The unveiling of the Qatar Airways A350 in Doha last week was, in some ways, anticlimactic. Media have been on the plane a couple times already and some even have flown in for the delivery flight in Toulouse or from France down to Doha. But that doesn’t mean the event was without any news. It was during the Q&A portion of the press conference (which I attended as a guest of the airline on assignment for AirwaysNews.com) where CEO Akbar Al Baker made waves.
Promotional video from Qatar Airways of the A350
The new business class seats are some of the widest flying (not Singapore Air wide, but wider than most others) thanks to the wider fuselage on the aircraft; the carrier was able to get an extra couple inches of width on each seat. But they’re still just another reverse herringbone layout design, something which is not particularly special anymore. And Al Baker likes to be out in front of the industry (or at least claim to be), though with the A350 the seats are not necessarily such.
So when asked about the future of the fleet, including the potential layout of the A350-1000 a couple years hence which the company will also be the launch customer for, Al Baker dropped this on the crowd.
The Super Business Class, from 2016 which is next year, will be obsolete. We are developing a new seat [for] which we will have proprietary rights and this will be a product that will be unrivaled in our industry. And when you introduce that product into the airplane I really don’t think you need a first class in the aircraft. Qatar Airways has decided to have only two classes in our airplanes and the only aircraft that will have first class will be the Airbus A380.
Not only will first class be going away but premium economy seems to not be in the cards either. To be fair, the Qatar Airways economy class product is pretty nice. Unlike the other major carriers in the region (and elsewhere in the world) the 777s are 3-3-3 rather than 3-4-3. And the A350 is also being delivered as a 3-3-3 layout rather than cramming a tenth seat in the row. So perhaps the company doesn’t think that the extra cabin is worth selling at the premium prices versus regular economy.
Still, even sticking with only two classes of service doesn’t mean that the product will lack in creativity. After the above statement and a somewhat awkward pause Al Baker finished out the thought:
And we will have a double bed with only a business class fare.
The announcement touched off a flurry of tweets and a bit of a buzz in the room.
— Jaunted (@Jaunted) January 7, 2015
Details are scarce on what this really means in terms of space at the seat, how it will fit in the cabin layout or how many will be on board. But it seems that, much like Virgin Atlantic poked at the bear which is British Airways with a similar product one cabin down, Qatar Airways means to poke at pretty much the entire rest of the airline industry with a new level of premium business class cabin, one unique to the airline and which will supplant the need for first class on new planes.
Video of the formal unveiling party that night with a cool light show projected onto the side of the Qatar Airways A350
Qatar Airways is certainly not the first airline to decide that business class is eroding the first class market in a way which makes it harder to justify putting the ultra-premium cabin on airplanes. But given the competition it is up against in the Middle East, with Etihad’s new Apartment and The Residence just launching a couple weeks ago, the move is an interesting one.
My sources say we should expect to hear more about the new seats “in a few weeks” and likely see them introduced for real at the ITB conference in Berlin in early March. I’m not going to be at that one but hopefully Rolo will be (he often attends) and can report back during the subsequent Dots, Lines & Destinations episode. Speaking of which, there’s a special episode of the podcast out featuring discussion between me and David Flynn from Australian Business Traveller all about the A350. Some good stuff in there and worth a listen.
- Lufthansa cutting first class cabin on some routes
- TAM introducing new kick-ass first class cabin for their 777s
- First Class is dead; long live first class
- In flight: The suite life of Emirates First Class
- Across the pond in Lufthansa First Class (Part 2: On board in Lufthansa First)
- Experiencing the Etihad Residence
- Lufthansa plans to “Jump” back into some Asian markets
Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.