Why Qatar Airways First Class (Sort Of) Disappointed Me

On Friday I flew Qatar Airways A380 first class from Doha to Paris. While Emirates and Etihad are continuing to invest in their first class product, Qatar Airways takes a different approach. Their CEO is on record as saying that there is no need for first class, given how good he believes Qatar’s business class product is.

After my flight, I sort of agree… because if you cut the first class soft product enough, it feels like business class. ­čśë Perhaps that’s part of the problem here — I do believe that Qatar Airways has the world’s best business class product (even before they introduce super business class), but then they do very little to differentiate first class.

So I won’t be writing a full report on this, given that I’ve reviewed Qatar Airways’ A380 first class between Doha and London┬áa couple of times before, and the flight was very similar. Instead I’ll just share my general thoughts.

Qatar Airways’ A380 first class cabin is extremely elegant. It’s located at the front of the upper deck, and features a total of eight seats, spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.

QR-A380-First-Class - 1

QR-A380-First-Class - 2

The seats aren’t especially private (though there is a privacy partition that can be raised), but that’s perfectly fine for a seven hour flight. The seats are very well padded, so I find them to be among the most comfortable seats for just lounging.

QR-A380-First-Class - 3

On these early morning flights from Doha (this one was departing at 7AM), the food selection is virtually the same as what you’ll find in business class. There’s breakfast after takeoff, and then a dine on demand snack menu. But rather than enhancing the snack menu for first class, it’s a very basic selection.

Qatar Airways still serves Krug (they’ve cut it from the onboard bar but still have it in first class), so I had a glass of that before takeoff.

Qatar-Airways-Krug

After takeoff I had breakfast right away. I had a smoothie to start.

QR-A380-First-Class - 5

Then I had salmon as the appetizer.

QR-A380-First-Class - 6

Then for the main course I had the aloo paneer tikki, which was good.

QR-A380-First-Class - 7

Then prior to landing the options were somewhat limited, between a mezze, glass and beef noodle salad, spicy clear broth, chicken sandwich, cheese plate, and dessert. You’d think they’d spruce up the selection a bit with something like caviar, but nope.

I had the chicken sandwich, which was fine.

QR-A380-First-Class - 9

Then I had the selection of sweets for dessert, along with a cup of tea.

QR-A380-First-Class - 10

The meal service was perfectly good, though virtually identical to the business class menu.

As far as amenities go, that’s where I was most disappointed. There were no pajamas, which matches my previous experience on Qatar (though a couple of years back they still offered them on daytime flights). But what I find absolutely ridiculous is that they’ve cut bedding since the last time I’ve flown with them. So you get a pillow and basic blanket, but they’ve removed┬ábedding from┬ádaytime flights, so there’s no longer a mattress pad or enhanced blanket.

Most people on this flight in first class wanted to sleep given that they were connecting (two people in first class were coming from Sydney, and three from Guangzhou), so you’d think it would be common sense to have bedding in first class on a seven hour flight (Emirates and Etihad certainly have that on all longhaul daytime flight). But apparently Qatar┬árecently cut that.

On the plus side, Qatar Airways’ new amenity kits are quite nice, and they continue to offer free wifi for first class passengers (though it was really slow).

QR-A380-First-Class - 8

While Qatar doesn’t have onboard showers, they do have two very nice lavatories at the front of the first class cabin. And they also have the nicest onboard bar in the sky.

QR-A380-First-Class - 4

As far as the service goes, it was typical of what I find on Qatar Airways, which is to say that it was just a bit off, as usual. There are probably a couple of reasons for this:

  • To put it politely, Qatar Airways is known for not getting “first rate” crews, since most people applying for Gulf carriers go for Emirates and Etihad first, and then if they’re rejected there, apply for Qatar (they’re not exactly known for treating their employees very well)
  • Qatar has such strict service rules that I find the crews are scared to show personality, and are robotic

So the crew was okay, but the service didn’t feel especially personalized, and also the crew wasn’t very engaging.

Bottom line

Qatar Airways unarguably has one of the world’s best business class products. Unfortunately that’s a problem for their first class, since I found there to be very little differentiation. The seats, service, and food were more or less identical to what I’ve received in business class. Perhaps the only real difference is the wine selection.

While Qatar Airways has been cost cutting significantly, I find it especially unfortunate that they decided to cut bedding from daytime first class routes. I know it sounds minor, but for a product that already has very little differentiation, I find that to be especially cheap.

If you’ve flown Qatar Airways first class, what was your experience like?

Comments

  1. Jal WiFi is very fast.

    And you have become very PC. Defensive readers from all over the world make you be less pointed in your criticism.

  2. The only have F class on their A380s because if they didnt they would be the only airline not to and they think they would lose face.
    Agree that theres no point in having it – J is the new F.

  3. I always put SQ over QR but you keep saying QR is the best. I consider CX a bit better than QR overall. Also, QR has 2-2-2 config on 777, and their long haul 330 and 340 are becoming 1-2-1 but very tight. In that regard, I might put even JL over QR considering how good JL’s service and food choices are in J. Any reason why you think QR is the best in J?

  4. Hi Ben,

    My partner and I have just finished 4 sectors of QR flights in J/F, and totally agreed that the difference between J and F is limited. Today we tried DOH-BKK in A380 F (3am), and there were a few disappointments:

    – As you pointed out, service was robotic in general. The crew who served our section didn’t even realize they had Krug in F before I asked her to check again
    – No caviar service (or have they cut it?) but only mediocre breakfast which is very similar to business class. On our previous 2.5-hour “F” from CAI-DOH, they served lobster+prawns :\
    – We asked if they still have the previous Armani kit but the cabin director said all A380 routes now stock BRICS kits which I don’t fancy
    – Surprisingly we disembarked at a remote bay at BKK (even the crew said it has never happened before for an A380!). The crew originally assured us that F passengers would have our own bus but somehow the business class crew did not hold the J passengers while we started to deboard so everyone from behind was rushing to the front ahead of us. It was a circus ­čÖü and we are all on the same bus at the end.
    – The F red blankets feel so cheap and apart from the colour I cannot see the difference between it and the one in J. CX F blankets are so much nicer.

    Having said that,
    – Wi-Fi worked well and free
    – Missoni Pajamas are nice
    – Bedding was good
    – Lavatories are always clean

    A&E

  5. It seems the philosophy of this particular carrier is to offer full restaurant service on their hub lounge and snacks in the air. Menu hasn’t changed in a year. Vintage champagne is better appreciated in a white wine glass, flutes are no longer recommended. Attention to details is the hallmark of F.

    FA may avoid engaging in conversation to minimize the possibility pax sleep may be disturbed in such a quiet cabin.

  6. No bedding or pajamas in F because this is a “daytime” flight??? That is absolutely ludicrous. QR F is a joke. People are on all sorts of schedules when they are traveling, and I often will take a nap on a daytime flight since chances are that I had to wake up early to catch the flight/travel to the airport!

  7. Recently flew J JFK->DOH on QR’s a350 together with my husband. Hard product is great even for the very tall. Soft product: very “meh.” On our flight service wasn’t just robotic rather it was terrible. I hadn’t eaten before the flight so anticipated dining early in the flight. My entree arrived at my seat 2 hours after I ordered it and that was after I flagged down the purser (this was about 3.5 hrs into the flight). This despite orders being taken ~30 mins after takeoff. At that point I wished they had just plopped a tray from the back of the plane in front of me I was so hungry. They also got about 60% of our orders wrong. And our lounge experiences in DOH were bizarre as well. At one point it took over 40 mins to answer my call light (and I’m one of those shy people that never press it!). I’ll definitely have to give it another shot based on other’s comments. Thankfully this experience was followed by EY F on the a380 (phenomenal) and some F and J on JAL.

  8. I was disappointed with their business class DOH-JFK on the A350. Service was really awful, seat wasn’t that private, food was just okay, pajamas I got were XXL and I’m a size S (they ran out despite me being in the second row). Lounge was very crowded. Good thing it was cheap (from CMB).

  9. Their A380 is really nice, the hard product in both business and first is great and I agree, they have the nicest lounge in the sky. It has a better layout and design than Emirates’ current configuration.

    But the soft product is where they falter both in the air and especially on the ground. On a BKK – DOH – DXB flight on a A380 the pilot diverted for a medial emergency and that meant missing the last DOH – DXB flight. Upon arriving in DOH it was chaos. The ground team hadn’t protect any first or biz passengers on flights, there was no one who could make any decisions and frankly no star who even cared. After 8 hours in the lounge I re-booked on TK just to get moving.

    Trying to get a partial refund or even a return email or phone call from their customer service reps was incredibly frustrating. The net net is Qatar lags Emirates, Etihad and Oman Air in staff infrastructure, training and customer service culture. Ultimately they have a long way to go to compete with truly world class airlines.

  10. Recently flew on a whole string of QR flights. Was also very disappointed on the DOH-CDG morning a380 first class flight.

    The food menu was 90% the exact same as the A350 PHL-DOH biz flight I had a few days earlier. It was basically the same but only a few differences in plating etc.

    The breakfast create your own options were to me limited. The early lunch I had was exactly the same (nobu soup etc.). On the return flight CDG-DOH they had the caviar course but otherwise still similar to the biz menus.

    I like the Bric amenity container but I was disappointed that it only contained that olive stuff (night cream and face cream, lip balm), eye mask, ear plugs, socks and Bric luggage tag. Of corse there are plenty of other amenities in the bath room. Actually felt the Armani ones I had gotten on the other Biz class flights had better lotions and cologne etc.

    I found the seats fine but was also surprised at no bedding. The purser told me on day flights under 8 hours no more pajamas.

    Funny part was that on the DOH – CDG flight it was me and my son and one other passenger up front, on the CDG -DOH we had the whole cabin to ourselves. I found the flight crew very friendly and helpful but it being almost empty I guess helped. Doesn’t look like it is selling well for sure.

    I think the first class product Is lagging behind the rest of the ME3 but was still ok.

  11. Last year I flew QR 16 times between LA and Doha in business and I can safely say, that their crew is NOT off, they have the BEST business class in the sky (yes even in their 777). This site seems be just about getting freebies and guzzling free Champagne and collecting swag. Business people done travel for these things – we want an awesome bed, great connections, decent food and a couple good drinks in the air. We want a great lounge for a shower on the connecting flight and for the most part a quiet, unobtrusive crew (and a quiet galley). This is what business people pay for. Leisure travelers (at least the ones who trvel a lot and are not using freebies to redeem flights) value many of these same things. Headlines like – No Amuse bouche!! No Pyjamas!! and the like are just immature

  12. Though being a huge QR fan and Privilege Club Platinum member flying QR for almost all trips to Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Oceania, I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed by QR First on the DOH-CDG leg recently – for exactly the same reason. Connecting from PVG-DOH in Business Class, the difference in terms of soft product was hardly noticeable. Of course, they offered Krug and the quite nice amenity kit shown above, but apart from that the service rather felt like Business Class. There were many items on the menu which I had on previous Business Class flights. Moreover, there was no differentiation between VLML and AVML meals, but only Asian / Indian choices for both, something I don’t expect on a flight to Europe, let alone in F. Ultimately, the meals served were quite tasty, yet not superior to their usual Business Class standard. There was neither a mattress pad nor a pajama/slippers kit, and the internet connection was extremely slow. I was even more disappointed, since few weeks before I had great QR F flights on their BKK and SYD routes. The crews were excellent, the food tasty and there were plenty of amenities.

    I completely agree with Ben (and Skytrax) that QR offers the best Business Class prodcut, with hard products ranging from good to excellent, but the service and amenties make the real difference. Their dine-on-demand system, wine list and amenities are top-notch, and thus there is little room for differentiating their First Class product. Once QR’s new Super Business Class Suite has been launched, it will become even more difficult to differentiate the products.

    I would definitely not recommend paying for QR F, neither cash nor miles. QR F is nice for QCredit upgrades or op-ups, but apart from that Business Class is perfectly fine.

    The greatest strength of QR, however, is their short haul (2-class) First Class product: Many of these flights have lie-flat seats (even some of their narrow-bodies are equipped with lie-flat seats), 2 different champagnes, several wines and cocktails, full meal service with printed menus even on very short flights and multi-course dining on 2-3 hour flights. Compared to European or US carriers, that’s a completely different level of short haul service.

  13. i can confirm you that yr breakfast is identically same i had this morning on my flight QR131 from Doha to Rome, so not really exclusive service on high fares first class.

  14. In November 2016 I flew QR F DOH-SYD. This followed 20, QR J flights in the preceding 7 months so I had plenty of experience to provide a contrast. Since I am a leisure traveller, paying my own fares in cash – not points, I am of the opinion that the difference between QR J and F does not justify the price differential. The J product is just so good.

    However, the F bed is far wider and totally open so feels like a proper bed with no squeezing of your feet into a foot coffin. The big surprise and weakness is the lack of privacy. It is a very quiet cabin with minimal aisle movement, but even the finest pyjamas have a tendency to ride up (or down).

    I slept for most of the 14hr flight. The food was nothing exceptional over J, except for the caviar. Yes I did have the Krug, some very nice french wines and arabic coffee.

    The nicest and most unexpected surprise was the washroom/toilet. Totally caught me out and was a real pleasure to have more than enough space to change. It is the same size as the Emirates shower room.

    Overall I probably arrived more refreshed than had I been in J and that is surely the main objective of paying the premium for F. If I’d wanted a party, I could have gone to the bar at the back of the plane.

    The Al Salwar lounge is of course something else and the DOH-DXB “F” flight is 50 minutes of pure fun.

  15. Definitely second-rate “First Class” in a categories. Food was pretty much replated business class fare (DOH-BKK) and the lack of privacy was a problem with (perhaps as a result of the food) asphyxiating farts from adjacent passengers (I’m not making this up). Service was non-existent, no effort made to make the trip enjoyable. You were clearly just a fare filling a seat.

    Never again.

  16. The F/J difference is more obvious depending on the plane, eg Doha- Bangkok the A380 is great in both First and Business whereas the 777 is pretty ordinary in business ( no first).
    But with the cheap fares in J,I’m not complaining.

  17. Flew the 3:00am DOH-BKK in A380 F a month ago. Very disappointed on the “breakfast” only food option. The snack offerings were very limited too. Even though we had a dinner at the Al Shalwa it was at 6pm. (went to a free city tour after that and then went to the nap room upon returning from the tour). So I was hoping to have a hot soup on board as in our previous experiences QR always served very nice soups on board. (The soup at the lounge was Tomato soup and I did not like tomato-based soup).
    Lounge menu has cut down a lot also.

    Flight was full – apparently 2 days before departure a Qatari family took the remaining 5 seats. This did not help the service situation of course. Oh yeah, no mattress provided. We also dont care for the BRIC amenity kit which is bulky and heavy. If QR wants to do a hard case, they should go for the Rimowa style instead as it is much more lighter weight and more sensible size.

    Luckily our connecting flight was a CX BKK-HKG 3 hours later so we were able to get some bites in CX BKK lounge.

  18. Lucky, it looks like your blog has some caching issue. There seems to be a gap between what’s on page 1 and page 2, so I might be missing some posts if I was late to catch it on page 1.

  19. Funny, recently I took CMB-DOH flight in J (part of the cheap $1,200 BOS-CMB round-trip deal from October) and service was so amazing that it felt like I was in F and I even took 10 minutes on QR website to fill out the survey to compliment the flight attendant. Couple other J flights were also excellent including the service. QR J is really unparalleled in my experience.

  20. QR F is not a top of the notch product. I can agree with Lucky on this. Yes, the seat is great, the Krug is nice, the beds are great (if you are on a flight which will include bedding). Many QR staff I know also admit, their F class product cannot compete with many others. In my view this is due to the fact that QR focuses more on its C class products, F class on the 380’s is more like an addition for Qatari VIP’s and members of the Royal family, but not more. To the contrary, knowing Akbar, would he want to have a top notch F class, I am pretty sure he would have nagged Airbus to have them build jacuzzi’s into every individual F class suite……

  21. Your breakfast was identical to my one. Only difference is that you where traveling in First and I was in
    Business.

  22. @ Kevin — We know, it’s ridiculous, but no one seems to be able to fix it. It should refresh next time a new blog post goes up, or at least that typically is what happens. ­čÖü

  23. Completely agree with you regarding the small differentiation between F & J Ben. I guess that’s why QR have more or less done away with the product and it only now features on the handful of A380’s.

    TOTALLY agree with you about the crew as well. I use QR regularly and am always a bit taken aback when people rave about the crew and service. Like you i’ve always found them a little stand offish and VERY robotic. It’s a shame…..it’s almost as if they are scared to show any sense of individual personality or crack a little joke or anything. Saying that, I had seen a small improvement over the last year or so….I believe that their previous manager who was akin to something from the Stasi has been replaced by someone a little fairer.

    I guess it all comes down to what you consider excellent service. For me it’s about GENUINE friendliness and efficiency and I love the slightly odd ball crews that engage. You don’t find that at QR at all on the whole.

  24. QR is particularly good when you consider that the fare is often thousands less than Cathay, JAL, Singapore etc.

    Particularly if you originate from outside the US.

    Cost isn’t something you usually focus on in these types of reviews, but if a class of service is 90% but the fare is 50%, that matters.

  25. I just flew QR F AUH-DOH-BKK. AUH-DOH on the A320. Great service for a 30 minute flight. Full meal. I was then on the 380 DOH-BKK. Just me and one other guy. Flight attendants were all Thai and they were sweet and charming. Not what I was expecting. They were excited that I was flying to BKK and then going on to Myanmar. Service was good and attentive for the flight. So it was good. My Krug was never empty ( ­čÖé ) and the food was good. one weird thing was that the other passenger simply stripped to his underwear once he boarded and did NOT cover up for the flight. He sat like that and slept like that. Flight attendants did not seem to care. I was surprised, to say the least. That said, I was satisfied with my flight on QR and am glad I finally tried them.

  26. If I agree on the small differentiation between P an J , I had last year on 6 flights in P only once a robotic crew ! SQ crew are more robotic than the QR one I think….
    You cannot say that the seat are more or less the same because its not true….and I very surprise about your two points on the crew , I thought you were well above this kind of well known Qatar bashing and honestly a little bit out of date.

  27. It’s not just first that is falling behind: business class is also dwindling. Just recently completed a PSA > DOH > AUK return, and while the outbound flights were solid, the inbound flights were both quite pathetic.

    Completely out of champagne (both brut and rose) within the first 50 minutes of a 17 hour flight. Sav Blanc and 2 other wines within the first 2.5 hours. Getting water was like pulling teeth.

    Broken IFE system on the DOH > PSA route (multiple seats with red/green for blacks), heat CRANKED, didn’t load 2 of the meal options on the already extremely limited late night meal menu.

    Pillows so old and mangled that they felt like resting one’s head on a pillowcase full of tennis balls. Service was definitely robotic on both legs except for one smiley male FA.

  28. The first class lounge has huge spaces & art but seating & food are horrible, and so is the food onboard, though the hard product is lavish but do not offer much privacy. Service however is great as in business class where food is often lousy and seats on 777 and 330 are outdated and on 787, 350 & 380 are so narrow at the feet end as to be very uncomfortable. I don’t know why everybody often say it is the best business class. Maybe because of the free champagne for which I do not partake as I do not drink.

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