In the spring, Etihad Airways stopped offering first class to New York. Since then, the airline has extended this service suspension a few times, and now it has been extended even further. It’s sure looking to me a lot like this change might be permanent(ish).
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that Etihad has grounded (and likely retired) its entire A380 fleet, plans to retire its entire 777 fleet, and only has five Boeing 787-9s with first class, leaving a lot of questions about the future viability of Etihad’s first class product.
Etihad removes first class on JFK flights
Etihad Airways has now scheduled a two-cabin Boeing 787-9 between Abu Dhabi (AUH) and New York (JFK) through January 31, 2022. This change first applied as of March 27, 2021, and has just been extended by a further several months. With this, Etihad is only offering business class and economy class to New York.
From the start of the pandemic up until March 2021, Etihad flew a three-cabin Boeing 787-9 on the route, featuring first class. Then Etihad began operating a two-cabin 787 on the route on most dates — initially this was through July 1, then it was through August 31, then it was through October 30, and now it’s through January 31. The airline has occasionally operated a three-cabin plane for brief periods based on aircraft availability, but it hasn’t been at all consistent.
Given that we’re just talking about a single flight, why do I mention this further suspension of first class?
- I find this trend to be interesting, and what it represents overall for Etihad’s product offering
- I know many people redeem miles for Etihad first class, and Etihad is bad about informing customers when they’re downgraded, so I figure it makes sense for me to at least highlight this for anyone who has tickets booked
Just to compare capacity of the two configurations:
- The three-cabin plane has eight first class seats, the two-cabin plane has no first class seats
- The three-cabin and two-cabin planes both have 28 business class seats
- The three-cabin plane has 195 economy seats, the two-cabin plane has 271 economy class seats
As you can see, the two-cabin plane has a net 68 additional seats — it has 76 extra economy seats, at the expense of eight first class seats.
What’s perhaps most interesting here is that during this period Etihad is continuing to fly a three-cabin 787-9 to Washington Dulles. It makes you wonder whether there’s more first class demand to Washington, more economy demand to New York, or whether this is about capital-to-capital prestige — it’s my understanding that in the case of Etihad, all three are true.
Etihad’s JFK route sure has fallen
Obviously the pandemic has had a terrible impact on the airline industry, but it’s still pretty incredible to reflect on just how capacity has decreased between Abu Dhabi and New York, even pre-coronavirus:
- Etihad used to fly two daily A380s between Abu Dhabi and New York
- As of October 2018, Etihad reduced the New York route from two daily A380s to one daily A380
- Shortly after the pandemic started, Etihad grounded its entire A380 fleet, so the airline started flying a three-cabin 787-9 to New York
- Now the airline is increasing capacity by flying a two-cabin 787-9, but is also eliminating first class in the process
At this point it seems like Etihad doesn’t plan on flying the A380 again, so the Boeing 787-9 might be as good as it gets on the New York route. Etihad also plans to take delivery of some A350s eventually, but we don’t yet know how those planes will be configured, and what routes they’ll be used for.
For a period of nearly a year, Etihad is flying a two-cabin Boeing 787 to New York, meaning the airline isn’t offering first class. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this plane swap extended much longer, given that the airline only has five 787-9s with first class, and they’re tied up between the London and Washington routes.
Unless Etihad gets new planes with first class (we have no reason to believe this is happening), pulls 787s with first class from the London route (which seems unlikely), or pulls 787s with first class from the Washington route (which also seems unlikely, for several reasons), I’d expect this to likely be a permanent change.
Are you surprised to see Etihad remove first class on the New York route?