Considering the swank business-class service being rolled out on long-haul routes, airline travel gurus have suggested that splurging on a first-class seat may not always be necessary. The level of luxe depends on the airline and on the particular model of plane. Here, we look at business class on three Middle Eastern airlines—Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways—highlighting some of the perks they have put in place to lure business-class travelers.
Be aware that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the services and perks offered by each airline have changed to ensure passenger safety. The services described in this article were available prior to the Spring of 2020, but may no longer be available or could be offered on a modified basis. Before booking your travel, be sure to consult your airline's website for the latest information regarding amenities offered, travel guidelines, and restrictions.
- As of Spring 2020, many airline services have changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic; these changes will likely continue indefinitely and travelers should check each airline for their most current services and amenities.
- All three Middle Eastern airlines—Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways—have tried to set up their business-class cabins and service so that you can work and relax.
- The level of luxe depends on the airline and on the particular model of plane.
Emirates offers business class flights on two different types of aircraft—the Emirates A380 and the Boeing 777. The plane model can make a difference, according to blogger and pilot Patrick Smith, owner of AskthePilot.com. “On the outside, the mega jumbo A380 is the ugliest jetliner ever conceived, but on the inside, it’s spacious, luxurious, and whisper-quiet. The upper deck A380 business class is outstanding.” Emirates’ Boeing 777 business class has a more standard seat, he says, “and at seven across, it is very, very tight.”
On the A380 there are 76 lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration that convert to fully flat beds about 70 to 79 inches long. Seats have a console and minibar to one side, and, says Smith, even though “it’s not a totally enclosed suite like you’d find in first class, the chair is set deep within the cubicle.” The two center seats have an electronically operated privacy barrier between them; Smith suggests that you choose a seat with an outside console “which acts as a buffer between you and the aisle.”
One extremely popular feature seems to be the onboard lounge, situated in the rear of the business-class cabin and open to both first-class and business-class passengers. It’s a place to socialize, drink, eat canapés, and relax in general. Two sofas are equipped with seat belts, “so you’re welcome to hang out even when there’s turbulence,” says Smith. The Daily Telegraph reviewer noted that the bar “provided a good platform for interaction between passengers and the international crew.” Lachlyn Soper at BabyTravelstheWorld.com says that the lounge is perfect for the “I am flying over Slovenia and still have nine hours to go” drink.
Emirates’ ICE (information, communications, entertainment) system has won the Skytrax “World's Best Inflight Entertainment” award multiple times. With up to 3,500 channels—including movies, TV programs, music, podcasts, and video games—there’s more than enough entertainment options to choose from, and the “video screen is huge and crystal clear with a comfortable set of noise-reduction headsets,” says Smith. Each seat includes a power station to charge your laptop, mobile, and other devices.
All three of these airlines have tried to set up their business-class cabins and service so that you can work and relax. What they can’t guarantee, however, is a completely quiet space for either. One reviewer learned this while flying business class from London to Dubai on an Emirates Airbus A380. An otherwise good experience was “tarnished,” he says, by “the piercing screams of children." When he asked an Emirates spokesperson whether the airline had considered an “adults only” feature, the answer was a straightforward, “No, we have not.”
In June 2020, Emirates’ chief operating officer, Adel Al Redha, announced the airline would modify services on their airplanes for the health and safety of crew and customers. Before booking a flight, travelers should consult Emirates' website for the latest information regarding restrictions, including the possible need for a pre-flight COVID-19 health certificate and an international health insurance policy covering illness from COVID-19.
The great feeling one gets boarding the upper deck of the A380 “never gets old,” according to a writer for the industry news blog Airline Reporter describing his business-class flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi. He likes Etihad’s cabin decor for its “class and sophistication.” And, although he doesn’t care for the rear-facing seats, as well as the front-facing ones because of the slightly reduced pitch, he does approve of the bed being wider on the A380 than on the A330/A340 or the 777.
Because of the comfort factor, the decor, the food (which he calls “stunning”), and the in-flight entertainment system, he declared his business-class experience on Etihad superior to even some of today’s first-class products. “The airshow feature is one of the best I have seen,” he writes. “There is a head-up display mode, as well as various other bits and pieces of information such as the pitch and roll rate of the aircraft and the vertical speed indicator. It is packed full of many unique features that any AvGeek is sure to appreciate.”
A Telegraph review called the Etihad A380 business studios very comfortable, “undoubtedly some of the most sophisticated business-class seats on offer.” The reviewer liked the Poltrona Frau leather of the seats and the brown, taupe, and “understated golds” of the studios. “Storage is ample and a large retractable dining table functions adequately as a desk.” Plus, because business class is so vast, “the cabin remains reasonably peaceful even when near capacity.”
Etihad has “a relatively sedate lounge area” where drinks, tea, and snacks are available. “It lacks the hubbub found in other airlines’ communal spaces...some passengers will no doubt welcome the relative tranquility, and the space itself is inviting.”
As of July 2020, some travelers may be required to have a negative COVID-19 PCR test result before departure. Travel requirements change frequently and Etihad recommends guests review their website for the latest information.
Tariq El-Asad, director of Tamea International and a frequent traveler to and from the Middle East, likes the design of Qatar’s interiors better than that of Emirates. “It’s more ergonomic, so it feels more comfortable. I especially like the mod-style business-class seats that were on one London-Doha flight—it felt very futuristic, with both form and function in harmony.”
Smith took a long-haul flight from Doha on one of Qatar’s 777s and declared his seat, with its 2-2-2 configuration and wide console for each passenger, to be “roomy” but the “retractable privacy barrier was small and not particularly useful.” He prefers the herringbone-style configuration where every seat is an aisle seat, which is how the A380 is laid out. He found that when the seat was fully flat, it made for a comfortable bed, especially with the mattress pad that was provided to “help fill in the cushion gaps.”
Food and Entertainment
Some of the luxury extras that Qatar likes to promote are the Ladurée desserts, amenity kits from Armani, and Frette linens. “Costing upwards of $1,000 for a sheet set, this is bedding found at some of the most luxurious hotels around the world. No more itchy pillows and flimsy blankets on this flight,” according to Vogue.
When Ben Schlappig (onemileatatime.com) flew from Bali to Doha in a 777, he was impressed that he was given pajamas in business class; unfortunately, they were low-quality and didn’t fit. (He ordered a size medium, which “fit like a tank top.”)
Menus, which are created by international celebrity chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Vineet Bhatia, take into account “not only flavors and spices, but how the taste buds are altered at 30,000 feet,” Schlappig said. The same team oversees the menus in both business and first class.
But best of all, according to Schlappig? “Qatar Airways takes the cake for their onboard bar. They serve Krug Champagne, which is ordinarily only available to first-class passengers. But since the bar is shared by first- and business-class passengers, they offer everyone the ‘premium’ alcohol selection. Onboard bars don’t get better than this, from the decor to the ambiance to the drink selection.”
The entertainment system, according to a writer for Abu Dhabi-based The National, an English-language daily newspaper, earned top marks. Entertainment included movies from the latest blockbusters to classics and a good range of documentaries.
Similar to Emirates and Etihad, Qatar Airways urges passengers to review their website for information on the latest travel restrictions and modifications to amenities and services the airline offers.
Key Differences in Dining Options
There are various differences between the services offered by the three airlines. Here's a look at some of the dining options, including types of food and timing of food service.
Emirates offers a choice of six-course meals. A reviewer for the Telegraph enjoyed the food and wine, although he “had expected the airline to celebrate Arabic cuisine to a greater extent.” Patrick Smith (askthepilot.com) doesn’t like that Emirates (and Qatar) offer separate service for each passenger—in other words, no aisle cart. “The whole thing feels random and confused, with flight attendants running to and from the galley with plates and trays.” The fact that the trays are set with Royal Doulton china and linen tablecloths and napkins may be consolation for some.
Etihad’s “dine anytime” feature made the reviewer at The Telegraph think that “eating at predetermined times when flying business with other airlines may now feel like more of an imposition.” The à la carte menu features both Middle Eastern and international dishes; he found his meal of Arabic mezze, chicken supreme, and chocolate and vanilla mousse cake was both “tasty and well-presented."
For Qatar business class passengers, food is served à la carte and on-demand—no set meal or snack times. Some passengers love the idea, but Smith is lukewarm: “It’s a little too open-ended, and at no time was this process explained. After takeoff, I sat there for two hours, ravenously hungry and waiting for the service to begin before finally figuring out there was no service.” He complains that not once “during the entire flight did a flight attendant ask if I needed anything.”
Blogger Ben Schlappig's meal, which included beef rendang (an Indonesian stew) with a “fantastic sauce and the perfect amount of spice” was “top-notch,” he said—one of the best he had ever had in business class on any airline.
The Bottom Line
Etihad, Emirates and Qatar each offer a unique experience to travelers who are hoping to enjoy comfort and luxury on every trip. Beyond amenities, you may consider things like travel routes, health and safety procedures and cost for determining which airline to fly. When booking air travel, regardless of the airline, be sure to consider the best travel rewards cards for earning miles or points on flights.