The Gulf carrier is ending service to a number of destinations in the face of mounting financial uncertainty and rumors of takeover plans by the competition.
Etihad’s reputation for providing a premium air travel experience may be slowly giving way to a perception of a carrier in dire straits. The Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH)-based airline upset passengers recently after unexpectedly scaling back or dropping service to dozens of destinations.
According to the Independent, the Gulf carrier has dropped routes to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Edinburgh Airport (EDI) and Perth Airport (PER) in recent months. The airline has also cut the frequency of flights and trimmed premium cabins on flights to dozens of other destinations.
Etihad has managed to compound customer discontent by declining to refund money to some passengers who have booked seats on these now-canceled routes. In some cases, the newspaper reports, the airline has instead attempted to reroute passengers on other carriers to airports still served by Etihad. When confronted about this practice, airline officials cited an unspecified “miscommunication.”
The Gulf carrier is feeling growing financial pressure as demand for premium long-haul travel has waned in recent years partially due to lean economic conditions in the region. A series of poorly timed investments in “partner” airlines such as Alitalia, Jet Airways and Air Berlin did not help the carrier’s struggling bottom line. In January, Etihad reportedly asked flight crews to request voluntary unpaid leave in an attempt to achieve cost savings after grounding its entire fleet of underused Airbus A330 cargo planes.
In recent months, Etihad has been the subject of persistent takeover rumors. Purported suitors including Gulf rival Emirates and German-flag carrier Lufthansa, however, have outright denied the reports that either of the airlines are interested in obtaining a controlling interest in the struggling Etihad.