Etihad Airways is removing in-flight entertainment screens and offering wireless entertainment streaming to passengers on their personal electronic devices as part of a new economy class product on its Airbus A320 family narrow-body jets.
The retrofit programme, which also includes new ergonomic seats with wider middle seats, is scheduled for completion in August this year on all of Etihad Airways' 23 Airbus A320 and A321 jets, the airline said on Sunday.
“As we offer more choices, then we appeal to more types of customers,” a senior executive said at an Etihad event at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai on Sunday. “The whole idea of choices is to appeal to more customers so you can bundle up exactly what you want to have from Etihad regardless of the cabin you’re in.”
Removing the screens will result in the airline saving 18 tons of weight per year, said Jamal Al Awadhi, vice president of product and guest experience at Etihad Airways, without providing a figure for cost savings. The lighter load means using less fuel, which is a significant operating cost for carriers.
The airline, which is in the midst of a turnaround plan to reduce costs and reverse losses, said the plan for the new economy class product was in the works for about a year.
Nearly 35 per cent of Etihad’s total fleet will be retrofitted and new Airbus A320-family aircraft will feature the new economy class product. The number of seats in the cabin will remain unchanged.
As part of the overhaul, a new menu will be on offer and passengers have the additional option to pay for items such as popcorn or Starbucks coffee.
On journeys of more than three hours, the main course offering of the complimentary dining service will be larger, with a focus on seasonal ingredients and more destination-focused choices. New cutlery is 85 per cent lighter, reducing aircraft weight and fuel burn, the company said.
Passengers on the retrofitted aircraft will be able to connect to free internet from their devices and wirelessly stream more than 300 hours of in-flight entertainment through Etihad’s on-board system directly to their own devices.
To view additional programming, including Hollywood blockbusters, international films and premium channels such as HBO, guests will have to download the new E-Box Stream app prior to travelling.
In-flight entertainment via personal seat-back screens will remain standard in the economy cabins on the airline’s fleet of wide-body Airbus and Boeing aircraft.
The first flight with the new service will take off in May, according to Jamal Al Awadhi, vice president of product and guest experience at Etihad Airways.
Each year, Etihad also plans to remove 27 million plastic lids and other containers to support its drive towards greater sustainability and to reduce the use of single-use plastics by 80 per cent by 2022.
“Etihad has always been a challenger brand, shaping the future of travel as the market constantly changes," said Tony Douglas, group chief executive of Etihad Aviation Group.
The changes "ensure we continue to provide a superior, commercially wise and sustainable service offering”, he added.