The Head of Commercial at Etihad Airways, Jamal Al Awadhi has today told an audience at the APEX Middle East and Africa conference that the Abu Dhabi-based airline was too “exclusive” following extensive polling of what customers thought of the brand. Al Awadhi says part of the airline’s transformation programme will aim to make the airline more “inclusive”.
His comments could mark a major change in strategy for the carrier. Just over four years ago, Etihad Airways launched a massive brand campaign which claimed the airline had “reimagined” flying. The move placed Etihad Airways as a solidly upmarket, luxury airline which was to set it apart from it main rivals in the region.
Along with a striking new logo and aircraft livery – dubbed ‘Facets of Abu Dhabi’ – and a new designer staff uniform by Italian Haute Courtier Ettore Bilotta, the airline launched possibly the most luxurious cabin that commercial aviation has ever seen – a three-room suite which includes a shower and even a Savoy-trained Butler.
A famous commercial, featuring Hollywood A-Lister Nicole Kidman left no doubt that Etihad was definitely a premium and exclusive airline.
The repositioning of Etihad Airways as it marked its 10th year of flying was led by former Group CEO, James Hogan. He claimed Etihad had a clear mandate to be “best in class” and wanted to make the passenger journey “remarkable”, as he harked back to the Golden Age of aviation and promised “luxury” and “exclusivity”.
Hogan, though, was forced to step down from his position last year after the airline plunged to a $1.95 billion USD loss in 2016.
Of course, a lot of the financial woes at the airline are the result of a disastrous equity investment strategy which saw Etihad become a minority shareholder in failing airlines like Alitalia, airberlin and even India’s Jet Airways. But it now seems Etihad once again see’s the need to look at its brand.
In a bid to get back in the black, Etihad has been forced to slash some of the much-hyped services it once offered passengers. Critics have said the airline has cut too much, becoming a shadow of its former self – though some of the cutbacks could well now be deliberate as the carrier repositions itself.
One slide which Al Awadhi shared with the audience said Etihad would move from being a “luxury” brand to offering “high quality and value”. Instead of bundling everything together, the airline would let customers choose what they want (read, make customers pay for what they want), and instead of being “exclusive” the airline would become “inclusive” and “relevant” to its customers.
In another slide, Al Awadhi doubled down on some of the changes we’ve already seen at the airline. New short-haul fares would see customers buying food and drink, rather than having it offered free of charge. There will be more hand baggage only fares and customers will have more opportunities to pay for seat selection.
A lot of this shouldn’t really come as too much of a surprise. Etihad is going through some big changes and nothing seems to be off limits – the route network has been reassessed, multi-billion dollar aircraft orders could be changed or even cancelled, and talk of a merger with Emirates is still very much on the cards.
For the time being though, it feels like Etihad’s product proposition is a little confused – on the one hand, it still offers the Residence but then allows customers to buy access to its Business Class lounges. Talking of lounges, those are being sold off to the third party partner outside of Abu Dhabi.
It will be interesting to see where Etihad goes next.
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.