Executive Traveller exclusive
- All-new bespoke business class for Qatar's A321neo and A321LR fleet
- Boeing 787s to be upgraded with second-gen seat
- Qsuite 2.0 design for forthcoming Boeing 777X jets
Qatar Airways plans to unleash a wave of new business class suites over the next few years, timed to meet the post-pandemic upswing in not only corporate travel but also premium leisure travel.
Executive Traveller spoke with Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker to share this exclusive insight into the Oneworld member's premium playbook.
Qatar Airways’ Boeing 787-9 Qsuite
First up, Al Baker revealed the story behind the Dreamliner Qsuite that we never saw – a product which was rumoured to be revealed at Berlin's annual ITB travel trade show in early March 2020, before that event was cancelled as Covid-19 took a firm foothold in Europe.
Reports hinted at that Qsuite concept being a refinement of the one created for the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777, taking into account feedback from passengers and crew – such as the height of the suites and their sliding privacy doors being reduced from the current 135cm (53 inches).
It was also tipped that the adjacent suites in the middle of the business class cabin could still be joined to create a shared double suite and, if your travel partner was willing, a double bed – but without the option for four middle Qsuites to become an over-sized 'quad space' suitable for families
Instead, Qatar's Boeing 787-9s debuted with a very different seat: one supplied by Adient Aerospace, a joint venture between auto seat maker Adient and Boeing.
While Adient's Ascent seat (which will also feature on Hawaiian Airlines' Boeing 787-9s from late 2022) includes sliding suite doors plus some mod-cons such as wireless device charging, it wasn't what Al Baker first had in mind.
"Prior to Adient, we were developing a Qsuite for the 787 but unfortunately the manufacturer defaulted in supplying us the seat," Al Baker recalled.
"So we had to move very quickly, and with Adient being a subsidiary of Boeing, we managed for them to supply us something that they could very quickly give it to us, nearly off the shelf seat with only minor modifications."
But there's already a second-generation Dreamliner suite waiting in the wings – an evolution of the Ascent – and it will be retrofitted to the current crop of 787-9s.
"There is a second step of development of the same seat, it will be even more enhanced Adient seat, that will come on aircraft number nine," Akbar told Executive Traveller.
"Because we are so picky on our product, Adient had to modify their seat and get it certified, so we will have it from aircraft number nine onwards.
The airline already has seven Dreamliners in its hangars, and "when the 787-9 is around five years old, we will replace the current seat from aircraft number one to aircraft number eight, and put in the one that is in aircraft number nine."
Qatar Airways’ Airbus A321neo, A321XLR business class
Up next for Qatar Airways is the Airbus A321neo, which will replace its ageing A320 and A321 jets from the end of 2022.
And from the sounds of things, it'll have what might almost described as a 'mini-Qsuite'.
"We are developing a new seat to go in the A321neo business class, and it will be a very unique seat in our aeroplane," Al Baker maintains.
In previous conversations with Executive Traveller, Al Baker has confirmed that "every seat will have aisle access" and convert into a fully lie-lat bed, although "they will not have doors. But they will have something very similar, so you will have some privacy."
Qatar Airways has 40 A321neo jets on order, alongside ten of the extended-range A321LR models which will be earmarked for destinations with insufficient demand for a larger twin-aisle jets.
The A321LRs will be crowned by the same business class seat as the A321neos "because the product is so much enhanced that you really don't need" a different seat, Al Baker says, "and we want to standardise the product we have on our aeroplanes."
When Executive Traveller cites JetBlue's A321LR Mint Suites as being the current benchmark for single-aisle business class, Al Baker smiles while reflecting on his own A321neo product and says "Just wait and see."
Qatar Airways’ Boeing 777X Qsuite 2.0
Further down the track is the Boeing 777X, although exactly when this much-delayed latest member of the best-selling 777 family will arrive appears to be anybody's guess.
Boeing has previously said it plans to begin deliveries of the 777-9 in late 2023 – some three years later than originally planned – with Qatar Airways joining Emirates, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific on the early waiting list.
Al Baker reiterated that "we will have a new Qsuite that will go on the 777X."
"It is a huge enhancement of the current Qsuite, because people now are all booking on QR because of the Qsuite, it's a brand that is now really known to everybody," adding that the drive to continue refining the product and raising the bar has to be done "because we are in a very competitive industry."
As Al Baker previously and exclusively revealed to Executive Traveller, also under consideration for Qatar's Boeing 777X jets is a "very exclusive first class cabin" 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, "so we may introduce a very small first class cabin for our local passengers who want a very exclusive first class product."