Qatar Airways Ltd. showcased its Airbus A380 first-class service with a more reserved design than the premium cabins unveiled yesterday by regional rival Etihad Airways PJSC, underscoring diverging views on the most expensive seats that are becoming increasingly difficult to fill.
While Qatar’s eight first-class seats on the double-decker airliner will be the widest in the industry, they resemble a roomier business-class model rather than the fully enclosed cabins and lounges that Etihad presented yesterday. On some existing aircraft, the airline is removing first-class seats altogether to make room for the more popular business berths.
“Executive travel returning to first class will never happen, I don’t think so, and that’s why we decided on a first-class product with a business class price,” Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker said today at an industry conference in Dubai. “We decided that as load factors on first class were only 40 percent, that we better not have first class but give a very good business class product.”
By the end of this year, the three largest Middle East carriers will all operate the A380 super-jumbo, an airliner so large it has provided carriers with unprecedented opportunity to fit cabins, showers, in-flight duty-free shops and bars. Al Baker, who markets his airline as the equivalent of a luxury five-star hotel, said carriers would still be well advised to use the space efficiently to wring money from the jetliner.
“In an aircraft, it’s the most expensive real estate in the world so we need to make maximum use of the space,” he said.
The Qatar A380s, which are in final assembly at Airbus in Hamburg before delivery early next month, will come with 48 business-class seats and a total of 517 seats on the two levels.
Etihad’s model, coming at the end of the year, features what the company called the “residence,” a three-piece enclosed cabin with a double-bed, living area and shower room complete with a dedicated attendant. Emirates, the biggest carrier by international traffic, has flown the A380 since 2008, with almost 50 in the fleet and 140 on order in total.
Al Baker said there’s a possibility that Qatar Airways will order more A380s “in the not-too distant future,” depending on how the first aircraft perform. The first A380 to be delivered will fly from Doha to London “hopefully” on June 17th, he said.