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The lowdown: Etihad’s first and business class revamp

10 May 2009 by Tom Otley
Business Traveller talks to Etihad’s CEO, James Hogan, about the carrier’s new first class suites and its refurbishment plans for business class Etihad’s new first class product and revamp of its business class seating will be completed by the end of next year, chief executive James Hogan has said. As reported earlier this week, the US$70 million first class revamp improves Etihad’s already impressive first class seats by incorporating a sliding door into each new suite and including a personal wardrobe and mini bar. Hogan described the revamp as “one of the best products in the world”, with the suites extending into fully-flat beds, 80.5 inches in length, and equipped with a built-in massager, lumbar support and adjustable headrest, as well as power sockets for a laptop, iPod and other electronic devices. There is a 23-inch widescreen LCD screen with more than 600 hours of on-demand entertainment, and spacious storage compartments built into and around the seat. An ottoman seat allows dining for two, and the two centre seats have a middle seat divider that can be lowered to allow dining for four on two large wooden tables. The first aircraft with the new first class cabin – a brand new Airbus A340-600 – is due to enter service at the end of August, with the full roll-out of the suites expected to be completed by the end of next year. At the same time, Etihad’s business class cabin will be refreshed with new fabric colours and a new table. Hogan said the seats would be installed on “a rolling schedule, and if we can do both the business and first together then we will, depending on the maintenance schedule and deployment”. Hogan defended the use of the A340, a aircraft that, while suitable for ultra long-haul sectors, has four engines and is heavy and less economical with fuel than the B777. “We got these A340s in the initial fleet deal when the airline started up, but the cost of fuel has come down, and we’re comfortable with operating them,” he said. “We have B777 aircraft on order as well, and have orders for a lot more after the one we will receive this year, but the A340 works for us at the moment.” In economy, Hogan said improvements would be made on the service side. “We are upgrading the service – we call it “Inspired service” and we have it in first and business, and now we’re taking it to economy class. There is a dedicated food and beverage person who has been responsible for a 300-seat restaurant, which means they’ll have no problem with an aircraft.” Hogan said that for the moment, the Coral, Pearl and Diamond branding of Etihad’s classes would continue, albeit with the addition of “economy”, “business” and “first” as explanation. He added that while the market from the UK, France and Germany was difficult, Brussels, Milan and Dublin were still strong, as were the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. “In the first quarter we hit our numbers. May is a tough month and June, July and August are strong,” he said. “Certain countries in Europe are difficult.” Looking further ahead, Hogan was bullish about the imminent opening of the first phase of the giant Dubai Al Maktoum International airport, which is almost the same distance from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and into which Emirates will move it operations in future years. “Ultimately, it’s about the customers you carry,” he said. “We have aggressive targets, we’ve got aircraft coming in and our products and services will be the best in the world, and the customer will decide. Meanwhile, we have Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi airport to wow them.” Visit etihadairways.com

Report by Tom Otley

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