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