Qatar Airways is betting big on the future of business class, and in particular its highly-regarded Qsuites – to the point where first class appears to no longer fit into the airline’s plans.
Instead, its forthcoming Boeing 777X fleet will be crowned by a new Qsuite which CEO Akbar Al Baker has described to Executive Traveller as “a huge enhancement of the current Qsuite.”
“People now are all booking on QR because of the Qsuite,” Al Baker added, saying “it’s a brand that is now really known to everybody.”
But Al Baker appears to have set aside plans for a small number of the Boeing 777-9 jets to have a luxed-up “very exclusive first class cabin of just four seats,” which Al Baker previously described to Executive Traveller as a deliberately “very niche product” aimed at well-heeled Qatari travellers headed to the likes of London and Paris.
Speaking with Bloomberg in Istanbul, prior to this week’s annual International Air Transport Association gathering, Al Baker said the Qsuite had closed the gap between business and first class to the point where spacious first suites were no longer needed.
“Why should you invest in a subclass of an aeroplane that already gives you all the amenities that first class gives you,” Al Baker posed: “I don’t see the necessity.”
Qatar Airways currently offers first class only on the handful of Airbus A380s which it has reluctantly returned to the skies, with eight open suites adoring the front of the upper deck – and those superjumbos are still slated for retirement as the Doha-based carrier brings the rest of its long-range fleet back up to strength over the coming years.
Al Baker considers that the expansive and expensive floorspace typically assigned to first class suites will become harder to justify as demand for superior business class suites increases.
“I think eventually, first class will keep shrinking on airlines,” he previously told Executive Traveller.
“An aeroplane is very expensive real estate, and occupying a big portion with so few seats as first class, which (on Qatar’s A380) had a load factor of averaging never more than 55-60%” in pre-pandemic times.
Al Baker had earlier said the airline was “studying the possibility” of a Boeing 777-9 first class product, although “it will not be on the initial 777X because we want to have a product that is really very unique, so we need time to develop it.”
At the time, the thinking was that the 777-9’s first class suites would cater for “huge demand here in Qatar to two or three European destinations” such as London and Paris, Al Baker explains, “so we may introduce a very small first class cabin for our local passengers who want a very exclusive first class product.”
The Qatari flag-carrier has signed a firm order for 50 of Boeing’s debutante 777-9 model to replace the current Boeing 777-300ER workhorses, although first delivered of the 777-9 to launch customer and regional rival Emirates have been delayed to at least 2025.