Etihad Airways has announced some pretty major changes to its Economy Class experience with a slew of updates including a redesigned main meal service. The ‘Economy Transformation Programme’ as Etihad is calling it includes updated seats on the majority of the airline’s short-haul fleet of single-aisle aircraft but it does all come at a price for the passenger experience – Etihad will be removing seatback TV screens and is instead going to offer ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) entertainment streaming.
Launched today at the Arabian Travel Market which is being held in Dubai, the programme will see the Economy cabins on 23 of Etihad’s Airbus A320’s and A321’s refreshed and refitted with new seats by British seat manufacturer Acro. The seats, which appear to be the Series 6 model, feature muted tones of dark brown with a light blue accent and come with extra-spatial seatbacks that allow more room at knee level and a redesigned recline lever.
Unfortunately, Etihad has decided not to include individual in-flight entertainment screen and has instead fitted the seats with adjustable phone and tablet holders. Passengers will be able to stream content to their own device through Panasonic Avionics eXW system which Etihad has dubbed ‘E-Box Stream’. Each seat will also come with a USB charging point.
The Abu Dhabi-based airline claims there will be at least 300-hours of free programming available including Hollywood blockbusters and premium television programming such as from HBO and Universal.
Etihad was keen to point out that individual seatback televisions will remain standard on the airline’s long-haul aircraft fleet.
A new Economy Class meal service
In the last few weeks, Etihad has also launched a brand new Economy meal service which builds on a trend that we’ve already seen a number of airlines either implement in full or experiment with. On flights over three hours, the main meal will now be served on a much smaller curved triangular base plate (apparently the design reflects the heritage of Abu Dhabi).
There’s just enough room on the base plate for a bread roll and cutlery pack to be placed alongside the main meal – which will be a larger bistro-style meal. A dessert will then follow separately with the after-meal coffee and tea service, which Etihad claims will reduce clutter.
This is a trend we first saw with Qantas and its ‘trayless’ main meal service. Since then, Saudia has launched a similar service but with the appetiser, main meal and dessert being served as separate courses. Delta Air Lines is also trialling a similar concept and we can probably expect other airlines to come up with their own concepts in the next few years.
The main advantages for airlines in offering this kind of service is the ability to significantly cut weight and thus fuel burn. An added bonus is that Etihad will also be reducing a lot of plastic as part of its drive to reduce the use of single-use plastics by 80% by 2022.
In addition, Etihad also plans new blankets, pillows and headrest covers in Economy.
Etihad will also be doubling down on a ‘Buy Onboard’ concept with a “significantly expanded” retail menu which will now include hot dishes available to purchase.
Clearly, Etihad has been forced to make some very tough decisions as part of a major cost-cutting and transformation programme. Last year, the airline launched a new ‘Choose Well’ brand platform that it says encapsulates its commitment to provide “guests with greater control, choice and value by personalising their travel experiences.”
Some observers, though, see the Choose Well brand campaign as a way to sell a number of ancillary revenue services including spare seats. Tony Douglas, chief executive of the Etihad Group maintains that his airline is a “challenger brand” that is “shaping the future of travel.”
“As part of our ‘Choose Well’ promise, we are empowering our guests with more control of their travel experiences, through onboard digital transformation, improved choice and redesigned cabins and products,” he claims.
“As a leading full-service airline, Etihad is adapting to meet the specific needs and requirements of all travellers, providing more of what they really want to enjoy inflight.”