Qatar Airways Denounces First Class

Filed Under: Qatar

I’ve come to an interesting realization over the past few days. Or really it’s a rather unfortunate realization, though I guess acknowledging a problem is the first step to fixing it. I’m attracted to people that are walking and talking contradictions. I don’t know why, there’s something intriguing about them. I’m genuinely curious to hear what they have to say next, because you never know what they’ll say next. Maybe that’s why I like watching The Real Housewives so much.

This brings me to the most prolific guy in the airline industry, His Excellency Akbar Al Baker. He’s the CEO of Qatar Airways, or just “The Chief” as everyone calls him.

Some days I think the guy is absolutely out-of-his-freaking-mind. He says things no one else is willing to say, and sometimes he’s dead wrong. Yet at the same time he’s a “no-BS” kind of guy. He has an unreal level of attention to detail, and he has no problem throwing shade like the best of them.

Earlier today I wrote about Qatar Airways finally taking delivery of their first A380, after a four month delay. For a long time, His Excellency has been ragging on Airbus saying they’re totally at fault for the delay. He wouldn’t explain why the delay happened, but just told media to ask Airbus, and told them to tell Airbus they have to tell the truth.

He directly contradicted himself in a Doha News article today, saying it wasn’t in fact Airbus’ fault — it’s because of how obsessed Qatar Airways is with quality (whatever that means):

Meanwhile, Al Baker seemed keen yesterday to smooth over earlier disputes with Airbus, saying the plane maker was not to blame for the delays to the delivery of the aircraft.

Backtracking on previous remarks made in July, he added that that the postponement was due to Qatar Airways’ commitment to quality.

That brings me to a Wall Street Journal article published today talking about how Qatar Airways plans a “business class revolution.”

Qatar Airways doesn’t see a future for first class, aside from on their A380s. They claim they sell only about 40% of first class seats, given that most people can’t justify paying for first class anymore. He claims they’ll have a “substantial revolution” with their business class product by mid-2016:

By mid-2016 the airline plans to roll out a new business class seating arrangement that Mr. Al Baker describes as “a first-class product sold as business class.” The executive would not discuss details of what he said is a proprietary set-up that will represent “a substantial revolution.”

Of course that pales in comparison to this quote from His Excellency:

“We have no residents and no suites and no butlers. But we have class,” Mr. Al Baker said in a pointed reference to his rivals.

Your Excellency, if you’re single you might want to give The Countess a call. I think you two would get along swimmingly.

So should we actually believe that their “revolutionary” new business class will be like first class at business class prices?

I think our answer might just be in his explanation of why Qatar Airways isn’t introducing a premium economy product:

Qatar Airways also is steering clear of the trend of introducing so called premium economy seating, a product priced cheaper than business class but with more amenities than standard economy class. Mr. Al Baker quips that the airline’s new economy class is effectively a “premium eco” offering, though at the cheaper price.

Clearly His Excellency has never flown premium economy (I can’t blame him, neither have I). But to say that their new economy class is like premium economy on other airlines is about as accurate as saying that Etihad’s pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi couldn’t be operating better. Qatar Airways has 32″ of pitch in economy class, which is 6″ less than premium economy on most airlines. 6″ counts, especially on a longhaul flight! Comparing their economy product to a decent premium economy product is ludicrous.

Bottom line

Ultimately I think His Excellency’s philosophy is “if you can’t beat them, join them. And if you can’t join them, talk $hit about them.” And he does that better than anyone else.

Do you think Qatar Airways will actually introduce a revolutionary business class product? How much better can it be than Qatar’s 787 business class product, or Etihad’s Business Studio product, really?

Qatar Airways 787 business class seat

(Tip of the hat to Joey)

  1. He’d make a great addition to the NY Housewives cast as LuAnn’s boyfriend…… Sonja would be so jealous since she needs a wallet.

  2. There is a trend away from offering 1st class. Has been for awhile, and many airlines are very successful without offering a 1st class. Will Qatar be successful, with not offering a 1st class, while its immediate competitors offer an over the top, range of 1st class services. Probably not. If one raves that they are everything and a bag of chips….and they aren’t. Well,there are no second chances in business.

  3. While EY and EK are in a pissing match to one-up each other, QR actually has some sense in saying first class is not working for them. Granted they have far less O&D to work with, but clearly with Oneworld, a new airport, a strong regional presence they’re working hard. Of course whether they’re making money is a different question, but clearly they have a plan and are not just following other airlines. The same cannot be said for many airlines around world.

  4. At the very least the dude helps you with the blog post count, not to mention interesting videos and gifs you add to spice things up a bit. If he would tone things down a bit we (including you Lucky) would not have as much fun:-)

  5. I also find it hard to believe airlines sell (not mileage redeem) 40% of their first-class seats. Do you know the true stats on this and business class? On US carriers, business class is filled with non-revs, and on the foreign carriers I’ve flown, first-class is usually deserted and business class is doing good to hit 50%. My gut says Akbar may be right to dump first class and improve the business-class product.

  6. yeah very contradictory statements, on the one hand they’re promoting the A380s and the amazing F service — while on the other hand saying, FC is dead… well way to put your foot in your mouth and purposefully sabotage your own flagship product before it even launches. cant have it both ways Al Baker.

    its ok, still nothing but love for his excellency — cause there are the exact kinda characters that are driving forces for change in the world. another such ‘crazy’ visionary that comes to mind is steve jobs — obsessive attention to detail and he defined products that he foresaw the market needed. he didnt come in to fill demand, he created demand literally out of thin air among other things.

    so as crazy as al baker maybe, I’m with this guy 100% even if I think he’s wrong about F demand in the future. why? well just looking at the number of millionaires minted over the last couple yrs, its clear there’s gonna be a huge distinction between the haves and have nots as the world becomes more unequal. also considering qatar and doha in particulare already has the highest gdp per capita in the world — and still trending upwards, no less — the O&D high end traffic is there and will come in due time. new airport, ‘new’ airline, joined OW — all of baker’s ducks seemed to be lined up, all he has to do is take the perfect shot heard all around the world. I mean things couldnt be any better from QR’s perspective, where everything seemingly is going for them or is in their favor in the near and long term.

  7. He has a point: International First Class is something that sells very badly. While some airlines want a flagship product to keep passengers happy to compensate for a not-so-good business product (LH comes to mind), airlines with a top-notch Business product can do without First.

    Airlines that want to keep International First Class for prestige reasons should look at what used to be practise at Swissair: Those guys only allowed upgrades into First (requiring a commercial ticket in Biz) and no outright redemptions.

    There is no need to impress people that will never buy a full-fare Business or First ticket and airlines are better off to upgrade people with a paid-for ticket.

  8. ” I’m attracted to people that are walking and talking contradictions.”

    You’re not alone in that. Reminds me of a certain fellow that got elected twice by talking out of both sides of his mouth, and succeeded mainly by throwing shade on his opponents. Yet still remains quite popular despite the total failure of everything he’s done, by asserting out that all of that is someone else’s fault. 🙂

  9. @ SMK777 — Oh I totally agree he has a point and do think for the most part first class is “dead.” I just find it funny that he’s talking about revolutionizing business class. How much better than the current reverse herringbone seat will it really get? And the economy to premium economy comparison is pretty ridiculous.

  10. I find it funny that he’s talking about revolutionizing business class by making it into first class and still calling it business class. If we take his word for it that this is actually what he plans to do, how will his airline make more money by marketing and pricing as “Business Class” a product that has First Class production costs?

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