How Long Will Qatar’s QSuites Rollout Take?

United’s much maligned Polaris rollout has received a lot of attention over the past 12 months, especially regarding how slow the installation of their new seats has been. United is fitting all new widebody aircraft with the new Polaris seat, as well as retrofitting their Boeing 767 and 777 aircraft.

United launched this seat around 14 months ago, and in that time has fitted/retrofitted 22 aircraft and has 65 to go, so they’re around 25% complete.

It was originally calculated that it would take up to five years to reconfigure the entire fleet. But United has since promised to ramp this up to three per month, so at that rate should have all of the refits done within about two years. Whether or not they stick to that schedule remains to be seen.

United Polaris

But there’s another major rollout that at current rates will take much longer than this.

It’s one I’m much more excited about, and more frustrated by the pace of, yet it hasn’t received much media attention at all.

The QSuite

Qatar Airways launched their game-changing new business class product in June of last year, so almost a year ago. I flew it on QR7 from Doha to London last October, and it was probably the best flight I’ve ever had. The space, privacy, attention to detail and high-end finishes of the QSuites product absolutely took my breath away.

There were audible gasps when passengers entered the cabin, and it was a flight I didn’t ever want to end.

Combine this game-changing hard product with Qatar’s incredible soft product, and it is quite simply the world’s best business class.

Game over.

So, understandably, Qatar’s customers are very excited about when QSuites will be coming to their home route.

Qatar is planning to install QSuites on all of their newly delivered Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A350 aircraft, as well as retrofitting it to all of their longhaul aircraft. They’ve noted the version they will install into their Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 aircraft will be slightly different, because of the narrower cabin of these aircraft types.

It’s difficult to determine exactly which aircraft frames already have the new QSuites, but according to Flyertalk and Airliners.net, at least eight B777s have been either delivered, or refitted with QSuites. All new A350s (both the -900 and -1000 variant) delivered in 2018, should also arrive with QSuites installed. There have been four such A350 frames delivered this year, including one just last week.

So that’s say, 12 frames with QSuites (8 x B777 and 4 x A350).

So 12 planes in 10 months have been fitted/refitted.

Let’s say that’s a rate of 15 planes per year.

Qatar has 152 widebody aircraft in service. That means that almost a year after its launch, Qatar only operates QSuites on less than 10% of their planes.

I recognise that like United they will probably get quicker the more seats they install, but at current rates it will take them 10 years to reconfigure their fleet.

My understanding is that the refit plan for the 787s and A380s hasn’t progressed any further than the design being finalised.

The cause of the delay

Despite putting on a brave face, Qatar isn’t in the strong position it was when it first designed QSuites. The Qatar blockade has hurt their bottom line, and despite being one of the world’s richest countries (per capita), they no longer have the unlimited resources they seemingly once had.

They know they have the world’s best business class, and can really command a premium for that product over their rivals, so they must be frustrated they cannot introduce it on as many routes as possible.

Their competitors must be thanking their lucky stars!

I suspect the slow rollout is a combination of three things:

  • They do not want to take more planes out of service (for refurbishment) than is absolutely necessary because they want to continue to grow their route network;
  • They no longer have unlimited resources to rush products to market, so are doing things slowly and cost effectively; and
  • The ‘modified’ B787/A380 due to the narrower cabin size of these aircraft is going to be a bit of a disappointment compared with the original QSuites product, so they are delaying it as much as they can.

Qatar’s timeline promises

I have learned that probably more than any other airline, Qatar says they will do a lot of things they have absolutely no intention of actually doing. How’s that promised Las Vegas route going?

Qatar has made the following promises regarding QSuites installation:

  1. All 777s fitted by mid-2019. Remember they’ve done 12 in 10 months, so will need to do another 47 in the next 14 months. In other words, they’ll need to reconfigure them three times as quickly as now.
  2. 787 reconfiguration to begin this year. I have found no evidence that any frames have gone in for refit.
  3. A380 reconfiguration to begin in 2020. This is actually achievable!
  4. No timeline for A350s. I don’t believe any A350s with the ‘old’ reverse herringbone seats have gone in for refurbishment, but acknowledge all new A350s will be delivered with QSuites. It seems ridiculous that Qatar continued receiving A350s in 2017 with the old reverse herringbone seats, even after the first 777s were delivered with QSuites.
  5. No timeline for A330s. Note some of these will be moving to Air Italy anyway.

Bottom line

I realise nothing happens quickly in aviation, and the process of reconfiguring hundreds of planes will take years for even the richest or most efficient airlines.

Even if Qatar was able reconfigure 20 planes at a time they would be crazy to take this many planes out of service at once.

The purpose of this post is to highlight that while United has been absolutely rinsed for how long their Polaris rollout is taking, QSuites will likely take a lot longer yet no one calls them out on it.

I think their progress will improve, just as United’s did, and hopefully the entire process will be completed by the end of 2021. But like many of Qatar’s promises, this seems very ambitious.

Qatar has the world’s best business class ready to go – it’s a shame its taking such a long time to bring it to their customers who are very ready to fly it!

How long do you think the QSuites rollout will eventually take?

Comments

  1. Qatar is absolutely a bottom feeder. They cannot and do not command any premium over their rivals or anybody else, despite this fabulous new product. It’s wonderful and I do love it and their service in general, but make no mistake – even with subpar products, airlines (such as your favorite BA, LH, etc) command a premium because they offer the schedule that those who really pay the highest fares demand. Leisure travelers will love this, as they’ll get a great deal when they’re going on their fabulous trip from London to Bangkok at a (relatively) bargain fare. Those traveling for business will still continue to take the nonstop flights. Very simple. That said, great value for the high end leisure set.

  2. United as *A LOT* more than 65 wide-bodies it needs to fit with Polaris. As it currently stands: 7/35 767-300ER (3 more on order from HA); 0/16 767-400ER; 1/55 777-200ER; 17/17 777-300ER (fitted from factory, 1 more on order); 0/12 787-8; 0/25 787-9; or a total of 25/160 wide-bodies completed, assuming the 19 non-ER 777-200’s are not slated to receive Polaris.

  3. @ Jason

    “Those traveling for business will still continue to take the nonstop flights.”

    So where can I book that non-stop flight London-Sydney I’m doing next month? Or the Buenos Aires-Tokyo trip I’ve just done?

    Setting that aside, you are wrong since I travel for business and, with long-haul, not being as young as I once was, I sometimes prefer to break one huge flight into two medium-sized ones. Tokyo-London next week will be on Qatar, not direct. Deliberate choice. They’re getting that business because of the Qsuite DOH-LHR (otherwise I would have taken Emirates for the free transfers).

  4. I really don’t think airlines can command a product premium on business class products. Some people will certainly pay more but the vast majority of people flying paid business class will choose convenience over anything else since it is work-related travel

  5. @ David – I did think this number seemed low but they only have 55 on their Polaris tracker website so I assumed this was the only aircraft they were planning to refit?

  6. Honestly, they don’t need to retrofit anything but their 777 to be industry-leading. The A350, 787, and a380 seats are already competitive with the best. Don’t really see any imperative for retrofitting those.

  7. @ DC-PHLyer – many airlines have a reverse herringbone seat. I don’t find their hard-product to be quite as good as the reverse herringbone on Cathay and Virgin Australia for the simple fact that its not as private around the head shield.
    Qatar want to be better than the best hence why they want to improve on an already class-leading product.

  8. Qatar’s roll-out may be slower than United’s, but I think they don’t get as hammered for it because:

    1.) They aren’t years behind on lounge renovations. The lounges they already operate are modern and amenity-filled (though many cutbacks recently).
    2.) Their most recent reverse herringbone J product (prior to Q Suites) is very nice. Even their old 777-200 product is one of the most spacious 2-2-2 set-ups around, with extra-long beds and plenty of amenities and storage.

  9. Comparing Qatar to United is like comparing apple to staplers. Haha…that came into my head so I had to get it out.

  10. What about the routes that already have Qsuites that have been labeled “temporary” such as IAD?

  11. @Jason – I agree with @The nice Paul, not all business travelers are looking for long haul nonstops, myself included.

    As for the United rollout, it was so over-hyped with TV and other ads that it mislead the flying public into believing that this new hard product was in place when in fact, it was years off except in name only. Unlike many here, I’m a 90% hard product focused passenger giving little consideration to the fluff stuff like amenity kits, jamies, blankets, celebrity chefs, fru-fru food, wine and champagne offerings and gel pillows. And like @FMLAX said, the existing United hard product stinks in comparison to Qatar’s. I can’t imagine any scenario under which I would fly United for the Polaris soft product in the absence of the hard product. United richly deserves it’s criticism.

  12. Do not agree with the reason why this article was written. Everyone has been in a hurry for United to retrofit their planes since the older seat choice is so poor. Qatar’s older business class seats in comparison are much better.

  13. “I don’t find their hard-product to be quite as good as the reverse herringbone on Cathay and Virgin Australia for the simple fact that its not as private around the head shield.”

    Is that really a deal-breaker? You’re not going to self-combust if people can see the back of your head (and vice-versa) or if you make two seconds of eye-contact with a stranger…

    For me, the things to compare and are more important would be seat comfort (padding, width, space for feet, etc), storage space, not having to stow the TV, etc. But to each their own…

  14. “They do not want to take more planes out of service (for refurbishment) than is absolutely necessary because they want to continue to grow their route network”

    I was thinking that, but now I read that QR will lease some planes to BA.. and it doesn’t make sense. Besides, because of the blockade (can’t fly to a few destinations in the ME) I’m sure they’ve got plenty of aircraft to send to refit instead of ground standing them.
    It only makes sense that they’ve stopped the refit program because of the loss reported a few days back by AAB.

  15. There’s nothing wrong with the reverse herringbone seats, and if I were QR, I would not replace them. CX uses that type of seat, AA uses it…it is miles ahead of BA, LH, UA… Unless you absolutely must have a fantasy door that anyone can peek over.

  16. @the nice paul
    Just because you do that it doesn’t mean many people would as well. And I am not sure how many business travelers are there flying EZE-TYO anyways… Jason point was pretty much spot on, especially because most companies have corporate deals with 2-3 airlines and those deals are based on pricing and schedule and give little flexibility to employees. I would say that 70% of long haul business traffi still happens across the North Atlantic, with 20% perhaps between the US and Japan/China and Europe and Japan/China. So Qatar simply doesn’t have the power to command any premium in the market – in fact, they are often times among the cheapest business class products out there.

    Also, Ihave done TYO-LON via Doha as well, but not because of the QSuite. JL and BA flights leave TYO in the morning, while you can catch a late evening QR flight, sleep on the plane, conenct in Doha, and land late morning in LON. To me that was more convenient.

  17. I think the issue here is that cabin products increasingly have a lesser role in commanding yield premiums. Its network, frequency, connectivity and above all alliances that define that.

    British Airways is a case in point. They possibly have the highest yields in the business and have the poorest cabin products consistently across all classes. Why? Because they can get away with it as they have access to the most premium yet slot constrained airport in the world. The fact is that an airfare on United’s sub par business class non-stop business class from New Delhi to EWR typically sells for twice as much as a QR connection with Q suites and relatively short layover. I doubt that the yields would change very much if United swapped out its CO layout to the much dreaded 8 abreast layout. As depressing and unromantic as it sounds, business Travelers simply want to get where they need to in one piece in the shortest possible time while catching some shut eye on a flatbed.

  18. @ Airways and Travels

    “Just because you do that it doesn’t mean many people would as well”

    Good grief. I was criticising the OP because he implied that *all* business travellers always flew direct. As you have also pointed out, sometimes you choose not to. That was what I was pointing out, too. But I agree with you that the majority probably will.

    Your point about numbers flying between Latin America and East Asia is I imagine true. It still surprised me how few options I had. On my travels I’m always keen where possible to avoid transiting through the US because of the exciting “advanced immigration screening” (and I’m still unable to understand why the US seems incapable of offering sterile airside transits – you’d think they’d prefer as many people as possible *not* to enter their country); so it seemed to boil down to a choice between EZE-AKL on lovely Air New Zealand, or SCL-SYD on slightly less lovely Qantas (both then direct to Tokyo). I chose the former daily flight. It was, surprisingly to me, completely full (the AKL-NRT flight much less so).

  19. I would say there is one big difference between United and Qatar in this case. The existing Qatar fleet is still excellent and offers a great experience even in 2-2-2 whereas the existing United fleet I would avoid at all costs. Continue to rinse United.

  20. The original contracts from 3 years ago only considered retrofits for the 777’s. There was no plan for 787/A380/A330 retrofits or plans for the first 18-19 A350’s to be retrofitted. The plan originally included only the aircraft that fly the longest haul flights, so no 787’s which only fly a max of 8-10 hour flights at QR and at the time QR A380’s did not fly longer. If QR is now planning to reconfigure all of these aircraft, the timeline will be at least a couple years before retrofits can even begin on the 787/A380/A350 since lead times for this type of retrofit are 2-3 years. However, all 777 retrofits were originally planned to be done at the pace of 2-3 aircraft per month. Something has obviously impacted this implementation plan for the 777 retrofits

  21. Jason, this will take for ever, they will not retrofit the old aircrafts, is too expensive, you will see Q suites only on certain routes on some of the long haul flights. Most likely on the A350s , so now we have 3 types of business class seats, (the old buisneess class, most of North and South America routes except for NY, the new business class, Europe and some parts of Asia, south Africa,etc . And Q suites, London and few other cities. The hard product will not be standardized, same as etihad, Emirates is more uniform, however all the seats even the old ones are very comfortable in J class, the soft product is as usual impeccable, including great food and beverage onboard. Good luck on your next trip maybe you get to fly Q suites one day.

  22. Still hoping that they will expand to SFO or SJC. The Bay Area hubs need more high-quality airlines serving long-haul routes.

  23. Why would you give this airline any business in miles or money. It’s true their funding country has supported terrorism. I would never step foot on this airline or Qatar. There is a reason why all those countries are blocking them. Bad idea to continually post about QR. There are plenty of equal or better Business class products out there when you consider the whole experience. No need to review or write about QR

  24. @ Ryan

    You do know that pretty much everyone who’s tried It says the opposite – there is *no* other business class product as good as Qsuites.

    So which are these “better” products you think we should all be flying?

    (I’ve got 2 Qatar flights gets next week. Hugely looking forward to them.)

  25. @ James
    I want to comment on this since something interesting just happened in my booking for 3 weeks from now (the one that will take me to London about which I asked you for the pods!).

    Originally I booked my JKT-DOH-LHR specifically with QR7 for DOH-LHR leg for the Q-suite in the 77W that was scheduled at that time.
    I had booked 4B which is a front-facing suite.

    Then, suddenly I saw that I got been changed to 3A and then realized that the equipment had changed to an A350-900, with the reverse herringbone seats (which actually I love on QR).
    Understood that the airline had changed equipment for some operational reason or whatever and just left it in that way, so then seated on 3A in a classic reverse HB in a lovely QR 359, which even not being a Q-suite as originally planned, still an awesome seat.

    But today, I got a big surprise when I checked my booking (I normally check my bookings from time to time, just to be aware of schedule or aircraft’s changes) and found that I am still seated in 3A, but now 3A is a rear-facing Q-suite!!!
    My initial thought was, “mmm, did they decide to put back a 77W or even the A350-1000?”
    But not, the equipment is still an A350-900 but with Q-suites!

    So, does it mean this is a brand new A359 already fitted with Q-suites? I don’t think it’s an “older” one which has been retro-fitted.

    What do you think?

    Anyway, I am extremely pleased since my plan of making that leg in a Q-suite now is back in place, even this will be my first time in a rear-facing seat, but it adds more excitement.

    Cheers!!!
    Alejandro

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