Qatar Airways took us for a tour of its new A380 aircraft, and began with an apology for having “no butler, no residence, no suites.” The airline’s CEO, His Excellency, Mr. Akbar Al Baker, thus clearly differentiated the Qatar A380 from that of other Gulf competitors.
Few passengers may miss these frills, since fewer still would ever get to enjoy them; and that is His Excellency’s point.
This is an A380 for the working man: blue or white-collar (or possibly polo neck). There’s a First class section for the Boss, but it’s nothing over the top. You get all the features you want most: space, comfort, entertainment, connectivity. There are outlets for your devices. There’s a lounge. So what did we miss?
1) The bathroom has a powder room, but no shower. All fancy frills aside, this is one feature of competitors A380s which stands a good chance of making long-haul travel more refreshing. You probably won’t miss it, though, as Qatar offers great services at its new Hamad International Airport. You’ll even find a wellness facility at the airport with 2 squash courts, a gym, a juice bar, a 25 metre-long swimming pool, saunas and a five-star spa. There’s bound to be a nicer shower there where you can run the water as long as you like.
2) The eight First Class seats aren’t enclosed suites. None of that private cabin feel on this aircraft. This is a plane of the people for the people and full of people. You probably won’t miss the private door, anyway–if you’re one of those eight at the front. There’s a nice privacy screen to hide your head. It’s a good place to sit and chat with a buddy seated opposite you on the ottoman. It’s a more social cabin. Or you can keep to yourself and get lost in the top-shelf Thales IFE. Since the ticket won’t cost you an arm and a leg and a mortgage, you won’t miss the missing sliding door.
3) A little less exclusivity in Business Class. Qatar Airways is all about Business. That’s core to the airline’s strategy. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a long-stretch Business class cabin, all those rows of nested seats made it feel a bit endless, even crowded, at first glance. Here’s the thing: it wasn’t. Once you get to the individual seat–especially the window (2 windows, in fact) it feels plenty roomy. My advice: book the window if you’re travelling alone. Still, 48 lucky upwardly-mobiles get to stretch out in what is really a very-darned-close-to-First cabin. You’ve got to share it with a lot of folks, but it’s worth it for a long haul.
The Economy sections (upstairs and down) on this A380 hold a lot of the flying public (461), but the Economy cabin comes with many great features: IFE, IFC, plugs, a headrest, reasonable room. If you can swing Business, those seats are always going to be better, but you won’t miss much else in Economy.
There was also no “grand entrance” on this aircraft. From a design perspective, I missed that; but it’s not clear whether that feature drives passenger satisfaction. Qatar wanted to get the most revenue space usage it could and used the square footage accordingly, but it also accomplished something pretty classy: it made room for everyone without sacrificing the basic needs of anyone.
The A380 is now ready to fly the coop: first route between Doha and Heathrow. Paris to follow. Something-something Frankfurt? No commitment yet–but there were hints. (More on that soon.)
Maybe it’s my working class background, but I’ve never known what to make of Butler service anyway. As a kid, I always fancied having a Mr. French around. Like any fan of Wodehouse, I respect the greater wisdom of the unflappable Jeeves. But whenever an actual Butler has been part of my travel experience, I’ve found myself flustered–awkward moments of my trying to help tidy up have ensued. It must not be something peculiar to me, as Qatar sees it. Most of us can evidently get on just fine without one.
I expect this aircraft will turn a profit for Qatar, and be popular for a long time to come.
Featured Image: His His Excellency, Mr. Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar tells the press why he doesn’t need fancy frills to impress. Fabrice Bregier, Airbus President and CEO smiles politely.