British Airways' 787-9 Dreamliner First (Credit: Credit: British Airways)

British Airways' flying Bentley

Can BA's automobile-like First Class seat out-luxe rival Etihad?

For airlines, there are few greater prizes than the London-to-Abu Dhabi route — and the loyalty of the customers who frequent it by way of First Class. In recent months, the undisputed champion of this golden route has been United Arab Emirates-based Etihad Airways, whose Airbus A380s and Boeing 787 Dreamliners have charmed well-heeled flyers with a dazzling array of ameninties — not the least of which, in the Airbus, is a butler-tended sanctum for two called The Residence.

But British Airways, which flies the London-Abu Dhabi route seven times each week, is now in line for its own upgrade, and one that takes its cues from the luxury car scene. This week, the airline, which has ordered 22 examples of the stretched 787-9 Dreamliner, offered a sneak peak of its entirely reimagined First Class cabin. 

Working with the UK-based industrial design house Forpeople, BA solicited feedback from its regular first-class customers — many of whom, no surprise, park luxury automobiles in their garages. As such, the airline's new First cabin comes off looking, feeling and functioning quite a bit like a Bentley. There is a raft of new technology, such as a haptic 'jog-knob' controller for the seat and lighting functions, and an equal helping of classic luxury touches, including surfaces wrapped in fine hide and trimmed with brushed metal.

All in all, the seat — or "suite," as BA prefers to call it — is pretty posh, but is it enough to out-luxe Etihad?

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