Qatar Airways Unveiling New Economy Seat This Week

Filed Under: Qatar

Note: This is an update to a story from a couple of weeks ago, as Qatar Airways has now made an official announcement.


We’ve seen a ton of innovation from airlines when it comes to their premium cabin products. From onboard showers in first class to suites with doors in business class, flying is better than ever before for those in the pointy end of the plane.

Qatar Airways is historically incredibly innovative, and many of you may recall that in 2017 they introduced Qsuites, the name of their spectacular business class product. As far as I’m concerned this is by far the world’s best business class.


Qatar Airways Qsuites

However, Qatar has always taken pride in all of their classes of service, and in the past their CEO has even said that there’s no need for the airline to introduce premium economy, because their economy is as good as premium economy on other airlines (which is a complete lie, but that’s what he claimed).

Qatar Airways’ plans to revolutionize economy

Qatar has made an interesting promise. Just under a year ago I wrote about how Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said the airline planned to introduce a revolutionary new economy product within the next few years. Now, a few things to note:

  • Al Baker is known for being outspoken and often just outright making stuff up; sometimes what he says is true, but more often than not, it isn’t
  • Airline executives in general are notoriously optimistic, so when I hear something may be coming “in the next few years,” I assume it’ll be at least five years
  • Airline executives love to throw around the word “revolutionary” in a way that’s completely unwarranted

As of now I don’t think a single airline has introduced an economy seat that’s truly “revolutionary.” Sure, some are more comfortable than others, but there’s not much actual innovation.

Anyway, there’s an official update on this front.


Qatar Airways’ economy

Qatar Airways about to introduce new economy seat

Qatar Airways has confirmed that they will be unveiling an “enhanced” economy class product on Wednesday, March 6, 2019, at ITB Berlin 2019. ITB Berlin is the world’s largest travel and tourism trade show, and it’s where the airline has historically made a lot of product announcements.

The reveal is expected to take place at Qatar Airways’ exhibition stand on the first day of the show, and will be followed by a press conference at 12PM.

Here’s what Al Baker had to say about this announcement:

“It is always a pleasure to come to ITB Berlin, and this year is no different. Qatar Airways is known by travellers around the world for its continued commitment to innovation and to redefining the customer experience. This year we are delighted to reveal our newly-enhanced Economy Class product at ITB, a further testament to our dedication to improving passenger comfort at every level. We look forward to welcoming guests and visitors to our stand, where they can experience our world-class products and hospitality firsthand.”

The expectation is that Qatar Airways’ A321neos will be the first to get these new seats. They’ll start taking delivery of these planes later this year.

“Enhanced” vs. “revolutionary”

Unfortunately I’m expecting that the reveal on Wednesday won’t be for the “revolutionary” economy class product that Al Baker talked about more than a year ago.

In the press release from today, the airline refers to introducing an “enhanced” economy seat. That’s very different than introducing a “revolutionary” economy seat.

Now, some airlines do underpromise and overdeliver, and as excellent as Qatar Airways is, they’re not one of those airlines. They constantly hype what they’re going to introduce to build buzz, and I feel like if they were actually introducing something they thought was revolutionary, they’d market it as such.

So my guess is that we’ll just see a new seat with a slightly bigger television, maybe a comfortable headrest, and a couple of other features.

But I feel pretty confident that we won’t see the “revolutionary” seat they’ve been hyping. I imagine at some point we’ll see an airline introducing something along the lines of Thompson Aero’s Cozy Suite, which essentially is an economy product in a staggered configuration.

Cozy Suite concept

Each passenger would have roughly the same amount of personal space, but by staggering seats you benefit from more privacy.

Given that the concept has been around for years, I can’t wrap my head around why a single airline hasn’t jumped onboard with a concept like this. I’m not sure if the fear is that some passengers would actually be put off by the concept, if it’s just that expensive, if it’s not quite as efficient (since in the first and last row some space will be wasted), or what.

Nonetheless I think it’s safe to say that any sort of “revolutionary” economy product would need to have seats staggered in some sort of way (not necessarily the above, but in some way), because I can’t think of any other way to be truly innovative.

Bottom line

I don’t expect Qatar Airways’ “enhanced” economy product will be anything earth-shattering. Rather I think they’ll just introduce a slightly improved product. Then maybe they’ll introduce the “revolutionary” new economy seat a few years down the road.

After all, just over a year ago Al Baker said the revolutionary economy product would be available in a few years, so I guess it was too soon for it to be introduced now anyway.

Anyone have a different read on this than I do, and think Qatar will actually introduce a revolutionary economy seat?

Comments
  1. That seat would be absolutely amazing, It would allow each person to have somewhere to rest their head against and could potentially also allow multiple people to utilize the armrest. If they go with an idea with that I would absolutely book a flight to try it out.

    Though I am sure it is something more mundane, as all of these airlines are prone to hyperbole. Maybe they will allow economy to order their meal ahead of time… that would be nice.

  2. I imagine that a staggered economy setup would make it extremely difficult for the window seat person to get to the aisle if the seats in the row in front are reclined, due to how much more the seats are blocking their path to the aisle. Thoughts?

    I agree with RF: a truly revolutionary economy seat to me would be actually having cushioned seats instead of the hardest plastic known to mankind. Plus some kind of ergonomic design that isn’t only comfortable for those 5’10” and and under. At 6’3″, the only time I’ve felt comfortable in economy was on Swiss in their regional “business” on a Bombardier CS100.

  3. @Super
    The cozy suite concept seats are shells, the seat reclines by sliding forward, not by leaning back. Nobody can take your space, seat pitch is guaranteed. Similar shells on AF, CI & SU.

  4. My thought on that staggered design is that by sitting further behind the person next to me it will be much easier to see what they are typing on their phones and/or laptops, so the nosy nelly in me is interested.

  5. The staggered seating makes sense for the center of the plane, but not the sides. Looks very hard to get to the window seat, especially if you are old or obese

  6. @majik interesting, I wonder if it would just be the same problem but from the seats in the same aisle. There’s gotta be a reason airlines haven’t implemented this, because it makes too much sense otherwise. Either ergonomics or economics are the problem.

  7. Why do you continue to quote the Aviation Analyst as a source. He is not an analyst of any sort, he has been proven wrong by numerous airline experts, buys thousands of social media followers, has fallen out with half the pilots on Twitter for talking absolute tosh and seems to be on the QR payroll.

    And yet Lucky you bring the quality of your blog down by continuing to quote his articles.

    Stick to respected analysts and journalists.

  8. I wonder if the Cozy Suite is actually approved for use by regulators? I would think it might raise issues of whether passengers could evacuate as quickly in an emergency.

    Also, the Cozy Suite is designed to increase seat pitch but then add an extra seat per row to make up for it — so 9 abreast in an A330 for example. That might still be okay from a personal space perspective since your shoulders are offset from the person “next” to you, but given that airlines have gotten fairly aggressive about going to narrower economy seats, I’m not sure how much more opportunity there is there — I’m not sure if a 777 Cozy Suite can get to 11 abreast, and if they can’t, then an airline already using 10-abreast economy seating would have to give up a lot of seats to install Cozy Suites, since you need the extra seat pitch for the inside passengers to be able to get in and out.

  9. I do recall him in an interview, when asked if QA was planning to introduce PE and he answered that NO he wasn’t. That he would have revolutionized Economy and added “why to pay a premium fee for PE if passenger can enjoy the same comfort with an economy class ticket price”. So I am not sure that the new economy seat will look like the ones pictured above. I rather believe that the same seat will have a little more space enough to recline a little more. So probably less width but more row space and a little more reclining. I believe this would be revolutionizing enough without compromising too much costs for implementing such a modification.

  10. Looks cool but I did just see another economic design where the middle seat was lower and back a bit. Looked interesting as well.

  11. Given Qatar has some of the densest economy class layouts currently flying, I’m going to temper my enthusiasm for what Bakar actually thinks is revolutionary.

  12. That staggered economy seat layout looks like it would be seriously claustrophobia-inducing for the poor passenger stuck in the window seat.

  13. Ultimately if one is of any age past 40 we want to sleep at night on longer legs so I think in the near future we will experience utilization of vertical space in every cabin. Personally I could not care less about all the extra fluff of wine and dine in premium cabin. I only care about my sleep on overnight flights.

  14. As Admiral Akbar would say about these seats, it’s a trap! Especially for the poor sods in the window seats.

  15. Qatar’s current Y product is so good I would be surprised if they could make it better. From an economic standpoint I do not see why Qatar would invest more money into developing and rolling out a new Y. Then again, Qatar is a Middle Eastern airline that can burn money.

  16. Totally agree with the contributor called “Super”. I would not want to try to get out of the window seat in an emergency, with the other two seats reclined and blocking your path.

  17. Traveling frequently with my family, the staggered configuration is a non-starter if you’re traveling with a toddler or younger who has their own seat. Constantly having to turn around or reach far forward to get to help your kid would get tiresome very quickly.

  18. “Qatar’s CEO said their economy class is as good as premium on other airlines… which is a complete lie”. Have you been in Y on Qatar Airways? Yes, it’s dense, but when you take the soft product into account, it is as good as premium economy on some other airlines. Remember, premium economy is only what economy used to be (and still is on Asian and Middle Eastern airlines).

  19. There is not much they can do other than improving some details of the seat. All other things that have been proposed either take up too much space or look good only in theory and in reality are less comfortable than class layouts (fixed shell seats, staggered configurations…).

  20. Actually Qatar’s Economy product is as good as other airlines premium economy in the sense of the soft product. I flew them from JFK to Doha and connecting in economy and the soft product was as good as (maybe even better) than some airlines. The hard product though is an economy product.

  21. @Dennis “it is as good as premium economy on some other airlines.”

    I totally agree. Middle Eastern and Asian airlines have economy classes that are light years beyond many US carriers.

  22. Everyone is missing the opportunity here.

    I have two words for you: Vertical Stagger.

    That’s the key. Current seat designs do not make any use of the third dimension. By vertically staggering seats, you could make much better use of all that currently-underutilized space. Yes, there are certainly potential design challenges with getting in/out of seats (and issues of traveling with others that need your attention) if all seats are not all on the same level, but not every seat needs to be above (or recessed into) the floor. A smart design could provide some seats all on the same level as with current conventions, with others higher and lower. Al these challenges could be overcome with some clever design choices.

    “3-D Economy Seating” could indeed be revolutionary (and potentially great). If they are willing to innovate, they have a great opportunity here.

    Think Out Of The Box…and Off The Floor!

  23. Serving meals / drinks to the person in the in window seat would be a massive pain.

    Either the person in front is getting a face full of flight attendant, or the food / drink is getting passed along.

  24. I would love to at least try this. I wonder if the airlines have already done focus groups to get opinions of average travelers. It would help with the problem of wide passengers encroaching on the space of their neighbors

  25. The staggered economy configuration results in less seats in the first and last row. Moreover, safety exits regulations will make it difficult.

  26. The Gulf airlines have really missed out on a major market by not joining the premium economy trend this decade.
    It is cheaper for airlines to add the cabin than other premium classes but cost per seat a very good return on investment. Also I am surprised it took the Americans so long,
    A Premium Economy Cabin isn’t as glamorous as the Gulf First Classes of showers and Apartmentd but unlike that class of major loss making extravagance, people will actually regularly pay the extra for premium economy and having their own shoulder room and armrests (even in Qatar economy lacks these important comfort features for long haul flights in a full cabin).

  27. i value width over legroom

    I wish airlines would offer a “Wide Economy” option with extra seat width, but not extra legroom.

    For instance, on an airline with 31 inch leg room and 3-3 seating, offer seats with 31 inch legroom, and 2-2.

    I don’t value Confort+ when I’m stuck in the middle of a 3-3 row

    Wide Economy would be revolutionary

  28. @majik: I think the only airline that ever installed seats with a fixed shell in economy (not premium economy) is Cathay. And they had to throw them out pretty quickly because customers didn’t like them at all. Why? Because in economy, a fixed shell means that you can’t recline your seat. Unless you slide it forward, in which case you lose your legroom. These concepts look interesting, but in reality all of them are worse than what we currently have. The “cosy suite”: Imagine sitting in the middle seat, it is plain awful. You have one person literally looking over your shoulder, and one person half in front of you.

  29. This “revolutionary” design they say looks good to me when it comes to space (legroom) and comfortability because you can lean your head and body more on the side and it has enough space for your arm. Looking forward to trying it out.

  30. @Kelcy – the sad but hilarious truth is that they’re light years behind other airlines, the other airlines are only bad cause they’re making cuts, the Middle East-Asian ones stayed the same thankfully

  31. If it’s anything like BA’s new A320neo steerage class seat (and lavatories FAs say some larger passengers can’t fit into), stand by for Qatar Qomplaints…

  32. I can’t understand @Lucky enthusiasm for stagger economy seats. They only look good without the previous row also staggering. As soon as the row in front to your side eat down your space, the stagger layout would become extremely claustrophobic. Plus, if you don’t for into the space horizontally (either too tall or too wide), you have no space to expand. Finally, empty middle seats are now useless.

    For example, you mentioned (elsewhere) that stagger layout helps passing stuff in. How? The shortest path from aisle to window seat now cut through people’s heads. Obviously, if the previously row is not there, it’s nice. But it will be there. And the fa will pass drink over people faces.

  33. Does one now have to zig zag to get to the window seat? Understood they may be shelled and hence no recline but you still don’t have a straight path back. Yes no knees in the way but definitely the shell of the seat back. The ability to rest your head and also your own arm rest space seems nice.

  34. The reason for the staggered economy seating not coming online was apparently due the oxygen mask/PSU issues, and a need to to reconfigure them , which was not feasible.

  35. @Chuck

    The high density seat design was leaked several months back. But the revolution announced by QA’s CEO was not intended to bring more discomfort, but rather quite the opposite. I recall in one of the interviews his statement “why to pay for Premium Economy if we can give the same comfort for the same price of Economy”. That answer leads me to think that he will surprise everyone with QA’s new economy seats as he did with the QSuites. No one believed him but eventually he did surprise the aviation and has definitely put pressure on competitors to catch up. So I have good expectations on the new QA’s economy class.

  36. You know all they really would have to do is to offer slightly more pitch in some of their Y seats than their competitors to scoop up a reasonably sized percentage of stray travellers. It’s a pity they do not offer PE – their Europe-Asia flights with a break at Doha would be unbeatable.

  37. The only ‘good’ seats in that staggered config are the bulkhead seats~ the ‘C’ seat in particular.
    The concept generally is bad and throws up many new problems as detailed in Comments above. I guess you can never make a silk purse out of a sows ear.
    Back to the drawing board………

  38. Will be very interesting to see.
    Economy on the QA A380 is pretty decent and about as good as it gets in my opinion. On the other hand, the QA B787 economy seats are the worst seats for flying long haul.

  39. i love Qatar Airways and have even worked there. I love how they still keep the humane 3-3-3 config on their 777’s but it’s a shame that as a North American, i would have to deal with countless crying and misbehaving babies most likely en route to South Asia via DOH- and for that reason, I’m out

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