- Etihad premium 'economy space seats' on all Airbus A380s by December 2018
- Pitch up to 36 inches, compared to 31 inches in regular economy
- Boeing 777s and Boeing 787s retrofitted with new Economy Space cabin in 2019
Etihad Airways will add 60 'Economy Space' seats to its flagship Airbus A380 fleet from December 2018, although the airline's premium economy play is more akin to the 'economy plus' model of US airlines – where passengers have a standard economy seat but with extra legroom – than a fully-blown premium economy, such as will be launched by Gulf competitor Emirates in 2020.
Etihad already had 20 seats with additional legroom in the A380's economy cabin, located at exit rows and bulkheads – but will expand their number to 80 under the new Economy Space banner across all 10 of its superjumbos by December, the airline said in a statement issued overnight.
This would be followed by 12 Boeing 777 and 21 Boeing 787 jets by the end of 2019.
“In response to popularity and demand for extra legroom seats, we have reconfigured our economy cabin to enhance travellers’ experience,” said Jamal Al Awadhi, Etihad Airways’ head of guest experience. "We recognise that no two travellers are alike, and today’s customers demand more choice and personalisation during their travels."
All Economy Space seats will be sold at a premium to passengers, although the airline has not yet indicated the size of the new 'extra legroom levy'.
The launch of Economy Space "complements Etihad’s existing ancillary products to provide customers with greater opportunities to personalise their journey, including the neighbour-free seating option in economy and a range of ‘buy-on-board’ products," the airline said.
Etihad has not detailed how the floorplan of its Airbus A380s would be reconfigured to provide the 80 extra-legroom seats.
Neighbouring airlines Emirates and Qatar Airways have long resisted adding premium economy to their mix, out of fear it could cannibalise their business class cabins, although Emirates has settled on what CEO Sir Tim Clark liked to a railway sleeperette model which will take wing from 2020 on the airline's next delivery of Airbus A380s.
Emirates opts for premium economy 'sleeperette'
Speaking with Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of the June 2018 IATA aviation summit in Sydney, Emirates CEO Tim Clark said the seat was a bespoke design built to the airline’s spec rather than an off-the-rack product, resulting in "a competition among seat manufactures to spec out the designs that we want."
Emirates is looking at around 38 inches of pitch (up to 6 inches more than economy), with a seat that will fully cradle the legs and feet, coupled with a deep 10 inch recline to become a railway-style ‘sleeperette’ rather than being an angled flat bed or ‘sloping sleeper’.
On Emirates' newest Airbus A380s the premium economy cabin will be located at the front of the lower deck with “probably as many as 56 seats."
However, while Clark prefers not to think of the new premium economy class as ‘business lite’, he reflected that "it's probably where business class used to be, and in some cases where first used to be in the old days, 30 years ago."