Crisis on the ground, caviar in the air — the Middle East offers luxury at 30,000 feet

Published August 6th, 2014 - 11:59 GMT

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Qatar Airways
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Image 1 of 9: Qatar Airways offers all-business-class flights daily between Doha and London. Passengers aboard the cozy 40-seat Airbus A319 can keep in constant contact with earthbound colleagues via an SMS mobile texting service. Work weary? Jumbo seats turn into beds. Flip on their high tech entertainment system and gorge on 5-star cuisine.

Etihad Airway
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Image 1 of 9: Etihad Airways’ new Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliners offer private 3-room suites served by a butler, chef and concierge! Special prayer areas feature electronic Qibla-finders (GPS tracker pins down the exact direction of Mecca). A team of “Flying Nannies” will keep the kids under control - so sit back and enjoy a new release film!

Emirates’ A380
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Image 1 of 9: Need some solitude? Nothing beats Emirates’ A380 First-Class Private Suites - mini hotel rooms fully loaded with mini-bar, mirrored vanity, wardrobe - and a door! Seats convert to fully flat beds (with a mattress!). On A380s, freshen up in the state-of-the-art “shower spas”. (But what if there’s turbulence while you’re sudsing up?)

Gulf Air sky nanny
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Image 1 of 9: Gulf Air offers first class posh at business class prices. Seats convert into flat beds with built-in massage, but Falcon Gold customers get special treatment while still on land! Enjoy priority check-in, 40kg baggage allowance, and access to their exclusive airport lounge where a Sky Nanny handles the kids (she’s also onboard for the flight!).

Oman Air
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Image 1 of 9: Oman Air unveiled superb new lounges at Muscat and added Airbus A330s on their long haul routes. In first and business class cabins, everyone gets seats which quickly convert to lie-flat beds. Grab an award-winning “amenity kit” before scanning the wine lists and menu. Their Balenciaga-clad crew are dressed better than some passengers!

Saudia Airlines
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Image 1 of 9: Saudia Airlines First Class cuisine features 5-star menus. No booze of course, but enjoy fresh fruit juice while the common folk board. After take-off, enjoy cardamom-flavored Arabic coffee and dates before tucking into some of the best meals in the air. Flat-bed sleepers, sleeping suits and "airshow" that gives a true pilot's-eye-view.

Airbus A380
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Image 1 of 9: Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud flipped the world’s largest civil aircraft into a private jet, cramming an Airbus A380 with VIP suites, offices, spa, parking garage and concert hall. A “magic carpet” let passengers watch earth pass under their feet, as scented breezes blew into the room. Cool, eh? But his plane has yet to take flight.

Abu Dhabi Royal Jet
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Image 1 of 9: Don’t know Prince Alaweed? Abu Dhabi’s Royal Jet offers clients VIP service designed specifically to their needs. Pick the plane (dispatched in four hours!), interior set-up (business or pleasure?), and a menu cooked up by a personal chef. Fancy certain music? It will be playing softly as you board. Fly like a prince (for a fee)!

Airbus cheap seats
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Image 1 of 9: For the rest of us, Airbus takes cheap travel to a new low with a design to jam more passengers on each flight. Racks of flip-up saddle-seats and tiny back and arm rests pivot out from horizontal poles (forget about tray tables and movies). Do we have to pedal to make the plane fly? Forget Dreamliners, here’s a Nightmare Express!

A century ago, the mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida boarded a 23-minute flight across the bay and became the world’s first paying airplane passenger. The humble “flying boat” carried Mayor Abram C. Pheil the 21-mile distance from St. Petersburg to Tampa.

We’ve come a long way since that flight. And while it may be the home of flying carpets, the Middle East hasn’t always been known for aviation. Now, things are changing.

First off, the region is a natural link between Asia and Europe — much of the world’s population is within a 6-hour flight away — and its airlines have a growing client base in China, Africa, and Malaysia.

Gulf airlines are positioning the region as a transfer point for long haul flights. Global ambitions are bringing significant airport expansion in Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and, most recently, Qatar.

Despite regional turmoil and relatively small population, Airbus Global Market Forecast 2013-2032 predicts traffic within, to and from the Middle East will represent 12% of global air transport in 20 years!

As an emerging travel hub, this region’s carriers are offering silver-spoon extras that bring new meaning to luxury at 30,000 feet. And it’s not going unnoticed.

The 2014 Skytrax World Airlines Awards marked Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways as the World’s Leading Airline. In another report, Qatar Airways took second-best airline, with Etihad coming in at the still-respectable seventh-best.

Gulf carriers are also becoming innovators in luxury cabin design. Etihad and Emirates fleets include the Airbus A380, a jumbo plane that can fly 800 passengers 8,000 miles without refueling. Etihad’s A380s offer hi-tech “apartment” seats to first-class passengers. Not posh enough? Don’t worry, you can upgrade to a flying suite complete with your own living room, bath and bedroom.

As for in-flight services, you can forget that scratchy blanket and measly bag of peanuts. These Middle East carriers are decked out with designer pajamas and swanky spa treatments, in-flight nannies and Michelin-starred chefs. All at deep-pocket prices, of course.

Here’s our introductory guide to the region’s best flight options and their ultra-luxed out perks that will make you envy first class even more. Look past Air Algerie’s accident and the mayhem around Malaysia Airlines; while western carriers are distracted by carbon tax and competitive cost-shaving, our crisis-riddled region is looking to live it up in the skies. Fasten your seat belts!

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