Sunday, 28 April 2019

Has the Etihad transition to no-frills low-cost carrier begun

Image Etihad
The once proud airline of The United Arab Emirates, based in Abu Dhabi, Etihad appears to be rapidly spiralling down to the no-frills, low-cost carrier model as cost-cutting measures go into warp speed.

The cost-cutting mentality at the carrier has been ramped up in recent months to such an extent it is hard to know where the airline will be in three years time or how far along the transition it will have reached.

In recent times as part of the airline's cost-cutting programme, it has taken away free chauffer driven cars for first and business class everywhere except the UAE, reduced the amenity kits, taken away free pyjamas in first and business and made them a purchasable product. They have introduced fees for pre-booking seats as well as adding food and beverage items for sale in the economy cabin, to get passengers ready for an eventual switch over and away from a free meal service to a buy-on-board product, favoured by many other airlines including British Airways and the low-cost carriers.

Etihad: Choose Well

Etihad Airways has now unveiled its latest major Economy transformation programme which will see the complete refurbishment of 23 narrow-body Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft. The airline is removing the inflight entertainment screens from seats and will just have a streaming entertainment offing which passengers will have to use their own electronic devices to view if they download an Etihad app. Of course, that is assuming that passengers will have a compatible device, with enough free space and memory capability in order to stream a film or show. 

The airline is installing modern thinner ergonomic Acro seats, which Etihad say will 'maintain comfortable ‘living space’. These thinner seats are harder, less padded and see the literature pockets moved to where the seatback entertainment screen's normally are. They also have smaller tray tables but do have the addition of fast-charging USB points with a phone and tablet holder. It's understood the airline will also slightly alter the seat pitch to enable them to insert another one or two seat rows.

For the moment the inflight entertainment via personal seatback screens will remain standard in the Economy cabins on the airline’s fleet of wide-body Airbus and Boeing aircraft. However, according to an Acro employee, they are currently designing a slightly revised version of the new seat for future deployment on Etihad's long-haul aircraft.

The airline is also introducing a new and reduced Economy dining concept on all its flights. For journeys of three hours or more the meal is still complimentary and will be a more 'contemporary bistro-style meal' which will centre on fresh seasonal (cheaper) ingredients and more destination-focused choices. A new curved triangular base plate design reflects the heritage of Abu Dhabi and is made using recycled materials. The carrier is also saving money by getting new cutlery that is some 85% lighter. It is also removing plastic lids, both to cut costs as well as moving towards greater sustainability.  The meal service will be split up so the desert will be served later in the flight with after meal coffee, again cutting the costs of giving passengers a second cup - if they finished the one previously served with the meal.

In addition, the airline will expand its buy-on-board food option,  with a ‘Sweet or Salty’ retail menu including a Tapas box, hot dishes, and premium sweet and savoury snacks, all available for purchase. The selection also includes exciting options for children and the new retail service will feature premium name brands such as Bateel, Starbucks, Thorntons and Cawston Press to ensure a premium price is charged.  It's fairly clear the plan is to slowly phase out the free meals in the economy cabin, by introducing a stronger more exciting offering on the buy-on-board menu.

Whilst the Economy Deal, Etihad's lowest economy fare level includes hold luggage (between 23-30kgs) on all routes except Abu Dhabi to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Azerbaijan, Jordan or Lebanon services at the moment, it is, according to many in the industry, only a matter of time before hold baggage is dropped from all short to medium routes at that fare level.

Etihad: Choose Well
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