Quick take: Etihad Airways takes steps towards premium economy

Airline announced plans to expand its economy cabin with wider seats and more legroom

United Arab Emirates, November 7, 2018

Etihad Airways is retrofitting its Airbus A380 aircraft to enhance its economy class offering. The redesign will add more legroom and increase the premium segment of its coach class, dubbed 'economy space'.

The move is in line with plans of the airline's global chief executive Tony Douglas to provide greater choice to customers beyond the industry-standard economy, business and first-class model. Etihad’s latest offering makes it the first mover in this space among Middle East airlines.

What is premium economy?

Budget cabins are increasingly cramped as air passenger numbers rise and airlines seek to maximise revenues in a competitive market. Business class is getting more luxurious and expensive. The dynamics have prompted demand for an in-between option that gives customers more comfort without having to fork out as much money.

What will 'economy space' seats look like?

Etihad said by December it will fit 10 A380s with “economy space” seats, which feature an increased seat pitch of up to 36 inches. The reconfigured cabin increases the number of extra-legroom seats from 20 to 80 on the super-jumbo. In addition to modifying its A380s, Etihad will also add economy space seats to 12 Boeing 777s and 21 Dreamliners by the end of 2019, increasing the number of extra-legroom seats by 560 per cent.

How expensive are they?

Etihad has not disclosed the fares for its new seats, but premium economy on other international airlines are typically 65 per cent more than regular economy, depending on the company. The cost can be as low as 35 per cent if booked close to departure date, according to aviation website Seatguru.com.

How do the seats compare to other premium offerings?

Compared to standard economy, premium economy provides around 5 to 7 inches of extra legroom, and added amenities including 1 to 2 extra inches of seat width; 2 to 3 inches more of seat recline; adjustable headrests, leg rest, or lumbar support; larger TV screens; laptop power ports and a premium food service.

Which other airlines offer premium economy in the Middle East?

Emirates said it will introduce premium economy from 2020, but no GCC airline yet offers such a product. British Airways launched premium economy on its Dubai to London route last year, with prices approximately 40 per cent higher than regular. Globally, around 20 airlines offer premium economy seats, according to SkyTrax, which ranks airlines. Air New Zealand’s premium economy class is ranked number one ahead of Qantas Airways, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM.

How does this feature fit in with Etihad’s strategy?

The move is “no surprise, as Etihad’s revamp is concentrating on capturing more market share and a broader customer base, rather than on being exclusive, said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at Strategic Aero Research.

The reconfigured fleet will also make it easier to attain higher load factors and revenues through bigger yields per seat – especially on higher capacity A380s that need more passengers and well considered prices to turn a profit.