Economy space seats will feature increased leg-room of up to 36 inches, while 777s and Dreamliners will also be modified
Etihad A380 economy class gets more leg room
Abu Dhabi airline Etihad Airways is retrofitting its Airbus A380 double-decker aircraft and enhancing its economy class offering, to become the first airline in the Middle East to offer a premium coach service.
By December, Etihad will refit 10 A380s with "Economy Space" seats, which feature an increased seat pitch of up to 36 inches, the carrier said on Monday. The reconfigured cabin increases the number of extra-legroom seats in economy class from 20 to 80 on the super-jumbo.
“In response to popularity and demand for extra legroom seats, we have reconfigured our economy cabin to enhance travellers’ experience,” said Jamal Al Awadhi, Etihad Airways’ head of guest experience.
“While many airlines have been squeezing more seats into economy class…we recognise that no two travellers are alike, and today’s customers demand more choice and personalisation during their travels.”
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Airlines are increasingly looking for ways to revamp cabin space and provide a mix of seating options for passengers, both to enhance airline revenues and better serve their customers. Some 20 airlines offer premium economy seats globally according to SkyTrax, which surveys millions of travellers and ranks airlines globally. Air New Zealand's premium economy class is ranked number one globally ahead of Qantas Airways, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Air France, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific among others.
“Premium economy opens up a larger market base that would want something between economy and business class,” said Mark Martin, founder and chief executive of Martin Consulting. “Realigning an existing seat section to get more yield is something that began at United Airlines back in the early 2000s and over the years has transitioned to becoming a mainstay service offering.”
In the Middle East, discussions over premium economy class for all major Arabian Gulf carriers has been ongoing for a few years now - “ever since yields started declining as a result of lower fuel prices and the corresponding effect on business travel.” said Diogenis Papiomytis, global program director - commercial aviation, aerospace, defence & security at consultancy Frost & Sullivan.
In addition to modifying its A380s, Etihad will also add economy space seats to 12 Boeing 777s and 21 Dreamliners by the end of next year, increasing the total number of extra legroom seats by 560 per cent.
Families with small children, elderly travellers and those requiring wheelchair assistance, as well as others, can benefit from the extra room available through Economy Space seats, the airline said.
Etihad Aviation Group’s global chief executive Tony Douglas told The National in July he wants Etihad to become the “dim sum” of aviation business over the next five years, using the digital revolution to provide greater choice to customers beyond the industry-standard economy, business and first-class model.
Later that month, the airline introduced a seat selection fee on all economy class flights, allowing passengers to pre-book seats on all economy deal, economy saver, economy classic fares and award tickets.
The new economy space “complements Etihad’s existing ancillary products to provide customers with greater opportunities to personalise their journey, including the neighbour-free seating option in economy and a range of ‘buy-on-board’ products,” the airline said.
It is also important for Etihad to have a premium economy product as many of its codeshare partners have it, and there must be continuity in service for revenue passengers, Mr Papiomytis added.
“I see it more of an ancillary revenue stream for now, similar to charging for pre-selected seats, which Etihad had already started doing.”