Etihad Airways is embarking on a public awareness push in America that analysts say is a precursor to the possible rollout of flights to California. The airline has completed several seminars in California to raise awareness of its services. Travel agents and analysts viewed the events - including one at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel - as raising the airline's profile in Los Angeles and San Francisco, cities currently served from the Middle East only by Emirates Airline.
Etihad called the events routine, however, and said it had no immediate plans to fly to the state. Hundreds of thousands of people of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin live in California, offering airlines the consistent business that makes a route profitable. In addition to the UAE's two long-haul airlines, Qatar Airways has long eyed using the Gulf to directly link California with Tehran, building on its service to New York, Houston and Washington DC.
"Etihad is likely priming the market to enter that territory," said Premjit Bangara, the travel manager of Sharaf Travel in Dubai. "I'm sure they have done their homework and realised the potential for ethnic traffic, as there are a lot of Iranians on the western seaboard of the US." An Etihad spokeswoman said that the airline was currently focused on expanding its frequencies to its two US destinations, Chicago and New York, and building its relationship with American Airlines.
"While we would consider opportunities to expand services to other US destinations in the future, for the time being we will continue to work with our code-share partner, American Airlines, to service markets outside of New York and Chicago," she said. "These seminars are designed to provide a background on Etihad's products and services to agents that may book flights for serviced destinations or with the code-share partner, American Airlines, for alternative cities."
Analysts, however, said Etihad would need to to establish its own services to the US West Coast. "Etihad cannot afford to ignore this market for too long," said Saj Ahmad, an analyst at FBE Aerospace in London, a consulting firm. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org