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Etihad Airways plans launch of new first class

1 Jan 2009 by Sara Turner

Etihad Airways is planning a significant upgrade in its first class seating in 2009, with a new suite-style product promised, as well as a refreshed business class seat, and a focus on service in economy.

The product strategy is designed to position Etihad Airways as a premium luxury brand, with a new first class suite planned for its long haul fleet. Etihad’s executive vice-president of marketing Peter Baumgartner said that the new first class seats would offer “privacy on demand” with a “single seat cabin” as well as the option of a double cabin suite. In addition the cabin is to be altered and refreshed.

Etihad is also planning to upgrade the business class seats, although these changes are believed to be more of a refreshing of the fully flat bed seat introduced in 2006, with a larger table, wider armrests, more storage space, increased privacy for the middle seats in the business class cabin, moving the TV screen closer to the passenger and enhanced inflight ntertainment throughout the aircraft. There would also be a new inflight food and beverage concept allowing passengers to have further choice over the menu and meal times in business and first.

Around 50% of Etihad’s traffic into Abu Dhabi is using the airport as a hub, something that Baumgartner said would continue: “If you draw a line between Europe to Sydney it goes over Abu Dhabi,” he said, “and that’s why when you look at global traffic flows there are massive shifts towards the Middle East. It works well for us since we have the European catchment area feeding into the Abu Dhabi hub.”

Nevertheless, although Etihad’s service and products have been praised, there’s no doubt that at busy times the experience of boarding at Abu Dhabi can be hectic. Baumgartner highlighted the current move into Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi as being key to alleviating this, as well as the soon to be unveiled premium services in the new terminal including a limo lounge for business and first class lounges.

Baumgartner said that the improvements were all part of Etihad’s four-point product strategy to establish the Etihad brand as a premium luxury brand of undifferentiated superiority. The four key principles are:

1.    That the airline does not want to compete with a single “best” product, but would instead take its inspiration from the hospitality industry and the world of five star hotels. To this end the airline has introduced a food and beverage member of staff on board flights. “If the benchmark is a five star restaurant, then you need a five star restaurant manager on board,” Baumgartner says.

2.    Instead of celebrating the sheer size, or rate of expansion of Etihad, the focus would be on behaving like a small airline with the focus on the passenger. “It will be demonstrated through the inspired service where you are treated personally through every point of engagement during your journey, including interaction during the flight,” Baumgartner said, adding that it had involved the complete re-training of the staff by hospitality experts able “to take us beyond the five star airline to five star hospitality service.”

3.    Despite this repositioning, Etihad would remain accessible across the entire segmentation of its passenger spectrum. Using the analogy of the Apple brand, Baumgartner said that despite Apple being a luxury electronics brand, there was the “…opportunity to step into the brand through the Shuffle”.  In the airline business, the aim must be “Luxury for all through economy class” meaning retaining a touch of the inspired service. As a result, 2009 would see Etihad focus on economy service.

4.    Lastly, in deciding whether Etihad should be an Arabic brand talking to the world, or a global brand bringing the world to Abu Dhabi, the decision had been to represent modern Arabia while embracing the best the world has to offer.

For details of Etihad’s move into Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi airport, and to find out if your flight is affected, click here.

For a review of Etihad’s business class, click here.

Report by Tom Otley

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