SAD: Etihad Airways Eliminating First Class Chefs

Etihad Airways has long promoted a luxury inflight product. They were an early adopter of first class suites with doors. Their Airbus A380 introduced what was than an unparalleled first class ‘apartment’ with separate bed, and a divider that comes down between some of the seats to allow passengers traveling together to have a ‘double bed’ above the waist. And there’s nothing in commercial aviation as unparalleled as the 3-room Residence on the A380.

The airline has scaled back its ambitions tremendously, first after suffering massive losses investing in foreign airlines like air berlin, Alitalia, and Jet Airways and then as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic. They’ve been thrown a lifeline of subsidies from the Abu Dhabi government (their sole shareholder) to absorb losses, and they’ve engaged in significant cost cutting.

Sadly the airline will eliminate first class chefs and business class food and beverage managers.

To make us fit for our current business needs will, unfortunately, mean that they crew community will need to go through a further transitionary period, and regretfully, there will be some redundancies to certain crew roles

Our premium cabin services have always formed a key part of our commercial offering, but as with many aspects of the business, they have had to be reevaluated in light of the ongoing pandemic…

As part of this, we have had to make the difficult decision to discontinue. the Inflight Chef and Food & Beverage Manager positions in First and Business.

We are incredibly proud of our talented crew and the contribution they have made to our business in these roles and this development is not in any way a reflection of performance. It is simply another devastating consequence of COVID-19 and a change that cannot be avoided based on the current climate that we find ourselves in.

Etihad’s first class chefs are flight attendants with restaurant cooking experience. Food and beverage managers are specially trained. They wear white jackets.

  • They are paid more
  • They’re more expensive to train
  • And the airline carries more than minimum required flight attendants, so this allows for lower crew complements

In first class the cabin crewmember with real world kitchen experience, who is primarily responsible for cooking in the cabin, would introduce themselves to you prior to takeoff. They’d usually offer to customize your meal, but since you’re handed a menu and used to how airlines work most passengers just pick something that’s listed (or maybe take advantage of the ‘chef’s special’ described to you but not printed in the menu).

The real opportunity has been to use the menu for a list of ingredients and then decide what to eat, rather than ordering specific menu items presented. Eggs in the morning scrambled with lox? Sure. Or steak and eggs, and the eggs scrambled with emmental cheese? Risotto, but with mushrooms? Why not.

Etihad’s first class meal service lets you really mix and match whatever you wish. Think ingredients, not menu choices. The menu is just there to give you some ideas, because for most people if they were just asked “what do you want?” they wouldn’t know what to say. When the menu is just ‘a set of suggestions’ rather than ‘the list of things you can have’ the number of items on an Etihad first class menu is actually the number of identifiable ingredients factorial.

Losing the chef then means a real cutback in the first class experience, which may make sense given the carrier’s more limited ambitions and current customer demand.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Gary, does any of this surprise you or really anyone else out there? The probability of airlines totally rethinking how they go to market and what one will see or not see on long haul is yet to be decided. A lot of this will certainly depend on how soon an effective, key word effective vaccine has been developed and widely distributed throughout the world. That will take time it seems after all the hype the drug companies have been running silent of late either their running into issues or so close they don’t want to tip a competitor.

    I look to more “packaging” of food especially international

  2. Oh the horror (eyes rolling)

    Is this the most important issue in travel? Like any business airlines will cut cost and benefits in tough times. Then when business eventually picks up they will add things (probably like returning his feature) to differentiate themselves.

    BTW (and I hate this phrase) but IMHO this is the definition of a “first world problem”

  3. “Eggs in the morning scrambled with lox? Sure. Or steak and eggs, and the eggs scrambled with emmental cheese? Risotto, but with mushrooms? Why not.”

    Has anyone ever asked the chef for a plain, well-done hamburger with packets of ketchup on the side? LOL

    I’m sure this is a real loss for some flyers. A pity I’m not one of them.

Comments are closed.