An Evening with Etihad Airways at the UAE Embassy
It's not every day that an airline rewards its most loyal customers with an appreciation dinner, but recently Etihad Airways did just that. TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr shares his experience attending a carrier-hosted event at the UAE embassy in Washington, DC.
Etihad recently invited select elite Etihad Guest members in the Washington, DC area to join North American senior management at the United Arab Emirates embassy. The event included an appreciation dinner for loyal Etihad customers and an opportunity for the airline to share what it currently has in the works. I've held Etihad Guest elite status for the last few years thanks to flights between Tokyo and the Middle East for both business and pleasure and, having just moved to the DC area, was lucky enough to nab an invite from Etihad for both myself and my wife.
Like other attendees, I was very excited to receive the invite. We all had a hard time believing an airline would go through this much trouble just to thank loyal customers, and thought for sure the "time-share pitch" was coming at some point. It never did, making the night a noble move on behalf of Etihad. It turns out Etihad is hosting elites in all the North American cities it serves, having just hosted an event at Tiffany & Co. in Manhattan.
The evening was hosted by Rashed Saif Al Shabi, VP of Mid Atlantic for Etihad. He gave a warm thank you up front to all invited guests followed by a brief overview of Etihad's current operations, of course highlighting The Residence and First Class Apartments, as well as detailing plans for the future. What continually amazes me is the pace at which this airline, just now only 13 years old, continues to grow. Etihad's fleet is currently 119 aircraft. By 2025, the airline's fleet will increase to 307 aircraft, including 71 Dreamliners which will make Etihad the largest operators of 787s. That's an astounding rate of expansion.
Etihad is anxiously awaiting the completion of the new mid-field terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH), which will serve as its hub into the future. I've seen the skeleton of the structure while taxiing on my last few visits to AUH, and it looks like it will live up to this airline's high standards.
Highlights of the evening included a trivia game for two of the tables (one of which was my table) where we had to identify the roles of five different Etihad agents just by the uniform they were wearing. My table won, and the six of us were entered into a door prize with the winner receiving a wooden Etihad 787 model with a wing span of almost two feet. Etihad then gave away a round-trip business-class ticket from IAD to AUH and the gift of Etihad Guest Gold status to two family members of one lucky attendee.
The airline also recognized a few special attendees who achieved Platinum status the quickest (including a mid-20s attorney who flew back and forth between DC and AUH every two weeks for six months) and the person who had been an Etihad Guest member the longest. Food included a buffet with traditional Emirati dishes, and we had an opportunity to meet and mingle with other Etihad senior management in attendance, including Mr. Martin Drew, Senior VP of the Americas for Etihad.
Etihad's inflight product is without a doubt one of the best in the sky, but the ground service has some quirks and hiccups. My experience during irregular operations or getting a straight answer to questions via ground staff or phone agents has often been tiring — something that other Etihad flyers echo as well. My fear with the pace of Etihad's expansion is the inflight product will continue to excel, while the ground support may fall further behind. Etihad also faces an uphill battle with Capitol Hill and legacy US carriers in the fight to halt the ME3's expansion.
Ground services aside, I've always thoroughly enjoyed my time on Etihad aircraft having now flown all three classes multiple times (maybe the Residence one day). Plus, in North America it's pretty much unheard of for an airline to dedicate the resources Etihad did just to give loyal customers appreciation for a night.
Given the value of Etihad Guest miles, the ability to transfer Citi ThankYou points and now American Express Membership Rewards to Etihad and the consistent double and triple bonus miles campaigns Etihad offers on paid flights, I'll continue to look to the airline whenever I head to the Middle East and beyond. Special events and gestures like this make me happy to continue flying Etihad, and I definitely appreciate the carrier's approach to thanking its customers.
Have you ever attended a similar customer appreciation event hosted by an airline?