Etihad is giving its A320 cabins a refresh this summer, expanding the economy class cabin and adjusting many of the services on board. The company describes the effort as “empowering our guests with more control of their travel experiences, through onboard digital transformation, improved choice and redesigned cabins and products.” Ultimately, however, it appears that the move reduces options, limits the product and will squeeze more seats on board. Presumably this is not the type of control many passengers are seeking for their travels.
The new cabin layout and service offerings will roll out on 23 of the carrier’s planes in the coming months. The A320 fleet serves 38 regional destinations within a five hour flight radius from the airline’s Abu Dhabi hub. Many of those travelers connect onwards on long-haul flights with the carrier; it remains to be seen if the difference in product between the two experiences drives a change in passenger booking behavior.
The cabins will soon be flying with the Acro Series 6 seat on board. Some 18 months ago Acro’s SVP Sales Alan McInnes suggested that the ME3 carriers would not be interested in the Series 6, preferring a higher level of comfort and features for their planes. That clearly is no longer the case. The Series 6 seat is a mid-level offering, trading the aluminum frame for composite carbon fiber to reduce weight and space consumed on board. Extra seats can be added without reducing knee room, even as pitch shrinks. Etihad also describes the seats as an “Extra-spatial Design”
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. This not only delivers greater choice and personalisation, it also ensures we continue to provide a superior, commercially wise and sustainable service offering.– Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer, Etihad Aviation Group
The lighter seats enable more passengers on board without a weight penalty, saving fuel and decreasing unit costs for the operation.
Streaming, Not Screens
Etihad joins the growing ranks of airlines removing the embedded IFE screens from its short-haul fleet. The carrier will replace the screens with the Panasonic Avionics eXW streaming IFE platform. Passengers can stream 300 hours of content on their personal electronic devices using a dedicated app or a web browser. The seats will also be fitted with advanced device holders to allow for hands-free playback and even adjust the viewing angle if the seat in front reclines.
Passengers will also have high-power USB charge points embedded in the seats. The chargers will be well located for the tablet holders and include a custom-designed cable guide to keep the USB cables out of the way while watching. The high-power USB ports replace combination 110V/USB ports at the seats.
Shedding the embedded IFE screens is expected to save more than 1,500 pounds per aircraft, further reducing fuel burn. Those savings come only in the economy class cabin, however; the business class seats are reported to be keeping their embedded screens.
Snacks for Sale
Even as the airline claims an improved complimentary meals program on board, with larger portions on flights over three hours, it is also expanding its buy-on-board option with a “Sweet or Salty” menu. Redesigned service wares and 85% lighter cutlery also target reduced fuel burn, a common theme across the changes.
The expanded BoB menu includes “a Tapas box, hot dishes, and premium sweet and savoury snacks, all available for purchase. The selection also includes exciting options for children. The new retail service will be enhanced by partnerships with leading brands such as Bateel, Starbucks, Thorntons, Cawston Press, Heavenly, Perrier and Barebells.”
Spinning the Shift
In announcing the moves Group CEO Tony Douglas uses all the same phrasing that others before him have tried. The carrier is “bringing the leadership and innovation to Economy travel which we have long established in our award-winning Business, First and The Residence cabins,” for example. Passengers will be “empowered” and have “more control of their travel experiences, through onboard digital transformation, improved choice and redesigned cabins and products.”
Just what the “digital transformation” really is in this context is hard to pinpoint. Removing the screens seems to reduce choice – passengers no longer have the embedded IFE option. Removing or reducing the premium cabin seating on 38 routes similarly should be seen as reducing passenger choice, not expanding it.
Perhaps more accurate is the closing line of Douglas’s following quote in the release, “…[I]t also ensures we continue to provide a superior, commercially wise and sustainable service offering.” Getting to commercially wise and sustainable is critical for Etihad at this point. The carrier’s financials are not in a good place and have not been for some time. Part of that is based on losses tied to investments in other airlines, including Alitalia, AirBerlin and Jet Airways. Part of that is a general drop in performance and increasing fuel costs. And all of it needs to be fixed for the airline to remain in business.