Flight Review: Comparing the Qatar Airways Business Class A350, A380, 777 and 787
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To The Point
A recent round-trip itinerary from Europe to South Africa presented the opportunity to test out Qatar Airways’ business class on four different aircraft. The Pros: best-in-class business seats on newer jets and (mostly) great service. The Cons: Spotty Wi-Fi access, most US routes are still being flown by 777s with outdated seats.
Qatar Airways has one of the youngest fleets in service today, and its business-class cabins are consistently ranked among the best in the world — even before its much-anticipated business-class QSuites go into service on new 777-300ER orders.
I was curious about how consistent the business-class experience aboard Qatar really is. That’s why I jumped at the chance to book an itinerary that would let me do a side-by-side comparison of four of the airline’s predominant long-haul jets: the Airbus A350, the Airbus A380, the Boeing 777-300ER, and the Boeing 787-8, on flights that ranged from overnights to all-day ones. Here’s a brief overview of the seats and cabins themselves, followed by my experiences aboard each of my four flights.
But first, a quick snapshot of how the business-class cabins on the four aircraft I flew stacked up, including seat dimensions, cabin size and number of routes at time of publication (though these numbers change quite frequently). Read on below for details on booking and the particulars of each flight.
|Number of seats||48||36||22||24 to 42|
|Seat dimensions||22.2 x 51 to 52 inches||22 x 50 inches||22 x 50 inches||21.8 x 78 inches|
|Bed dimensions||30 x 80 inches||30 x 80 inches||30 x 77.7-80 inches||21.8 x 78 inches|
|Number of Lavatories||4||3||2||2 to 4|
|Screen size||17 inches||17 inches||17 inches||17 inches|
|Wi-Fi||Yes (if it works)||Yes||Yes||No|
|Number in fleet||8||19||30||43|
|Number of routes (at time of writing)||6||16||33||48|
|US destinations||0||3: Boston, New York JFK, Philadelphia||0||8: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York JFK, Washington IAD|
As you can see, one of these things is not like the other: The seats aboard Qatar’s current 777 fleet are its older, outdated ones, in a front-facing 2–2–2 configuration.
Those on the other aircraft here are the newer B/E Aerospace Super Diamond reverse-herringbone seats like Virgin Australia has in its new “The Business” cabin, and American Airlines on its 787-9s and retrofitted 777-200s. They’re some of the most lauded seats flying today, and for good reason, thanks to spacious dimensions and lots of ergonomic, customizable details like a myriad stowage compartments and often phenomenal in-flight entertainment systems. But more on that below.
Unfortunately, at the moment, Qatar flies the A350 only to three US airports: Boston (BOS), New York (JFK), and Philadelphia (PHL). All the other US airports it flies to are served by either 777-200LRs or 777-300ERs, meaning you’ll find the older seats. If you want to fly the airline’s newer seats, you’ll have to book flights from its hub in Doha to Europe, Asia or Africa.
If you’re interested in trying any of these yourself, your two best bets are flying to either Bangkok (BKK) or London (LHR), since the airline currently flies all these aircraft types to both airports.
I was able to book flights aboard four of Qatar’s main long-haul aircraft types on a single ticket because I was flying from Europe to South Africa with a stop through Doha in each direction. Luckily, I happened to travel a few weeks before the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its neighbors, so I avoided any added travel time because of airspace restrictions. Plus, since I was flying to and from Europe, I was not subject to the US’s electronics ban then in effect on flights from the Gulf.
Altogether, I paid 1,300 euros in airfare and fees and another 143 euros in taxes for a total of 1,443 euros, which came to $1,541 at the time. Not a bad price for over 30 hours in business class, all told.
Qatar is in oneworld along with American Airlines, so if I’d wanted to book this as an award ticket, it would have cost me 110,000 AAdvantage miles total, if there had been award availability. Qatar awards aren’t searchable on AA.com, so if you’re searching for that space, you’re better off using the British Airways site.
Because the fare was so inexpensive, though, I just paid for it. The ticket booked into the R fare class, which earns one award mile, 1.5 elite-qualifying miles and 20% elite-qualifying dollars per mile flown. I ended up earning 13,664 award miles, 20,497 EQMs and $2,735 EQDs on my trip, which put me almost to Gold status from this single itinerary.
I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve to pay for my ticket, earning a further 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar.
Airbus A350-900, Frankfurt (FRA) to Doha (DOH)
As much as I fly, this flight was actually my first aboard an A350. For an #avgeek like me, that’s downright shameful. But now that I’ve flown the jet, I’m eager to try it out on other airlines as well. The first flight of my itinerary was from Frankfurt to Doha, and departed around 5:30pm, landing in Doha about six hours later at 12:30am.
I had been holed up in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge at the Frankfurt airport since Qatar shares it, but went down to the gate before the boarding announcement to see if I could get on the plane as soon as possible.
As soon as boarding started, I zipped on to take some photos.
One of the innovations of the A350 and the 787 is the ambient lighting, which can be adjusted over the course of a flight to help the passengers’ circadian rhythms adjust to time changes. However, it also means that the crew can bathe the whole cabin in a deep reddish-purple hue.
The business-class seats aboard the A350 were Qatar’s newest ones (though they’re a few years old at this point). The seats were modified B/E Aerospace Super Diamonds, as I mentioned before, but they seemed to have a slimmer profile than on some other airlines because their walls didn’t extend beyond the seat profile. It led to a nice, sleek look and a more open feeling in the cabin.
Each had a 17-inch in-flight entertainment screen. The airline’s flagship Oryx One entertainment system came loaded with over 3,000 hours of entertainment, including movies, television shows, music and games. It was a touchscreen, so I could control it without the remote.
But there was a separate handheld remote attached to the seat to control entertainment, or to watch something else entirely at the same time, if I wanted.
Seats also came with noise-canceling headphones, bottles of Evian and a few discreet storage compartments, one of which was big enough to fit a slim laptop, which was convenient because there were overhead bins only over the sides of the cabin and not the middle.
Seats also had their own universal power ports and USB ports to keep electronics charged, conveniently located right under the armrest, so I didn’t have to reach for it.
Unlike some other seats in this style, the footwell was a large space and didn’t restrict movement too much when the seat was in lie-flat mode.
Each seat was 22 inches wide and had 50 inches of pitch. But when I reclined it to fully flat, I had an 80-inch bed. And I could lower the armrest so the bed was 30 inches wide at the shoulders. The airline also provided medium-size pillows and Frette duvets.
Though it was one big open space, the business-class section on the A350 was kind of like two cabins. There were 36 seats total in a 1–2–1 reverse-herringbone configuration. There were six rows in the forward cabin for 24 seats total there.
Then there was sort of a big space at the entry door with two countertops, each usually with a vase with roses for most of the flight, and champagne, water and snacks at other times. There were also two lavatories here. Behind this was a three-row section with 12 seats total. The middle space was kind of interesting — I felt a bit exposed going to the lav or waiting for it, but it did lend the cabin an uncluttered, airy ambience that I really liked.
The lavatories themselves were also really nice.
And the sinks were stocked with toothbrushes and razors as well as Rituals products. I loved that there was a disinfectant-wipe dispenser and that the toilet flush and sink were motion-activated, so you didn’t have to touch anything in there.
After I settled into my seat, a flight attendant was by within moments to offer me a pre-departure beverage. I opted for the Billecart-Salmon Brut, and got a BRIC’s amenity kit with Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio products as well.
Dinner service was set for shortly after takeoff, though you could have it whenever you wanted. I stuck with the main service time because I figured it would give me some time to work, and then I’d eat and take a nap before landing in Doha.
Qatar is known for its classic Arabic mezze starter, so that’s what I had.
Then I selected the Arabic spiced chicken kabsa with rice, vegetable salona and raita.
Though I didn’t mean to, I ended up skipping dessert. Let me explain. Service started off quite well, and the flight attendant in charge of my section was friendly and attentive.
But for my main course, I asked to switch from the Lavau Grenache Blanc-Viognier Rhone blend I’d been enjoying to the Altano Reserva red from Portugal’s Douro. The flight attendant brought my main course and an empty glass … and then I didn’t see her again for half an hour. Rather, I saw her, but she basically completed meal service for everyone else without bringing the wine for mine. I tried to get her attention as she whisked by, but she was intent on what she was doing. Obviously, at some point I could have pressed the call button, but I was curious to see how this would resolve, and I wasn’t in a huge hurry.
Eventually, after she had served the surrounding passengers not only their main courses and refreshed their beverages and gotten their desserts and cleared their tables, she stopped by my seat to ask if something was wrong with the dish. I explained that she hadn’t brought the wine and she shot off to the galley, horrified.
When she came back, she had the wrong wine. I gently corrected her, and she rushed off again, even more embarrassed. At that point, the food was cold and the wine really an afterthought. Plus the cabin had been dimmed so people could sleep. So by the time I had enjoyed my glass and the main course, it felt like it was getting a bit late for dessert.
Now, I want to be clear: I don’t see this as a major service failure because if I’d really needed something, of course I could have rung the button or tried to flag the flight attendants down more strenuously. I didn’t do it to be obnoxious or to be able to write a scathing review. I was simply curious, and I did feel overlooked, though I was treated with diligent mindfulness for the rest of the flight.
Now for some positives. The food (when I did eat) was delicious, and I got a few hours of great rest on that comfortable seat-bed before we landed. Not only that, but I actually got some work done since I got 10 megabytes of free Wi-Fi on both my phone and my computer. You could also purchase it, though prices weren’t that attractive.
Still, it was only later that I realized how valuable in-flight Wi-Fi on Qatar could be. But more on that later. We landed in Doha right on time, and I had about 90 minutes to find the lounge and relax there before my next flight.
Pros: Beautiful interiors, delicious food, Wi-Fi that works.
Cons: Hit-or-miss service.
Boeing 777-300ER, Doha (DOH) to Johannesburg (JNB)
I’ll be honest: This was the flight I was least looking forward to, in no small part because it left at 2:40am and arrived in Johannesburg about eight hours later, meaning I’d be hard-pressed to get a good night’s sleep. On the plus side, the seats were lie-flat, so I figured it wouldn’t be too bad. Until the installation of its new QSuites, Qatar’s 777s all have its old business-class seats aboard.
Qatar has four different 777 configurations. One is for its 777-200LR, which it flies from Doha to Los Angeles as well as to Auckland on the world’s (current) longest flight. The other three are 777-300ERs, one of which has just 24 seats in business; the other two have 42 seats. I was on one of the latter.
Despite the late boarding time, both the Qatar Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge and the rest of the airport were quite busy (though things seem to have since quieted down quite a lot during the diplomatic brouhaha).
Nevertheless, I tried to get to the gate early and get on board among the first of the passengers so I could snap a few shots.
The business-class section on my plane (there’s no first class) was split into two cabins separated by a galley area and two lavatories. In the front cabin were four rows of seats in a front-facing 2–2–2 configuration, while in the back cabin, there were three rows.
These seats seemed extremely outdated at this point, especially for one of the Middle Eastern carriers, but we’ll soon start seeing them phased out in favor of QSuites. For now, though, they resembled the seats on Hainan Airlines or LATAM: simple but comfortable.
The one thing I hate about these seats is that you pretty much have to talk to your seat mate. Especially if, like me, you’re in the aisle seat in one of the side sections and your neighbor has to get out at some point to use the lav. Fortunately, the man sitting next to me was a nice German guy named Hans, and we chatted for a bit before he basically slept for the rest of the flight.
These seats were subpar, especially after I’d experienced Qatar’s newer seats. There was very little stowage, or surface area, if you wanted to, say, put your laptop aside for a moment, though there was a side cubby that could have been useful for a slim laptop. The tables pulled out of the seat dividers and required a bit of effort. Seats reclined to 78-inch beds that Qatar bills as lie-flat but also says have 177 degrees of recline, so the official line is just a tad off.
There was a panel with a USB port and a plug for the noise-canceling headphones they gave out. It was in the armrest in a little cubby, so it was handy for stowing a phone. The power port was down by the floor, though, which wasn’t very convenient.
The IFE screens were big for this type of seat, at 17 inches, and featured the same Oryx entertainment system as the previous flight.
I also got the soft amenities, such as the BRIC’s kits. Because this flight was an overnight one, I received a pair of pajamas to sleep in. I got an XL set, and while they were quite big on me, they were very comfortable.
I went to change into mine in the lav, which was not nearly as nice as those on the A350 (or the other planes, for that matter). There was a disabled-accessible one that was enormous, though, so I went into that one to change.
Before takeoff, flight attendants came by with pre-departure beverages, and then handed out menus, the amenity kits and the pajamas. They also started taking food and drink orders. Because of the late hour, they were serving a light supper and then breakfast would be served about an hour before landing. The late-night menu included a soup; a light salad with tomato, potato, olives and quail egg; a mozzarella-tomato sandwich; seafood mixed grill; or pumpkin tortellini. There were also cheese plates and a hazelnut-caramel tart for dessert. I skipped it all and just had a glass of port then went to bed and slept soundly for about five hours, which was fantastic.
I will say something for these types of seats: Though they might not be as long or as wide in the shoulders as some newer seats, they are (mostly) flat and have a good amount of space to get comfortable without bumping into the seat in front or behind you. I actually sleep quite well in them.
I woke up on my own about two hours before landing, and practically as soon as I stirred, my flight attendant was at my side asking if I needed anything or if I wanted breakfast. I said to give me a couple minutes and then we could start the meal. They served a few different juices to start, including one with carrot and passionfruit. Among the appetizers were yogurt, cereal, muesli and a smoked-salmon salad.
I went right for the traditional Arabic breakfast of feta, cucumber, tomato and olives served with warm flatbread. It was OK. I should have gone for the asparagus-cheddar omelet with lamb kofta and tomato salad, or the vanilla French toast with caramelized banana. Ah well, the croissant and muffin were quite good too. I had a cup of coffee at the end of the flight right before landing.
Pros: Fantastic service, pajamas.
Cons: Older seats, no Wi-Fi.
Boeing 787-8, Johannesburg (JNB) to Doha (DOH)
I had to wait three weeks until my next Qatar flight, the first segment of my return from Johannesburg to Paris. This time I’d be on an aircraft I’d flown before on Qatar, the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.
My flight left Johannesburg at 8:50pm and would arrive in Doha around 6am the following morning, so it was basically an eight-hour red-eye. I went down to the boarding area about an hour before the flight in hopes of being able to board first, but there was already quite a big crowd at the gate.
We started boarding about 45 minutes ahead of departure, and it was pretty much a free-for-all, so there went my chances of getting people-free cabin photos. What was more annoying, though, was that it was basically just a series of bottlenecks. I’m not sure why they started boarding when the plane clearly wasn’t ready.
Instead, we all just ended up standing around for about 10 minutes on the jet bridge. And then on the next section of the jet bridge.
Finally, I made it onto the flight. The 787-8’s business-class cabin was much smaller than those on the other planes I flew, with just 22 seats total.
The seats were the same reverse-herringbone style that you’ll find on the A350 and the A380. They were arranged in five rows of four seats across in a 1–2–1 configuration. Then, like on the A350, there was sort of a little standing/table area by the boarding door where the two business-class lavatories were.
Behind this was a mini middle row with just two seats. It might have been nice for a couple, but, personally, I think it felt exposed and isolated. The seats on the 787 had the same bells and whistles as those on the A350. All were upholstered in gray on this plane, though. Overhead space was at a premium on this plane as well, with bins only over the outer sections of seats.
The one difference I did notice specifically between these seats and the ones on the A350 was that these had these sort of screen dividers between the armrest and the wall of the cabin, while those on the A350 did not. I didn’t think it added anything to the seat aesthetically, but it did prevent passengers from dropping items into the crack between the seat and the wall.
The plugs were in basically the same places as on the A350, as were the seat controls and the handheld remote. The 17-inch IFE screen with the Oryx One system also returned.
After I boarded, a flight attendant came by offering a pre-departure beverage. She came back with another BRIC’s amenity kit with the Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio products as well as another set of pajamas, which I squirreled away. Next, I was handed the food and beverage menus. They would be serving dinner shortly after takeoff and then a light meal before landing, I was told.
After takeoff, the flight attendants came back through, taking drinks orders and asking what we’d like for dinner. I started with the classic Arabic mezze again.
Instead of a grilled beef filet with peppercorn sauce or pumpkin ravioli with herb-cheese sauce, I opted for the chicken biryani with cucumber raita, which was tasty.
Next came a choice of cheese plate or desserts, including a chocolate marquise cake with berry coulis, which was delicious.
I skipped the drinks on this flight, though the wine list was the same as on the others. I hopped to the lavatory to brush my teeth and change for bed, and tucked myself in for the night. One thing to note is that there were only two lavatories in business class on this aircraft.
About an hour before landing, flight attendants came through to offer a quick, light breakfast service that included a choice of juice, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and muesli to start. The main-course choices included asparagus-and-cheese frittata with chicken sausage and potato wedges, or buttermilk pancakes with mascarpone.
Before going to sleep, I asked not to be disturbed, preferring instead to maximize my downtime and eat either when I got to Doha or on my next flight. So when I woke up as our descent started, I just asked for a cup of Dilmah oolong tea.
We landed at 6am, but it was already bright and hot out in Doha as we rolled past the terminals to our parking space. That’s right, not a gate, a parking space, rright out in the middle of the tarmac.
They deplaned the business-class passengers onto our own bus, and we were driven to the terminal to go either through customs and immigration or a secondary security check before connecting flights. One note: Although Qatar offered Wi-Fi on the 787, I didn’t bother testing it out because it was already late when we took off and I wanted to get right to bed after the meal.
Pros: Beautiful interiors and great seats allowed me to get good night’s rest.
Cons: I didn’t get to test out the Wi-Fi because I was ready for bed by the time we took off.
Airbus A380, Doha (DOH) to Paris (CDG)
My final Qatar flight took place aboard the world’s largest passenger jet, the A380. The flight was set to depart at 7:30am and land in Paris around 1:30pm, so it would be a longish daytime flight. I’ll have a full review in another post with more details, but for now, you can nibble on this.
The flight departed from one of Doha’s two-story gates, built to accommodate the double-decker aircraft. I entered through the upper deck.
To the left was the first-class cabin, with just eight seats.
To the right was the business-class cabin, which looked familiar after my other flights on the airline.
The A380’s business-class section was in a single cabin of 48 seats. There were 12 rows of four seats each, all arranged in a reverse-herringbone, 1-2–1 configuration with gray seats in the center and dark red on the sides.
Like on my other flights, flight attendants were on hand to introduce me to the seat and help me stow my bags in the overhead bins. One thing about this plane was that, though there were overhead bins above the side seats, they were only large enough for small items like a backpack or shopping bag. So if you had a regular-sized carry-on, you’d have to stow it over the center section.
On the plus side, there were great seat-side cubbies against the wall for those on the sides of the plane, so that helped make up for the lack of overhead storage.
During boarding, I was offered champagne, orange juice or water. I chose water and settled in with the menus and BRIC’s amenity kit I was handed.
We took off right on time, and I got some great shots of Doha out the window.
The seats on the A380 were basically the same as those aboard the A350 and the 787.
They were 22.2 inches wide and had 51 to 52 inches of pitch in the seated position. They reclined to a fully flat bed 80 inches long, and I could lower the aisle-side armrest for an extra eight inches of width. The linens (meaning just a light duvet in this case) were from the Italian luxury brand Frette.
The IFE screen was 17 inches, like on the other planes, and featured the airline’s Oryx One system. Again, I could control the system with a handheld remote, on which I could actually watch something else at the same time.
Given the early-morning departure and landing after lunchtime, I would have thought there would be two meals, but no, there was just a breakfast-brunch service after takeoff, then the possibility of light snacks before landing, but no formal meal. Though you could eat at any time, I felt like going with the main meal service after takeoff. Because of the size of the cabin and the level of detail of meal service on Qatar — tablecloths, cutlery, drinks service, etc. — it took about 90 minutes for the service to be completed, which cut into the flight time a lot. The wine list on this flight was the same as the others, and I opted for some Piper Heidsieck rosé.
For my main course, I chose the steak and eggs, which were actually quite tasty and didn’t feel too heavy.
After my meal, I headed to the back, for the main amenity that sets this aircraft apart from Qatar’s others: the bar.
This is one of the largest bars in the skies, seating up to 10 at two sleek, window-side banquettes.
There were also little nibbles if you were hungry.
The airline used to serve Krug here, too, but they cut back on this recently, and now you’ll find Billecart-Salmon Brut and Lanson rosé. After my quick visit to the bar, I went back to my seat to do a little work. I would have worked even more, but the Wi-Fi wasn’t functioning properly on my flight. Perhaps too many people had connected, but I couldn’t even get past the registration page, so I would caution other fliers against counting on Wi-Fi access.
Then I squeezed in about a three-hour nap. I woke up about an hour before landing.
The flight attendant asked if I’d like a plate of cold cuts or cheese or anything. I opted for some coffee instead, and she brought cookies along with it.
On one hand, I loved how smooth and quiet the A380 was, letting me have a good rest I had on my flight.
But the size of the cabin meant service was a bit slower than it could have been, and cut into free time on the flight.
Before I knew it, we were landing in Paris Charles de Gaulle, and my Qatar jaunt was over.
Pros: Loved the bar!
Cons: The size of the business-class cabin means meal service can take an eternity.
Before flying, I sort of figured that the seats on the A350, A380 and 787 would be pretty much exactly the same. And for the most part they were, in configurations that maximize privacy, and with up-to-date technological bells and whistles, spotty Wi-Fi access notwithstanding.
However, subtle differences in aircraft and cabin size made more of a difference, especially to the ambience and the service factor, than I would have thought before flying. For instance, the A380’s larger business-class cabin meant slower service, though the bar was a definite bonus. Also, maybe I was being too much of a snob, but I had been much less enthusiastic about my 777 flight since the plane only had Qatar’s old business class. But it, too, was actually a good, comfortable flight, so I should have looked forward to it more.
With the exception of my very first flight with the helter-skelter dinner issues, I also thought that the service in general was excellent. The flight attendants I met were all diligent, efficient and friendly, and I’d say that they’re among the best crews I’ve had in business class on any airline.
All in all, my flights were all pretty great. They were on time, the aircraft (except the 777) felt fresh and new, and the newest business-class seats on three of the planes remain among my favorite to fly. Now I’m just looking forward to flying the A350 again with other airlines to get a better feel for that specific plane, and earn more #avgeek bragging rights, of course.
What do you think of Qatar’s business-class offerings? Sound off, below.
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