How has Etihad Airways 're-imagined' flying?
Steve Nichols looks at the reasons behind Etihad Airways' most recent batch of industry awards
Etihad Airways was named the region's leading airline at September's World Travel Awards Middle East, where it also won awards for “Leading Airline - First Class”, “Leading Airport Lounge” for its first class lounge and spa at Abu Dhabi International Airport, and the region's “Leading Cabin Crew”.
Back in May 2016 it was also presented with the title “Most Innovative Airline of the Last 10 Years” at the Telegraph UltraTravel Awards in London.
So how does the airline, which has grown from 22 aircraft, flying to 43 destinations and supported by 4,369 staff in 2006, to a fleet of 123 aircraft, serving 117 destinations with nearly 27,000 multi-national staff today, keep winning and differentiating itself from the opposition?
At an Apex Expo educational event in Singapore, Linda Celestino, Etihad's vice president of guest services, outlined what the company has done to make it the first choice for its passengers.
“We've had an incredible 13-year journey as one of the fastest-growing airlines in commercial history,” said Celestino. “Double digit growth – year, on year, on year.
“We're very proud of being recognised as the world's leading airline seven years in a row. Our vision to be the best airline in the world is only overtaken by our mission to deliver remarkable travel experiences. We don't sell transportation, we sell feelings and we deliver that through remarkable brand values.
“And this is driven from the top down and is woven into everything we do.”
Celestino has spent more than 25 years in the airline industry and held senior positions in her native Australia and the Middle East, as well as being a former president of the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX).
She said that Etihad has “absolutely re-imagined the inflight product”, adding the Abu Dhabi-based airline has become synonymous with the highest standards in products and service. These include the best first class offering in the world, the first apartment aboard the Airbus 380 (“The Residence”) and the first suite on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Etihad says “The Residence”, with its elite butlers, is in a league of its own within the Airbus A380 community.
“What we do in flight is transforming hospitality in the air.” Celestino said. “We don't benchmark against other airlines, we benchmark ourselves against the finest hotels and fine dining restaurants worldwide, such as establishments like London's Savoy.
“We also have flying nannies, trained at Norland College, the establishment that trains nannies for Buckingham Palace and the kings and queens of Great Britain. So our flights can including face painting, finger puppets or karaoke – whatever the children want.
“Our inflight chefs, who provide a private dining experience in the first-class cabin, also come from the finest dining establishments around the world. And our butlers deliver a private, exclusive, discrete service to guests travelling in 'The Residence', the airline’s exclusive private three-room cabin,” she said.
Celestino added that Etihad's journey to “re-imagine everything its does” relies on innovation, and the airline has a five-year digital roadmap to transform the way it does its business with a single platform, but with “limitless touch-points for its guests”.
But she said that it isn't just about the passenger experience in the sky. “We are also going to totally transform the airport experience for our guests,” she said.
“Abu Dhabi's new Midfield Terminal will be the largest structure in the United Arab Emirates, capable of supporting 30 million guests per year and servicing our flagship A380 fleet.
“While we are passionate about our product and our airline, we are even more passionate about our people. We believe they'll transform our industry,” Celestino concluded.
Readers wanting to find out more about the Etihad way of doing business could do worse than watch its latest virtual reality film “Reimagine”, starring academy award-winner Nicole Kidman, and which won “Best Original Video” at the 2016 APEX Awards
The film takes viewers aboard an Airbus A380 on a virtual flight between Abu Dhabi and New York.