By Thomas Shambler
Crystal Aircruises' bespoke Boeing 777-200LR is a commercial aircraft of unrivalled sophistication
Following the death of Concorde, the age of glamorous air travel has been left to the few commercial airlines with planes big enough to house 'first class cabins'. While having your own private space and lie-flat bed is certainly a luxury in the sky, it does more to alleviate the chore of long-haul flying (it's hardly a luxury experience in itself).
The one exception may be Etihad's Residence cabin, complete with living room and separate bedroom. But with limited routes to only a few cities around the world, it's an exception but not the rule.
However, soon frequent fliers will be able to fly on a commercial aircraft of unrivalled sophistication – one that's being launched by a cruise company, no less. Currently, under development by US-based Crystal Cruises, the bespoke Boeing 777-200LR is set to start operations next autumn.
The Crystal Aircruises plane will accommodate just 84 guests (an airline variant of the 777 holds between 314-450 passengers).
Those lucky enough can choose from packages that range from 14, 21 or 28-day itineraries, with passengers staying in various luxury hotels as they travel around the globe.
However, for many passengers, the opportunity to fly in the most luxurious apartment in the sky is likely to be the highlight of the trip. Amenities include the all-important lie-flat seats, along with a spacious lounge with stand-up bar, two divans and four dining tables with room for up to six guests each.
It is here that guests will be able to enjoy elaborate three-course meals prepared by the plane's own executive chef and kitchen team, working out of two state-of-the-art galleys.
Each guest is provided with a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and thousands of hours of entertainment. Each will get an iPad for their journey, and Wi-Fi is available throughout the trip.
Every seat features a 24-inch touchscreen telly, with on-demand programming and music library, and enough USB and power sockets to ensure laptops and phones never run out of power. When sleep beckons, the in-flight stewards will transform seats into comfortable beds, complete with mattress toppers, plus duvets and blankets.
The plane's bathrooms and shower suites will be stocked with amenities from Italian luxury brand Etro.
Like Crystal Cruises existing itineraries, Aircruise packages will revolve around specific themes, such as visiting Michelin-starred restaurants around the world.
Prices and detailed plans will be confirmed over the coming few months, but rest assured the prices will be level with the company's cruises (read: they're not going to be cheap).
Speaking at the launch, Crystal Cruises CEO Edie Rodriguez called it "not just a thrilling new venture for Crystal, but a ground-breaking development in the luxury travel industry".
However, it's not the only commercial aviation experience that hopes to rival private air travel. Last year the Four Seasons launched the industry's first fully branded private jet – and now offers round-the-world itineraries aboard a retrofitted Boeing 757.
Other hotel groups have followed suit: Aman Resorts, Beyond and the Oetker Collection now offer customers the opportunity to travel the world – from one property to another.