Etihad Makes Big Changes, Cuts Chauffeur Service

Etihad Airways A380

The major Gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways) have been all over the news in the last couple of months. If you thought the electronics ban was going to be the only airline story coming out of the Middle East this year, you were mistaken!

Qatar Airways has been dealing with diplomatic issues; they also introduced a new business class product and just won the 2017 Skytrax award as the best airline in the world. Etihad Airways won the Skytrax award for the best first class product (in large part due to The Apartments), and Emirates has cut service to the U.S.

Etihad Cuts Chauffeur Service

Today, Etihad made more news with 3 announcements. Most notable is a big change to its chauffeur service for first class and business class passengers. As of July 3, 2017, Etihad will no longer offer complimentary chauffeur service to and from any airport besides its hub in Abu Dhabi.

When you consider the cuts Etihad has made recently, this isn’t entirely surprising. But it’s still disappointing for those who enjoyed the ease with which they could get to and from the airport.

Fortunately, these changes will not be retroactive. Those who have already booked flights (or book prior to July 3, 2017) will still receive complimentary car service at airports around the world when flying first or business class on Etihad. We only get 2 weeks notice, but it’s much better than many of Delta’s infamous unannounced changes.

Etihad Lounge Access Expanded

In March, Etihad started allowing economy passengers to pay for access to their premium lounges around the world at a cost of about $50 per person.

Etihad First Class Lounge & Spa Entrance
Business class passengers can now pay for access to the Etihad First Class Lounge & Spa in Abu Dhabi. Image courtesy of straighttothepoints.co.

Now, they have announced that business class passengers departing or connecting in Abu Dhabi can purchase access to Etihad’s flagship First Class Lounge & Spa. This is another financial move to boost revenue while they cut complimentary chauffeur service.

Recently, there have been reports of Etihad cutting back where they can in lounges around the world, specifically in food and drink offerings. Though it’s a great space to relax while waiting for a flight, we certainly hope the overall experience will remain first class.

The biggest concern for many will be the risk of overcrowding, which could make Etihad’s lounges louder than the peaceful oasis environment most people expect.

New “Neighbour-Free Seat” Option in Economy

Of the changes being introduced by Etihad, their “neighbour-free seat” option in economy class might be the most interesting. We’ve all experienced cramped economy seating, sitting shoulder to shoulder, and fighting for space on the armrest.

Well, economy class passengers will now have the opportunity to bid for the seats next to them at the time of booking if they would like to create a buffer between themselves and other passengers.

You can bid for up to 3 seats so you can get an entire row to yourself, even on long-haul flights. Etihad’s announcement stated that this option will be “subject to availability and cabin configuration.” We’ll see what that means in practice as they roll out this new option.

If you bid for an empty seat and win, you will be notified 30 hours prior to your scheduled departure.

Intra European Business Class Saved Seat
Will Etihad clearly mark the empty seats for winning bidders? Image courtesy of spencerformiles.com.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, since other economy class passengers may see 1 person in a 4-seat middle section and think they can move to these open seats. Hopefully, Etihad will have a clear way of marking that the seats are not available, similar to what European carriers do with intra-European business class seats.

Final Thoughts

We’re seeing lots of changes in the airline industry these days. We hate to see Etihad’s chauffeur service cut back, if for no other reason that it can be a fun treat on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. However, we are still seeing new, industry-leading business class products, so there is plenty to leave us hopeful for the future of air travel.

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