These new ‘Economy Space’ seats are Etihad’s premium economy play

The Gulf carrier says upgrades are all about space, and this is what its new seats deliver…

By David Flynn, April 4 2022
These new ‘Economy Space’ seats are Etihad’s premium economy play

Etihad Airways’ new Airbus A350 serves as the launchpad for not just a new business class, in the form of private Business Studio suites, but a fresh take on economy – one which delivers more legroom than ever before.

Yet the airline has deliberately resisted the lure of premium economy, settling instead for pairing its new Recaro-designed seat with an extra four inches of legroom in an Economy Space zone directly behind the business class cabin.

In the language of airlines, the ‘pitch’ – the overall spacing between each row of seats – is 35 inches for the 45 Economy Space seats, compared to just 31 inches for regular economy.

Etihad's new A350 Economy Space seats.
Etihad's new A350 Economy Space seats.

“We listen to our guests and space is what they tell us that they really want,” Etihad Airways’ CEO Tony Douglas tells Executive Traveller on the sidelines of the A350’s inaugural flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris.

“So what we’ve done is give (economy) guests the trade-up opportunity of more space.”

“But what we haven't done is put in a lot of cost and unnecessary complexity” for the airline, Douglas explains, primarily in a totally different type of seat to the rest of the economy cabin. “What we try to do is simplify things, and differentiate with what the with what the customer really wants.”

And in the same way that Douglas sees the A350’s business suites as a “business plus” offering, so he sees Economy Space as being “economy plus” – with that singular ‘plus’ factor being the extra legroom that travellers want.

The 35 inch pitch in Etihad's new A350 Economy Space means there's plenty of room to stretch your legs.
The 35 inch pitch in Etihad's new A350 Economy Space means there's plenty of room to stretch your legs.

And it’s a noticeable difference: the extra four inches of pitch combines with modern seat design to afford vastly more room at the knees (which is always where the economy squeeze sets in) along with space to stretch your legs out – even when the passenger in front reclines their seat.

It's a tighter fit in Etihad's standard A350 economy seating.
It's a tighter fit in Etihad's standard A350 economy seating.

The contoured seats themselves – arranged in a standard 3-3-3 layout – are quite comfortable, with an articulated reclining motion that brings forward the base of the seat while retaining lower back support.

Even with the seat in front reclined, there's ample room.
Even with the seat in front reclined, there's ample room.

Each seat also boasts the airline’s signature ‘fixed wing’ headrest, introduced with the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliners, where one side of the firmly padded headrest protrudes so that travellers can nestle into it when relaxing or sleeping.

The padded 'fixed wing' headrest on Etihad's new A350 economy seats.
The padded 'fixed wing' headrest on Etihad's new A350 economy seats.

All economy seats in the A350 are fitted with a vivid 13.3-inch HD touchscreen, with the option to beam their audio via Bluetooth to your own headphones or earbuds, while a small device tray flips down from below the screen if you’d rather watch BYO video on your tablet our smartphone.

The fold-down device tray on Etihad's new A350 economy seats.
The fold-down device tray on Etihad's new A350 economy seats.

“I think you’re going to find this product will be received particularly well,” Douglas enthuses.

“We deliberately describe it as Economy Space and it is precisely as the vocabulary would suggest – it’s the economy cabin and it has got a lot more space – and on long-haul routes you could actually be sitting in economy saying, ‘You know what, this is fantastic.’”

The author travelled to Abu Dhabi and Paris a guest of Etihad Airways.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1090

Economy X, Economy Plus, Economy Space; these products all have a place but they are not the same as Premium Economy and to conflate the two just confuses consumers.  Did Etihad say if these rows were only available for a premium of if high tier frequent flyers get access to them for no cost by virtue of their status?

05 Apr 2022

Total posts 1

Most other full-service airlines have already been doing this for years, so it’s hardly a novel idea. 

They misinterpreted the ‘space’ passengers want. Legroom is important, yes, but unless you are built like Manute Bol, the space you really want is personal space, and that means shoulder room, and an armrest that is wide enough so you don’t need to fight with your neighbor to put your elbow down. A 3-3-3 seat arrangement on a 787 or A350 is cattle class, because you are literally going to be wedged in touching your neighbor for the entire flight if the aircraft is full. If you’re in a window seat, you will need to climb over 2 people to use the lavatory. In no way, shape, or form is that a premium experience. 

I get E+ “free” based on my status, but I probably wouldn’t be willing to pay the extra fare for it and, based on what I see on seat maps when I’m booking flights, not many others are willing, either. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 5

Took the words out of my mouth! Some bright spark heard space and assumed legroom. I want legroom plus width plus recline. The rest is nice to have but not essential. Otherwise, I might as well keep on traveling in bulkhead and emergency exit seats that have a ton of legroom.

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 117

All economy cabins (particularly international) should have this amount of seat pitch.


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