Do you need to pay for drinks on Etihad economy class?

The airline’s new in-flight economy menu explained

Passengers in economy class do not need to pay for drinks. Courtesy Etihad 
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In April, Etihad introduced a new menu in economy class. Part of a campaign called Go Your Own way — which also includes new economy seating and in-flight entertainment systems — the Dine Your Own Way concept is already operating across Etihad flights. As thousands of UAE residents get set to travel over the Eid holiday, here's everything you need to know about the economy menu that Etihad will be serving you if you're flying in economy class.

Do I need to buy drinks on Etihad flights? 

Passengers can purchase premium drinks like Starbucks coffee if they want to, but a complimentary bar service is still available for economy passengers for the duration of the flight. 

You do not have to pay for drinks on any Etihad flight, in any class of travel.

All passengers travelling in economy class have the same complimentary bar service that was available before Etihad introduced its new menu. That means you can still order soft drinks, water, tea and coffee and hard beverages free of charge.

Linda Celestino, vice president guest service and delivery at Etihad said: "You don't have to pay for drinks. There's a complimentary bar with [drinks] throughout the whole flight. However, if you would like to purchase a Starbucks coffee instead of the complimentary coffee, now we give you the choice to be able to do that."

Passengers can request complimentary beverages during trolley service, by asking a member of crew or by pressing the call button, which the airline has said functions both as an emergency and a hospitality button.

If you are flying long-haul and want a ‘premium’ beverage — think Starbucks coffee or Thornton’s hot chocolate — you're now able to purchase these from the new in-flight retail menu. From October, a new range of drinks will be added to this that will give passengers the chance to purchase luxury beverages.

Chicken or Beef? There's now a standard vegetarian option

Traditional Emirati lamb boukhari is one dish on Etihad's new economy menu. Courtesy Etihad 

Etihad’s new in-house food brand is called The Good Life and focuses on fresher ingredients and more wholesome produce.

For the first cycle of the menu, which will last four months, there are around 35 new dishes so you should be able to try something different each time you travel, even if you are a frequent flyer.

Moving away from the traditional chicken or beef options, passengers will get a choice of three meals in economy class — one of which will be vegetarian.

Meal options include sticky chicken teriyaki, Emirati lamb boukhari, pumpkin ravioli, slow cooked beef with traditional dumplings and paneer tikka masala. Pescatarians might be disappointed to learn there are currently no fish or seafood options on the menu.

What do Etihad's new dishes taste like? 

Economy class passengers can enjoy lemon drizzle cake or chocolate brownies as part of the coffee service on long haul flights. Courtesy Etihad 

Having had the chance to sample some of the new dishes at Etihad Airways headquarters, we were suitably impressed. Disclaimer — altitude and cabin pressure changes how some food and ingredients taste in air, so we'll hold our final judgment until we get the change to try it when we fly.

Starting with the pumpkin ravioli, the pasta was nicely cut and the pesto sauce delicately flavoured with a creamy consistency. It was loaded with pine nuts and generous chunks of roasted pumpkin and was decidedly filling. If I hadn't known it was aircraft food, I would never have guessed.

I also tried the paneer tikka masala cooked in a tandoor oven served with saffron rice. The sauce was a pleasing fusion of spices and hints of tomato, balanced by crisp onions on top – it tasted authentically Indian. My only concern was how the rice might fare on a long flight, as the sample we tried was a little dry.

For dessert there is a choice of chocolate brownie or lemon drizzle cake. Both were tasty and the fluffy lemon cake reminded me of something my great auntie might have baked.

Passengers in economy class do not need to pay for drinks. Courtesy Etihad 

On short haul flights, dessert will be plated with the main meal. On long haul flights, it will be served separately, directly after the main meal alongside the tea and coffee service. On long haul flights, customers will receive a complimentary main meal as well as complimentary lighter meals or snacks before or after the main course, depending on the route and flight departure time.

What’s on offer for children on Etihad?

According to Etihad, the airline is moving away from heavily processed foods and going back to basics when it comes to kids meals. Celestino said: "We’ve introduced yogurts with minimal sugar, we do a wonderful pancake with a fresh apple puree. There is still a chicken nugget option, but we produce them ourselves so they’re not heavily processed."

Little details like flower-shaped cut carrots are there to encourage kids to eat more healthy options in the air. The retail menu also has some healthy options geared towards children.

What do I need to pay for?

A bluberry muffin from the Choose Sweet menu retails for Dh15 on Etihad's new economy retail menu. Courtesy Etihad 

The new retail menu on Etihad’s economy class is called Sweet or Salty and is offered on long haul and ultra-long haul flights in addition to the complimentary dining service. If you’re already satisfied with the free meal service, then you don’t need to pay for anything.

If you do want a snack, you can pick up something sweet like Ma’amoul, muffins, cookies or Patchi chocolates. The airline has also partnered with Bateel to offer dates and chocolates. Salty options include Olly’s Olives, Hunters potato crisps or Brave roasted peas.

If you want to get the kids a treat, there’s healthy picks like Heavenly coconut squishes and Naturelly’s jelly juice drinks. That said, there are things like Nutella and Kit Kats too, so it might be best to keep the menu out of sight of little ones.

Prices are a little more expensive than what you’d pay on the ground, but not shockingly so. A four-finger Kit Kat costs Dh8, Nutella & Go is Dh10 and a Starbucks Double Shot iced espresso is Dh15.

There is also a selection of hot ready meals available including a tapas box (Dh25), Tiffin to Go Vegetable biriani (Dh15) and Top’s Food lasagna Bolognese (Dh25).

What’s with the new tray?

The new trays definitely look a lot sleeker than the old 'hospital-style' ones. Dark charcoal in colour and a slightly curved triangular shape, the airline confirmed that the shape is a stylised version of the dhow sails, and inspired by the brand Abu Dhabi logo.

The trays are are also non-stick and lighter, good news for cabin crew hauling carts up and down the galley.

That being said, you may need to wait a tiny bit longer for your meal, as trays are hand-assembled in front of customers, something that takes two to three seconds longer per meal.

Is it made of plastic? 

The new trays use less plastic and are made out of upcycled-discarded in-flight trays. Desserts no longer come with plastic lids that alone will eliminates 27 million single-use plastic products per year.

Overall, the whole economy dining set is 85 per cent lighter than what it used to be, which saves around 1,200 tons of carbon emissions annually.

After flying the first ultra-long haul plastic-free flight earlier this year, Etihad is keen to cut more plastic. The airline has committed to an 80 per cent reduction in plastic by 2022.

Currently, wrappers are plastic and drinks still come in plastic cups, but an airline representative said the company is researching alternative viable suppliers.

Anything else I need to know?

Starbucks lovers can satisfy coffee cravings on-board, but you can only get it with regular milk so it’s not an option yet for non-dairy drinkers.

Special meals haven't changed yet, but Etihad is in the process of doing this. Each of the airline's 19 special meals are approved by the International Air Transport Association, and meals must meet certain requirements so it's a bit more limiting. There's no need to book a special halal meal — the entire new menu is halal, but for any other dietary, religious or medical needs, remember to book your meal 24 hours in advance of your flight departure time.