Etihad will let you keep the middle seat empty – for a price

The Abu Dhabi airline said that it was introducing a series of changes “designed to offer increased value and flexibility based on customer feedback”.

Starting next month, Etihad's economy passengers will have new options such as purchasing extra seats at cheaper rates while being able to pay for access to luxury services that were previously only available to business and first class passengers. Roland Magunia for The National
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Etihad Airways has unveiled plans designed to make it possible for the airline to up-sell luxury travel perks to its budget travellers including allowing economy class passengers to pay extra to sit next to empty seats.

In an announcement yesterday, Etihad said its new “neighbour free” seat option would enable passengers to bid for up to three empty seats next to their original seat.

The extra seats option will be available from July 3 with successful bids confirmed 30 hours before departure.

Other changes include giving economy passengers the option of paying to use Etihad’s chauffeur services and paying fees of Dh370 or more for access to Etihad’s business class lounge at Abu Dhabi International. Business class customers will also be able to upgrade to the First-Class lounge and spa at 10 locations.

However, the airline said that it will end the chauffeur service it had previously provided free of charge to premium guests at airports around the world and only offer free transfers to first and business class customers at its Abu Dhabi hub.

Instead, all customers will be able to pay for airport transfers at specially negotiated rates in all cities to which Etihad flies.

Nonetheless, guests travelling in Etihad’s super luxury The Residence suites on its Airbus A380 fleet will continue to receive complimentary chauffeur services on all routes on which the aircraft is operated – Abu Dhabi, London, Paris, Sydney and New York.

“The decision by Etihad Airways to change its offering has been taken to provide increased choice and to ensure fares remain as low and as competitive as possible, while retaining best-in-class service for all guests, in all cabins,” said Mohammed Al Bulooki, Etihad’s executive vice president of commercial.

“This change is being put in place as the airline looks to evolve its product proposition while continuing to match individual customer requirements,” Mr Al Bulooki said.

According to Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, Etihad’s strategy, including the neighbour free option, shows a unique and innovative approach to seat pricing.

“It could be that the cost of selling that seat to a passenger to block out is worth more than a fare paying passenger on a particular flight/route,” he said.

“The real potency of what Etihad has done is with the economy class seating and being able to buy that extra space – I can definitely see other carriers copying this move. It allows for extra space, that bit more privacy and ease of movement in the cabin too.”

Earlier this year Emirates opened its Dubai International Airport business-class lounges to paying guests.

“It’s a great revenue generating avenue and they’d be mad not to channel it to their advantage,” said Mr Ahmad.

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