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A Look at Business and Coach in Qatar’s Gorgeous Airbus A350

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This week, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig is reporting live from the Paris Air Show. First up is a tour of Qatar’s brand-new Airbus A350, which recently began flying from Doha to Frankfurt and Singapore.

From Etihad’s incredible Airbus A380 to Qatar’s nearly flawless A350, competition is heating up in the Middle East. And while both aircraft types are making daily appearances during the Paris Air Show’s afternoon flying displays, the smaller A350 is definitely the star of the show. Media and other invited guests can come aboard Qatar’s A350 — it did feel a bit odd to be taking pictures onboard a plane so soon after my issue with AA, but of course Airbus and Qatar were more than happy to allow us to capture every nook and cranny in the plane, including the cockpit and the (normally off-limits) crew rest. Let’s take a look inside.

Qatar's A350 parked at the Paris Air Show.
Qatar’s A350 parked at the Paris Air Show.

Unfortunately most of Airbus’ booth is closed off to the public, but if you’re unable to access the private aircraft area, you can get pretty close from just outside the fence.

With large, crisp displays, the A350 cockpit is the most modern-looking in the sky.
With large, crisp displays, the A350 cockpit is the most modern-looking in the sky.

With the A350, Airbus has integrated even more technology into the cockpit. There’s a heads-up display for the pilot, large digital instrument panels front and center and displays on each side for accessing key documents, like checklists and charts.

With seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, everyone has aisle access in business class.
With seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, everyone has aisle access in business class.

But on to the fun part: the business-class cabin. Qatar’s business-class seats are quite large and comfortable, though they’re not quite as private as what you’ll find on some aircraft, such as Cathay Pacific’s long-haul fleet and American Air’s 777-300ER.

You can "dim" your windows on the Boeing Dreamliner, but you get full blackout shades on Qatar's A350.
You can “dim” your windows on the Boeing Dreamliner, but you get full blackout shades on Qatar’s A350.

Some customers don’t love the dimming windows on Boeing’s Dreamliner, but on Qatar’s version of the Airbus A350, you can close physical shades to block out all outside light.

A large (and comfy) pillow, a blanket and pajamas are waiting at each business-class seat.
A large (and comfy) pillow, a blanket and pajamas are waiting at each business-class seat.

All business-class passengers receive pajamas to wear on the flight (and take home). And while I didn’t get to take a nap during my tour, the pillow and blanket felt surprisingly soft to the touch.

Business-class passengers receive an amenity kit on all long-haul flights.
Business-class passengers receive an amenity kit on all long-haul flights.

You’ll also receive an amenity kit in business class, and with several large surfaces surrounding each seat, there’s plenty of space to check out your score.

With many controls, you can position your seat just the way you like. Power and USB ports are located just below.
With many controls, you can position your seat just the way you like. Power and USB ports are located just below.

Some airlines offer just a few options for configuring your lie-flat seat, but Qatar gives you much more control. There are a whopping 14 buttons just to control the seat!

Business-class meal service (without the food) on Qatar's A350.
Business-class meal service (without the food) on Qatar’s A350.

The main dining table slides out from under the display, so you can still sneak out of your seat during a meal.

There's tremendous attention to detail on Qatar's A350, from the custom ceiling to this mid-cabin bar.
There’s tremendous attention to detail on Qatar’s A350, from the custom ceiling to this mid-cabin bar.

The first thing you’ll notice about Qatar’s A350 is how unique it feels compared to other wide-body aircraft. The seats, while similar to those on other airlines, have more pleasing finishes, and the airline’s design sense shines throughout the rest of the cabin, and in economy, as well.

The second business-class cabin is much smaller, with only 12 seats.
The second business-class cabin is much smaller, with only 12 seats.

There isn’t a full bar to speak of, such as you’ll find on Qatar’s A380, but there is a nicely decorated stand-up bar area between the two business-class cabins.

The A350 luggage bins have plenty of room for all carry-on bags brought on board.
The A350 luggage bins have plenty of room for all carry-on bags brought on board.

We’ve heard plenty of bad news about carry-on bags recently, but if you’re flying Qatar’s A350, the airline has no excuse for restricting your allowance. The larger overhead bins provide plenty of room for everyone on board to store their rolling bags.

Like on other aircraft, all economy seats aren't created equal, but you'll be a happy camper if you happen to score a seat in row 30.
Like on other aircraft, all economy seats aren’t created equal, but you’ll be a happy camper if you happen to score a seat in row 30.

As with other wide-body aircraft, there are several doors on each side of the plane, and the space in front needs to be kept clear. On Qatar’s A350, passengers in row 30 benefit the most, with enough room in front to pitch a tent (which sadly is not permitted).

There are only two seats on each side in row 16, making this a great option for couples.
There are only two seats on each side in row 16, making this a great option for couples.

Row 16 in the forward economy cabin is also a great option, with a bit of extra room behind the bulkhead and just two seats together on each side.

With just 31 or 32 inches of pitch in most rows, you don't have much room in economy, but every passenger gets a huge on-demand screen.
With just 31 or 32 inches of pitch in most rows, you don’t have much room in economy, but every passenger gets a huge on-demand screen and a fancy detachable control.

Qatar’s oddly named Oryx on-demand entertainment system is available in both cabins — while you’ll get a much bigger display in business, it’s still plenty large in economy. Unfortunately with just 31 or 32 inches of pitch (measured from one seat to the next), there isn’t much legroom to speak of, though.

Even the galley areas feel spacious on the A350.
Even the galley areas feel spacious on the A350.

The main galley at the rear of the plane is quite large, giving flight attendants room to move around during the meal service and passengers a place to stand and relax during the rest of the flight.

Guests enter through the front and leave through the rear door at the Paris Air Show.
Guests enter through the front and leave through the rear door at the Paris Air Show.

While it’s impossible to come to any formal conclusions without taking a flight, from my time on Qatar’s A350, I really loved the plane. Of course, you’ll be far more comfortable in business class, and taller passengers may feel a bit cramped in coach. If you’re flying business, I recommend the smaller cabin behind the bar, while coach passengers will be much more comfortable in rows 16 or 30 than anywhere else on the plane.

As a member of Oneworld, you can use American AAdvantage miles to fly Qatar. You’ll need to redeem 37,500 miles each way for coach and 75,000 for business for flights to Africa and 45,000 or 67,500 miles for India or the Middle East. Currently, the A350 is only available on select flights from Doha to Frankfurt and Singapore, but the airline plans to add the A350 to other routes soon. Your first chance to fly Qatar’s A350 from the US will be on January 1, 2016, when Qatar introduces the plane on its Doha to Philadelphia route, with Boston set to follow just a couple months later.

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