Have onboard showers become a thing of the past?

Jun 7, 2020

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Onboard showers were once the crown jewel of first-class amenities, but they’re no longer being offered and may never return.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced airlines to make some drastic changes to their route networks, fleet strategies and inflight services. While some changes are expected to be temporary, others, such as cutting onboard showers, may be longer-lasting.

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There are two major airlines that have showers on their planes: Emirates and Etihad, both from the United Arab Emirates and both serving several destinations in the U.S. and U.K. On both airlines, the showers are available exclusively on Airbus A380s. However, aside from a handful of jets going on occasional flights, every A380 in the world is currently grounded due to the precipitous drop in travel demand. Emirates has more than 100 A380s in its fleet and Etihad has 10.

Unlike Air France, both Emirates and Etihad have both said that they don’t plan on ditching their A380s and will gradually reintroduce them once international travel picks up again, though that decision could change at any time. And even once the A380s return to service, the onboard experience isn’t going to be the same.

Related: Will the Airbus A380 fly again once travel resumes?

As a part of its new sanitation standards and to reducing touchpoints, Emirates has said that it will indefinitely be closing down its onboard showers once the A380s return to service. “Every measure implemented is an additional reduction in risk, and taken altogether, our aim is really to make flying as safe as possible”, Adel Al Redha, Emirates’ Chief Operating Officer, said in a statement. Cabin service attendants, who are usually responsible for looking after the showers, will now be deployed on all flights over 1.5 hours to ensure lavatories are cleaned at intervals of 45 minutes throughout the flight.

Emirates’ three-cabin A380s feature two shower suites, one on each side of the staircase at the front of the plane, on the upper deck. First-class passengers used to get five minutes of water time, but could reserve the shower suite for up to 30 minutes.

(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)
Shower onboard Emirates’ A380. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

Etihad, on the other hand, hasn’t finalized its decision on this yet, but does hope to offer them again. “Currently, there is no plan to cease offering the dedicated shower room for First guests, or the private shower room in The Residence, when these aircraft take to the skies again. This service will however be subject to Etihad’s enhanced sanitization procedures and will follow all regulatory authority health and hygiene guidelines”, an Etihad spokesperson told TPG.

Like Emirates, Etihad’s A380s feature two onboard showers — one located at the front of the first-class cabin and the other located inside of The Residence — and offer five minutes of water time. Realistically, we might see Etihad following Emirates’ lead with closing its showers shared between first-class passengers, but continue offering them to Residence guests, since their showers are private.

Related: The ultimate guide to Etihad’s A380 first-class apartment

Etihad’s Residence features a private shower. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

As disappointing as this might be for some passengers, it makes sense given the difficulty of fully disinfecting the shower suites in-flight between uses. Plus, onboard showers are costly for airlines as they require carrying auxiliary water. That costs fuel, and airlines are facing a cash crunch as a result of the pandemic.

Related: Emirates massively reduces fuel surcharges on award tickets

Onboard showers aren’t the only inflight amenities going away. For instance, Emirates will also be bidding adieu to its famous onboard business and first-class bars on A380s, at-seat snack baskets and reading material. In discussing recent inflight amenity cuts, airline analyst Henry Harteveldt, president at Atmosphere Research Group, told TPG that he believes that many of these changes are likely just temporary “until we have vaccines or ‘herd immunity”, but there’s a decent chance that many more A380s will be retired by then.

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Featured image by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy.

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