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. Read Part one here.
Part Two – Relax Your Own Way
Etihad operates, like most other airlines, a traditional hub and spoke concept, where inbound and outbound flights connect through a central hub. This includes feeder routes and the more prestigious longer-haul flagship routes. Over the years, most airlines have focussed on their hero products, which are usually found in the wide-bodied aircraft, where increased space allows designers to create points of difference, enhancing the passenger experience and bringing the brand to life.
Usually, narrow-bodied aircraft perform as short/medium-range workhorses, built for for a few hours flying, with quick turnarounds, a smaller pax capacity and a traditional fit-out. Etihad has just unveiled its latest A321 and A320 cabin design, which features brand-new seats. The existing cabins were traditional products in most senses of the word for a premium carrier featuring comfortable seats, IFE and a standard legacy carrier dining concept for anything up to 5 hours.
However – along with the new dining concept – the airline has brought the cabins in to the future by installing ergonomic Extra-spatial Design seats by UK based seat manufacturer Acro. The next-generation seats will be just as comfortable – and even more comfortable in the middle seat due to its increased seat pan width. The new product also provides increased knee room as well as being cleverly designed around the guest’s digital devices with fast-charging USB points and an adjustable phone and tablet holder.
“The narrow body cabin has the latest industry leading slim line seats in Economy class along with our latest branding so the overall cabin environment has been brought up to speed and feels like a new aircraft. The seats are also wider than our seats on our widebody aircraft providing more comfort” says Jamal Al Awadhi, VP Product & Guest Experience.
The tablet holder will be a noticeable difference whereby the airline will no longer offer a fixed screen in the seat-back. While currently this could be seen as a downgrade to the passenger experience, the carrier is future-proofing itself for the increasing trend of ‘bring-your-own-device’ on shorter-haul travel. It’s not the first airline to adopt this approach with American Airlines already retro-fitting its fleet to remove the seatback screens. But Etihad isn’t removing the entertainment, instead allowing passengers to beam it to their personal devices (that have an app pre-installed) or to their laptops.
While many passengers, ourselves included, will pre-load our devices with hours of Netflix shows, the carrier will still wirelessly stream more than 300 hours of free inflight entertainment through Etihad’s new onboard Panasonic eXW system. While this system will only be available on the narrow-body fleet, passengers on the long-haul fleet will still enjoy seatback screens.
As we highlighted a couple of weeks ago, the airline is working tirelessly to make itself sustainable, and the lighter seats, paired with the removal of the seat back screens will make aircraft lighter, and therefore, greener. “Sustainability is integrated throughout our product design process and continues to be a focus for the airline. We continuously review sustainable options across the business and we have integrated this mindset into our support functions as well,” states Al Awadhi.
But eagle eyes will notice a progressive shift in the airline’s colour palette. More earthy neutral tones – a contemporary emerging trend in the airline space – replace the sandy warmer colours of the last incarnation. A new ‘Gulf Blue’ has been introduced in the form of piping and refreshed blankets. The seat features a small diagonal motif by the shoulder, but the rest of the ‘Facets of Abu Dhabi’ fragmented design has been downplayed to a simpler geometric pattern.
The seats themselves offer automotive touches, another emerging trend, with the seat recline now positioned by the knee, instead of the arm, which again, reduces weight and will feel more intuitive to passengers. While this is just the economy product, the airline is still investing in its award-winning business and first class products. “In fact, we will see fantastic advancements in our premium cabins which will come on line in the future. There has been tremendous discussion around personalization and choice. I expect this to continue developing across the entire passenger journey.”
The airline is starting to forge a niche for itself, understanding its boutique position and the commercial implications of its network. It is now starting to offer the demographic it actually flies on these routes cabins that they will actually benefit from, all the while helping the carrier increase its sustainability and foremost, viability.