The good times are well and truly over at Etihad. Once boasting one of the best economy cabins in the world, financial pressures are forcing the Abu Dhabi airline to cut costs. The latest victims of cost saving measures are economy cabin snacks and drinks.
While meals remain free, Etihad passengers in the economy cabin are now being charged for snacks and certain drinks requested outside the scheduled meal service. This applies to both short- and long-haul routes.
It is the latest in a series of cutbacks at an airline once well known for its extravagance. Business class passengers have been bearing the brunt of cuts to inflight service, but now the pain is being shared with the main cabin too.
Congratulations, your meal has been ‘enhanced’
Etihad has revamped and “enhanced” their economy meal service. On flights over three hours, the entree and salad are no more. To make up for this, the main course meal will be slightly larger. Dessert will continue to be served after the meal on longer flights.
There continues to be an alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks service with meals. But Etihad likes to style itself as a premium full service carrier, and if you are facing a 12 hour plus flight with them it’s likely you might want a snack or a cup of coffee outside the meal service. Charging passengers for basics like this is more easyJet style than premium airline service.
Sweet and Salty
Etihad’s pay-as-you-go snack service is called Sweet and Salty. It’s a standard airline assortment of snack bars, instant noodles and microwaved light meals such as a USD$7 lasagne. Drinks include such items as Saile & Sabga gourmet hot chocolate and Piper by the glass.
Standard tea, coffee, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages remain free throughout the flight.
The Sweet and Salty menu does not include water or alcohol. These appear to remain complimentary outside meal times.
Some airlines make a virtue of rock bottom fares with lots of paid extras. Etihad has always sold itself as a premium airline but socking economy passengers for a cup of tea and a slice of cake is not standard premium carrier behaviour.
Etihad also charges its economy passengers for seat selection.
The challenges facing Etihad have been well covered here at Simple Flying. The airline is only 16 years old and, for most of its short life, it has had bold expansionary plans. Backed by the Government of Abu Dhabi, the airline has aggressively expanded to destinations and airports around the globe.
Etihad was known for its lavish premium cabins and flooding markets with excess capacity. But, in the face of strong competition, high operating costs, unfriendly governments in key markets and some poorly conceived investments in Europe, many experts believe Etihad has never made money.
There was a series of ill fated investments in airlines like Alitalia, Jet Airways and Air Berlin. These were based on a strategy of buying into failing airlines, turning them around and using them to feed traffic into the Etihad network. It didn’t work.
Right now, Etihad cannot match the capacity of its near neighbour rival Emirates, and it cannot match the in-cabin product of Qatar. Etihad is clearly stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Charging passengers for a muffin isn’t new in the aviation business and it’s a bit of a first world problem. But the market has always distinguished between LCCs that charge and full service carriers that don’t. Etihad needs to decide which market it wants to be positioned in.
Etihad appears to be taking a middle road, charging passengers for some things and not for others. The problem is that it’s sending mixed messages.
Etihad still charges premium carrier fares. If I have to choose between Etihad, which is going to be mean with snacks, charge me a fee to choose my seat and quibble about my bags, or an airline like Singapore or Qatar which will look after me all the way to Europe with one all-inclusive fare, I know which carrier I would choose.
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