Why Qatar Airways Will Never Introduce Premium Economy

Premium economy is set to arrive in the Middle East for the first time later this month. While the region has been slow on the uptake of this trend, could Emirate’s investment in this new product spur other Middle East airlines to join the party? CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, says not, stating he will never put premium economy on any of his aircraft.

Qatar Airways
Qatar’s CEO says there is no place for premium economy at his airline. Photo: Qatar Airways

Premium economy is coming to the Middle East

The Middle East has been the one region in the world where premium economy has failed to take off. In other regions, particularly Europe and the Americas, it has become the go-to product to appease comfort-seeking passengers who don’t want to stump up the often eye-watering fares for a business class seat.

In an interview for the Future Travel Experience Expo this week, CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, was challenged with the notion that he might be considering premium economy for his own airline. In a bit of a slight, squarely aimed at a certain other Middle East airline, Al Baker responded,

“I think that you must be mixing me with one of the CEOs of my neighboring country.”

Qatar Airways
Al Baker has no plans to consider premium economy, ever. Photo: Qatar Airways

Emirates is keenly teasing its new cabin’s features, which is set to arrive on one of its incoming A380s later this month. However, so far, the details have been rather underwhelming. As leaked by the airline president this week, the potential seat is certainly nothing special, and a world away from the HAECO product everyone was hoping for.

Nevertheless, arriving it is, and we’re still keen to see how Emirates has interpreted this new cabin to make it an attractive upgrade from economy. For now, however, Emirates will remain the only Middle East airline to adopt this product.

Qatar will never install premium economy

During the interview, Al Baker was firm in his stance that Qatar has not and will never consider premium economy as part of its service offerings. He said,

“I have always mentioned that we will never introduce a premium economy in Qatar Airways. The economy class seat of Qatar Airways and the standards of inflight service is far ahead of premium economy.”

Qatar Airways
The CEO maintains that the service in Qatar’s economy is superior to that in other airlines’ premium economy. Photo: Qatar Airways

He went on to allege that, in reality, premium economy is not a true upgrade from economy. He even went so far as to cast aspersions on those airlines offering the product, suggesting they are simply wringing regular economy passengers for more dollars per mile.

“99 out of 100 of those products are very uncomfortable. Airlines are pulling the wool over your eyes. They are giving the same service, just a little bit higher quantity of food and beverage, and just putting it in a fancy nice glass, or a larger tray with actually the same kind of amenities that somebody, paying half your fare, is sitting behind you and enjoying.”

Is Al Baker right?

While the standards of premium economy vary between airlines, for the most part, the seat product is superior to that of economy. For example, Virgin’s premium economy boasts a 38” seat pitch, and a width of 21”. Compared to Qatar’s economy cabin, with 31-33” of pitch and a 17” width, that’s a pretty solid upgrade. However, that’s not always the case.

Virgin Premium economy
Virgin Atlantic has put plenty of high quality touches to its premium economy product. Photo: Virgin Atlantic

On LATAM’s 767, pitch is just 31-32” and width is 18”. This is more like an extra legroom seat than a true PE product. LATAM’s newer planes have 35” of pitch in premium economy, but seats again are just 17” wide. The recline across all its PE cabins is ‘standard’ rather than the typical recliner class.

LATAM Premium economy
LATAM’s premium economy is simply regular economy with the middle seat blocked, showing the variance in these cabins among airlines. Photo: LATAM

But Al Baker’s biggest issue was with the food and beverage service. One of the major draws for premium economy passengers is the offer of upgraded meals inflight. Again, Virgin is an airline that excels at this, offering a completely separate meal served (in normal times) on real crockery. But that’s not the same across the entire aviation industry.

Nevertheless, Al Baker maintains that there’s no place for a premium economy situation on any Qatar Airways flights. He summed it up saying,

“Why should we, when we give such high standards of inflight service in economy, try to repackage it and call it premium economy?”

Do you think Qatar could benefit from premium economy? Let us know in the comments.