There’s an alternate reality – an airline multiverse, if you will – where Qatar Airways is just months away from taking delivery of its first Airbus A321neo, with something akin to a Qsuite at the pointy end of the single-aisle jet.
But in this world, a spectacular falling out between Airbus and Qatar Airways over surface defects in the larger A350, and a subsequent US$618m damages claim the Gulf carrier lodged against Airbus, saw the plane-maker takes the unprecedented step of cancelling Qatar’s order for 50 A321neo jets.
To fill the gap, Qatar Airways this week inked a contract for 25 Boeing 737 MAX 10 aircraft, with an option to buy 25 more.
But will the 737 MAX inherit the business class suites originally planned for the A321neo?
Speaker with Executive Traveller before the Airbus spat scuppered that A321neo order, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker described the forthcoming seat as a smaller version of the Qsuite, although without the sliding door.
“Every seat will have aisle access” and convert into a fully lie-lat bed, Al Baker confirmed.
And while unlike the highly-regarded Qsuites “they will not have doors”, Al Baker said “they will have something very similar, so you will have some privacy.”
Al Baker had previously indicated the seat will use an existing design from an established manufacturer rather than a fully bespoke effort – although the end product would be heavily customised, with high-quality fittings and finish plus plenty of small yet thoughtful touches when it comes to personal space, comfort and convenience.
How easily it is to transfer that seat to the Boeing 737 MAX could depend on how much of the A321neo’s floorspace it used: at 3.53m wide, the MAX’s cabin is a slightly narrower than the 3.7m of the Airbus jet.
While only a 15cm or 7” shortfall, that could still be enough to make the aisle too narrow – requiring a rethink of the 737 MAX business class proposition.
Whatever we see will of course be a step-change from the dated 2-2 business class of the Gulf carrier’s workhorse Airbus A320 fleet, which the 737 MAX will replace.
Next on Qatar’s business class playbook will be the first wave of Boeing 777-9s, for which Al Baker said “we are developing new business class seats” with the possibility of a “very exclusive first class cabin” for some later Boeing 777X deliveries, which would ply a handful of premium-heavy European routes favoured by well-heeled Qatari travellers.
“We have huge demand here in Qatar to two or three European destinations” such as London and Paris – notable two cities now patronised by the resurrected A380 – “so we may introduce a very small first class cabin for our local passengers who want a very exclusive first class product.”