Skift Take

The new CEO of Qatar Airways is shaking up the carrier's premium strategy with a major change in policy.

If you thought the concept of flying first class was dying out, think again.

On Friday, Qatar Airways’ new CEO revealed the carrier is preparing to launch a new first class cabin. Badr Mohammed Al-Meer said the project was already in its advanced stages, with further details coming “very soon.”

Speaking to CNBC, he said that on certain routes “there is – and there always will be – very high demand for first class.”

Badr Al-Meer said the decision, which was taken in the past few months, had renewed urgency with the eventual retirement of the Airbus A380.

The super jumbo is currently the only plane type in Qatar’s fleet to offer a first class cabin (pictured above). It flies to select destinations including London Heathrow, Sydney, and Bangkok from Doha. The A380 has eight first class suites situated on the aircraft’s upper deck.

Badr Al-Meer’s comments represent a major U-turn in strategy for Qatar Airways. Just last year, his predecessor Akbar Al Baker told Bloomberg that he “didn’t see the necessity” for first class. “Why should you invest in a subclass of an aeroplane that already gives you all the amenities that first class gives you?”

Ambitions For Qatar Airways’ New First Class

In a bullish assessment, Badr Al-Meer claimed that “nobody can develop a first class cabin better than us,” citing two main reasons.

The first is Qatar Airways’ existing QSuite business class product. It has swept the board with industry awards and been described as ‘first in business’. 

“What we did with the QSuite, by raising the benchmark for a very long time, we will do the same with the first class cabin,” said the CEO.

The second reason, says Badr Al-Meer, is the knowledge and expertise the company has from its Qatar Executive private jet division. “We want to combine the experience of flying commercial and on a private jet to develop something new.”

In terms of a timeline, he told CNBC that the project is already very well advanced. “We are 70-80% ready – we are only finalizing colors and small touches.”

What Will Qatar’s New First Class Cost?

As for its first class pricing strategy, the CEO said fares for the new cabin will be broadly in line with its existing top-tier option. “People will not have to pay an arm and a leg to fly on [the new] first class – it will be the same cost as our [current] first class on our A380.”

In recent years carriers including LATAM, Malaysia Airlines and South African Airways have withdrawn their international first class products.

This has left only a handful of long-haul carriers which continue to invest in a true first class cabin. These include Singapore Airlines, British Airways, Air France, and Japan Airlines. However, even these companies only offer the product on select routes.

The broader concept remains popular with some U.S. domestic operators. Just last week American Airlines announced it would be ramping up its domestic first class offering.


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Tags: a380, first class, premium air travel, qatar airways

Photo credit: Qatar Airways First Class Cabin - Airbus A380 Qatar Airways

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