Qatar’s national carrier is upgrading its business class offerings by rolling out new seats that can be closed off with a sliding door, according to media reports.
The new “super-business class” arrangement will initially be incorporated into the design of newly-built aircraft, likely the Boeing 777-300ER, and then the Airbus A350s, by the end of this year.
The remainder of Qatar Airways’ fleet will then get retro-fitted with the design, Australian Business Traveller quoted the airline’s CEO as saying last week during a press conference for the new Doha-Sydney route.
While Akbar Al Baker is quoted as describing the cabins as “first class at a business class fare,” the move comes as the airline is reportedly looking to phase out first class in all but its A380 aircraft.
Qatar Airways is planning an expected media launch of the new seats in November, ahead of a planned December roll-out.
This puts it in competition with Gulf rival Emirates, which is also planning to launch its new 777 business class seats in November.
The first images of what Emirates’ arrangement will look like are expected to be shown at the Berlin International Travel Trade Show, which starts tomorrow. But they will reportedly feature a fully-flat bed and a privacy panel.
Al Baker described the new super-business class as a cabin concept that would not be claustrophobic.
Speaking to ABT, he said: “I really feel that private suites become a bit claustrophobic, so when we are designing our new business class product we are making sure it is not.”
“So we have decided to go for semi-privacy, in the cabin concept people slide the two doors and it becomes a cabin. It is already semi-closed and then it becomes fully closed, because people want additional privacy when they are sleeping.”
The cabin design, which the chief executive said would be exclusive to Qatar Airways, would also feature a double bed – at least for the middle seats.
After launching in the new aircraft, the remainder of the carrier’s fleet would be retrofitted with the new arrangement, at a rate of around three aircraft a month, he added.
Qatar Airways declined to comment on the media reports.
While the lux design will be good news for business travelers, it will provide little comfort to economy passengers who will still have to travel 10 across on Qatar Airways’ new 777 arrangement when it launches late this year.
The extra seat in each row will allow the airline to squeeze another 23 passengers into economy, which analysts said would boost revenue on busy European routes.
However the airline said the decision was made due to “ever-increasing passenger demand” and Al Baker has previously been quoted as saying that passengers would not notice the narrower seats.
Competition between carriers in the region remains intense, particularly to attract passengers at the front end of the aircraft.
In addition to its new business class layout, Emirates joined Etihad in announcing last year a revamp of its first-class cabins, to feature “fully enclosed rooms” similar to that found on a luxury yacht, its president and chief executive Tim Clark previously said.
Etihad launched its upgraded first-class offering at the end of 2014 with what it called The Residence, which includes butler service in its three-room suite designed for two people traveling together.