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Qatar - A Class of its Own

October 16, 2017

 

Qatar Airways has hit the sweet spot with its new Qsuite business class. FlightCom was at London Heathrow to sample what African travellers can expect.

 

 

 

Earlier this year, Qatar Airways launched its new business class seat, Qsuite, which features the industry’s first-ever double bed available in business class. In September, the airline gave international journalists a feel of the airline’s new business class product at London Heathrow Airport by offering a tour of the Heathrow premium Qatar Airways lounge, the full Qsuite product and a three course meal on board the static Boeing 777-300ER. The Heathrow-Doha route is the first to offer the new Qsuite product on the daily Boeing 777 and Airbus A350 service.

Premium cabins with most reputable airlines combine features that make the travel experience more personal – but with Qsuite, the privacy panels stow away, allowing passengers in adjoining seats to create their own room. Adjustable panels and movable TV monitors on the centre four seats allow colleagues, friends or families travelling together to transform their space into a private suite, allowing them to work, dine and socialise together. Qatar has dubbed this ‘The Quadruple’, or simply ‘The Quad’.

The design is impressive. It’s fresh from the factory, with the Qatar burgundy colour scheme. The look is sophisticated. You get the impression that you are in a denser ANA or Emirates 777–300ER first class cabin. With each suite’s walls being fairly tall and the presence of overhead luggage bins, there is a sense that the cabin is a little cramped, but that is negligible in the grand scheme of things, and probably because your comparison is now first class.

The quad design is remarkable, and both Rockwell Collins and Qatar Airways are being congratulated industry-wide for this innovation in premium seating. They claim the aesthetic balances chic, technological and classical. The dark grey seating moquette matches some of the side panelling, while coordinating with other greys, tans, and signature Qatar burgundy.

The overall sturdiness of the construction, too, is impressive. The doors close with a satisfying yet simple slide. The table is sturdy, supported on the side away from its unfolding mechanism by an unobtrusive and thus elegant perch.

The business class cabin is divided into two sections. There are a total of 42 business class seats on the 777 – 24 in the forward cabin and 18 in the smaller rear cabin.

Each seat offers plenty of storage, both hidden and table areas for laptops and other gadgets. The seats are well supplied with a variety of ports and power, including HDMI, USB and even a contactless payment pad. Thanks to an increased seat pitch compared to the usual forward and rear racing configurations, each seat enjoys a small side storage unit which allows for personal belongings and the ability to stretch out when the seat is positioned as a flat bed.

There are complex rules as to how the different kinds of seats can be booked, but it boils down to the number of passengers on your reservation. A passenger travelling solo can only choose the single (window) seats. When the Quadruple seats are broken down (i.e. a couple books half of it),  it opens to single travellers as well. And if you are a party of at least three, you can book the Quadruple.

With the mood lighting, it felt like walking into a trendy hotel, rather than an aircraft, although the walls to the suites do make navigating the aisle slightly more tricky than usual.

This is the most ambitious business class seat on the market – a private suite with closing doors for every passenger. One potential problem with ‘herringbone’ business class layouts, as used by Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways on the current 787 and A380 fleet, is that they are suited to individuals rather than a couple or a family. The middle pair of seats face away from each other, which is not ideal for a couple, and there is only a single seat on each side by the window.

For families it is even trickier, because herringbone seats, by virtue of favouring privacy, don’t lend themselves to keeping an eye on travelling children.

From an economic point of the view, the impressive thing about Qsuite is that it takes up no extra space compared to the existing Boeing 777 seat layout. Qatar Airways has been able to swap a standard seat for a full suite, in the same floor space, because your feet now disappear into a cubby hole under the seat in front. The suite itself is not that deep.

Jonathan Harding, Qatar Airways SVP for Europe spoke to journalists on board the 777 of the immense pride of launching the new product on the London route after two years in the making. “This is a game changer for business class travel, and sets a new standard in the industry. The Qsuite brings first class excellence into the business class cabin. At Qatar Airways, we always look to provide the best for our passengers – be bold, innovative and customer focused.”

There are a couple of practical downsides: while Qatar Airways has not removed the overhead air vents they no longer line up with every seat row, so some rows lack the feature. Some rows also lack a full window, with the ‘window’ seat having only two partial window views. It’s a shame that some clever shrouding work couldn’t have remedied the situation.

A few years ago, Qatar Airways made the decision to go to a two-class layout on all of its aircraft, apart from its Airbus A380s. The Qatari airline’s investment in its new business class is indicative of the airline industry’s latest trend towards two cabin configurations, with many doing away with a first class product.

Following the Doha to London Heathrow route, New York, Paris, Tokyo, and Sao Paolo are next destinations for Qsuite flights. CEO Akbar Al Baker stated that all of the Qatar Airways fleet, currently serving all six continents and connecting over 150 destinations daily, will be equipped with Qsuites by as early as mid-2018.

Qatar Airways has a growing network in Africa, and possibly, long haul operations from Doha to Johannesburg and Cape Town will be among the first African services to see the Qsuit.

In September last year, Windhoek became the 23rd destination in Africa to be served by the carrier. Akbar Al Baker said he was delighted to extend the network within Africa by adding the premium leisure and business destination of Windhoek to the route map. “Africa remains one of our key target areas for growth and we have identified Namibia as an important African nation to include in our expansion plans. With the launch of this service to Windhoek, we look forward to strengthening our ties with the people of Namibia, who we are pleased to connect with more than 150 global destinations via our hub in Doha, while supporting the country’s growing tourism industry by flying in tourists from all around the world.” Qatar Airways is the first of the big Middle Eastern carriers to serve Windhoek as neither Emirates nor Etihad Airways currently serves Namibia. Windhoek is also not yet on Turkish Airlines’ network of African routes.

Lusaka, Zambia has also been on the radar for Qatar Airways for some time. Services were expected to begin in mid-2017 with five weekly flights, but are yet to commence. Robinson Misitala, the institution’s managing director said the commencement of the airline’s flights will help realise the strategic objective of turning the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka into a regional hub.

“The step is in the right direction, as it comes in the wake of massive infrastructure development currently being undertaken by the Zambian government at all four international airports.

“Our expectation as Zambia Airports Corporation Limited is that we will tap into a new market exclusive to Qatar Airways in terms of holiday which will entail growth in our traffic numbers. We further expect that our Zambian business entities will take advantage of the new market and explore new export markets,” he added. Qatar Airways has not given an update on the launch date.

In the meantime, the global carrier from Doha continues to sweep up awards for its cabin offerings. Qatar Airways was awarded ‘Best Cabin Service’ and ‘Best Food and Beverage’ at the 2017 APEX Passenger Choice Awards held during the annual APEX Expo. The airline also received the highest ranking as five-star airline from over half a million passengers who took part in the highly influential awards.

Chances are the Qsuit will scoop up even more accolades as the product rolls out.

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