Etihad Removing Seatback TVs From Many Planes

Filed Under: Etihad

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 Wi-Fi 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?

  1. I’m sure this will work as well for them as the Oasis project has worked for AA. Adding Etihad to the DNF list for any economy travel.

  2. This is part of the reason customers are happier with Delta than American or United. Sad to see Etihad follow down the same path as AA when it comes to the onboard product.

  3. Now why have Etihad not lose their skytrax 5* yet? This is just downright embarrassing. They’re barely 4* with all this cost cutting imo.

  4. QR is still flying A320s without IFE at all. I flew one on the 5h flight from Sofia to Doha, and thankfully it was an overnight, so the IFE-less A320 was fine. In fact, the old, thicker seats are marginally more comfortable, but it definitely felt like a blast from the past.

  5. These apps to watch content are terrible. They rarely work properly and it’s so annoying to use your device. Honestly, most people would have been staring at their phone for the last 1.5hrs waiting for the flight, so the last thing they want to get out of their pockets is the phone. Thank you for reporting, looks like I won’t be choosing Etihad.

  6. If they were operating these planes only around Gulf and Mid East then fine that would be ok. Though they have a lot of longer flights operated by A320 and A321 – Moscow, Istanbul, Athens, Astana, Male, Seychelles and others – all 4 to 5 hours or even longer. That’s not ok by any standards.

  7. This has got to be one of the stupidest moves that I’ve ever seen. Airlines should be focused on providing a superior product, not making a profit.

  8. Ok I know that @Lucky is biased against American, but if an airline such as Etihad is losing that much money, then they need to do something.

    I’m sorry, but airlines are trying to make money and aren’t about making bloggers feel good.

  9. I never fly Etihad so that won’t impact me, however I do wonder what’s next in cutting costs in cabins for airlines. At this point, they can’t really make the seats thinner than they are, and they already packed as many as humanly possible in those aircrafts. It’s like we are reaching the max in terms of maximizing that space , so I worry about how creative airlines are gonna have to get to keep cutting costs…

  10. At this point it’s all about survival for Etihad. I still think that it will end up with them being swallowed by Emirates but they’re trying to avoid it.

  11. 1) Anyone with a slight understanding in airline economics will congratulate Etihad.

    2) It’s probably safe to assume that the majority of the critical voices (incl. the author) here have never flown an Etihad narrow body in Y cabin and therefore don’t know that the current hard product incl. the old and outdated seatback TVs is everything but competitive.

    3) Hint: The A321 with the new configuration are already selling…

  12. @ CH — Of course the A321 with the new configuration is “already selling.” It’s selling at the same low, money-losing yields as the old configuration.

  13. @ Garrett — Etihad isn’t losing money because they have TVs in economy. They’re losing money because they have a garbage business model. They invested billions of dollars in airlines that had no chance or survival, thinking that a rebranding and new uniforms would turn them around. That didn’t work. Their big issue is that fundamentally they’re selling tickets mostly in low yield markets, and don’t have the scale of Emirates. Simply put, there’s nothing unique about them.

    Now they’ve changed up their business model and rather than being a global airline, they want to be a boutique airline serving those traveling to & from Abu Dhabi. Presumably they’re hoping to attract premium yields with that, and if that’s the case, making the product worse isn’t the way to go.

  14. Excellent idea from ETIHAD
    Most of A320 flight are less than 3 hours.
    Some flights 4-5 hours which makes it a great and smart idea to remove ECONOMY TV’s as long as pax won’t be able to use the IFE system during those flights with knowledge that seats became more comfortable and have extra legroom while pax still can use there smart devices and download a special app which gives over 300 hours of entertainment + Youtube .

  15. I am a regular customer of Etihad. But the new changes they bring on board is disgusting.

  16. The life-style in middle east is totally difference with else where. The people are looking for luxurious and services. If you cut your services and features for sure you will lose more money and consumers. They have invested in the wrong places and have to revise their targets and management. I think they have to expand their routes and flights.
    In these days the people would rather to flight anywhere on their schedule or with many choices and peace of mind. They don’t like to see limitations in time, date and flight. the best examples are Emirate and Qatar airways, they are in the same area but how they are growing so fast as they are offering lots of flight options to many destinations.

  17. Flew long haul AUH0JFK in economy and was disgusted to see the level of service and the dismal food offered. Its just the preclearance which gives them the traffic otherwise this airline should be totally avoided. Neither are their fares low.

  18. Wifi will be onboard, the new IFE system is dependant on it for the new eBox app for streaming media.

    the new menu options will be a nice change too

  19. “… and a lot of people don’t have data when travelling internationally”

    True but

    1. you can download an app when you’re at home before you fly.

    2. airports have free wifi.

  20. Oh well, they have to make money, so they think that now people will go out of the way to the Gulf, change planes and have basically the same experience as going direct from Europe?

    They don’t even have many a380s, what are the odds of Emirates taking over them this year?

  21. While Delta clearly is a better airline than American right now (I am an AA captive at DFW), I think AA is going to be proven right and Delta wrong with regard to the seat-back screens on their narrow-body fleets. The initial cost, the extra weight, the quick obsolescence, the loss of under-seat space caused by screens really has to drive a lot of premium traffic to make it worth it.

    Is a screen a better way to watch entertainment than a phone? Sure it is. The gadget holder with usb charge narrows the gap such that it’s likely that few would ever make a decision based on this feature.

    Bottom line: as the bean counters at airlines look at this, Etihad isn’t going to be the last to follow what was Southwest’s idea originally.

  22. Sorry forgot to add, Although at the moment the narrow bodies are for short haul routes, if they follow Qatar then outside the big cities the a321s are already being planned for some long hauls to often seasonal European destinations .

  23. Taking Etihad Y from Moscow to AUH in a couple of days. Wonder what happened to the meals, since it used to be very nice (by economy standards).

  24. @Brian

    When did you last fly in a modern plane? There’s no leg room reduction due to screens any more, as there are no entrainment boxes anymore. Time to travel with some Asian airlines…

  25. Fully agree with you, Ben. These changes are awful. Ethiad should be embarrassed. PIA, here we come.

  26. I actually enjoyed the few domestic Qantas flights I took where I steamed content to my phone. Would far rather watch on my higher definition screen. Hopefully they allow gate to gate streaming. Etihad IFE content on A320 is lacking so let’s see if this improves it. I wonder if this will mean that business gets retro fitted with a better product.

  27. Airlines industry is in a turmoil! We know Indian airlines industry is dying…are we doing things right? Are we shutting down airlines that is not operating profitably? It does look like that they need a road map to follow, so they are looking for inspiration at US which might not be solution!!!

  28. I’ve just arrived to Abu Dhabi with Etihad. The cost cut is so obvious. The meal “looks” better but the quantity hardly fills my 11-year-old boy’s stomach. No more salad. Just a main course, a small piece of bread and a tiny dessert (I got a 10 gram pack of raisins). No more tea or coffee. I liked their new salt and sweet menu though, good variety and not too overpriced. Of course if I’m travelling with my kids I’ll just pack extra food.

  29. I used Etihad last January 2019, never again , chicken pot noodles for snacks, on the way to my destination and back home it’s sad.

  30. I think the biggest issue not touched on is that the clientele of EY might not be the most tech-savvy nor able to afford iPads or equivalent for the whole family. I get these are “shorter” flights but the cheapness of this move will show in a major way compared to the competition.

  31. It always amuses me when airline execs try to spin positives for passengers when they go cost cutting.

  32. Of course Lucky would have much better success running an airline than running a blog. Why dont you offer to join the Governing Board For Etiad to help them turn things around? Most commenters will never fly Ethiad so not likely to affect anyone commenting.

  33. I have been flying with Etihad for many many years. I am a Silver Card holder. I fly long hurl twice a year. Nornaly I book my flight direct with Etihad on their site. HOWEVER for the past 18 months ( three flights ) they would not allow me to book my flights on their site. I e-mailed them and the reply was ” If you are having problems with the site you can phone us and book your flight “. As well a lot of differant excusess as to why I can not book on the site. SO ! I phoned them up. All of a sudden the price for my flight jumped up GBP £ 150 ( USD $ 225 ). WHY ! I asked hase the price gone up to be told that my price can only be obtained on the site. I can not book on the site I told him but he did not care. I totaly refused to bow down to them. Now I fly with Emirates who not only let me book my flight on their site, they are cheaper aswell.
    Might as well cut up my Silver Card and put it in the bin because I WILL NOT be flying with Etihad Airways again.

  34. Salt and/or sweet menu?? They must be kidding! I guess hi-fat is a given and needs no highlighting! Excesses of these 3 food ingredients are slowly killing millions the world over with Americans being the standouts.
    Can Etihad ever put a foot right? Their not entirely unexpected investment disaster in a bunch of loser airlines, coupled with these penny-pinching measures, sends this once highly regarded airline into the aviation trash can.
    Would Emirates even want this battered old scrawny chicken anyway?

  35. I think you are correct Lucky. I also believe that the flights without TVs will be contract worker flights to India ,Bangladesh,Pakistan,Nepal Philippines, Indonesia, and other countries and the workers fly when told to by employers and have no control on which airline is chosen.

    From an amazing airline a few years back to almost a low cost carrier now , sad but look at reality and many airlines struggling to survive .

  36. I was happy to travel by etihad before. If they not provide TV and give us low class mealthen why we go by etihad. We prefer budget Airways. We avoid budget aorways and go by ethihad before.

  37. We flew Etihad from SA to Phuket. It was terrible and that was before these newest cuts. The food was disappointing and only one round of drinks were offered during a 9 hour flight.
    Emirates ons the other hand cannot offer you enough. Will never fly Etihad again.

  38. I’m a frequent flyer of Etihad. Sorry to see lot of arguments onboard with the new food being served. Customer expectations are not met. As before. I could hear people say not to fly again. It’s better Etihad then should have a premium and budget carriers.

  39. Weird kidney shaped meal trays on LHR-AUH-BKK routes in economy class. Hot food slightly improved but didn’t get a pudding, salad or cheese and crackers which wouldn’t have fit on the new tray anyway. Fortunately, as a gold card holder I got a meal in their lounge at Heathrow before flying. Etihad have become a bit of an embarrassment. Their saving grace is the cabin crew.

  40. Ben, your Etihad bashing starts to become a bit annoying.
    The Etihad Economy product was never about luxury, especially so on the narrow bodies. If an airline operates in a very competitive market resulting in low fares, which options to increase revenue per flight rather then increasing the seat count would you suggest? The experience in most markets with too few expectations for me to remember show clearly that passengers are going for the cheapest price.
    Besides the seat count introduced by Etihad is pretty standard almost everywhere. So I don’t know what’s to complain here.
    Finally airlines are in the business of making a profit, and not in the business of pleasing bloggers, who won’t even fly the product they are dissing.

  41. Like many of the members sugessted, Etihads economy was not the best in class. Now why would you wanna fly Etihad when it has downgraded the service to same of any low cost carrier. I fly frequently to India, now i compare Etihad to Air India or Indigo.

    This is not an upgrade for sure. First of all Etihad pricing is expensive and service has drastically fallen. most of the people do not mind travelling all the way from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and fly in Emirates due of the customer service, in flight services etc. The least you could do was to match the service of fly dubai.

    Its a shame to see the national carrier of UAE being classified as a low class airline. time to look at better ways to promote the airline and make it profitable.

  42. Qantas (my local airline) has a mix of 737’s some with seatback IFE, some without but with streaming to your own device. Frustratingly until you see the aircraft at the gate, then quickly log onto certain AvGeek websites to find out, via the aircraft’s registration what you can expect onboard…. the contents of the two systems are slightly different too, meaning if you’ve started watching something a movie on one aircraft, you’re not guaranteed on being able to finish it on another…..

  43. What about those who don’t have the best eye sight to be able to comfortably watch anything on their mobile device from the seat in front of them and/or have forgotten their charging cable? Watching a movie sucks a lot of juice so one would have to make the call between risking having no battery upon landing or not streaming the IFE on my mobile device. You would not have this dilemma if you flew an airline that still had seatback IFE.

  44. The problem I have with BYOD is having to look down for long periods because of lack of mounting options on seat back. Not good posture in an already compromised environment for physical wellbeing.

    Oh and lacking power or USB ports. I’m looking at you, Virgin Australia.

  45. Any company that loses 5billion over 3 consecutive years is going to make changes to their business model and hope for the best.

  46. Regarding the TVs at seat backs, my take is that non-travelers have this shock when they board and get upset. “These aisles are too narrow for my rollerboard”. “There are no TVs on this plane” . etc
    But, people that fly all the time know to download, bring their chargers, and search for information about their flight before they board. I fly AA and know I need the app ahead of time (always on my ipad) and am very happy not to have commercials and not to have that annoying bang-bang against my seat from person tapping the TV at my seat back. I have not flown Delta (as MIA captive) but am very happy with AA decision to remove TVs.
    I guess if you ask 10 people- you get 10 different opinions.

  47. Am I surprised ? No..but sad yes.. indeed a once bubbling
    falcon with excellent in flight becoming (I quote) a scrawny chicken ! As a long term Gold member/mostly eco class I have seen it all..from amenity kits in eco class to 1 drink on an 8 hour flight..
    I do not care for IFE..most is rubbish..but some comfort and humane inflight service are a must..and that is disappearing..rapidly..(and not only with Etihad)
    Etihad should take better care of its economy class passengers from is not only import workers but also hajj and illegal holy land (Indonesians) pilgrims that fly Etihad and thus have AUH as their hub..I see large amounts of Asian middle class passengers going for conference, visits..and tours..Workers and pilgrims may have to stick with agents but many also now moving to does IOM…and so will I have to it seems
    BTW many workers from AUH often do NOT use Etihad except maybe with their first contract..they take budget lines
    Yes @Thomas Beaman those IT gremlins are well known..
    Just now again checking price/availability for stopover flights I see 3 different prices on 3 different devices..and both Etihad app and website have different prices..

  48. I have just completed a flight from Manchester to Bangkok, as a frequent flyer, it is plain to see the cost cutting that is happening, plastic utensils one main meal, which wouldn’t feed a child, service was shocking, staff were trying to sell the duty free item from the start to the end of the flight, I was hungry on arrival, that has never happened before, both flights were on an empty plane near enough, & I fear the worse for the airline, I am going to use my air miles & go back to Emirates for my next flights, & I am about to get gold status in the frequent flyer programme, the changes will make regular flyers join another airline, i

  49. Etihad keeps getting bad, do they expect families to buy Ipads for all their children?, crazy. Unfortunately I live in Abu Dhabi and I am stuck with them, and Qatar airlines is banned; but I will start traveling thru Emirates or Turkish, or even low cost carriers, why pay such high fares for low budget service?

  50. I had travelled recently on Abu Dhabi-Chennai on modified Etihad flight.
    Seats are new & not thick as in earlier A320s. No entertainment system, No Salads along with food. No TV onboard. No TV representing the MAP ( the fixed TV on the wall separating between Business class & Economy).
    Downloaded EBox stream app prior to boarding flight at Airport. (Etihad had given leaflet informing how to use entertainment on that flight prior to boarding). Even with good smart phone, the movie get stuck every time it plays.. It happened not with me, most of the people using it. I think the issue is may be with many people are using Wi-Fi system to access EBox.

    Seat Leg room: Leg room is slightly cramped , but not bad as other low cost carriers.

    Food: Served on light tray of small size. No stainless steel cutleries, all of low quality light weight plastic spoons. No salads, no butter, still they are giving two types of bread.

    Ticket Prize: Indigo is giving the similar experience with low ticket prize than Etihad.

    Except, some flights to Bombay most of the India flights are A320/321, it is better to rethink whether to select Etihad or Indigo or other flights for price of ticket as rest is same.

  51. I just flew Etihad and when I arrived I was very hungry.

    These new “enhanced” meals are tiny. I initially thought it was the snack and the mean meal was coming later. The snack turned out to be a single biscuit/cookie. They didn’t serve dessert separately either… or maybe you had to pay extra for it.

    On the other hand… that hunger did make my Paris-CDG bacon baguette and beer (during the daytime in Ramadan, no less) taste even better.

  52. The changes Etihad made are in no way beneficial to the traveller. I can’t wrap my head around how Etihad thought this would be a good idea and would be well received. I, as well as, 67 of my friends and family members who have recently flown on these new redesigned flights have vowed never to fly on it again. Why would we pay more to take an Etihad flight when there are other airlines offering either the same or better service and comfort but for a lesser price? They just lost 68 customers and probably much more once people start experiencing the new changes.

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