With the loss of the A380, Qatar Airways no longer flies a first class product. Speaking exclusively with Simple Flying, Group CEO Akbar Al Baker noted that demand still exists for this product among the local population. He noted that a small first class product could be introduced on select routes, but with improvements to the Qsuite coming soon, he hopes not to have to.
Demand exists for first class
With the A380s grounded and unlikely to return for the airline, Qatar Airways has no first class product to fly. Although this was a deliberate choice on the part of the airline, Group CEO Akbar Al Baker told Simple Flying in an exclusive interview that demand still exists. He said,
“I am getting a huge demand from my countrymen for first class.”
For many years now, Qatar has not ordered a new aircraft with a first class cabin. Rather, it has focused on making the Qsuite business class as luxurious as possible to create a product that caters to those high-demand passengers. Al Baker noted,
“Some of my competitors, told me that it was a huge folly on my part to remove first class from airplanes and just have this very high class first and business product that we call the Qsuite … and now they are following the same route. British Airways and others … have all two class airplanes now.”
Al Baker admitted that some airlines still market their aircraft as ‘three class,’ thanks to the addition of a premium economy cabin. But he also made his thoughts on premium economy abundantly clear.
First could be introduced on select routes
Amid demand from elite Qatari travelers, Al Baker noted that there was still a possibility that some sectors could see a new first class offered. He said,
“Yes, there could be a possibility that only on two or three sectors from Doha, that is frequented by my countrymen, that we may introduce a very small first class.”
Thinking about which routes could be targets for this, Al Baker has been clear that he only sees a market for first with wealthy Qatari businesspeople. This could mean targeting routes where these individuals need to travel to do business.
If the airline does go down the route of a small first class, longer routes to the likes of New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles would be ripe for the opportunity. With the new 777X on the horizon in the next few years, it would be the likely candidate for this addition. But Al Baker is clearly more enamored with the idea of elevating the next generation of Qsuite to such a degree that first is no longer a priority. He noted,
“ I’m still debating and trying to go through the second phase of our Qsuite in order to satisfy the requirement, and I hope I will succeed.”
You can’t carry fresh air
Although a small population are keenly demanding first class on Qatar Airways, the Group CEO weighed in with doubts about the operating economics of this cabin. He said,
“There is a demand from certain people. But when you look at the average load factor in first class, it is just 50 to 52%. An airplane is a very expensive real estate, you cannot carry fresh air in an airplane – you need passengers. And we will only put products in our airplane that we know our passengers will use, can afford, and will travel in absolute luxury. And I don’t think that is any first class that is close to the luxury we provide in the Qsuite.”
The Qsuite is very much a next-generation business class product. At launch, it was marketed as ‘first in business’, and that’s a very fair assessment. Installing a full-height privacy door effectively turns the already accomplished seat into a true suite, and the removal of overhead bins brings light and space to the entire cabin.
In some rows, four suites can be combined together to create a four-person private space, ideal for traveling families. And for couples, middle suites can be combined to create a double bed.
For now, the jury is out on whether Qatar will indeed introduce a small first class product on a future airplane for select routes. However, with improvements coming to the Qsuite product, it’s highly likely it won’t need to.