Virgin Australia Hands Over Sydney – Abu Dhabi Route To Etihad

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Virgin Australia is currently in the process of moving around its Boeing 777-300ER fleet to allow the airline to resume service on the Melbourne – Los Angeles route and it looks like its Sydney – Abu Dhabi route is taking the fall. While this may not appear to be a major change (and it isn’t) it could still be a nice boost for travelers hoping to use AAdvantage Miles between the Europe/Middle East and Australia.

Virgin Australia Cedes Sydney – Abu Dhabi Route

From 7 February 2017 Virgin Australia will no longer operate its 3x/week service between Sydney and Abu Dhabi but, in its place, it looks as if Etihad will be picking up the slack.

The current Virgin Australia schedule looks like this:

VA29 SYD 14:35 – 23:05 AUH (Mon, Wed, Fri)
VA30 AUH 10:40 – 06:30+ 1 day SYD (Tue, Thu, Sat)

If you’re booked on any of those flights after 6 February and if you haven’t already head from Virgin Australia you should get in touch with the airline and have them re-accommodate you.

The chances are that travelers will be re-accommodated on one of Etihad flights between the two cities which, from 6 February, will go from operating 11x week to a twice daily service:

EY451 SYD 16:20 – 23:55 AUH (daily 777-300ER service)
EY455 SYD 21:50 – 05:40+1 day AUH (daily A380 service)

EY450 AUH 09:25 – 06:15+1 day SYD (daily 777-300ER service)
EY454 AUH 22:15 – 19:15+1 day SYD (daily A380 service)

Etihad owns over 20% of Virgin Australia so it’s not particularly surprising to see it pick up the slack on this route but, at the same time, it s a shame to see Virgin Australia hand this route over.

Virgin Australia v Etihad

I’m an unabashed Etihad fan, I absolutely love the Business Class cabin on the A380the Business Class offering on the 777-300ER is pretty good too and the all-around service on both aircraft is excellent…but it’s still nice to have a choice.

Etihad Business Class 777-300Etihad 777-300ER Business Class

All of Virgin Australia’s wide body fleet is now configured with their fantastic-looking Business Class cabin…..

Virgin Australia New Business ClassVirgin Australia Business Class

…and the Virgin Australia 777-300’s also offer a Premium Economy cabin which Etihad doesn’t – so that’s a loss for passengers on this route.

It’s also worth noting that Virgin Australia offers 32″ of leg room and 18.5″ of seat width in its 777-300ER Economy Class cabin compared to Etihad’s 31″ of leg room and 17.5″ of seat width on both its aircraft on this route.

Those dimensions may not seem that far apart but they make quite a bit of difference when you’re flying as long a route as Sydney – Abu Dhabi.

Possible Good News For AAdvantage Members

Although Etihad isn’t part of the OneWorld alliance it’s still a partner of American Airlines and that means you can use AAdvantage Miles to fly with Etihad. And Now that there are even more Etihad flights between Abu Dhabi and Sydney it’s possible that it will be slightly easier to find some of the best awards you can book.

Etihad Business Class A380Etihad Business Class Cabin on the A380

Up until the recent devaluation Etihad premium cabin awards were some of the best uses of AAdvantage Miles you could find and, if you take into account just how good the seats and service on Etihad are, using AAdvantage miles on Etihad is still a good option despite the vastly increased redemption rates.

  • Middle East – Australia in Business Class costs 80,000 miles one-way
  • Middle East – Australia in First Class costs 100,000 miles one-way

Unfortunately, because of how American structures its award rules, a trip from Europe to Australia would require two separate awards so you would have to add on the following costs to calculate your total mileage outlay.

  • Europe – Middle East in Business Class costs 42,500 miles one-way
  • Europe – Middle East in First Class costs 62,500 miles one-way

I’m sure someone will point out that you can use AAdvantage Miles on Qatar Airways to fly between the Middle East and Australia and that you only need a single award to fly Qatar Airways between Europe and Australia….but have you tried finding those awards? They’re not that easy to book and, in my experience, awards on Etihad are easier to find.

How does it feel to fly with the best ?

Bottom Line

This news is bad for anyone not traveling in Business or First Class as the option to book Premium Economy fares between Sydney and Abu Dhabi has just disappeared and Etihad’s Economy Class seats offer less room than those offered by Virgin Australia.

For premium cabin flyers this is probably a break-even situation. While you lose the option to fly in Virgin Australia’s new Business Class you do get more opportunities to fly in Etihad’s excellent premium cabins so things roughly balance each other out.

The ultimate winners could be travelers looking to burn their AAdvantage miles as I can already see pretty good award availability for next year…I’m even tempted to book an award for myself 🙂