Can Qatar Airways Revolutionize Economy?

Filed Under: Qatar

Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, is probably the most outspoken person in the airline industry. He has a big mouth and says a lot of things that make me cringe, but when it comes down to it, he usually delivers. He’s incredibly passionate about his airline, and also passionate about delivering a quality experience for “his” passengers.

For years he talked about introducing a “super business class,” and I was skeptical. That’s partly because the rollout of it kept getting pushed back, and partly because he isn’t always the more reliable narrator (where are Qatar Airways’ nonstop flights to Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Santiago, all of which the airline announced as a sure thing?). But my gosh, he sure delivered with Qatar Airways’ new business class. It’s by far the world’s best, as far as I’m concerned, and the design shows such amazing attention to detail. So when it comes to the onboard experience, never doubt Akbar, though it may not always happen with the timeline he initially promises.

So, what’s next for Qatar Airways? According to Al Baker, Qatar Airways plans to introduce a revolutionary new economy cabin in the next few years. Before we talk about the details, let me say that I’m highly skeptical of any airline that claims to be innovating economy seats.

Why? Because the reality of the industry is that business class seats keep getting more spacious, and economy seats keep getting tighter. That’s just how the economics of aviation work out, as economy passengers generally choose on price, while in premium cabins airlines try to differentiate themselves. So it’s easy enough to be innovative when you have more space to work, while it’s hard to get too creative when you’re cramming people into seats like sardines.

So we’ve seen plenty of airlines introduce refreshed economy seats, and to me they look like just about any economy seat. Don’t get me wrong, some seats are wider, some seats have more legroom, some seats have bigger TVs, etc.

However, if we’re going to be honest, the airline with the most spacious economy seats is probably Air India, and that’s largely because they haven’t updated them in so long (their 777-200s have seats in a 3-3-3 configuration, with 34″ of pitch). Singapore Airlines recently introduced new cabins on their A380, and here’s what their new economy looks like:

It looks perfectly nice, but I don’t think anyone would say “wow, that’s revolutionary.” However, Singapore Airlines most definitely has superior service in economy.

With that in mind, Air Transport World quotes Al Baker as saying that there’s something special that they want to do with economy:

“When you give the best product in business class, then you should never forget economy-class passengers, because that’s the volume. There is something [special] that we want to do. I promised the same with our [new business-class seat] Qsuite [at last year’s show] and I surprised [the public] with the product. And we want to do the same again for economy class.”

This could be announced as soon as at ITB Berlin 2019, so we’ll have to wait and see, as there are no further details as of now.

In the past, Al Baker has referred to Qatar’s economy class as being similar to premium economy on other airlines (which is insane, especially since it was around the same time that the airline densified their 777 economy), so the airline doesn’t have plans to install premium economy in the future.

So call me crazy, but I’m sort of optimistic for economy flyers here. I actually believe him when he says there’s something “special” they want to do, and I believe it will be innovative. I’m just curious what that special thing is.

My very first thought is that one of the things that makes Qsuites unique is that you can create a four person suite.


Some airlines have created ways that passengers can get a flat bed in economy, like Air New Zealand’s SkyCouch. Is there a way that Qatar Airways could come up with an economy product that allows people to sleep flat when traveling in groups of 2-4 by utilizing space more efficiently? The SkyCouch relies on there being at least one empty seat, so I’m curious if Qatar Airways can somehow come up with an even more efficient design.

Do you think Qatar Airways is considering actually revolutionizing economy, and if so, what do you think they’re trying to do?

  1. Revolutionize is a pretty strong word…

    Maybe they take some of the qsuites concepts for people traveling together and apply to economy? I’m thinking a European train car – some seats facing each other where the trays make a table, other seats are just normal front-facing rows.

  2. I believe the same thing that happened with the introduction of Business class back in the 70s and 80s will need to happen now. The gap between Business and Economy has never been this wide, and a correction is in order. Its clear that prices for Business have never been lower either, so airlines cannot continue to revolutionize Business without ultimately raising prices to what they need to be at.

    So I think a revolution is in order, and may even happen. But I don’t think Economy is going anywhere, I think there needs to be some middle-ground, and premium economy (in its current form) may not be the only answer to that. The price, value and ubiquity of a flat bed has become so achievable now that passengers who want a more premium experience but do not want to pay for enclosed business class suites may not be willing to just pay for a slightly wider seat with a bit more angled recline. These passengers are going to need something that fills the divide more equally.

  3. PIA, Air India continue to provide 3-3-3 in economy that’s because they haven’t refreshed their 777 cabins since their induction into the fleet many years ago. But, Biman- the carrier with the newest 77W’s in the region has opted for 3-3-3 in economy too..

  4. I wonder if they can make a seat that can lie back 180 and lodge w seat behind w seat behind if seat is empty or same party.

  5. Korean and JAL both have very generous economy pitch and JAL is the only airline I’m aware of to fit their 787s in the originallly marketed 8 across.

  6. I’ve heard that they plan on raising every 2nd row several inches off the ground in order to increase seat pitch

  7. It would have to be pretty drastic to be ‘revolutionary’. More drastic than dropping back to @ abreast on the 777 and 8 on the 787. Something along the lines of the staggered seats that appeared to lots of fanfare (and no orders) a few years ago.

  8. I don’t know what Qatar is planing to do, but I am a mostly economy class flier. I don’t know if revolutionary is needed, but what I look for is respect and dignity in economy. Aka not cattle. For internaional I want solid and an adequate amount of food, decent legroom, and an extra ammenity here or there. I have flown Turkish Airlines and Singapore Airlines in economy and they both have good service in economy. Good economy leads me to want to try business class with an airline as I am doing with Turkish soon. Bad economy products lead me to avoid an airline entirely such as when United introduced basic economy and I switched to Southwest as a result. I don’t want to fly an airline that does not treat economy passengers with respect.

  9. Perhaps QR will have some economy rows face each other? So for a family of 6 with kids, I’d think it may be better if they sit in one of those rows (3 seats facing the other 3 seats). Some trains have this kind of configuration.

    I sometimes fly economy longhaul and when I do, I always try to pick an Asian airline like ANA or Korean Air as they have great legroom for economy. When flying down under, I prefer air New Zealand. Sure, the skycouch is great but if the load is light, I’ve had a skycouch row all to myself and that was great. The seat pitch isn’t bad either.

    My one gripe that I don’t ever want to experience again is flying on a gulf carrier longhaul on a fully booked flight. For some reason the lavatories on those 14+ hour flights are just unsanitary and disgusting. Not sure why the FAs don’t clean them (or if they do, they do a shoddy job compared to the Asian airlines.)

  10. Flat beds in premium economy? Current premium economy is almost exactly where business class was 20 years ago. Someone’s going to do it eventually.

  11. Why couldn’t Qatar or ANY carrier be disruptive with a newer economy class seat and yet still allow the bean counters to have a voice at the table for it? I say GO FOR IT! Innovate and may the best carrier win!

  12. I sure hope they don’t come up with rows facing each other like on trains. As a solo flyer I sure don’t want to be face to face sharing legroom space with a stranger for a TATL or any other long haul flight for hours on end.

    I’ve seen the designs for elevated alternating rows and they certainly are revolutionary. That would be my guess.

  13. Staggering high and low seats is exactly how Pullman squeezed more beds into railcars in 1950’s “duplex roomettes”. This would seem more complicated to do on planes, since you need aisle access to each seat, and planes are only tall enough to do that in the middle. Could you do a 1-2-2-1 arrangement with three aisles?

  14. The airline-business has the same rules in Qatar than on any other place in the world. Less seats per square-metre require higher fares, as long as costs don’t sink in the same amount, to keep the results stable. Higher fares are a reason for price-sensitive people to avoid an airline in a competition. So, I don’t believe, that a revolution in economy class will take place in this direction. The only “revolution” in economy class to become true will be eleven abreast in the A380 (see Airbus’ “cabin enablers” video on YouTube). Let’s see, when the first step into this direction will be made.

  15. JAL also has 9 across 777s and 8 across 787s with 34″ pitch in Y. I believe they are actually the only carrier with 8 across 787s in Y.

  16. Triple high bunks!!
    Not gonna happen, but it would be really neat.

    I also hate the face to face rows on trains. I don’t need to be playing footsie with strangers, while the space under the seats goes to waste.

  17. Prolific is a perfect word, just read the full definition.
    There are concepts of seats in reverse herringbone, bunk beds, multi level and multi layered seat arrangements that would work great with a Cathay pacific style pod (seat recline doesn’t eat up someone else’s space). All we need is someone with the brains, money and courage to start.
    To begin woth, remove all ptvs and install Ipads holders on the seats, provide an ipad loan on request and stream Netflix on the plane. Tons and tons of expensive equipment gone and professional people looking after your contents.

  18. Have fold down beds like on a train. Sit for landing and take off and sleep during the long haul flight. Now that would be revolutionary

  19. My family just flew Qatar from BNE to MAN in economy and after flying this route with every other carrier over the years the soft product was by far the best add in a much better airport connection at Doha = perfect. Also just flown Etihad in same route , they allow you to purchase extra seats in economy so you can have 3 seats – that’s a cheap way to lie flat in a 24 hr flight.

  20. How many more paid-off puff pieces for Qatar do we have to endure before we can go back to objective columns?

  21. It’ll be another rendition of Air New Zealand’s SkyCouch + other forms of monetizing economy such as buying the middle seat for extra comfort or option of booting out your row’s seatmates for $999 per passenger!

  22. @Bgriff, that Cathay seat was appalling. It was the most painfully uncomfortable seat I have ever experienced – designed to force you to slouch and give you a back-ache within an hour.

    Passengers HATED it, and it was a mystery to me how they ever got that through the concept stage, apparently never testing it on real people? If QR tried anything similar I would stay far, far away from them in economy.

  23. I honestly think if Qatar is serious about a new “super” economy class product, the first step is to re-introduce 9 abreast economy seating in its 777-300ERs fleet and 8 abreast on 787s that are used for medium to long haul flight. You really don’t need to do much, as Qatar’s food is pretty on par these days. Just go back to 18″ wide seats with 33-34″ of legroom.

    JAL offers the best international economy class product now with a wide seat including 8 abreast seating in economy class and 34″ of legroom. If Qatar can match it, it can already claim that they have a superior economy class product!

  24. Skycouch is really not all that. Three seats isn’t long enough to make a bed and they are all towards the rear of the plane. Tried it once, won’t be booking again.

  25. I have seen many futuristic thoughts about economy seats. One was a flat bed of how Lufthansa imagined it. It was years back and it has never materialized. But in this case QA ceo didn’t give a single hint on what we should expect so it is indeed a surprise and I’m damn curious. In any case I’m based in Dubai and if it were today I couldn’t test it for obvious reasons.

  26. anyone ever watched ‘Come Fly with Me’ ? – the guy who introduces ‘lie flat’ seats in economy…where the seat essentially has the passenger sleeping in a standing position…LOL…that is probably what Qatar is planning on doing 😉

  27. You forgot to mention the skywider seats on JAL. They are also 3-3-3 know their 777-300s and 2-4-2 on their 787s. Very nice experience indeed.

  28. Ben you are in no position discussing economy seats. Let Daniel/Andrew do that. Not to mention Air New Zealand isn’t the only airline that offers sky couch in economy, but I’m sure you’re too busy sipping expensive champagne gulping down caviar in first class to know that.

  29. i think they can.they have done with the a350 9 across economy given it’s an all new design.all other airbuses before that use the old eight across configuration that dates back to the original a300 of the seventies and’s a great product i look forward to trying later this year adelaide to doha where i connect onto the a320 to budapest which is another story but coming home ex munich is on the a350.

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