Cheers: The 6 Best Airplane Bars

Filed Under: Emirates, Etihad

While airlines are doing everything they can to squeeze more seats onto planes in economy, in many cases airlines are increasingly allocating more space to first and business class.

For the most part this comes in the form of more comfortable and spacious seats, though about half a dozen airlines take it a step further by offering onboard lounges. After all, when you’re on an ultra long haul flight, there’s something really nice about being able to stretch your legs, and possibly even mingle with some of your fellow passengers.

In this post I wanted to provide a rundown of the airlines offering onboard bars, starting with my favorite.

I should mention that I’m curious to see the status of these bars in a decade or so. As you’ll see, most of the airplane bars are on the A380, and with production of that plane soon ending, it seems unlikely we’ll see bars that are as large as airlines increasingly opt for smaller and more fuel efficient planes.

Anyway, here’s my list:

1. Qatar Airways A380 onboard bar

Qatar Airways has perfected the onboard bar on their A380. The bar is available to first & business class passengers, and is located behind the business class cabin (in front of the small upper deck economy cabin). The bar is gorgeous, spacious, and has plenty of seating.

Furthermore, there’s virtually no foot traffic, given that the flight attendants don’t have to walk past the bar to provide their service.

At the bar you can order the a huge selection of drinks, from wine to cocktails to mocktails. There are also some light snacks available there throughout the flight.

Qatar-Airways-A380-First-Class-077

2. Emirates A380 onboard bar

While Qatar Airways’ bar might not be especially well known, I’m sure most of you have seen pictures of Emirates’ onboard bar. It’s located at the very back of the upper deck, and is available to first & business class passengers. This is something that Emirates has marketed widely, and for good reason.

The lounge isn’t quite as spacious as the one on Qatar Airways, and there’s also a lot more foot traffic, given that the business class flight attendants are constantly walking through the bar to get between the galley and cabin. That being said, it’s also one of the liveliest onboard bars, and if you have a fun flight attendant, you’re sure to have a good time.

In addition to a special cocktail menu, the bar also has light snacks throughout the flight.

Note that Emirates is starting to roll out a new bar on their A380, though not many of the planes have the bar yet. This is intended to feel more like a yacht interior, and has booths, rather than just a bench along the side of the plane.

3. Korean Air A380 onboard lounge

Korean Air has a business class lounge at the back of the upper deck, which is called the Celestial Bar. It’s extremely inviting, with a good amount of seating. It’s operated in conjunction with Absolut vodka, and they’ve created some signature aviation-themed cocktails.

What’s a bit odd is that they just serve the signature cocktails at the bar, and not other drinks. So if you want something else to drink you explicitly have to ask the crew to fetch it from the galley.

Still, the space itself is gorgeous, and who doesn’t love a vodka-based aviation-themed libation?

Korean-Air-A380-Bar-1

This bar is in addition to the lounge at the front of the upper deck on the Korean Air A380.

Korean-Air-Lounge

4. Etihad Airways A380 onboard lounge

Etihad Airways has a lounge on their A380, located between the first and business class cabins. The lounge is known as “The Lobby,” and features a circular seating area with six seats. There’s also a TV on the wall, though a social lounge isn’t exactly the ideal place from which to watch TV.

This isn’t a traditional onboard bar, in the sense that there’s not a bartender. But a good crew should be attentive and serve you whatever you want to have in The Lobby… even afternoon tea! My one other issue is that this is between the galley and business class, so the crew is constantly walking through this area.

Etihad-A380-Apartment - 54

5. Virgin Australia 777 onboard bar

Virgin Australia has a very nice bar between their two business class cabins on the 777-300ER. In addition to the four stools at the bar, there are a further two seats behind them.

While this is a cool concept, the reality is that often the bar stays quite empty, given that many of Virgin Australia’s flights are overnight flights to & from the US.

6. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class bar

Virgin Atlantic has a bar for their Upper Class (business class) passengers on all their aircraft. The airline is well known for this feature.

Personally I find that the Virgin Atlantic bar is consistently the busiest on daytime flights, to the point that they have to turn people away. Passengers can get so loud that it can disturb other passengers, especially since there’s not much separation between the bar and the cabin. I’ve written a post asking if Virgin Atlantic should get rid of their onboard bars, given how disruptive they can be.

But hey, I guess that means people are just having fun!

Virgin-Atlantic-Upper-Class - 19

With their upcoming A350, Virgin Atlantic is actually eliminating their onboard bar, in favor of a lounge-type area instead, called “The Loft.” This should be a quieter environment, so should be less disruptive to other passengers.

Bottom line

It’s incredible to see how far airlines have come with onboard bars. However, I’d say going forward we’ll see fewer bars on planes, rather than more bars. This is especially true as the number of A380s in service decreases. Similarly, we’re even seeing Virgin Atlantic cut bars on their A350s going forward.

Which airline has your favorite onboard bar?

Comments

  1. Completely agree, no question about #1 – the Qatar Airways A380 bar is head and shoulders better than any other bar I’ve tried/seen/heard about on a commercial aircraft.

  2. The only Business class I have flown with is Qatar and the bar is amazing. Is is huge and my flight has quite empty so it was just me and one other person for most of the 11 hour flight. The QR bar has 2 thick curtains between it and the Business class cabin so I can’t see it getting very loud or disruptive to other passengers. Granted that I haven’t actually flown any of the others ( ) the Qatar one looks the most spacious and the other ones look smaller and less inviting.

  3. I found both the Qatar and Emirates bars to be fun. Emirates was way more lively but I can’t remember if that was a function of the departure time. The only other “bars” I’ve experienced were on a Virgin Atlantic 787, and Etihad A380, both of which are really lounges because there’s no bartender, as you observe.

    I found the Virgin Atlantic “bar” to be cool because of the bar stool, but actually rather uncomfortable to sit at for a long period of time.

  4. Does anyone know if Emirates set up their bar properly even on their shortish BKK-HKG vv fifth freedom route? I’d be flying this route soon and appreciate any advance info. Thanks!

  5. Aren’t these the only airplane bars? Better to have said something along the lines of “Ranking the airline bars” in the title instead…

  6. @Ron – i’ve just flown BKK – HKG in EK business and can confirm they do set up the bar, and it’s indeed their new yacht design style bar offering. I’m conscious that the a380 is not always run on this route though in favour of a 777.

  7. A correction – none of VA’s 777 flights from Australia to the US are overnight.

    They’re all daytime flights.

  8. @ron they do operate the bar in the HKG-BKK flight. Furthermore chances are you’ll get the new bar since this route is operated by the reconfigured 2-class high density A380.

  9. Hah, I didn’t even know Virgin Atlantic had a bar. I flew their A330 LHR-IAD a few months ago, but I was in 1A and there’s a lav at the front. I guess I never wandered back to they galley and thus didn’t notice the bar.

  10. The only time I had experienced an airplane bar was on an Emirates Flight to Jeddah which was totally dry (no alcohol). Still the idea of a bar was impressive. Love the change of VA to introduce the loft instead of a bar.

  11. It’s hard to get too excited about these bars when the liquor choices are so underwhelming. Would love for one of these airlines to actually make an investment in their liquor program and
    learn that Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker Black, and Chivas Regal are not good whiskey/whisky befitting a first class flight.

  12. @ Oded Wurman

    “I found the Virgin Atlantic “bar” to be cool because of the bar stool, but actually rather uncomfortable to sit at for a long period of time.”

    That’s the intention: it theoretically forces people to give up their bar stool after a short period so that other passengers get a chance to try it (it’s the same reason that fast-food restaurants use really uncomfortable seats).

    Unfortunately what it means in practice is that only drunk people stay at the bar, getting drunker, since they have lost all sensations and inhibitions.

  13. Once a supersonic Concorde type plane reappears advertising speed over luxury. It will be harder for the next generation of lighter and narrower plastic looking single deck planes filled with business coffin suites and little else, to compete on experience vs speed than it would be a very luxurious a380 or 747 on services and amenities.

  14. @Will
    Thanks for the update! At the moment, my flight’s seat map is still showing an A380. I’ll be very upset if they sub a 777 for the A380 not only for the loss of the bar, but more importantly: who wants to take the dreaded middle seat in the 777??

  15. Qatar has by far and away the best bar. Both in style and content. They will make a decent martini if you ask and the bar food is exceptional. I thought Emirates to be impressive until I flew Qatar. Even choose the A380 over the 777 Qsuites for the space and bar area. On a 14 hr DOH SYD it made sense.

  16. I have found the EK bar to be the most sociable by far and my favourite. Yes, the QR bar is more spacious but does not attract so many pax. The VR bar is not a real bar. The only time I experienced it 2 pax just sat there and drank to the point of being cut off.

  17. The lounge/bar that used to be on the 747 were nice, qantas took the entire bubble. I’ve often found the floor in the Emirates bar to be either damp or a bit grubby.

  18. The main problem with the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class bar is that us Brits can’t fly unless we’re black out drunk.

    Just kidding only slightly drunk 🙂

  19. The Korean Air bar was very disappointing. I was traveling in First Class and asked the flight attendant about the bar, she was not interested in taking me there but did take me. The bar is small, poorly lit, not welcoming in any way, and after seeing it I went back to my seat disappointed.

    Emirates bar on the A380 was so much fun and wish I had more time talking with other travelers.

  20. I’ve never flown on a plane where I had access to a bar (I largely stick to Star Alliance), but my partner loved the Emirates A380 bar when she flew them in business class. She’s not a frequent flyer but I think it contributed to her choice of EK A380 business class as her favorite business class experience.

  21. Speaking ONLY from my own personal experience…

    1) The only one of these bars I’ve been to is on Virgin Atlantic, and so cannot comment on it in relation to the others.

    2) I’ve experienced the bar on VS on multiple types of aircraft (747, A340, and A330), and have found it very cool, and comfortable…though I have opted to stand up from time-to-time, even when a chair is available. It’s generally been a very social experience, and my wife and I have chatted with people we otherwise would never have met.

    3) Perhaps I have been especially lucky, but I have neither found the bar to be overly loud, nor filled with drunken people…unless you count James Bond on his fictional flight from LHR to South America in “Quantum of Solace,” where the bartender served up a “Vesper” — 6 parts Gordon’s [UK] gin, 1 part vodka, Kina Lillet (“which is not vermouth”), shaken until very cold and served with a thin lemon peel…six of them! And after all his years of practicing, six cocktails barely affected him…regardless of what his BAC was. ;^)

  22. None of your bar descriptions make any of the bars seem better than those on Continental Airlines domestic flights Chicago to Los Angeles (and return) in 1976-1978. Not very much progress in 40 years!

  23. KE’s bar was meh. A loud snoring business class passenger had driven two other pax out of the cabin so they spread out to sleep in the bar which was otherwise empty. A sour FA with poor English glared at me and did not explain drink options let alone any tricks with vodka. So I took a couple of photos and left. On the return daylight trip to LHR it was completely empty with no sign of anyone to provide service.

    The lounge at the front is uncomfortable and there was no drink service, just a display of bottles.

    KE’s lousy and outdated A380 biz seating and insistence on offering bibimbap as its only repetitive Korean food offering (western menu from Korea is often poorly cooked and presented, too) long ago put me off the airline.

    I have friends who fly KE frequently as they work for a S Korea based corporate. They are allowed a one-class upgrade on business trips over 5 hours and choose KE cause there’s no premium economy so a once class boost is this poor business. I am told the bar-free 747-8 and 787 business class is better as it has all-aisle access seating.

  24. We flew Qatar to Doha from LAX and were bummed when they substituted another plane, and we didn’t go in Q-Suites. Do you think we missed the bar onboard? Nobody mentioned it. And is it not on the Q-Suites configured planes?

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