A Residence in the Sky

I’ve been cheap my entire life. Here are a few common items I’ve never bought until recently:

Salt

Pepper

Sugar

Spice

Tissues

Trash bags

Furniture

Kitchenware and utensils

Lotion

Coffee

Tea

Alcohol

Juice.

Now, when I say recently, I mean as of six months ago I had never bought any of the above items. But I am no longer that cheap.

The reason: last year, I spent $31,000 on one item.

Let me explain.

***  

On December 17, 2019, the YouTube algorithm placed a video at the top of my recommended feed. I clicked on the thumbnail and subsequently watched a vlogger named Casey Neistat travel in Etihad’s three room residence in the sky.

Now, Neistat- being a YouTuber with millions of subscribers- acquired this experience for free. But I was not that fortunate. I was a simple viewer taken in by a video advertisement. And an hour after consuming such content I- a high school teacher too cheap to buy salt- convinced my bank to accept the purchase of a $31,000 ticket from NYC to Abu Dhabi.

Or, to put it another way, $31,000 of the $37,101.03 in my savings account was transferred into Etihad’s corporate account. (Or that’s how I imagine it works).

Now you might ask: how does a young teacher in Brooklyn have $37,101.03 in savings? 

One answer: don’t buy salt.

But I digress. To get back to my story, after a sensation of euphoria passed, I felt nauseated. Then my body broke into a heavy sweat. That is when my phone rang.

I answered the unknown number and was greeted by an employee of Etihad congratulating me on my recent purchase. I mumbled a thank you and hung up the phone before the caller could respond. A state of shock took hold of me until I clapped my hands in front of my face and began to plan myself out of the anxious state I was in.

I had booked the earliest available flight on the residence- the 23rd of December- as that coincided with school vacation. This meant I would be leaving in less than a week. Since Abu Dhabi was an expensive city, I bought a ticket (economy, of course) from Abu Dhabi to Cairo, which was surprisingly cheap for a last minute flight during the holiday season. I then secured eight days in a hostel outside the city center.

The rest, I would plan once I arrived.

***

At 10am on the 23rd, I awoke to a vibration by my left ear. I found my phone underneath my pillow and silenced it, only for it to ring a second time. So I answered the caller with a hard hello. In a courteous manner, an Etihad employee announced that a driver was waiting for me outside my building. Scolding myself for requesting an early pick-up time, I informed the caller that I would be down in fifteen minutes and quickly got out of bed. I pulled sweatpants over my bare legs, brushed my teeth, checked that my charger, passport, and wallet were packed in my cloth tote bag, threw a coat over my t-shirt, slung my pre-packed hiking bag onto my back, grabbed my keys, and made my way to the entrance of my apartment building.

When I stepped outside, I saw not one, but two luxury vehicles waiting for me on the litter-strewn street. In the space between both cars was a chauffeur holding up a sign with my name on it. I was given the option to choose one car for myself and another for my luggage. It seemed excessive to have two cars for one traveler, a backpack, and a tote bag, but without complaint I handed what I had to a suit-clad driver and sat in the left rear seat of the first car.

Despite a palpable unease due to the discrepancy between the price of the plane ticket and the rental value of my residence, the driver remained courteous and professional. I can only assume I was treated as if I were a prominent CEO or executive, which I further concluded as I was transferred to four additional suit-clad employees at the JFK airport and accompanied through the TSA line to the Etihad lounge.

Once I was in the lounge, I was ushered towards a wall that opened into my private quarters, which was larger than my New York City apartment. In addition to the main room, there was a prayer room, an en suite bathroom, and a second entrance for passengers that required enhanced security. I quickly examined the modern and elegant furnishings before heading to the bathroom to shower. In order to assimilate with my surroundings, I washed my hair and body with Acqua Di Parma products and changed into the cotton bathrobe provided. I then sat down at the table and was waited on by my personal butler. I ordered espresso, a fancy sounding salad, sea bass, and tiramisu.

After I finished lunch, I changed into a clean set of clothes and entered the main lounge. As I glanced around the room, I noticed that most of the tables were occupied by single individuals typing into their laptops or cell phones. The comparison between the busy airport, the selective lounge, and my expensive, solitary experience for one reaffirmed my hypothesis that money buys loneliness.

I chuckled at this revelation, and then made a circle around the room. On my second round, I sat in one of the brown leather stools at the bar. I was quickly attended to by a bartender in a suit vest. They passed me a menu filled with city names. I ordered the New York, a gesture of loyalty to my city of residence. As the drink was placed in front of me, a fellow traveler sat in the chair to my left and asked:

Pardon me, but did you just come out of that wall?

Yes, I did. 

What’s that about?

Have you heard about the residence?

No, I haven’t.

It’s basically an apartment in the sky.

An apartment in the sky?

Kind of. It’s an airplane seat with three different rooms. 

All of that fits on the aircraft?

Well, the A380 is a double-decker. And I don’t think the rooms are huge or anything.

You must be wealthy.

No, not really.

Not really?

I’m not rich.

What do you do for work?

I’m a teacher.

A teacher with a private lounge and an apartment in the sky?

Yeah. I had a lot in savings.

Oh really.

The key word there is had.

I see.

You don’t believe me, do you.

I’m not sure if I do.

It’s a strange story for sure.

How much does the residence cost?

30k.

You spent 30k? On a flight? With a teachers salary?

Yeah. And you know something. I’m the kind of cheap that doesn’t even by salt or spices.

So that’s how you had so much in savings?

Exactly.

I should learn from you.

Well, I did just spend 30k on a flight. So maybe not.

You’re wild.

So what is it that you do?

I also teach. English.

In Abu Dhabi?

Yes. ESL.

How is it there?

Well, this room sums it up quite nicely.

Rich, modern, and elegant?

You have the gist.

So you have some money now? Is that why you are flying business?

I’m well paid, but not enough to fly business class. I got a free upgrade.

That’s awesome.

It is.

Is this your first time flying business?

It is. First time for you?

You bet.

A unique experience.

I’d say.

I take it you’ve never been to Abu Dhabi before.

No. I haven’t.

Are you staying in Abu Dhabi or Dubai?

Neither. I’m flying to Cairo.

Oh that’s too bad. I was going to offer you a private tour of the city.

Bummer.

Have you been to Cairo before?

I haven’t. But I’ve heard great things about Egypt. Especially Dahab.

I haven’t heard of that place.

The red sea. Sinai Peninsula. Gorgeous mountains. Great scuba diving.

Oh the place with the Blue Hole?

Yeah. That’s Dahab.

Do you scuba dive?

No. I just watched a YouTube video about the blue hole. And then I got into a rabbit hole of scuba videos.

Maybe you can head to Sinai and learn to scuba dive.

I’m only in Egypt for a week, so I think I’ll focus on Cairo and the pyramids. Maybe take a day trip somewhere.

That makes sense. Do you travel much?

No, not much.

Where have you been before?

Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, England. Typical places for someone in the U.S.

So you don’t but salt, but you buy plane tickets.

I guess.

Do you speak Arabic?

No, just some Spanish.

Egypt will be quite the place for you then.

Will it?

Perhaps. For an inexperienced solo traveler who doesn’t speak Arabic.

Inexperienced?

I didn’t mean it that way.

It sounded harsh. But that’s okay. I’m not an experienced traveler.

Perhaps that comment irked me, because after a prolonged silence I took a gulp of New York, said goodbye, and walked back to the camouflaged door. I was worried about missing the hidden location, but within seconds an Etihad employee was at my side. Once I entered the lounge, I sat down on the left couch and spent the remainder of my time sipping on champagne and reading the book I brought for the flight.

Thirty minutes before scheduled boarding time, I was given the choice to be the first or last passenger to board the flight. Choosing to be first, I stood up, stretched, and went to the restroom to pack the Acqua di Parma products in my tote bag. I was then escorted out of my private lounge, where two white carts were waiting. I took the front cart and my luggage followed in the second.

When I arrived at the gate, I was introduced to my personal in-flight butler, who lead me down a long, shiny jetway. I was taken to the front of the plane- on the left side, top deck- where my butler opened the door, stored my baggage, and welcomed me with a tour of the space. I was then given a Wi-Fi voucher, headsets, pajamas, a cotton bathrobe, and a personalized card (signed by the pilot). After thanking my butler, I sat down in the main room, drank another glass of chilled champagne, and ate complementary nuts and dried dates while the rest of the passengers entered and we prepared for takeoff.

Once we reached cruising altitude, the chef arrived to explain the menu. I ordered the mezze for an appetizer, wild mushroom risotto for the main course, and a selection of ice creams for dessert. Before my meal came, the butler pulled out a sliding table and set it with a white tablecloth and beautiful china. I felt like I was in a five-star restaurant in the sky.

After dinner, I decided to skip the first shower time I had requested and simply changed into my complementary pajamas. I then watched TV, chatted with my friends on WhatsApp, and- after a few hours- went into my private room to sleep.

***

At nine o’clock the next morning, I awoke to a knock on my bedroom door. The butler arrived with a tray of breakfast plates, including orange juice and champagne. I leisurely ate in bed while watching an episode of Seinfeld. At 10:15, I got out of bed for my 10:20 shower. I then changed into the nicest outfit I packed, applied Acqua di Parma face lotion in the three part vanity, and left the residence to explore the first class deck of the plane.

I stopped at a set of empty tables, where I ordered green tea and read. After reading three pages, I was interrupted by a familiar voice. I looked up, and found myself sitting across from the traveler I spoke to in the JFK lounge:

I was hoping to find you here!

Here I am.

So, how is it?

The residence?

What else?

It’s an experience for sure.

That makes it sound disappointing.

No. Not at all. It’s just hard to put to words.

I see. What’s it look like?

There is a double bed.

Cool.

A private bathroom and shower.

Nice.

An expensive vanity with lighting that makes you look attractive.

Very nice.

A long couch you can sleep on and two big connected reclining chairs in the living room.  

Awesome.

Breakfast in bed.

Amazing.

I sighed and stopped speaking, as the traveler’s exclamations bothered me. As a silence ensued, an attendant came by to take our orders. I politely declined additional food or drink.

What did you get for breakfast?

I had the chef make me a special breakfast for today.

Nice. Did you do the same for dinner?

No. I ordered off the menu.

I’m guessing you aren’t hungry.

No, not at all. I’ve eaten a lot this trip.

I can imagine.

As another prolonged silence ensued, I identified what it was about the traveler that irked me. It felt as if they wanted something, but weren’t confident in expressing it. I finished the tea and decided to return to the peace of my private residence. But before I could walk away, the traveler interrupted my departure and asked for a favor.

So, it might be forward for me to ask, but do you think they would let you take me on a tour of the residence?

I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable asking that.

The traveler responded with a dejected frown, so I gave them a conciliatory smile before turning back to my residence. Like any other seat on the plane, it contained limited means of entertainment. So I laid down in the bedroom and continued watching Seinfeld.

Essentially, I had spent $31,000 to lay down in a double bed.

I feel asleep, woke up a few hours later, walked into the main room, turned on the TV, and shortly after was approached by my butler. I requested another bottle of expensive champagne, as I figured I should get my moneys worth of the experience. For this same reason, I also ordered a side of caviar with lunch, although I wasn’t a fan of it during my breakfast.

It wasn’t long after that the butler came to clear and stow the table, as well as inform me that descent would begin in half an hour. Attempting to gesture with my hand, I accidentally tipped the champagne bottle onto the table. By this point, the altitude and ethanol had an influence on my body.

Approximately twenty minutes before touchdown, the Seinfeld episode was paused for an announcement. So I turned my head away from the screen and watched the metallic skyscrapers of Abu Dhabi transform into imposing structures. Once we landed, I was escorted out of the plane, my backpack and tote bag carried for me. I then received an enthusiastic goodbye from the crew before I was sent on my own, forced to navigate the airport the economy way.

As I approached the gate for my flight to Cairo, I stopped to study the regular passengers like myself. With a tipsy grin, I sat down next to a family, marveled at my anonymity in the crowd, took out what remained of my prior luxury (Acqua di Parma lotion), and applied it to my dry hands.

To me, this was comfort.

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