Etihad A380 Residence suite: Businessman Gino Bertuccio becomes the first passenger to fly in class

A Miami-based businessman has become the first passenger to fly in the world's most exclusive airline seat.

Mr. Gino Bertuccio booked a ticket in Etihad's A380 "Residence" suite – a three-room class at the front of the plane that's a step-up from first class and features a living room, a bedroom complete with double bed and a private bathroom with shower. 

Bertuccio flew from London's Heathrow Airport to Abu Dhabi on Saturday – a one-way flight costs more than $24,000 in the class. 

Passengers in the Residence also have access to a concierge team at the airport and an on-board butler (trained by the Savoy Butler Academy in London, part of the Savoy Hotel) who takes care of their needs throughout the flight.

The suite's living room features a two-seat leather couch, a dining table and private minibar. Both the living room and bedroom feature LCD television screens for inflight entertainment.

The space, covering almost 12 square metres, is unprecedented in commercial airline travel. Etihad created the suite with an eye on competing with private jet travel. 

Wealthy Australians will eventually be able to fly the kangaroo route to London in this class, with Etihad planning to bring its A380s to the Abu Dhabi-Sydney and Melbourne routes, beginning with Sydney in 2015. The airline has nine Airbus A380 superjumbos on order.

The Airbus A380 is the world's largest airliner, measuring 72-metres long and with a wingspan of just under 80 metres. Etihad's A380s carry up to 498 passengers, with two residence guests, nine first class, 70 business class and 417 economy class passengers.

Mr. Bertuccio who runs Ligi Import Corp, has been an aviation enthusiast for many years – he took his first inaugural 25 years ago and has since travelled on 22 inaugural and final flights in premium-class cabins. Among these was the first ever Airbus A380 flight in 2007 – a Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore to Sydney. 

He is an avid collector of airline memorabilia with nearly 2000 model planes, as well as albums filled with boarding passes, certificates and photos from past flights.  

"For the first time in my flying experience, I really don't know what to expect but I do know that flying in the Residence by Etihad will be a truly unique adventure, the top of luxury. I have huge expectations. My only wish is that the flight was longer," said Mr. Bertuccio.

Carriers in the Middle-East and Asia are increasingly competing on their premium offerings in order to attract lucrative high-end travellers, even as airlines in other parts of the world, including Qantas, have reduced the number of planes offering first-class seats to put a focus on mid-range premium economy seating.

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