Today (June 19, 2015): Travel tip: Emirates vs Etihad vs Qatar Airways: which one is the best?
This article was updated in November 2017.
The last decade has seen the rise of the 3 Middle Eastern carriers: Emirates (with its hub in Dubai, UAE), Etihad Airways (with its hub in Abu Dhabi, UAE) and Qatar Airways (with its hub in Doha, Qatar). Not only did these airlines reshape the competitive landscape at 40.000 feet, they also raised the bar for their competitors with unmatched service in the skies (and on the ground). All 3 carriers feature in my top 10 lists of airlines with the best longhaul Business Class cabins and most delicious airline food, with 2 of them also being represented in my top 10 list of the most luxurious First Class suites.
Indeed, flying onboard one of the 3 Middle Eastern carriers is quite an experience. The last couple of months, I published several trip reports about my recent flights with Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, in Business and First Class. You can read them here (and there are more to come):
- Review: Etihad Airways A380 First Class London to Abu Dhabi
- Review: Etihad Airways A330 Business Class Brussels to the Maldives
- Review: Etihad Arways B777 Business Class Abu Dhabi to Bangkok
- Review: Emirates Airbus A380 First Class Dubai to Amsterdam
- Review: Emirates Airbus A380 Business Class Dubai to Sydney
- Review: Emirates A380 Business Class Brisbane to Dubai
- Review: Emirates B777-300ER Business Class Brussels to Dubai
- Review: Emirates B777-200LR Business Class Dubai to Brussels
- Review: Qatar Airways Dreamliner B787 Business Class Brussels to Doha
- Review: Qatar Airways A330-300 Doha to Maldives
- Review: Qatar Airways B777-300ER Business Class Doha to Bangkok
- Review: Qatar Airways A380 First Class Doha to Paris
Or if you prefer to watch clips instead of reading my trip reports, you can have a look at my videos that I have uploaded on my popular Youtube channel.
When choosing one of the 3 Middle Eastern carriers, the big questions is whether they differ at all regarding their premium cabin class products? And which one is the best? Well, here you have some facts & my opinion about their Business Class products (read here my opinion and comparison of their First Class products). You can share your opinion below in the comments section or take my poll.
- Chauffeur service: Emirates offers complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers for Business Class passengers, while Etihad Airways only offers chauffeur transfers to/from Abu Dhabi airport. Qatar Airways does not offer complimentary airport transfers. A huge plus for Emirates!
- Pyjamas: Qatar Airways offers pyjamas on overnight medium- and long-haul flights, while Etihad and Emirates only offer them in First Class.
- Duvets: Qatar Airways and Emirates offer duvets on medium-haul flights (to increase sleeping comfort), while Etihad only offers them on longhaul flights.
- Fleet-wide consistency: Etihad offers a consistent Business Class product across it wide-body fleet (with the exception of its superior Dreamliner B787 & Airbus A380 products, which were recently introduced), while Emirates and Qatar offer a more variable Business Class product across their wide-body fleets.
- Cabin interior & design: Etihad’s Airbus A380s & Dreamliner B787s feature an extremely elegant decor in their Business Class cabins (it doesn’t get any better at 40.000 feet), while Qatar’s A380, B787 and A350 cabins are very sexy with a red/white decor theme. Qatar is currently also refurbushing its B777 Business Class cabins. Emirates features rather bombastic interiors, with lots of walnut veneer, gold trim and pearlised plastic, which is not to my liking.
- Cabin layout & seats: you need to take the aircraft type into account when booking a flight on one of the 3 Middle Eastern carriers. The best wide-body Business Class layout & seats are (in order from excellent to mediocre):
- Qatar B777 (with Qsuites)
- Etihad B787/A380
- Qatar B787/A350/A380
- Emirates A380
- Etihad A330/B777
- Qatar B777 (without SQuites)
- Emirates B777
- Qatar A330
- Flat beds: Etihad Airways is the only carrier to offer flat beds (with 180 degree recline) across its wide body fleet. Contrary to their A380s, Emirates’ B777s have angled lie flat-beds, although Emirates’ new B777 planes are delivered with full lie-flat seats. Qatar Airways is currently replacing the (very uncomfortable) angled lie flat-beds on its Airbus A330 fleet by true lie-flat seats (after which the whole Qatar fleet will offer flat beds).
- Food: meals are delicious on all 3 carriers, but my best gastronomic experiences (so far) were always on Qatar Airways, followed by Etihad, and then Emirates.
- Number of meal services: on longhaul flights, all 3 carriers offer 2 meal services (one after takeoff, and one 90 minutes before landing). On medium-haul flights though (e.g. Europe to/from Middle East), Etihad and Emirates only offer one meal; Qatar Airways used to offer a second light meal before landing but now seems to have skipped that as well. So there’s no difference here.
- Inflight entertainment: Emirates is the winner when it comes to the inflight entertainment product, with large screens and an extensive range of films, television shows, and audio options (but Etihad and Qatar offer plenty of choices as well).
- WiFi: onboard WiFi is offered by all 3 Middle Eastern carriers, but with a different price tag: Emirates offers the cheapest WiFi, while Qatar’s WiFi is just way too expensive, with Etihad somewhere in between.
- Amenity kit: Emirates has by the far the best amenity kit of the 3 airlines, with Etihad offering the least impressive Business Class amenity kit. Unfortunately, Emirates only offers them on longhaul flights, while Etihad and Qatar Airways offer amenity kits on both medium- and longhaul flights.
- Onboard bar: an onboard bar, exclusively accessible for passengers flying the premium cabins, is only present on the Airbus A380 aircrafts, which are now operated by all 3 carriers. But your chances of flying an Airbus A380, and thus socializing with other passengers in a fantastic onboard bar, are highest with Emirates, which has no less than 90 of these megaplanes in its fleet (Qatar Airways and Etihad own only 8 and 10 Airbus A380s respectively).
IMHO,Qatar Airways offers the best Business Class product with its Qsuites that are currently being installed on its B777 planes. Qatar also offers a great Business Class product onboard its Boeing 787s, Airbus A350s, and Airbus A380s, although it’s slightly inferior to Etihad’s Boeing 787s and Airbus A380s Business Class product. I will publish my trip reports aboard Etihad’s new planes soon, but meanwhile, you can have a look already here on Etihad’s official Youtube channel to see what the Business Class experience looks like. Emirates’ A380s also offer a great Business Class experience (I personally prefer Qatar and Etihad), although the carrier’s B777 offer a far from impressive product with a 2-3-2 seat configuration.
What’s your favorite Middle Eastern carrier? You can leave a comment below or take my poll!