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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.