Qatar Airways A350 Business Class Inaugural Flight

Qatar Airways is the launch customer of the Airbus A350, and this past Thursday I had the opportunity to fly on the inaugural commercial A350 flight from Doha to Frankfurt.

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Qatar Airways A350 Doha Airport

Usually it’s a big deal when an airline takes delivery of a new plane (just look at Etihad and their A380), but in this case it was even bigger than that, since Qatar Airways was the first ever airline to take delivery of the A350. So it wasn’t just a big deal for Qatar Airways, but also for Airbus.

I had the chance to attend the Qatar Airways A350 delivery ceremony in Toulouse a few weeks back, which included a 45 minute media flight. I was curious to see how my impressions of the plane differed when actually flying it on a longer journey.

The awesome thing about this experience was that there were a bunch of avgeeks on the plane, so with these flights there’s not only the excitement of flying on a new plane, but also the fun of getting to see a bunch of old friends.

Anyway, our flight departed from Doha at 7:40AM, so a bunch of us headed from the Al Mourjan Lounge (where we had a Krug breakfast) to the gate at around 6:45AM.

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Al Mourjan Lounge Krug Doha Airport

The gate area was super festive, with balloons, live music, champagne, gift bags, and more people in suits than you’d expect at a Secret Service recruiting event.

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A350 departure gate festivities Doha Airport

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A350 departure gate festivities Doha Airport

At around 7AM boarding was called, and a few of us literally sprinted onto the plane in hopes of snapping a few pictures before the cabin filled up.

Qatar Airways’ A350 business class cabin consists of a total of 36 seats, spread across nine rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. There are six rows in the forward cabin, then there’s the entrance by door two, and then there are another three rows in the rear cabin.

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Qatar Airways A350 business class cabin

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Qatar Airways A350 business class cabin

The seats themselves are virtually identical to the ones Qatar Airways has on the 787 and A380, though this cabin feels significantly more spacious. The cabin is wider than that of the 787 or the upper deck of the A380, and you really feel that with the seats. The seats themselves are apparently about 1.5 inches wider as well, but beyond that the cabin just feels a lot more spacious. Also notice how the ceiling of the plane is “flat,” unlike on most other planes.

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Qatar Airways A350 business class cabin

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Qatar Airways A350 business class cabin

Reverse herringbone seats are my favorite kind of business class hard product, and Qatar Airways has among the best out there. It’s a modified version of the reverse herringbone seats offered by other airlines (like American, Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, etc.), and in many ways is actually better. So it’s a fantastic hard product. The one downside is that the seats could be a bit more private. I wish they had a privacy “shield” on the aisle side of the seat so they weren’t so exposed.

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Qatar Airways A350 business class seat

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Qatar Airways A350 business class seat

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Qatar Airways A350 business class cabin

One thing that surprised me is that at each seat there was a mattress pad. I wasn’t expecting that for a five hour daytime flight, though apparently this is now a standard offering on Qatar Airways, according to HEAAB (His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, CEO Of Qatar Airways).

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Qatar Airways A350 business class seat footrest

The mattress pad is really nice for business class, among the best I’ve seen. And the duvet and pillow are great as well.

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Qatar Airways A350 business class seat in bed position

One other nifty feature of the A350 is the seatbelt sign display. It actually has text that scrolls along the top of it, so isn’t the standard sign that can only illuminate. Oh, and the seats each have individual air vents. Wooohoooo!

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Qatar Airways A350 cabin display monitor

We were offered amenity kits and pajamas on the flight. For a five hour daytime flight, that’s damn impressive. The Qatar Airways pajamas run way big. I requested a large pair, and the pants could have easily fit me and four others.

The amenity kit was awesome as well, with Armani amenities. It had some A350 branded items, so it does seem like they have a special amenity kit for the A350.

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Qatar Airways A350 business class amenity kit & pajamas

I was also happy to find that they offered complimentary wifi vouchers to business class passengers. That being said, unfortunately the wifi was among the worst I’ve ever experienced, and I couldn’t get it to work for 90% of the flight. And for the other 10% it was really, really slow.

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Qatar Airways business class wifi code

As I mentioned above, we were given gift bags upon arriving at the gate, which consisted of a first flight certificate, a pen made of the same materials as the A350, and a Qatar Airways A350 model airplane.

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Qatar Airways A350 inaugural flight goodies

In terms of the other amenities in business class, there are three lavatories in the cabin, and they’re nice enough, though pretty standard. They’re not especially spacious or anything.

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Qatar Airways A350 business class lavatory

Hands down my favorite thing about the Qatar Airways A380 is the onboard bar. It’s fantastic, and despite having flown the A380 in first class, I spent 80% of the flight at the bar. So if I flew the Qatar Airways A380 in the future I’d just book business class.

The A350 doesn’t have a bar, unfortunately, though there is a rather large space between the two business class cabins, by the second door. They display some champagne, Godiva chocolate, snacks, etc., on the counter top. That being said, there’s virtually no separation between this and the rest of the cabin, so if it weren’t an inaugural it would be really difficult to hang out there without being disruptive.

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Qatar Airways A350 business class bar

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Qatar Airways A350 business class bar

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Qatar Airways A350 business class bar

One of the other awesome features of the A350 is the tail camera. Not only does the A350 have a gorgeous fuselage, but the camera on the A350 is by far the most high def of any I’ve seen.

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Qatar Airways A350 tail camera

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Qatar Airways A350 tail camera

In terms of the actual onboard experience, Qatar Airways serves breakfast after takeoff and then snacks before landing on the Doha to Frankfurt flight. Service was S-L-O-W. I realize the crews were still getting trained on the A350 so I don’t blame them for it. But it’s still worth pointing out that fact. Getting a drink refill took 45 minutes. That being said, the crew was well intentioned and apologetic about the pace of service, so it was all good.

The food itself was delicious, though.

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Qatar Airways business class breakfast

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Qatar Airways business class breakfast

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Qatar Airways business class breakfast

This flight had some of the most breathtaking views I’ve seen in a while, in particular over Iran.

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Qatar Airways A350 wing

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View over Iran

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View over Iran

In terms of the plane itself, what sets the A350 apart from others?

  • The A350 is extremely quiet. Like, unbelievably so. It makes the 787 and A380 seem loud, by comparison. After flying an A330 two days later, I can’t even begin to state how different the noise level was.
  • The A350 has a wide cabin, which feels more comparable to a 777 than a 787. From a passenger comfort standpoint that’s awesome, especially since they still only have four seats per row in business class.
  • I like that the A350 actually has window shades you can pull down. The 787 has this silly dimming system that doesn’t really work, in my opinion. I far prefer the A350 in that regard.

But of course the single biggest benefit of the A350 isn’t even the passenger experience, but rather what it will allow airlines to do. The plane has significantly lower operating costs than other comparable aircraft out there which will long term allow airlines to operate routes which might not otherwise be viable. If nothing else it lowers how much it costs airlines to provide air travel, and with competition that should lead to lower fares long term. In theory.

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Qatar Airways A350 upon arrival in Frankfurt

Qatar Airways A350 bottom line

The A350 is a joy to fly. Qatar Airways has a fantastic business class product on the A350 (which they claim will be “obsolete” next year). The A350 is quiet and spacious as well. Now I can only hope that Qatar Airways eventually flies these to the US, since their 777s are outdated.

Stay tuned for the next post. Qatar Airways’ prolific CEO was on the flight, so I’ll be sharing my thoughts on him (and maybe even a selfie I took with him in his pajamas). 😉 My opinion of him actually changed drastically based on this flight.

There were also some pretty awesome other people on the flight, including Richard Quest (CNN), Fabrice Brégier (Airbus CEO), etc.

Richard-Quest

If you’ve never been on an inaugural flight, give it a try some time. They’re a blast!

Comments

  1. @ Abdel Rahim Abdallah — Hah, he didn’t, but he had some interesting stuff to say. Stay tuned for the next post. 🙂

  2. “Qatar Airways has a fantastic business class product on the A350 (which they claim will be “obsolete” next year).”

    Isn’t it the first class they claim will be obsolete?

  3. “But of course the single biggest benefit of the A350 isn’t even the passenger experience, but rather what it will allow airlines to do. The plane has significantly lower operating costs than other comparable aircraft out there which will long term allow airlines to operate routes which might not otherwise be viable.”

    Isn’t this actually more likely to apply to the 787 given that the 787-8 is significantly smaller than the smallest A350?

  4. @ Justin — Short term it definitely applies more to the 787 than the A350, but with the global demand for air travel expected to double in the next couple of decades, even the A350 will be viable in smaller markets.

  5. Fair enough, though think a lot of the growth is projected to be in emerging domestic markets where 737/A320 and lots of frequencies will rule the roost. I’m hoping for a direct IAD-SE Asia flight, so hopefully the A350 or 777X can make it happen. Cathay to HKG would be great…

    In any case, do Qatar FAs make the bed for you in business class or are you on your own?

  6. @ Justin — Hmmm, I didn’t ask since it was a daytime flight, but I assume they’d make it for you if you asked.

  7. I quite like the hard product on the Qatar 787’s but 75% of the time I’ve flown the service has been patchy. They offer dine on demand but they routinely forget to serve the meal before landing, and if I ask about it they say they’ve run out of it.

    They’ve also run out of the arabic mezze 100% of the time I’ve flown with them.

  8. Oh and why do ppl call him H.E anyways? he’s a no one he is not related to the royal family so why is he being addressed as H.E a head of some airline a H.E does not make.

  9. Hey Ben,

    Nice report once again!

    It’s no surprise that the A350 is much quieter than the 787. Airbus tends to make much more quieter planes for some reason.

    I like the wingtip and the engine on the A350 better than the 787. The wingtip on the A350 looks gorgeous!! And the engine looks better without the chevrons.

    I think it’s a customer option to omit the center bins in business class but not totally sure.

    Watch what Cathay has in store for its A350! The seats will be designed by Porsche, and the changes won’t be radical. Just a needed improvement to match the competition.

    Cheers.

  10. lucky – thats awesome, agree w many of your points and now cant wait to fly the A350 myself. also damnit was really looking forward to the convo with Al Baker in this long post… but you just gotta keep us in suspense longer eh.

    also you said you paid for this flight but do you mean you got yourself an award ticket directly from DOH or another strategic booked ($$$) flight ex-CAI?

  11. That looks amazing, I’m hoping to grab a seat coming up on my around the world trip in April. How would you rate this against the other reverse herringbone out there?

  12. @Adam

    Lucky seem to have done a ex-CAI flight, tweeted some picture about the plane to or from CAI if memory served me right.

  13. it’s nice to hear the plane is quieter. That’s a big part of the flight experience, sometimes even more so than the difference between business and first IMO.

  14. Great post Lucky! I was surprised QR did not delay the inaugural. I wanted to be on your flight but I couldn’t make it work last minute and thus could only book the return of the inaugural flight FRA-DOH.
    I agree with all your points except I felt the a350 was just as quiet as the a380 (a350 was definitely quieter than 787.)
    That black tint around the cockpit windows was quite sleek and I loved your engine photo.
    I was surprised they gave us the same goody bag/kit that you guys received even though we were on the second flight.
    Overall a beautiful plane though I didn’t really think it had a wow factor like the a380. I just hope it won’t have the same woes as the 787 during its first year or two. Kudos to Airbus and QR!

  15. @ dbeach

    Gulf airlines have been avoiding a lot of Iraqi airspace recently (basically since MH17 and fears that IS militants may have Syrian SAM hardware) so they’re flying around either via Iran, Turkey & the Black Sea or over Saudi Arabia, Egypt & the Mediterranean.

  16. > The A350 is extremely quiet. Like, unbelievably so. It makes the 787 and A380 seem loud, by comparison. After flying an A330 two days later, I can’t even begin to state how different the noise level was.

    YES!!! WONDERFUL!!! There’s nothing like lots of noise to increase flight fatigue, and it’s great to see the manufacturers spending money to make aircraft quiet.

    REALLY looking forward to flying this A/C type!

  17. Excellent report, thank you veru much!
    One question regarding QR J seat: there is no armrest on the aisle side, isn’t it? How comfortable is the seat compared with other reverse herringbones? Thx!

  18. @ Edwin — Hmmm, that’s a great question. I’m not even sure, to be honest, since the windows were open for most of the flight. I noticed some “mild” mood lighting, but nothing too extreme.

  19. @ Paul — There is an armrest which goes up and down. I’d say the seat is marginally better than most of the other reverse herringbone seats out there.

  20. So that flat ceiling you referred to – is that due to there being no centre section overhead bins, or just a different styling? I couldn’t quite tell from the photo.

  21. I actually feel that in terms of service and offerings there isn’t anything significant that differentiate First Class from Business on QR. Their First Class seats(on the A330 and A340) are old, narrow and exposed. With the new product, I would not hesitate to choose Business over First either.

    Having said that, they have a really serious attitude toward their First Class passengers, in that they put on hold the deplaning (i.e. nobody gets off, even the biz pax) of an entire A340 until our dedicated shuttle start moving.

  22. Booked 2 bus class DOH/PER for Sept. as the A350 is going there by then, after reading this excellent report we are excited.

  23. Any concern flying over Iran if there was a diversion and you had to land in Iran? I guess the options are limited in terms of the countries to fly over from Qatar & UAE to Europe. At least it doesn’t fly over Syria or Iraq or Yemen.

  24. Hi Lucky. Reading your glowing review on the QR A359 makes me excited that I booked myself on a flight in February. I was assigned Seat 4K.

    Is there any particular window seat which you think is better than this? Rows 5 – 9 A and K are available..

  25. @Lucky –

    As an update for you. Mid-March FRA – DOH flight – No PJs, and no mattress pad… Also the amenity kit is severly lacking. Will update further on the DOH – FRA leg on the way back. 🙂

    Tim

  26. @ Tim — Ouch, that’s pretty disappointing. Wonder if it was just in that direction, or is also the case in the other direction. His Excellency insisted it was now a standard offering on the route.

  27. That tail-cam pic with your breakfast on the tray – is that the camera distorting things or were you really at Concorde altitude??

  28. @ das411 — Hah, it’s definitely a wide angle lens. The plane flies at a similar altitude to all other jets.

  29. Hi Ben, Flying this plane from DOH to SIN in business later this year. There are two of us so we’re going to book center seats. Any particular row you would recommend? The second bank of seats behind the bar area seems to be more private, and has better access to the bar :), but not sure about proximity to the lav?

  30. @ AJ — I’d probably just book two center seats in rows 2-5. That gets you the most privacy, since the seats behind the bar are “exposed,” and everyone will walk past you during boarding.

  31. Great! Was already assigned to row 3! Thanks! Hoping they keep the pajamas and amenity kits for this leg.

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