Yesterday, Etihad teased its new seating plan in Economy. Not too long after, it formally launched the ‘Fully-Customizable Economy Experience’. You must have read about the two big changes – doing away with screens and introducing buy-on-board concept for food.
Today, I visited the Arabian Travel Market 2019 where Etihad had displayed the new product. I also got a chance to speak with a couple of Etihad employees about this.
Applicability and Launch Date
The new Economy configuration will ONLY be applicable to A320 and A321. Etihad employees were very categorical in excluding the A380. They are looking at a coverage of up to 5 hours from Abu Dhabi. As of now, 23 out of 32 aircraft will be fitted with the new configuration.
The launch date is set at August 2019.
Seat & Configuration
Etihad was bold enough to showcase both A380 economy and A320/A321 economy together. You could try both seats and see the difference for yourself.
As you can see, pillows and blankets will be provided. Also, the seats are slimline and legroom is smaller.
I asked both Etihad employees about the seat measurements, but they were not willing to give me a number. However, they had no issues with me trying the seats. I tried both A380 and the new seats.
I am of above average built and yet had about 3 inches gap to the seat in front. Compared to A380, my guess is the new seats have 2-3 inches less legroom.
The seats appear to be comfortable but I cannot say whether a 5 hour flight would be comfortable or not.
Once again, Etihad did not share how many additional seats they would be able to accommodate on this new configuration.
As I mentioned before, this was one of the most talked about changes. To clarify, Etihad is not doing away with meals in this configuration. Moreover, Etihad will continue provide special / diet-restricted meals.
The next question is whether the quantity has been reduced. I would think so, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. There is a lot of stuff on my plate which I do not eat, especially the salad.
Etihad had showcased three pre-plated meals at ATM. Together with dessert (which would be served separately except on ultra-short flights) and coffee, the quantity seems sufficient for a short flight. I forgot to take pictures.
Etihad is pushing its buy-on-board initiative a lot. At ATM 2019, there were two separate areas displaying this initiative. First, there was a bar where various items from the menu were being offered. Second, a lot of items were enclosed in a glass box and showcased.
I managed to get the menu.
Etihad has partnered with some well-known brands – Bateel, Starbucks, Thorntons, Cawston Press, Heavenly, Perrier and Barebells. The prices seem reasonable as well. However, there is something off about having to buy nuts or juices from a brand like Etihad.
I was one of the first to notice this (even before Etihad made a formal announcement). The new seats will not feature an entertainment screen.
Instead, Etihad will provide a customisable phone and tablet holder. I tried this on the three devices I had (all different sizes) and the grip was firm.
I quickly browsed some content and the experience was seamless. On a tablet, it felt smoother than the normal Etihad IFE screen.
I have two major issues with bring-your-own-device (BYOD). First, some airlines do not provide a USB charging outlet. Or they are too far from the device holder. I prefer to conserve my batteries when I am travelling. Thankfully, Etihad has addressed this. There is a fast-charging capable USB port next to the device holder.
The second issue I have is the lack of earphones. Airlines do not provide earphones if there are no screens. I have had the misfortune of sitting in flights where your co-passenger is watching something at full volume. I wish Etihad (and all other airlines) find a way to stop IFE from working unless the device is connected to an earphone.
I believe correct pricing will be key to the success or failure of this product. Typically, Emirates and Etihad economy prices are similar. However, this new configuration could be priced lower than Emirates.
Etihad officials were mum about pricing. The most I could get out – ‘We will see how it goes’.