Etihad, the beleaguered Middle East airline, is ditching a number of routes next winter as it tries to tackle huge losses. For affected passengers, it is offering refunds or re-routing. But alternative flights may be significantly more expensive, and re-routing may add thousands of miles to the length of the journey.
Liz Bryan, from London, planned a holiday of a lifetime to see her daughter in Western Australia. Through Flight Centre, she paid nearly £3,000 for a business class flight with Etihad from Heathrow via Abu Dhabi to Perth and back.
But after the airline decided to cancel its service to Perth from late September, she was rebooked on a journey that meant flying 1,700 miles in the wrong direction: heading south-east to Melbourne to pick up a different Etihad flight, rather than north-west to London.
The extra leg, lasting three and a half hours, was allocated in economy class on Virgin Australia. Her request for a seat with extra legroom was refused.
The revised itinerary required her to leave Perth four hours earlier than planned, and arrive in London five hours later than intended.
Ms Bryan said: “I purchased business class with Etihad rather than flying nonstop with Qantas as I believed Etihad was a better airline with a good reputation.”
She was originally told she could have a refund only for the inbound flight. After The Independent became involved, her travel agent said: “Flight Centre has looked into this matter and learned that there was a miscommunication between the airline and our travel consultant.
“We have had confirmation that the customer is entitled to a full refund and we are in direct communication to process this and offer further assistance.”
A spokesperson for Etihad confirmed that an error had been made in Ms Bryan’s case: “The Guest is entitled either to a full refund allowing them to rebook with another airline or to be re-routed via Melbourne or Sydney to Abu Dhabi and then to continue on to London with us on the return journey.
“Travel from Perth to Melbourne or Sydney should be in the class the Guest booked – in this case business.”
Ms Bryan looked for alternative airlines for a London-Perth return, but was quoted over £500 more than she originally paid. She opted for a Singapore Airlines premium economy ticket.
Besides cancelling the Abu Dhabi-Perth link, Etihad is also ending its routes from Abu Dhabi to Edinburgh, San Francisco and Dallas.
In July 2017, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier reported a $1.87bn (£1.3bn) full-year loss — around £80 for each passenger it carried. It made a series of ill judged investments in failing European airlines.
Air Berlin closed down in October 2017 after Etihad stopped pumping cash into the failing German carrier. The Abu Dhabi airline lost hundreds of millions of dollars investing in Alitalia before it surrendered its stake in the troubled Italian carrier.
Rumours circulating in the aviation industry suggest that Etihad could be taken over by its Dubai-based rival, Emirates.
Another Gulf carrier, Qatar Airways, is upgrading its Perth service to an A380 “superjumbo” from 1 May. Last month, Qantas launched a nonstop link between Perth and Heathrow.