Etihad is making record losses due to bad investments (Alitalia) and having many empty flights. To give the few people that do make a booking the illusion of a full flight, Etihad is hiring actors to fill the seats.
The cover-up was discovered by a business man who needed to make a quick back-and-forward only to discover the exact same passengers on the return flight.
Actors are paid to behave like real passengers and make sure the flight looks full. Thin Air Today tracked down some of the actors. One actor who wishes to stay anonymous says: “I’m playing the annoying passenger who sits at a window seat but needs to go to the toilet every 30 minutes” the woman says she gets paid 50$ per return flight and it comes with free inflight meals and unlimited drinks.
Another actor is more lucky: “I’m part of the team that occupies the best seats so the passengers can’t choose those for free”. He says that actors are briefed on the passenger list by the cabin crew. There can be anywhere between 0 and 15 real passengers on the flight.
Etihad could not comment on the matter due to an understaffed PR department.