Qatar Airway’s new A350XWB aircraft made its Doha debut today, to great fanfare and rightfully so. The A350XWB itself a great aircraft with loads of passenger experience enhancements, and the airline has made it a pleasure for all passengers on board.
I joined other members of the press in Toulouse just before Christmas, and take the A350XWB for a quick test-drive to the Pyrenees, over the Mediterranean and back again. It was a short flight, pleasant, but there was more than enough time to appreciate all the little details which make this particular A350XWB first-class nose-to-tail.
The Economy cabin is nicely appointed with comfortable B/E Aerospace seating, through the clever application of simple color changes on the dress covers, the airline generates a sense of space, breaking up crowded visual impact of many rows of identical seats. Besides, the A350XWB leaves plenty of headroom, and features large windows which makes the cabin feel like a much more open space. We enjoyed fine weather on the day of our tour, but I suspect it would have felt open even if the sun weren’t so bright. The cabin also features LED lighting to set a mood throughout the journey.
The comfort of Qatar’s A350XWB Economy section is also due to its 9-abreast 3-3-3 configuration. The seats are 18” wide, which is the “standard” Airbus has been promoting for a while. I’m not entirely convinced that an extra half-inch or full inch (depending on alternate cabin configurations) of seat width is a noticeable difference. But I do believe going for triples helps, and the B/E seat is designed to make the most of the room available.
The adjustable headrests are also a nice detail, though I confess I’m too short to get the full benefits of these, but most people will. Leg room wasn’t a problem for me (it never is) but I really appreciated having enough space for my sizeable back-pack under the seat in front of me. Traveling to and from the event, I had to stuff the thing under seats. It took a lot a lot of pushing and still didn’t quite fit. On the Qatar flight, though, both my bag and I had room to spare.
If I’d been packing anything larger than my old reliable yellow knapsack (the only bag I carried on this overnight journey), I wouldn’t have had any trouble getting luggage in the pivoting overhead bin. There’s lots of room for a standard roller.
Even the pillows and the seat belt buckle made the most of the airline’s iconic Oryx emblem. Qatar Airways could have saved a lot of money by using standard white pillows and leaving out the buckle detail, but it didn’t. This convinces me Qatar Airways doesn’t cut corners on other passenger comfort considerations.
I don’t mean to be too particular, but I dislike having my coat folded in the overhead bin. Finding a simple button to hang it from on the seat back is a treat.
On any long flight, the IFE is really a make or break feature for me. I travel with my own PED loaded with my favorite movies, just in case, but it’s nice to find early window movies on high quality screens. Qatar selected the Thales Avant IFE, running its Oryx IFE platform, which comes with a 10.6” screen and a neat touch-screen handset. This was not a long-haul trip, and the window view was the biggest selling point for me, but on an ordinary flight a quality IFE system makes a big difference.
For those fond of staying connected with the ground while in the air, Qatar’s A350XWB features the double-benefit of OnAir Ka-Band Satellite High-Speed Wi-Fi and OnAir mobile services. Whatever your needs for voice and data, you’re covered. And the USB power outlets on the IFE keep your devices fully charged.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and the large windows really enhance the view, leaving plenty of space to frame the shot however you like it.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, there was a premium cabin onboard. Qatar’s Business class features lay-flat beds in a 1-2-1 seating configuration, with all the features you’d expect, including a 17” flat screen for your entertainment.
The thing is, you expect Business class to be special, much more comfortable than when I started working in the interiors industry 20 years ago, but very few passengers enjoy that experience. On this aircraft, there are 36 seat places in Business class, and 247 seat places in Economy. It’s good to see the airline invest in comfort for the majority of its customers.
The most essential contribution to passenger comfort and safety, Qatar’s flight attendants, were professional and pleasant. That’s an unbeatable asset for any airline.
Though I was eager to make my flight back home in time for Christmas, I confess I wouldn’t have minded a longer flight. This aircraft is well-suited for the long-haul.
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