Etihad will take full advantage of US approval of Abu Dhabi to attract more Indian travellers, BA

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Next September, Etihad will respond on a large scale to the enormous demand for travel between India and America. While the airline’s hub in Abu Dhabi, Zayed International Airport, has for years had a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility that allows fliers to clear US immigration and customs there themselves (skipping long lines upon arrival) , the airline is making some big changes by getting a bigger pie from the lucrative India-US market.

The Zayed Airport recently received a new terminal. The US CBP is currently housed in the old terminal. “In September, CBP will move to the new terminal, which will have, among other things, a special first and business class lounge, especially for pre-checked (to American) passengers. We have also deepened our collaboration with two American airlines: American Airlines and Jet Blue. So our pre-checked passengers get seamless connections to a wide range of cities in the shortest possible time, starting from 45 minutes after flying to the US on our flights. The luggage is also checked to its final destination there, with passengers not having to collect it at the first port of entry in the US. Ditto on the way back,” Etihad Chief Revenue & Commercial Officer Arik De told TOI.

“With all the checks out of the way before you leave, you can easily pick up your bags and go when you land in the US. Abu Dhabi only has a CBP facility in the Middle East,” he added. Etihad currently flies to New York (JFK), Chicago, Boston and Washington. It plans to double its presence in the US before the end of this decade. With its pre-approval USP, Etihad is keeping a close eye on the Indian market to fill its flights to and from the US – a market where neighbors Emirates and Qatar Airways are both very strong.

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The airline is among the rare Gulf airlines that still have room, read bilateral flights, for more flights to India. “Abu Dhabi has 50,000 seats per week to India, of which approximately 42,000 seats are used together with Air Arabia Abu Dhabi. We are increasing the number of flights to Bengaluru (from 14 to 18 per week); Kolkata (from 7 to 8 per week) and from June 16 four times a week to Jaipur. The next round of expansion in India will take place in January-March 2025 when we get more aircraft,” said De, a native of Kolkata, one of the first professionals of Indian origin to rise to top positions at a leading Gulf airline.

Etihad is making more changes to attract more Indian passengers. For example, he has changed something that most Gulf airlines do not do: they do not take meals from India for their flights back home, as the meals for both the route to India and back are increased only at their hubs. “Of the 11 cities in India that we fly to, food is only now increasing from eight to nine cities in India. This ensures that we serve fresh meals to passengers from India to Abu Dhabi,” said De, a Canadian citizen.

Etihad has 5 to 6,000 crew members, the largest numbers of which are Indians, Moroccans and Romanians.

He does not see the long-term plans of IndiGo – which has now ordered wide bodies – and the growth of Air India as a challenge for Etihad. “India, a country with over 1.3 billion inhabitants and a booming economy, will certainly have its own major airlines. There will always be a market for both the non-stop product (which AI offers far and wide and IndiGo will offer from next year). For example, Mumbai-London has non-stops from AI, Vistara, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Yet we have a market share of 12 percent on that route,” says De.
Etihad currently has 90 aircraft. The goal is to have a fleet of 165 to 170 aircraft by 2030 – almost as many wide as narrow aircraft.

  • Published on May 13, 2024 at 11:10 AM IST

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