At first glance, a new ‘buy on board’ offering from Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways could be seen as just a little desperate. A few days ago, the airline informed staff it would start offering a range of ‘comfort items and amenities’ for purchase that were previously only available to Business or First Class passengers.
Now, Etihad has confirmed the new offering, with the airline’s Vice President of Guest Experience, Linda Celestino saying it was part of a plan to “give our guests more power and control over their experience.” The products will range in price from just $4 for cold brew coffee to $35 for a set of Christian Lacroix branded sleepwear.
But one has to wonder whether Etihad would have introduced a range of buy on board goodies if it didn’t find itself in such financial strife. In July, the carrier announced a staggering loss of $1.87 billion USD.
At the time, Etihad Group’s interim Chief Executive, Ray Gammel said the airline would focus on “improving revenues and reducing costs” to shore up its finances. Gammel confirmed redundancies had been made – saving costs of 4% – and said the airline would pursue “ancillary revenue strategies” to improve its fortunes.
Since then we’ve seen Etihad embark on a major cost-cutting strategy. Premium passengers have arguably been worst affected with perks like free chauffeur transport and pyjamas axed. First world problems you might say but passengers who have paid good money to fly with Etihad are not happy with the decline in service standards.
At the same time, Etihad has been doubling down on increasing ancillary revenues. We’ve already seen the airline allow Economy passengers paid access to its own-brand Business Class lounges and the option to pay for chauffeur transfer at certain airports.
For the first time, Etihad has also introduced seat reservation fee’s – opting to charge passengers for extra legroom seats and rather imaginatively, allowing guests to bid for ‘neighbour free seats’ when the economy cabin isn’t fully occupied.
But while premium passengers might have cause for complaint, perhaps Etihad’s latest offerings are a positive move for the passenger experience. The items Etihad is initially releasing are nice touches to ‘enhance’ your journey at a relatively affordable price.
- On flight’s to Paris, London and Australia, guests can purchase cold brew coffee from local UAE company, Coffee Planet ($4)
- On long and ultra-long haul flights (except the U.S.), you can enjoy Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut NV champagne ($8)
- On ultra-long haul flights (with the exception of the U.S. again) passengers can buy Christian Lacroix male and female branded amenity kits with Omorovicza products ($22) or Christian Lacroix branded sleepwear ($35)
And as Celestino points out, “some of the items are great gift ideas, particularly in the run-up to the holiday season.” She added that guest satisfaction would be monitored with a view to adding more products in the future.
This isn’t necessarily about nickel and diming passengers but providing touches of luxury – an affordable treat to improve your flight. It’s a strategy that’s been employed by the cruise industry for years.
Even luxury, all-inclusive cruise company’s like Celebrity have add on’s that come at a price. From premium alcoholic drinks packages and speciality dining to luxury gifts and treats – Celebrity provides a great base-product but drives ancillary revenue through extras that guests see a real benefit in parting with their hard-earned cash for.
With this latest proposition, Etihad is providing a service that passengers could really warm to. It’s driven partly by research which found some of Etihad’s premium passengers who used to book Business Class can no longer afford or justify the huge expense. They might, however, see the appeal in a glass of bubbly or luxe bag of cosmetics for a small fee.
Yet there some hiccups in Etihad’s plan. In January, the airline plans to roll out a buy on board snack box with both sweet and healthy snacks. Passengers may well wonder why they are being forced to buy snacks on a Five Star airline should they get peckish between meals.
It’s also interesting to see Etihad hasn’t yet followed the lead of other airlines by introducing an enhanced meal service at additional cost. It’s a relatively quick addition and the catering infrastructure is already in place – although Etihad might be put off with the cost of investing in new dining ware that would be needed to make the proposition feasible.
One final note – and possibly the most important point. It’s going to be really interesting to see how Etihad implements this idea on board. Cabin crew will need to be engaged and supportive of the move for it to realistically work. How they feel about becoming in-flight salespeople, however, might be a whole different story.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.