Recently, Etihad Airways completed a single-use plastic-free flight from Abu Dhabi to Brisbane to highlight the issues the industry faces when it comes to sustainability. But instead of this being a one-off stunt, it has actually turned into a learning curve with many of the disciplines being rolled out across the airline, a carrier fast becoming one of the most sustainable in the skies. In our two-part series, ahead of a trip report, we take a look at what the latest developments mean for Etihad’s guests – from seating to dining and everything in between.
Part One – Dine Your Own Way
The economy airline meal is historically one we usually eat, causing us a range of emotions from disappointment through to stress and anxiety. The ever-increasing jigsaw of plastic and foil lids and their careful dance around a perfectly-packed tray with limited space used to be an art-form, mastered only by a few regular travellers. This mystical Jenga puzzle was usually watched on and copied in amazement by the infrequent traveller. As if that wasn’t enough, the drink was then served, increasing the orchestrated dance of food packaging vs. space.
Over the years, airlines have become adept at helping with these problems. Smart space saving bi-fold tables and in-built cup holders help to ease the meal service, but the actual dining concept has barely changed in decades. In fact, the economy meal with its sheer complexity of bread rolls, mini salads, deserts and main courses all sharing the small space becomes confused eating experience. Personally, I eat the main while it’s hot, before eating the appetiser, which is followed by the desert, and then the bread roll. How peculiar.
Etihad, however, has just taken a revolutionary approach to dining, that starts with the simple tray, working upwards. On journeys of over three hours, the main course of the core complimentary dining service is now a larger, contemporary bistro-style meal which is higher in quality, with a focus on fresh seasonal ingredients and more destination focused choices. It seems that Etihad is reflecting the way we eat naturally, with larger, more balanced dishes with less of the distractions that once accompanied it.
The meal service represents a traditional restaurant-style service, first delivering a main meal and bread roll or ‘scroll’, but after the main meal, the crew return, clearing the dish, where a second service of a dessert and hot drink is offered.
The concept, while simple in approach, is revolutionary when it comes to the environmental footprint – saving an impressive amount of weight on the aircraft. “Our approach towards product and guest experience is to continue to be at the forefront of innovation, quality and the highest levels of customer experience while also being sustainable in everything that we do.” states Jamal Al Awadhi, VP Product & Guest Experience. It’s not just a matter of using recycled materials, the airline is actually upcycling its old trays to create these new, more robust serving plates. The new base plate is a stunning product design piece in its own right, featuring a curved triangular design reflects the heritage of Abu Dhabi and actually is shaped after the sail of the Dhow, a traditional Emirati boat.
New cutlery is also 85 per cent lighter, reducing aircraft weight and fuel burn. Each year, the airline will also remove 27 million plastic lids, and other containers, supporting its drive towards greater sustainability and to reduce the use of single-use plastics by 80 per cent by 2022.
The concept elevates the economy class experience. There isn’t a loss of food per passenger, in fact the airline is increasing the main meal portion size by 25% meaning more of the good stuff! The meals have been upgraded to include dishes such as roasted chicken breast with braised tomato and polenta; lamb boukhari; ginger sesame chicken; beef goulash; chicken in Japanese curry sauce and fish fillet with herb-caper cream sauce which are dependent on route and season.
“From a catering perspective, we continue to update our offering while exploring the option for our guests’ future meals. We would also like to build a larger focus around our meals leveraging the trends within the F&B industry, as guests now truly care about how and where their food is sourced from,” says Jamal.
The airline has also introduced a new ‘Sweet or Salty’ buy-on-board concept. This supporting food and drink concept complements the core dining service with premium offerings including a Tapas box, hot dishes, and premium sweet and savoury snacks. The new retail service will be enhanced by partnerships with leading brands such as Starbucks, Thorntons, Cawston Press, Heavenly, Perrier, Barebells and local brand to the gulf, Bateel.
Bateel is one of the best luxury brands in the region when it comes to sweets. Etihad are clear to point out they still offer their existing full-service dining approach, with this as an additional mid-flight offering.
These additions are just one small part of the airline’s efforts to improve the passenger experience, with new seats, IFE and blankets also being rolled out over the coming days. Stay tuned for part two where we explore the new short-haul cabin enhancement that will be rolled out on the A320 and A321 fleet.