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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 787 reconfiguration to begin this year. I have found no evidence that any frames have gone in for refit.
- A380 reconfiguration to begin in 2020. This is actually achievable!
- 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.
- No timeline for A330s. Note some of these will be moving to Air Italy anyway.
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?