Editor’s note: Etihad Airways provided Zach Griff with a free flight from Abu Dhabi to Chicago and a one-night hotel stay. All opinions expressed are entirely his and weren’t subject to review by the airline.
Airlines like to throw big parties for inaugural flights, new planes and retrofitted cabins.
However, it’s not often that we see carriers spend thousands of dollars toward the unveiling of a revamped soft product for its business-class cabins. (“Soft product” refers to all the items that aren’t physically attached to an aircraft, such as glassware, duvets and pillows.)
In recent weeks, Etihad Airways has been teasing a major reveal described as something “more than what meets the eye” and that “something is about to change.”
Well, the wait is finally over, and no, the airline isn’t joining the Star Alliance or bringing back its Airbus A380s (at least not yet).
Instead, the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates is making big upgrades to the onboard experience — so big that it decided to throw a launch party (and invite TPG) to celebrate the occasion.
The airline’s overhauled business-class soft product is designed in partnership with Armani/Casa, marking the first time this storied Italian design house is teaming up with an airline.
The collaboration, dubbed “The Constellation Collection,” draws inspiration from the starry night sky in the desert of the United Arab Emirates. You’ll find a consistent geometric pattern throughout the dishware and bedding that is designed to resemble stars and constellations, Turky Alhammadi, head of product and hospitality, told TPG at the launch event.
At first glance, the new glassware, cutlery, dishware and bedding look quite posh, without being too over-the-top. An understated elegance permeates the entire collection, making these pieces feel like they could be part of one’s home.
My favorite addition is the new salt and pepper holder. The coin-shaped design looks great in green, and the embossed Giorgio Armani logo adds a luxurious touch. (Note that these items aren’t souvenirs — Etihad will reuse all the dishes and bedding after each flight.)
In addition to the dishware, the collection includes three new pieces of bedding: a thick duvet, a plush pillow and a color-coordinated memory-foam mattress pad.
The new bedding felt soft and luxurious during the hands-on experience at the media preview. The addition of a supportive mattress pad will be welcome news for those flying on some of the airline’s longest flights to North America and Australia.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Etihad would introduce slippers or pajamas on board its flights — two amenities that distinguish some of the best soft products offered in business class.
Likewise, Etihad will continue to offer amenity kits by Acqua di Parma for the time being, though I imagine the long-term plan would be to introduce an Armani-branded kit.
While “The Constellation Collection” begins rolling out on flights starting in December, the airline will embark on a monthslong mission to bring the new partnership to all of its premium experience touchpoints, focused at first on the airline’s lounges, Alhammadi told TPG. “It’s all about being consistent,” he said.
The revamped soft product will be available in all Etihad business-class cabins, regardless of which aircraft type is operating the journey. Additionally, the carrier isn’t making changes to its first-class offering, which it still sells on a few routes operated by a subset of Boeing 777s and 787 Dreamliners.
Along with the new crockery, Etihad will revamp the business-class menu to include new food options and a refreshed take on existing favorites, such as the Arabic mezze. The airline displayed some of the new choices on a long table at the media event, but it didn’t provide printed descriptions of what each dish was.
That said, if the finished product looks anything like the staged demonstration, flyers will be in for a treat (literally and figuratively) with the new food options.
Some aviation observers were expecting Etihad to make a “bigger” announcement. Two popular theories were that the airline was joining the Star Alliance or that the airline was bringing back its Airbus A380 fleet from long-term storage.
Tony Douglas, group chief executive officer, acknowledged that some might’ve overhyped the airline’s social media clues. “It’s been fascinating listening to the amount of endless speculation,” he said, seemingly referencing the bloggers and observers who thought that the airline had something different to announce.
His deputies later explained that the carrier used social media teasers to get people excited about this yearslong project led by the product and customer experience teams. It’s a celebration of hard work and many long days, Etihad employees told TPG at the event.
While it may be tough to get excited about new dishware or bedding on your next flight, Etihad hopes that this new collection will complement the improvements it has already made to the hard product to ultimately deliver a “beyond Business” onboard experience.
Earlier this year, the carrier inaugurated its Airbus A350-1000 fleet, which features a brand-new business-class seat for the airline. Etihad customized the highly functional Collins Aerospace Super Diamond product with snazzy sconces, eye-catching mood lighting and subtle gold accents.
The cabin itself looks great, and it represents a big evolution forward for the carrier’s premium experience. The new cabin design combined with the Armani/Casa partnership will make sitting at the pointy end of one of Etihad’s newest jets an even more luxurious experience.