Etihad Removing Seatback TVs From Many Planes – One Mile at a Time

Etihad Airways has been in cost cutting mode, as the airline has lost about five billion dollars over the past three years. In order to cut costs they’ve pulled funding from the airlines they had invested in (airberlin, Alitalia, Jet Airways, etc.), but they’ve also been trying to cut costs and increase revenue from their own product.
For example, they’ve started selling extra legroom seats in economy, have started selling food & drinks in economy, and more.
The airline has now announced the next step of their journey. I guess they’re taking notes from American in terms of what they’re doing to their onboard product.
Let’s look at the details of these changes:
Etihad eliminating seatback TVs on A320s/A321s
Between now and August, Etihad will be transforming the economy cabins on 23 of their Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft (as of now they have a total of 32 of these planes).
As part of this retrofit program, they’ll be installing new slimline seats from UK based firm Acro, and these new Etihad seats won’t feature personal televisions.
Rather Etihad will allow passengers to stream wireless entertainment to their smartphones and tablets. They’ll be offering more than 300 hours of free entertainment through the Panasonic eXW system. To view a wider range of content, guests can download the E-BOX STREAM app prior to travel.
Etihad says that they won’t be removing televisions from any of their wide body planes, so these changes will exclusively be occurring on planes operating flights within five hours of Abu Dhabi.
Not surprisingly, Etihad is marketing this as an “enhancement.” They’re describing these as “refreshed modern cabins” featuring “industry-leading seats.”
Etihad hasn’t clarified what the new seat pitch will be, or how many more seats they’ll be able to install as a result of these changes.
They do say that the seats will “provide increased knee room, and are cleverly designed around the guest’s digital devices with fast-charging USB points and an adjustable phone and tablet holder.”
Personally I think it’s safe to say that they’ll be significantly increasing the seat count, and passengers won’t find these seats to be terribly comfortable.
Since there’s no mention of wifi being added, I’d guess that’s not happening.

Etihad adjusting economy catering
Etihad is also introducing a “redesigned and enhanced” economy dining concept.
Here’s what’s changing to economy catering:

The main course of the complimentary meal will be a larger bistro-style meal, that is “higher in quality, with a focus on fresh seasonal ingredients and more destination focused choices”
The new cutlery will be 85% lighter, to reduce aircraft weight and fuel burn
On flights of over three hours, dessert will be served separately with the after-meal coffee and tea service, reducing clutter on the tray during the main meal (on shorter flights it will still be served with the main meal)

Etihad has offered a buy on board menu for quite a while, though is expanding this further. Their “Sweet or Salty” retail menu will be expanded significantly, and will also include more options for children.
What Etihad’s CEO says
Etihad Group CEO Tony Douglas had the following to say about these changes:
“Etihad has always been a challenger brand, shaping the future of travel as the market constantly changes. We are bringing the leadership and innovation to Economy travel which we have long established in our award-winning Business, First and The Residence cabins.
As part of our ‘Choose Well’ promise, we are empowering our guests with more control of their travel experiences, through onboard digital transformation, improved choice and redesigned cabins and products.
As a leading full-service airline, Etihad is adapting to meet the specific needs and requirements of all travellers, providing more of what they really want to enjoy inflight. This not only delivers greater choice and personalisation, it also ensures we continue to provide a superior, commercially wise and sustainable service offering.”
Bottom line
While Etihad is spinning the seating changes as a positive, I think it’s pretty obvious that this is a cost cutting initiative. TVs increase fuel burn because of their weight, not to mention they’re expensive to install. Etihad is instead installing slimline seats, which will allow them to fit more rows into the same space.
I strongly disagree with airlines thinking that streaming entertainment replaces seatback entertainment. This is especially true when you consider:

You need to download the Etihad App to get all the options, and a lot of people don’t have data when traveling internationally
I would guess that Etihad transports a lot of people who don’t have devices that are capable of streaming; I hate to say it, but many of those are workers being “imported” to the UAE, and Etihad knows they have no control over the airline they fly, so I’m not sure they care

As far as the catering changes go, we’ll have to wait and see how significant they are. They’ll continue to have complimentary meals, though I imagine that whatever changes they’re making will save them money, which makes me skeptical.

Are you surprised to see these changes from Etihad?

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