Etihad To Limit First Class In Favor Of “Business Plus”

Etihad has retired both its fleet of Boeing 777s and Airbus A380s. The A380 was expected – several operators are retiring those – but it’s still a shame because it means the end of Etihad’s fantastic “First Apartment” with separate seat and bed with walls and a door, as well as on board shower, for first class customers. And it means the end of the best commercial seat in the sky, Etihad’s Residence.

Etihad Residence Bedroom

Etihad doesn’t have a first class cabin on its Boeing 787-10 aircraft, though it still has these suites on some 787-9s. According to Etihad’s CEO this isn’t the end of first class on the airline but it’s being limited and de-emphasized. They’ll still operate planes with a first class cabin on routes where there’s historic paid demand for the cabin, though we’re already seeing last minute aircraft swaps where it’s scheduled for planes that do not offer the product.

Etihad A380 First Class Cabin

Etihad A380 First Class Seat

And going forward, according to CEO Tony Douglas,

“We have a first class product on our 787s as well – not all of them. We have that (first class) scheduled into those marketplaces where pre-COVID, there was a market for selling first class tickets.”

…“What you’ll see increasingly on Etihad’s fleet is what I would describe as ‘business plus’, and then an economy product.”

…“I think we’ve probably seen (globally) that the trend has continued to see a higher-end business class, diluting the need for what would have been historically a clearly separate product between first and business,” Douglas reflected.

This means two-cabin aircraft, business class and economy. The airline won’t focus on a first class or a premium economy.

Business Plus of course just means offering a good, competitive business class product. It continues the evolution over the last 30 years where business class looks like old first class and airlines with premium economy make that look like old business class. Airlines dropping first class and offering a nice business class are, essentially, following the Continental Airlines playbook from 1992.

There’s no question Etihad has a nice product (“Business Studio”) on its Boeing 787s. What’s been special about the airline, though, is just how premium it was. Otherwise what’s the point of operating a loss-making global hub in Abu Dhabi, a mere 72 miles from the Emirates hub at Dubai?

Etihad A380 First Class Bed

And as a customer this is disappointing, because my favorite use of American AAdvantage miles over the past decade has been Etihad first class redemptions (though arguably Qatar Airways QSuites as a business class product represents a better deal).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “And as a customer this is disappointing, because my favorite use of American AAdvantage miles over the past decade has been Etihad first class redemptions”

    I don’t think that this is the sort of “customer” that the CEO is looking for – your statement probably validates his position, if anything!

  2. Sure it’s disappointing, but obviously the economics aren’t working. You can’t make ultrapremium cabins work based on a bunch of points bloggers and their followers cashing in AA miles to fly it.

    It’s quite striking what has gone on:

    – CX goes from 9F cabins to 6F, eliminating jumbos
    -LH eliminates jumbos and expands the part of the fleet with no F
    – BA eliminates jumbos and reduces 777 F cabin size in fleet planning
    – LX and AF basically eliminate the ability to fly in F unless you’re a senior elite
    -KE reduces jumbos
    – TG, OZ, UA eliminate F and jumbos

    There’s a huge amount of F that’s gone compared to a decade ago, and it’s never coming back. The upside is that the most important hard product part (lie flat seats with aisle access) is prevalent in J,.

  3. Solid business decision and I agree w him. On routes where paid demand supports it makes sense but why give it away for upgrades or FF awards?

    Everything isn’t about you Gary

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