Etihad Airways Cuts First Class To New York

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In the spring Etihad Airways stopped offering first class to New York. The airline has now extended this removal of first class all the way through the end of the summer schedule, which suggests to me that this change may 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

Between March 27 and October 30, 2021, Etihad Airways has scheduled a two-cabin Boeing 787-9 between Abu Dhabi and New York, featuring just business class and economy.

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 — initially this was through July 1, then it was through August 31, and now it’s through October 30.

That date coincides with the end of the summer travel schedule, which suggests that it’s highly likely that this will be extended, but often airlines only update schedules one “season” at a time.

Etihad’s 787 first class

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

Etihad’s Boeing 787-9

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, or more economy demand to New York — it’s my understanding that in the case of Etihad, both are true.

Etihad’s 787 business class

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.

I sure do miss the Etihad A380!

Bottom line

For a period of over seven months, Etihad is flying a two-cabin Boeing 787 to New York, meaning the airline won’t offer 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.

So unless Etihad gets new planes with first class (we have no reason to believe this is happening), pulls 787s with first class from London (which seems unlikely), or pulls 787s with first class from Washington (which also seems unlikely, for whatever reason), I’d expect this to likely be a permanent change.

Are you surprised to see Etihad remove first class on the New York route?

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  1. JB

    EY has more connection opportunities at JFK than IAD (with both AA and Jetblue), so it is surprizing that they fly First to Dulles rather than New York.

    Etihad also currently flies their 777-300ER to LAX. Why do they fly a smaller plane to NY, where there would logically be more people connecting throughout the U.S. Anyone know if there is actually more demand to LA than NY for Etihad?

  2. Sean

    Etihad emails you a flight update email, and only shows the timing of the flight changing.... not mention that they dropped your First Class, and you're now in Business. And for 2persons 230k miles for First, no automatic refund, as Biz should be 140k...

  3. Jason

    Didn’t you post this last week? Has anything changed?
    JB- etihad has not resumed flying LAX yet and has not announced when they might. Also, etihad flies the first class product to Dulles because it actually sells the product at Dulles. It doesn’t at JFK. Easy

  4. JBR

    Here's my theory on why IAD has a first class while JFK does not: biggest reason, which is often referred to and is probably the primary reason is the capital to capital connection that IAD offers. Second reason could be that at IAD, Etihad is the only Middle Eastern airline to offer first class on an over-night route. Other Middle Eastern airlines with first class that fly out of IAD are Emirates, whose flight leaves...

    Here's my theory on why IAD has a first class while JFK does not: biggest reason, which is often referred to and is probably the primary reason is the capital to capital connection that IAD offers. Second reason could be that at IAD, Etihad is the only Middle Eastern airline to offer first class on an over-night route. Other Middle Eastern airlines with first class that fly out of IAD are Emirates, whose flight leaves around around 11:00 am, and Saudia, whose flight leaves around 5:00 pm (and doesn't really compete with Etihad anyways). Etihad, in contrast, leaves around 9:00 pm. In addition to the top flight wine, liquor, and food in first class, I imagine most people (who can afford it) prefer the space, privacy/quiet, and comfort in being able to sleep in first class over business class. Etihad is the only Middle Eastern airline out of IAD which allows you to sleep most of the trip, or at least in a fairly normal routine and time for most people. At JFK, in contrast, Etihad's flight leaves around 9:00 pm as well, competing much more directly with Emirates 11:00 pm flight. Having flown the Emirates flight out of IAD (in economy), if I had the financial wherewithal I would definitely fly Etihad first class over Emirates at IAD as it's impossible to sleep well on a 13-hour flight when you leave at 11:00 am no matter what your class of service, leading to probable fatigue and jet lag even in first class on Emirates from IAD. Plus with all the connections between NYC airports and IAD, it's easy enough to connect to IAD from NYC if you want to fly Etihad first class.

  5. Joey

    Abu Dhabi (AUH) has been stricter with quarantine policies when compared to Dubai (DXB).
    To visit DXB from USA, I believe all you need is a negative PCR test.
    To visit AUH from USA, you still need to quarantine for 4-5 days if you're vaccinated (more days if you're not vaccinated) in addition to the negative PCR test.
    I'm guessing there must be government VIP officials who are exempted from the above tests in AUH and hence why EY is flying F to IAD rather than JFK.

  6. Alpha Golf

    I suspect F to IAD is to accommodate government/diplomatic travel.

    I doubt your average Emirati minister/ambassador wants to slum it in J.

  7. Drew

    @JBR - You are right that the Emirates flight out of IAD is brutal for sleep in any class of service. Every time I have taken it, including in F, I've had significant jet lag the entire long day upon arrival in Dubai in the morning. The return flight which leaves DXB at 2.20am is marginally better if you can sleep immediately upon takeoff, but I've never found that particularly easy either. First-world problems, of...

    @JBR - You are right that the Emirates flight out of IAD is brutal for sleep in any class of service. Every time I have taken it, including in F, I've had significant jet lag the entire long day upon arrival in Dubai in the morning. The return flight which leaves DXB at 2.20am is marginally better if you can sleep immediately upon takeoff, but I've never found that particularly easy either. First-world problems, of course, but I agree that a 9pm departure is a significant advantage for EY.

  8. Henry

    I won't lie: I can't believe you're still going on abiut this. At eight seats per aircraft this affects a few dozen people worldwide each day. The real news here is what @Sean shared above: Etihad sends you a change notice but omits important information!

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Henry

I won't lie: I can't believe you're still going on abiut this. At eight seats per aircraft this affects a few dozen people worldwide each day. The real news here is what @Sean shared above: Etihad sends you a change notice but omits important information!

Drew

@JBR - You are right that the Emirates flight out of IAD is brutal for sleep in any class of service. Every time I have taken it, including in F, I've had significant jet lag the entire long day upon arrival in Dubai in the morning. The return flight which leaves DXB at 2.20am is marginally better if you can sleep immediately upon takeoff, but I've never found that particularly easy either. First-world problems, of course, but I agree that a 9pm departure is a significant advantage for EY.

Alpha Golf

I suspect F to IAD is to accommodate government/diplomatic travel. I doubt your average Emirati minister/ambassador wants to slum it in J.

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