Etihad CEO on the Airbus A350, first class and ‘business plus’

Teasing an “absolutely incredible” A350 cabin, Etihad Airways’ CEO talks up the prospects of ‘business plus’ at the pointy end.

By David Flynn, September 7 2021
Etihad CEO on the Airbus A350, first class and ‘business plus’

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.”

Etihad's first class Apartment suite features on just a handful of Boeing 787s.
Etihad's first class Apartment suite features on just a handful of Boeing 787s.

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.

Etihad's business class Studio launched on the Airbus A380 and later appeared on the features on Boeing 777 and 787 jets.
Etihad's business class Studio launched on the Airbus A380 and later appeared on the features on Boeing 777 and 787 jets.

“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.

Also read: Lufthansa confirms 2023 debut for new Airbus A350 first class and Cathay Pacific’s new Boeing 777-9 first, business class in development

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 954

It is surprising that they are moving their J class upmarket but continuing to shun the Premium Economy market.  t doesn't sound like they are following the obvious growth in the PE segment.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 194

I agree, when done well, premium economy seems to make a lot of sense. Maybe Etihad just wants to maximise any upsell revenue from economy passengers going straight into business, but I would think that on many routes they would be competing with airlines which have premium economy as that good value 'in between' class like Emirates and SQ.

08 Sep 2018

Total posts 20

Hopefully they bring that to Melbourne and Sydney and offer it all try way over to the UK as they will continue to get my business. EY A350-1000 will probably be the best product to Europe. SQ A380 would be my second choice. 

EY A380 might be gone however this will just be as good. 

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 623

With regard to a J class offering to LHR and the like, I don't think any airline beats QR. That said I'd always fly an EY A350 over a horrible QR 777 on an ultra long haul sector to LHR.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 502

Does it have a bar in J-class ?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 176

Look, I always enjoyed EY. At the start, it was such a game-changer. Loved it. But, towards the last few years, it just wasn't as flash. EY has always been good at talking itself up (but, that's just the way the ME is - EK, EY & QR). 

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 194

I still rate Etihad's A380 Apartments as the best first class suites, until SQ did its A380 refresh, and there's still a lot to be said for the old Etihad A380 first experience because the suites were still great, room to get up and move around, plus they had the on board chef etc. And the shower too. Will miss the EY A380s.


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