white and blue crystals, all applied by hand by artist Saima Anwar (who also creates crystal eyelashes for celebrities such as Katy Perry). It took ten hours to make each mask, and over 3,000 Swarovski crystals.

Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class cabin has featured Swarovski crystals on the cabin walls since the launch of the Upper Class Suite in 2003, and most recently unveiled a bespoke crystal curtains onboard, adorned with over 1000 Swarovski crystals each in the revamped suite aboard A330 aircraft.

Starting this month passengers traveling in Economy will receive a new amenity kit containing eyeshades featuring one of six fabulous sunglass designs, including a pair of heart shaped sunnies, John Lennon-esque circular specs and some 80s retro shades.

Passengers in Premium Economy will receive kits in stylish charcoal gray pouches, made from recycled plastic bottles with silk linings. In Upper Class, Virgin Atlantic travelers will be presented with amenity kits made from the same recycled material, but in pouches sized perfectly to hold tablet devices and e-readers (a fabulous idea, if you ask us).

Sadly, Virgin isn’t the first airline to take a stab at producing blinged-out amenities kits. Back in 2011, Etihad launched Swarovski studded kits for their first class passengers. The rapidly expanding airline will soon fly from even more US destinations, including a direct from DC flight starting September 12.
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The continuing rise of Gulf state carriers

gulf state carriers

The rise of Gulf state carriers continues to impress. These airlines, which have defined themselves in part as hub-and-spoke carriers linking Europe (and the eastern coast of North America) to Asia, have developed exciting route maps over the last several years with a particularly strong reach into the Arabian Peninsula and India.

While other airlines have recently attempted to develop their hub airports for intercontinental hub-and-spoke connections as well – Finnair‘s recasting of Helsinki as a northern Europe-Asia hub is one example – the Gulf carriers really stand out in global terms.

Yet, awareness of their services remains far lower than it should be among Americans, despite the presence of Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways at a handful of major US airports.

The Gulf state carriers’ key consumer product is a luxury flight with premium class service and a truly over-the-top experience on all three airlines. On Emirates, first class passengers are treated to private suites. Etihad’s Diamond First Class features flatbeds, personal mini-bars, and anytime dining, while Qatar Airways’ First Class offers turndown service with an amenity kit including products by Prada. With perks like these, it is clear that these carriers are establishing new standards for premium class service.

Even in coach, however, these airlines are delivering a decent product. I experienced the Qatar Airways economy treatment on a recent mid-haul journey from London, via Doha, and back. There was more legroom than in standard coach and the ongoing parade of meals and snacks was, if not exactly delicious, then without question, a cut above average airplane food.

Route maps, however, provide the most interesting dimension of the rise of the Gulf state carriers. While there is quite a bit of overlap between airlines, each airline covers some original territory. Let’s look at where these airlines fly.Etihad flies from Chicago, New York, and (as of March 31) Washington, D.C., to Abu Dhabi. Etihad also flies direct routes between most major European hubs and Abu Dhabi, in addition to a few surprising ports of call (Minsk, anyone?). In addition to eight destinations in India, Etihad’s more popular Asian destinations from Abu Dhabi include Bangkok, Colombo, the Maldives, and Seychelles.

Qatar Airways links Houston, New York, and Washington, D.C., to Doha. The airline flies to 31 destinations in Europe (including 2012 launches), 12 destinations in India, four in Pakistan, and four in China. Other destinations of note include Zanzibar, Ho Chi Minh City, and Denpasar.

Emirates boasts the best links to the US of all with direct connections from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, and New York to Dubai. Of these, Seattle and Dallas are new routes. The former begins on March 1 and the latter route kicked off on February 2. Emirates’ reach is particularly remarkable. The airline flies to 28 destinations in Europe, 15 destinations in sub-Saharan Africa, 10 destinations in India, and four in Australia; all but a handful of these routes are direct.

With beefed up links to major US airports, premium services to lure business and moneyed travelers, and route maps that show no sign of contracting, the Gulf state carriers look set to be important long-haul standbys for some time to come.

[Image: Flickr | jmmcdgll]

Etihad Airways launches direct service to Washington, DC

etihad airwaysEtihad Airways will begin daily nonstop flights from Washington, DC to Abu Dhabi on March 31, the airline announced.

“No other UAE carrier is offering nonstop services between DC and the UAE, so this capital-to-capital link is a huge opportunity for Etihad Airways,” said James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ chief executive.


The Washington region is home to America’s second largest market flying to the Middle East, after New York.

We’re wondering if the highly-acclaimed airline’s new route will cut in to Qatar Airways‘ market share. The airline had previously captured the luxury route with directs to Doha and easy UAE connections.

Last week, the US Department of Commerce released data showing that total trade volume between the US and the UAE rose to $18.3 billion in 2011, a 43 percent increase from the year before. This increase represents the highest trade volume to date between the US and UAE.
It also means that, for the third consecutive year, the UAE is the single largest export market for US goods in the Middle East.

The US is the fifth largest trade partner worldwide for the UAE.

“The point-to-point traffic between DC and Abu Dhabi is expected to contribute significantly to overall loads on the route,” Hogan added.

The direct flights will be operated by a three class A340-500 aircraft. Each flight will offer 12 Diamond First class, 28 Pearl Business class, and 200 Coral Economy seats.

Etihad, the “fastest growing airline in history,” won World’s Leading Airline, World’s Leading Airline First Class, and World’s Leading Airline to the Middle East at the World Travel Awards earlier this year.

[Flickr via rogerbarker2]

Etihad thinks they are ready for the big time

A few years ago, Etihad Airways was an upstart. Sure, it has grown at least 40% each year since its 2003 birth, but that trend can’t be sustained with the economy the way it is now. Right?

The Abu Dhabi-based carrier is adding destinations to its roster rapidly. New routes include Beijing, China and Melbourne, Australia. In the US, it is only possible to catch an Etihad flight out of JFK. But, that may soon be about to change. Etihad has signed two major deals this year, one is a 45-plane order with Boeing and the other a mammoth 51-plane order with Airbus. These will mean that the Etihad fleet will be growing by more than 300% in the coming years. No matter how you look at it, the numbers in those orders are almost ridiculously ambitious, especially considering that most airlines are now doing everything they can to save money rather than spend it.

It seems that Etihad is hell bent on overtaking Emirates as the best known brand to come out of the Persian Gulf.

Airline Claims it Will Save $20 Million by Increasing Fuel Efficiency

Etihad Airways has announced that it is on track to save $20 million this year because of the success of its fuel-saving techniques. The airline has taken steps to reduce weight and improve engine performance by increasing the number of engine washes and reducing cruising speeds.

The fuel-saving strategy is not a last desperate attempt to stay in business. Etihad has been wildly successful over the past year. In the first half of 2008, it saw an unprecedented 41% increase in the number of passengers when compared to the same period in 2007. The airline has recently added routes to China and plans to expand further in to Europe and North America.

The Abu Dhabi-based carrier has added new routes and is planning on expanding its fleet by more than 100 aircraft in the near future. However, a slowing world economy and a projected drop in the number of passengers flying into and out of the Middle East might put a damper on Etihad’s ambitious growth plans.