Etihad Airways expects to begin flying its Airbus A350-1000 jets next year, with CEO Tony Douglas describing the seating and cabin as “absolutely incredible.”
The A350s will join the Boeing 787 Dreamliner as Etihad’s long-range champions, following the shock axing of the airline’s entire Boeing 777-300ER fleet and a less-surprising retirement of the Airbus A380s.
Etihad has taken delivery of five of its 20 Airbus A350-1000s ordered, although they've all flown straight into storage and have not yet carried passengers – but that’s set to change from 2022.
“We’ll look to schedule those into service probably next year,” Douglas remarked during a webinar with SimpleFlying.
“We accepted our first two into Abu Dhabi just three months ago to undertake the cabin fit-out and configuration… not surprisingly, I’ve been in the first one, and the product is absolutely incredible, as you would all expect from Etihad.”
Douglas didn’t detail if the A350-1000s will be crowned by a small first class cabin, despite speculation they might adopt the same suite designs as a handful of its Boeing 787-9s.
“It’s not the end of first class,” Douglas said about the exit of the Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s.
“We have a first class product on our 787s as well – not all of them. We have that (first class) scheduled into those marketplaces where pre-COVID, there was a market for selling first class tickets.”
More to then point, or at least where the post end is concerned, Douglas talked up the prospects of what he calls “business plus” to bring a touch of luxe to the made-leaner airline.
“What you’ll see increasingly on Etihad’s fleet is what I would describe as ‘business plus’, and then an economy product.”
This not only skips the increasingly popular premium economy cabin – a model recently embraced by Gulf neighbour and staunch rival Emirates – but appears to increase the already-substantial gulf between business and economy, while also reducing the need for first class.
“I think we’ve probably seen (globally) that the trend has continued to see a higher-end business class, diluting the need for what would have been historically a clearly separate product between first and business,” Douglas reflected.
“We’ve looked to simplify and build on the quality of the way in which our offer presents itself.”
The benchmark of ‘business plus’ is likely to be Qatar Airways’ Qsuite, although other leading airlines are now either rolling out or working up their own takes on a business class seat which only than a decade ago might have been considered first class material.