Famed Gulf carriers Emirates and Qatar Airways have been consistently rated some of the best airlines in the industry when it comes to service, comfort, luxury, and cuisine. Their sterling product reputations even carries through to the main economy class cabin. But over the past couple of years, a few points of difference have emerged between Emirates and Qatar. So, it’s a good time to take a fresh look at both airlines’ economy class offerings.
To begin with, it’s worth pointing out that both airlines have had their wings clipped this year. Frequencies are reduced, or in some cases, services suspended to some cities. Aircraft on some surviving routes were downsized. Health and hygiene concerns sometimes necessarily curtailed cabin services. In summary, it’s not a normal flying environment, and you have to cut the airlines some slack.
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Who’s flying where and with what planes?
But to begin with, where are Qatar and Emirates still flying? Qatar Airways is now flying to 100 destinations, down from its usual 160 odd destinations. Emirates still flies to around 100 destinations, down from the approximately 170 cities it flew to earlier this year. So neither airline has a particular advantage here.
Both airlines have temporarily grounded most of their passenger-friendly A380s, switching them out for smaller planes. Emirates has some A380s running on certain routes, but you’ll most likely find yourself on a smaller Boeing 777. You’re likely to find yourself on either an Airbus A350, Boeing 777, or 787 Dreamliner when flying Qatar.
If you are lucky enough to find yourself on one of Emirates’ nine operational A380s, they’d be the pick of the bunch for economy class travel. That, combined with the absence of the squeezy Dreamliners from the Emirates’ fleet, gives Emirates the upper hand when it comes to better planes for economy class passengers.
Qatar has the edge when it comes to checked-in bags
Unless you hold decent status with either airline, an economy class ticket will not get you lounge access at your departure airport. However, in Dubai, Emirates Skywards Blue members can pay to access certain Emirates lounges. Similarly, you can buy your way into a Qatar Airways lounge at Doha if traveling economy class on that airline.
Checked in luggage rules do vary by destination and your frequent flyer status, but generally, on Qatar Airways, you can check-in one 30kg (66lb) bag with a maximum dimension of 300 cm (118″). Emirates is slightly more complex, depending on the fare bucket you are in. Economy class free checked-in bag allowances range from 20kg if you are traveling on an economy special fare to 35kg if you are traveling on an economy flex plus fare. For simplicity purposes, I like Qatar Airways here. Their 30kg allowance is also reasonably generous.
Who has the best seating?
Next, let’s take a look at comfort—always a major concern in economy seating. Configurations will vary slightly across different aircraft types, and although a seat on an Emirates 777 may be no smaller than a seat on an A380, the cabin is smaller, and that can make you feel more confined. That takes us back to our earlier point about the absence of A380s because aircraft size does matter when flying economy class, even if only from a spatial perspective.
As a rule, a standard Emirates economy class seat has a pitch of 32 inches and a width of 17.91 inches. A standard Qatar Airways economy class seat also has a pitch of 32 inches. Qatar Airways seats have a slightly wider width of 18.17 inches.
When it comes to economy seat size, Qatar and Emirates are just about equal, with Qatar at the tiniest of advantages when it comes to seat width. Though there are frequent flyers who swear by Emirates’ legroom or Qatar’s headrest, these details vary based on where you’re seated in the aircraft and the plane’s particular age, so it’s hard to say which one comes out on top here. Perhaps that extra quarter of an inch in width gives Qatar Airways the slightest edge.
Both airlines have terrific in-flight service
It’s difficult to get a handle on exactly whose service is “better” between Qatar and Emirates economy, as it’s likely to vary based on individual experiences as well as the particular crew on hand on a given day. But based on customer reviews and Skytrax awards, Qatar’s crew was voted “Best in the Middle East” for many consecutive years.
But what constitutes good service is very subjective. Also, a lot depends on the crew you’ve drawn. We’ve all been on mediocre airlines that left a great impression because of an outstanding cabin crew. Equally, we’ve all been on a great airline and left deeply underwhelmed by a lackluster cabin crew.
Generally, service on both Qatar Airways and Emirates is consistently good. My personal impression is that service in Emirates’ economy can sometimes come across as a little hurried and impersonal and that Qatar does a better job of personalizing service. But that’s my subjective view. Feel free to post a comment at the end if you disagree.
The best economy class food and drink?
Emirates and Qatar are both well-known for their high-quality, fresh meals. Both airlines feature a complimentary beverage selection of juices, sodas, tea, coffee, beer, and wine, including at least two red and two white wine options in economy class on Qatar Airways. On Emirates flights, cocktails are also included, and champagne and cake are available for a fee.
Qatar’s long-haul flights include two meals, including one just before landing. Qatar is notable for its focus on catering to every possible diet, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, raw, low-sugar, low-calorie, and religious restrictions of various stripes, among others.
Qatar also offers meals for young travelers (both kids and babies) that may include pre-packaged snacks for the junior jetsetters onboard and pancakes, chicken, pasta, and other simple dishes for older kids. Pancakes – I wonder if the grownups can order them?
Emirates’ food menu is inspired by regional flavors and spices, with meals served on each flight that reflect the local culture. A flight to Australia or New Zealand, for example, might feature minted lamb sausages with mashed potatoes and vegetables. In contrast, chicken with caramelized plums or lamb Brochette with Arabic spices might be the main course on a Middle East flight.
Emirates also serves specially made kids’ and baby meals on colorful trays and snack boxes made especially for younger flyers.
Though both Emirates and Qatar meals are widely regarded as some of the best in the airline industry, Qatar edges out Emirates just slightly here because it can cater to so many different palates and dietary needs.
Emirates has the edge when it comes to IFE
Emirates’ entertainment system, ice, has won countless Skytrax awards for its best-in-the-business features and has been voted the best around for multiple consecutive years – and for a good reason too, With 3,500 channels of movies, TV, music, and games, in addition to podcasts, radio shows, kids’ channels, and live sports and news, Emirates’ entertainment is truly top-notch. The Dubai-based airline also has easy-to-reach power outlets in most economy seats.
Qatar’s entertainment system, Oryx, is also nothing to scoff at and also includes Hollywood releases, music, games, and TV, along with kids’ options. There just isn’t quite as much variety in Qatar Airways list of choices in Emirates’ wide range.
On Emirates, WiFi is available in economy class from US$9.99 – $19.99, depending on the length of the flight. Emirates Skywards Gold members have access to free chat services (such as WhatsApp or Messenger) when traveling in economy class. If you are an Emirates Skywards Platinum passenger, you’ll have access to unlimited free internet in economy class. To access this, you must add Emirates Skywards membership number to your booking at least 24 hours before your flight
Free WiFi in economy on selected Qatar flights
Meanwhile, on Qatar economy flights, Oryx One Communications allows you to stay in touch via a mobile device. Most, though not all, Qatar flights also have onboard WiFi for a fee. It’s also worth noting Qatar Airways is offering economy class passengers on certain routes unlimited free WiFi if they book their flight direct with Qatar Airways. The Qatar Airways website lists the offer as available on flights to and from Sydney, Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, London, and Bangkok.
Qatar Airways’ free WiFi offer is attractive. However, it’s problem is it is very restricted and only available on six out of Qatar’s 100 routes. Ultimately, Emirates wins out in terms of entertainment. The airline’s consistent dedication to high-quality inflight entertainment options hasn’t been topped so far.
Should I fly with Emirates Economy or Qatar Economy?
So, I’m biased. I’m a bit of a Qatar Airways fanboy. When I’m on either airline, it’s only ever long-haul, and I pull every trick in the book to avoid economy class altogether, but I’ve done economy a few times on both airlines over the years.
I think the economy class seats on either airline are much of a muchness, although I do like the A380 cabin space, and Emirates has more A380s on more routes than Qatar. Emirates has better IFE. Personally, I like the food and service better on Qatar Airways. I also don’t mind their A350s. However, you can keep the Qatar Dreamliners when it comes to long-haul economy.
What do you think? If you had to sit down the back of the plane for a long-haul overnight flight, who would you prefer? Qatar Airways or Emirates? Post a comment and let us know.