Emirates Vs. Etihad Vs. Qatar – Who Has The Best Economy Class?

Introduction: Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Economy Class Showdown
Review: Zurich Airport Observation Deck
Review: Emirates A380 And 777-300ER Economy Class Zurich To Dubai To Delhi
The Delhi Airport Ground Experience
Review: Air India 747-400 First Class Delhi To Chennai
Review: Jet Airways 737-800 Economy Class Chennai To Mumbai
Review: Qatar Airways 777-300ER Economy Class Mumbai To Doha To Beirut
Transiting Beirut Airport On Separate Tickets
Review: Etihad Airways 787-9 And A320 Economy Class Beirut To Abu Dhabi To Muscat
Review: Premier Inn Abu Dhabi International Airport
Emirates Vs. Etihad Vs. Qatar – Who Has The Best Economy Class?

This comparison has taken way too long to publish, but I hope you will find it helpful despite the wait!

In August, I took a trip from Europe to India, flew around the Middle East, and then flew back to Europe. The purpose was to record a head-on comparison between Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar.

I’ve received comments asking why I didn’t compare the same aircraft type on each airline, for example, the A380. The reason is that Emirates has over 100 A380s, and Qatar has only eight, meaning you’re over ten times less likely to fly a Qatar A380 than you are to fly an Emirates A380. Does that make a fair comparison of your average passenger’s experience? I’d argue that it doesn’t. On Qatar, you’ll likely be on a 777, at least from the US. For Etihad, the 787 will soon be the backbone of their fleet.

So, here is my experience with each airline by category. Jump to the end for my ranking. Again, I hope you enjoy and find this helpful.


Emirates A380

Emirates’ A380 is configured 3-4-3, with economy class occupying the entire lower deck. If you can, choose a seat in the forward cabin, which is the quietest. You’ll also get served first, which makes a big difference on an aircraft with 500 passengers.

Overall, the Emirates A380 had the most comfortable seat of all my flights. It was wide, had good legroom and recline, and had an efficient layout with storage, easily accessible power ports (in 2/3 seats), etc. I like the adjustable headrest, which is sturdy without being too hard.


Emirates 777-300ER

Meanwhile, their 777 was not as impressive. The aircraft, which is considerably narrower, has the same 3-4-3 configuration. The seat itself is pretty much identical, but the legroom on this specific aircraft was bad. When reclined, my knees pushed against the seat in front of me, making it nearly impossible to sleep.

Qatar 777-300ER

Since they had an equipment change, I flew Qatar’s 777 on both my flights. I was surprised how modern the interior was, given the aging business class on the majority of these aircraft. This is the same economy seat as their Qsuites configured 777s have too.

I love the headrest on Qatar, just like on Emirates. It wasn’t too bulky but provided plenty of support. The legroom was also the best of all my flights. I slept really well in these seats, despite the same 3-4-3 configuration as on Emirates.

Etihad 787

Etihad’s 787 and A380 have identical seats, just like on Emirates. The colors are beautiful, and the seat design is cool. Other than that, they’re nothing special. The headrest is unique but non-adjustable. The legroom was bad, and the seats are narrow.

I did love the seatbacks, though.

Etihad A320

Their A320 was actually more comfortable, which was surprising given that it is only used on short-haul routes. The legroom was better, and the seat was noticeably wider.

Winner: Emirates

While Qatar’s 777 was also great, Emirates’ A380 hit it out of the park. It is among the best economy class seats in the world and will guarantee a comfortable flight.



ICE is regarded as one of the best entertainment systems in the world and has won multiple awards. I agree. However long your flight is, the plethora of entertainment options of Hollywood classics to entire seasons of various TV shows, there is no way this selection will disappoint. In addition, Emirates has slow, but reasonably priced wifi on almost their entire fleet. They also provide semi-noise canceling, comfortable headphones in economy.


However, Qatar’s Oryx One entertainment system doesn’t trail far behind. The layout is more intuitive and their selection is huge. However, there seemed to be slightly fewer options than on Emirates, especially when it came to entire TV show seasons. The in-seat power isn’t as conveniently located, though, and their entire 777 fleet lacks wifi.

Pictures taken from one of Ben’s trip reports.


Etihad has my favorite system layout, but that doesn’t make up for the more limited options. Here, there are only a few episodes of shows that have several seasons on Emirates. The movie selection isn’t as good either, but the system is still decent on a global scale. Etihad also has wifi, though it ran out much faster than on Emirates, despite doing the exact same task.

Winner: Emirates (and Qatar)

Unsurprisingly, Emirates takes the crown again. I love being able to binge-watch shows on planes, which is possible on their ICE entertainment system. Oryx One is almost as good (and still one of the best in the world), but combined with the lack of wifi, I’d prefer Emirates. It’s worth noting that all three airlines play ads before the content plays.



I was served two meals on Emirates, one lunch after takeoff from Zurich and one breakfast mid-flight to Delhi. Each meal service started with beverages and pretzels, followed by the actual meal. The selection of juices onboard was fantastic, and the food tasted fresh. The food was good, and I appreciated the nice presentation and the steel silverware.

Emirates post-departure economy snack.


Just as on Emirates, Qatar handed out paper menus on both flights. Since I’d ordered vegetarian meals, the menu didn’t match, but it’s nice to know what everyone else was eating.

Qatar has an equally impressive juice selection, and I love that they serve Tropicana. The meals were both good, but unmemorable.


Maybe I got lucky, but Etihad served fantastic pasta in a spicy arrabbiata sauce on my flight from Beirut to Abu Dhabi. The bean and corn salad that accompanied my meal was also delicious. However, Etihad did not have menus, nor did they have a good juice selection (which is important for Middle Eastern airlines).

On my short-flight from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, I was served an “Express Snack”, which was basic but impressive for such a short flight.

Winner: Etihad

While I liked the meals on all my flights, Etihad’s was most memorable. The pasta was perfectly al-dente, the sauce was great and the accompanying dishes were healthy. However, I wouldn’t choose the airline based on meal quality, since none of the airlines disappointed here.



Here’s where you really start to notice the difference. Emirates’ crew was extremely helpful during boarding, lifting carry-ons for passengers and guiding them to their seats. However, after takeoff, the service declined. It felt impersonal and even lazy at points. The A380 is an enormous aircraft, but it took 90 minutes before the crew cleared the food trays, which is consistent with my previous experiences on Emirates. This means people can’t get up to go to the bathroom during that time, so when the trays are finally cleared, people flock to the lavatories.


This is where Qatar truly shines. While the difference lies in minute details, the crew on Qatar are in another league. Even in economy class, the seconds they dedicate to serving your meal somehow feel personalized. Their training makes them gracious and helpful, even more so than many premium-class flight attendants at other airlines.


I was surprised that Etihad’s crew reacted badly to my taking photos after not having a problem with it on the other two airlines. Maybe that means they were actually doing their job, or maybe the policies are different? In any case, the service was similar on Emirates and Etihad, which wasn’t better than what you’d find on the top European or Asian carriers.

Winner: Qatar

See above 🙂



This is another major factor that differentiates the experience between the three carriers, especially since so many passengers are connecting. Dubai Airport has expanded fast, and given the glitz and glamour of their business and first class lounges, I was expecting a great transfer. Unfortunately, the airport seems to have forgotten about the majority in the back of the bus. Not only do transits take a long time, between train rides between concourses and long walks, but the departure areas also aren’t ideal for late-night connections. There are no benches to lie down on and no widely available charging stations. They did have great food options, though.


Aaaah, the shining star. While the transit security deck-point is chaotic, pretty much every other area in Doha Hamad Airport is stunning. Stores and restaurants are spaced out, there are dedicated rest areas, passengers can rent computers, there are children’s play areas, charging devices is easy etc. Doha is by far the best airport to transit at as an economy passenger.


Oh, Abu Dhabi. Please open your new terminal soon! There are more details on my transit in the review, but the moral of the story: don’t do it.

Winner: Qatar

See above again. Qatar blows the competition away.

Miscellaneous coolness

Etihad’s 787 has a lumbar support button:

Their pillow is also awesome (if it’s clean 😉 ).

Emirates has stickers to notify the crew of your preferences. Why haven’t more airlines caught on?!


So, as you can see, it’s a mixed bag. My biggest take home from trying all these airlines in economy class is that I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly them again. Sure, these are among the better economy class products in the world, but I’d be equally happy to fly Lufthansa, KLM, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Finnair etc., if the price or convenience was better. However, my ranking of the three airlines can be concluded as follows:

Overall winner: Qatar

Given their superior hub and onboard service, Qatar has a slight edge over Emirates, since the rest of the onboard experience was quite similar. They have the benefit of being part of oneworld, which makes earning and redeeming miles on them more convenient for most people.

Runner-up: Emirates

Based on my A380 flight alone, I would have said Emirates was the best. However, the experience was significantly impaired by their chaotic hub and their tight 777. If I was flying point-to-point on their A380, or even connecting from one A380 to another, I would consider flying Emirates again in economy. However, their 777s should be avoided, especially on those torturous 15-hour flights to/from the US and Australia.

Most disappointing: Etihad

Their fantastic marketing had me thinking my best economy flight would be onboard them. Sadly, their 787 was a disappointment. Their entertainment system, hub, and seat all lagged behind Emirates and Qatar. While they are still decent, I’d avoid them unless they were the cheapest option.

Did you find this comparison useful? Would you like to see more comparisons of other large airlines? 

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!


  1. Saudia’s economy class has the best seats in my opinion. Their new B777s are in a 3-3-3 configuration and have excellent legroom.
    The service may be hit and miss, as is always the case with Saudia, and the hubs are still not up to the standards of the ME3. But the hard product surly competes. It also won skytrax’s award for best economy seat.

  2. Daniel, this is probably your best article on OMAAT. Well-done, and please keep this up. While I may be aspirational and collecting points, many of my family does not and always goes for economy. I’ll share this article with them.

    One request: can you review Etihad’s 77Ws? They’re quite common for longhaul, e.g. to New York. And if and when you do, any kind of update to this article to make it comprehensive would be better.

    I’m amazed that 3-4-3 on a 777 can be made reasonably comfortable with a little cleverness in the seat design. Kudos to Qatar for doing it thoughtfully.

  3. Economy?
    Who reads this blog and flies Economy?
    Pointless series for a luxury miles and points travel blog.

  4. Great article– this is similar to my experience on the Gulf carriers. It would also be interesting to throw in Turkish airlines, which has an amazing soft product but often dated seating.

  5. Great article. I’m flying LAX to Tokyo next year. Can you do a comparison between JAL, ANA, and Singapore economy seats?

  6. @Varun

    Think there are plenty of folks who can’t constantly come up with the miles or cash required for premium class travel, and would prefer more frequent trips using Y class for the air portion. Daniel ‘s work on this series was his best to date in my opinion.

    Agree with others who mention extending this series to other long haul carriers in Europe/Asia. Think most of us know the US3 economy experience.

  7. Yes, the article was useful. Most of the time we are in economy. Yes, please do more reports from in economy class in every airline and aircraft type!

  8. I’ll echo everybody except Varun. Great post.

    I’d also like to see a comparison of the Asian carriers

    And would love more focus on South America as well (Avianca, Latam, etc) , which I think are largely forgotten on OMAAT

    Hey Lucky: get Daniel to Rio, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Montevideo, Peru, Bogota, and Patagonia. (To start)

  9. @varun, most people fly a mix of classes depending on travel need, urgency of travel, etc, what an ignorant comment on such a thoughtful and well approached article.

    @Daniel I think this piece is great, from what I was seeing in each area that’s important to me, some of which you go through and some of whic you don’t, Qatar have the edge. I think it’s possible to add the experience for an elite traveller travelling economy, and alliance benefits etc, but then it just gets so complicated as you end up in very detailed things that are only relevant to certain status flyers, but as your aim was to look at the total non elite experience I think you did an excellent job.

  10. This was great Daniel! I take the “fly more often” rather than “fly more comfortably” approach with miles, so I’m usually in the back. Loved the comprehensive reviews and insight; it brings a fresh perspective to OMAAT. Your conclusion that the ME3 aren’t miles ahead of European carriers in econ is exactly what I wanted to hear.

  11. I’m curious, are the adverts they play on the entertainment systems the same no matter what cabin you’re in? There was a really annoying international mortgage company advertising on my last Qatar business flight and couldn’t see this being if interest to the majority of economy flyers.

    I’m also amused when people say the old Qatar 777 business seat is dated and to be avoided, I’d much rather that seat than the 787 or A350 one. A380 might win just due to having the on-board bar, but the 777 seat is so comfortable and unlike some, I don’t mind other human beings .

  12. Qatar’s 787 seats are so much worse than their 777 seats. Some of my least favorite longhaul econ. Haven’t flown econ on Etihad or Emirates, though flying first on Etihad I’ll agree strongly with how bad AUH is.

  13. Nice post. I haven’t flown coach in EY, but your observations of EK and QR pretty much match mine. Sadly, the 77W flies to DFW, and 15 hours in that torture chamber with bad service to boot means EK is off the list, even without the nightmare that is DXB.

  14. You got this wrong and not caught by anyone

    “The reason is that Emirates has over 100 A380s, and Qatar has only eight, meaning you’re over ten times less likely to fly a Qatar A380 than you are to fly an Emirates A380. ”

    Goes to show most ding dongs here are just looking at pictures.

  15. Surprised on your etihad food choice. I would give 1st rank to emirates (if food is not ran out on 😛 ) and second to qatar…. etihad by far was very unreasonable and awkward on my ultra long flights from JFK to BAH roundtrip x 2…. only the CBP pre clearance facility is a ++ after such a long flight

  16. @Varun
    Without your precious CMB fares you’d probably be flying Y as well.
    My girlfriend usually flies economy and even though I offered to pay for the difference, she would rather stay in coach on our little trip. Maybe I can convince her, but it’s nice to know what I’m up against if I really had to fly in economy

  17. Good comparison but non conclusive. For example, EK B777 and A370 have different seat designs so it is not fair to give conclusive comments for EK seat as such because the one you are travelling with is the newest design

  18. @Varun, I fly over 130k miles a year all in economy (unless I score an upgrade) but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading OMAAT. I love to read how I COULD fly, but equally enjoy reading about how others view how I ACTUALLY fly.
    If you’re not interested then don’t read the article you pretentious twat.

  19. Daniel,
    Thank you very much.
    Your article is decidedly useful, clear and thorough.
    While it cannot contain every contingency (which is what I really want), I am amazed at how thoroughly it covers the possibilities.
    Very, very useful — and for me that is what it is all about.

    (My days of being amused by tales of the South African Airways executive zirconia upgrade lounge used in Chengdu are limited and declining.)

  20. GREAT article Daniel! Ive only flown with Emirates out of the 3 but I can say it was the best economy flight ive ever had!

    Keep articles like these coming!

  21. QR has modified their 777 and I think seats are now 31-32 inches. All new airplanes (which are the majority now: A350, B787) have really tight 31-32 inch seats. They are really tight, as tight as EY. So I wouldn’t rank QR as best for tall people

  22. @MeanMeosh Thank you! Ugh, it sucks they took the A380 off that route, especially since it used to have such light loads. Great from a passenger perspective!

  23. @Lumma Yes, they’re the same in all cabins. I find it crazy that pester premium cabin passengers with ads, but I guess the rest of the experience makes up for it!

  24. @Varun – we all do it, mate. I suspect just about everyone who reads this flies a mixed bag of classes, and you’ll probably find some who fly mostly economy. Its actually NICE to see an economy write-up for a change. We all love Ben’s articles – however, most of us cant do what he does all the time. It is nice to see the areas inhabited by those of us who Turn Right get some love.

    @Daniel – This is probably one of the best articles I’ve seen you write. Its concise, informative, fair, and well-reasoned. Reallly nice to see an economy write-up too, and I hope you’ll do more of them.

  25. The real problems with flying through the middle east is that the flight times and long connections make it not desirable. Also, one of the three is part of an airline alliance and unless your allegiance is with OneWorld, it doesn’t matter. If you have high status with Star Alliance or Skyteam then unless the ticket is so cheap you’re not really looking to fly a middle east carrier.

  26. Great piece Daniel! Feel free to ignore Varun’s feedback (an entitled, snotty 1%er brat with a broken filter or two…)

  27. Totally disagree about A380.

    For economy flights, if you have a window seat, you cannot lean against the window to sleep … which is the whole point of a window seat on a long-haul flight.

    Horrible airplane for bottom of the bus travel.

  28. Great article, the comparison is really helpful.
    I do think the experience can vary a lot based on the plane you are on and the crew you get.
    Maybe you can do an update in a year based on more flights on different planes?

  29. A good read.

    I do believe that if you flew Qatar A380 economy that would have beaten Emirates too on the seat score. Qatar’s A380 economy experience in my opinion is better than their 777 one.

  30. Economy, Varun Susala?

    Approximately, 80% of all passengers on an average flight are using Economy.

    Pointless criticism of Daniel’s comprehensive and useful appraisal from a pretentious prat.

  31. Excellent review. I have flown economy on all these airlines from Cyprus to Asia over the last 15 years, sometimes 4 times a year, and agree your comments . Actually, I think the Emirates food used to be better and quality/range has fallen , perhaps cost cutting .
    I now fly UK to BKK or HGK twice a year and would enjoy reviews of different economy flights on this route .

  32. I have flown all of these as I am a Brit who has lived in Australia for 8 years, as I have VA Platinum status etihad is a good choice as I get the upgraded service / Lounge etc, however as I recently flew Qatar this was brilliant – great service and Doha is beautiful. The A380 from Sydney was awesome too.

  33. Great article and comparison. Although not flying economy as often as I used to, great to know what the best options are

  34. I am surprised that the key point with respect to IFE was not mentioned. In both emirates and qatar one can start accessing the IFE the moment one gets on board till the plan lands. On etihad, they dont switch it on till the seat belt signs are off after take off and then switch it off before starting to descend. This is a major irritation for people who are able to bear the coach class due to IFE.

    The airport at abu dhabi must be several notches below the other two. its a mess of gigantic proportions. if one has a short transfer then god be with you.

  35. Excellent review for us back of the bus peasants. I concur having done EK 777 BHX to Dubai and then 380 to/from Auckland via Melbourne or Brisbane. Since then they have added the possibility of all 380 BHX to AKL with just the plane change in Dubai and the Australia stops eliminated. Have a longer layover in Dubai on the return and you can 380 back to BHX, too. It’s the evening rotation. Your review would have been more interesting to more people had you shown non-vege food but appreciate that might be tricky when reviewing solo. I also have the Qatar option but layover in Doha is far too long, EK is only about 3 hours vs 12 or so.

  36. Interesting article. This is probably the kind of review most people look for in a site like this. Not everyone flies every other day, but all of us want to avoid 15 hours in a narrow economy seat!

  37. Great conclusion to a much-appreciated series!

    It would also be interesting to compare some European carriers who try to compete with the ME3 on the Asian routes like SAS, KLM and (I suspect) the best of the bunch: Finnair. In general, I would personally welcome some more Europe focused reviews and news articles.

  38. He’s been bashed but I might as well have my turn.

    @Varun you might be rich or have a great company travel policy, doesn’t mean everyone else does! As others said, why didn’t you just not read this, and many people don’t comment so it’s wrong to assume that everybody flies J and F.

  39. Daniel, this is a fantastic and useful review. Kudos to you. While many of us aspire to fly J and F, the back of the ‘bus is where I find myself most of the time. So, this is really relevant to me – as I am a firm favourite of the ME3 airlines.

    Good job

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