I’ve been saying for a while that Etihad has been repositioning itself as the leader of boutique carriers. In fact, an impromptu conversation in my hotel bar last night with two Emirati ladies reaffirmed this belief, who excitingly dubbed the carrier as more ‘exclusive and chic’ than its larger, brasher, blingier, counterparts. It seems today it has taken yet another step in this direction.
In fact, Etihad’s stars are aligning this year, it is posting profits and its cabin products are increasingly being elevated, rather than the nickel-and-dime approach other carriers are taking. But there’s a smart commercial engine behind this, that sees brand partnerships as part of the passenger experience. It’s a no brainer really, 3rd-party brands get access to a highly affluent demographic and in return, the cost to the airline is reduced, all the while aimed at enhancing the passenger experience.
And this is the core of what Etihad did last night, by revealing (potentially the first part) of its relationship with Armani Casa. Dubbed the “constellation collection”, the range has been designed exclusively for Etihad, and will become a much sought after keepsake from flights. (Good luck Etihad trying to manage the vanishing salt and pepper pinch pots)
For now, the partnership extends to service ware and bedding, but we can’t help but feel the partnership is opportune for further expansion. From a design perspective, i can’t help but feel the motif on certain service ware pieces doesn’t really reflect a constellation in our eyes, but that’s semantics. The range is iconic and will become a visual metaphor for flying Etihad’s Business Class.
The bedding will now see the introduction of a mattress protector and the design is in Armani’s checkerboard design, seeing a further distancing from the Facets of Abu Dhabi design that was a big feature of its 787s and A380s. In fact, the colour palettes will be more akin to the new A350 colour ways, with black and slate working in harmony.
But why is this more than just some bedding and service ware? Because of the potential such a partnership brings. While there were no definite answers, there’s certainly something simmering under the surface when speaking to the product team at the launch by the smirks on their faces when I probed a little deeper. In fact, Etihad’s product team has struck gold by bringing in a member of frontline cabin crew in to the product team, something other airlines should replicate. Now the team has an understanding of the nuances of service delivery and it helps debunk the siloed approach and lengthy feedback processes that other carriers go through to refine the inflight product.
Firstly, the amenity kits. Currently Acqua Di Parma, these kits could be easily replaced by Armani, but with that comes a challenge. Scent. It’s much under used by airlines, but is going to soon become the new battleground on where emotional connections are etched. Currently, for me, as soon as I smell Acqua Di Parma out and about, I’m instantly reminded of Etihad, it’s that sensory connection that no amount of marketing dollar can buy.
But there’s yet another opportunity, scents by Armani Casa are unique, and while beautiful, rarely smelt, so it’s easy for Etihad to own a smell once again, which could further expand to diffusers in bathrooms, hand lotions, scented towels etc.
Armani is also primed to become a provider of loungewear and pyjamas for Etihad, and considering its new strap line is ‘Beyond Business’ maybe there’s a hint that it is willing to up the ante when it comes to amenities onboard.
In fact, the carrier has also revealed its upped the catering offering, with dishes now equal to rival Oman Air, with fine dining presentation and service that goes above and beyond the current product. This, like the soft products, will go live in December.
Finally, there’s the lounges, the flagship of which is still yet to be revealed in the new much-delayed Midfield Terminal. Armani Casa, by name, is a homewares brand. And surely, this is where the brand partnership can shine. I would never suggest turning these spaces into an Armani showroom, but clever use of key pieces and scents will create an upgrade to the lounge design.
Yes, Etihad have launched some lovely small touches to the passenger experience, but this is seemingly just the tip of a more extensive overhaul of the offering in business class. Which raises even more questions, what of First Class? the return of the A380? (still rumoured to return next year). What everyone in the industry will be pleased to see is that they aren’t alone in upping the game in passenger experience, and it seems post-covid, these innovations are smarter, more commercial and putting the passenger first.