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Best airline for First Class: Emirates, Etihad or Qatar?

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel conteststipsseries, or news.

Today (July 8, 2016): Travel tip: Emirates vs Etihad vs Qatar Airways: which one has the best First Class?

Over the past few months, I flew First Class in the A380 flagship planes of the three main Middle East carriers: Qatar Airways (which has its hub in Doha), Emirates (which has its hub in Dubai) and Etihad Airways (which has its hub in Abu Dhabi). All flight tickets were booked using my miles, and I previously explained how you can maximize your mileage earnings as well to be able the fly the way I do.

Emirates, Qatar and Etihad Airways are renown around the world for their outstanding service, and feature in my top 10 lists of airlines with the most luxurious First Class suites, the best longhaul Business Class cabins, the most delicious airline food, and the world’s best airport lounges. I previously published a post on how their Business Class products compare one to another, and today, I share with you my opinion regarding their A380 First Class products by ranking them according to the following 13 categories:

  1. Chauffeur service
  2. Airport lounge
  3. First Class cabin design
  4. First Class suite
  5. Service & crew
  6. Food
  7. Flatbed
  8. Onboard showers
  9. Inflight entertainment
  10. WiFi
  11. Amenity kit
  12. Onboard bar
  13. Overall experience & my verdict

What’s your favorite Middle Eastern carrier? Leave a comment or take my poll below! 

1. Chauffeur service

Both Etihad and Emirates offer complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers for their First Class passengers in a limousine car, while this is not the case with Qatar Airways. Unfortunately, Emirates has eliminated chauffeur service for those booking First Class reward tickets through partner airlines (such as Alaska Airlines), while Etihad does not have this kind of restrictions.

Winner: Etihad Airways



2. Lounge

The Qatar Airways First Class Lounge at Doha is named Al Safwa and there’s no denying that it is currently the world’s best and most exclusive airline lounge. Upon entering the lounge, the soaring ceiling immediately smacks you in the face. The lounge’s artwork and minimalist design create the ambience of a modern art museum that will impress even the most discerning frequent flyers and travelers alike. The facilities are great as well, with a spa, sleeping rooms, and an excellent restaurant.

The Emirates First Class lounge at Dubai is massive in scale and feels like a luxury concourse floating above the terminal’s ground floor. The space is so huge that it somewhat lacks an exclusive, upscale ambience. Facilities are great though, with duty free luxury shops, a fine dining venue, a wine cellar, an old-fashioned cigar room, and – a unique airport feature – direct access to most gates with multi-level boarding.

The newly opened Etihad Airways lounge in Abu Dhabi is probably the least impressive of the Middle East airlines’ First Class lounges but it still offers a terrific range of facilities.

Winner: Qatar Airways



3. First Class cabin design 

(Dis)liking a cabin design depends on one’s taste of course, but IMHO, Etihad Airways is the winner here, with Qatar Airways being a close second.

The single aisle First Class cabin on Etihad’s A380 has a genuinely residential feel and looks amazingly stylish in predominant smoothing beige tones with some dark wood touches. Two beautifully crafted walls frame a small corridor leading to the forward staircase and contain the sliding entrance doors of the Apartements. The lighting patterns in the ceiling projects Arabian mosaic-like figures on the walls and floor, adding to the overall relaxing atmosphere.

Qatar Airways’ small First Class cabin has a very airy and spacious feel because it does not have completely enclosed suites like on the A380s of Emirates and Etihad. The design of the cabin itself is drop-dead gorgeous, and features a pallet of calming colours that match quiet well together: pink (cushions, tv screens), beige (seats) and brown (wood panels).

Emirates’ First Class cabin features a sumptuous and kitschy decor, with lots of walnut veneer, gold trim and pearlised plastic framing the suites, doors, and seats, which does not completely suite my taste.

Winner: Etihad Airways



4. First Class suite

This is absolutely a no-brainer: Etihad Airways pushed luxury to a sky-high new level and revolutionised First Class with the introduction of the phenomenal ‘First Apartment’ concept on its A380 superjumbos. More than just a seat, the First Apartment has a large leather armchair and a separate bed. There is even space to walk around after closing the privacy doors.

Contrary to the enclosed suites that you find on several airlines these days, the Qatar Airways First Class seat features an open design, although you can rise a partition for added privacy. The seat is extremely comfortable and has very generous dimensions.

The Emirates’ First Class seat was revolutionary when it was introduced a decade ago, but it’s design is now somewhat surpassed by that of its Middle East competitors (although it’s still a top-notch product). The suite is surrounded by high walls, only interrupted by two sliding that connect the suite to the aisle and can be closed to create a complete private space. The suite features some fancy elements such a minibar with soft drinks and juices (on room temperature), which is rather useless as you can order whatever (cooled) drink you want during the flight (but it sure will impress you).

Winner: Etihad Airways



5. Service & cabin crew

There’s little difference in the service provided by the three airlines, and the internationally recruited flight attendants are generally very attentive. Having said that, the Emirates crew was by far the most friendly and amazing cabin crew I ever encountered during all my years of flying. No less than 4 crew members took care of the passengers in the First Class cabin, which was half empty during my flight. They almost made me forget I was flying (although I am a nervous flyer), and genuinely talked about how they loved working for Emirates.

Winner: Emirates



6. Food

All three airlines offer excellent food in their First Class cabins, and you can order your meals from an a la carte menu, in any order, at any time, and as often as you wish. In general, I find the First Class food on Emirates to be the most delicious (and plentiful). Etihad is also a standout because it has on onboard cook to take your orders and prepare your meals, although the quality of the food is slightly inferior to that of Emirates. Qatar Airways serves refined meals at 40,000 ft, but I find the portions rather small.

Winner: Emirates



7. Flatbed

Of course, all three carriers offers flat beds in their Airbus A380 First Class cabins. IMHO, the flat-bed of Qatar Airways is the most comfortable one, since it’s the widest bed in the sky and it comes with superb bedding (almost as good as a hotel bed). The Emirates flatbed is very comfortable as well, but it’s slightly smaller as the compared to the one of Qatar Airways and the cushions are slightly firmer as well (although some may prefer this). Although Etihad has a unique First Class suite layout with a separate bed, I found the bed to be the least comfortable one (although it’s still one of the most pleasant rides at 40,000 feet). Couples may prefer the beds at Etihad’s though, since the privacy divider between two adjoining apartments can be lowered, creating a double bed.

Winner: Qatar Airways



8. Onboard showers

Etihad and Emirats both offer shower facilities in their First Class cabin (Etihad has one per plane, while Emirates has two). The concept is similar: each First Class passenger can shower once per flight, getting five minutes of water when showering (although you can turn the shower on and off as often as you want). Emirates is the winner IMHO, since it features larger, almost palatial  bathrooms.

Winner: Emirates



9. Inflight entertainment

Emirates is the winner when it comes to the inflight entertainment product, with an extensive range of films, television shows, and audio options. Etihad and Qatar offer plenty of choices as well, although their range of programs on offer is more limited as compared to Emirates.

Winner: Emirates



10. WiFi

Onboard WiFi on the A380 is offered by all 3 Middle East carriers, but with a different price tag. Qatar Airways offers it for free to its First Class passengers (which is the right thing to do). Etihad offers internet packages starting at $5 for 30 minutes, whiles Emirates offers 10MB of free WiFi to each passenger during the flight (regardless of the cabin you are seated in).

Winner: Qatar Airways



11. Amenity kit

Emirates’ First Class amenity kit is a large toiletry bag: the men’s kit bags are made from fine leather, while the ladies’ kit bags are made of sophisticated satin. Both kits contain the usual necessities – albeit in luxe edition – such as toothbrush and toothpaste through to handkerchiefs and deodorant. The mens amenity kit also provided Gilette shaving foam and a razor, as well as moisturizers and aftershaves by Bvlgari. The First Class amenity kit’s content is not different from the Business Class one. Unfortunately, Emirates only offers amenity kits on longhaul flights, while Etihad and Qatar Airways offer amenity kits on both medium- and longhaul flights.

Etihad’s First Class amenity kit is located in the vanity unit when you board the plane. The amenity kit bags are inspired by the rich heritage and artistry of the Emirati people and feature the patterns of Sadou, a colourful, centuries-old Abu Dhabi weaving craft. The bag itself is empty as all the toiletries are conveniently placed in small cabinets alongside the lit make-up mirror. Here, you will find luxurious fragrances from New York brand Le Labo and its fresh and sensual Bergamote 22 range, including hand balm, lip balm, facial moisturiser and a refreshing towelette. Dental kits, socks, eyeshades, earplugs, mints, pillow mist and pulse point oil are also provided.

Qatar Airways’ First Class passengers can take home an ultra- stylish Giorgio Armani bag, packed with nifty goodies for the flight and bathroom back at home. The amenity kit contains Armani perfume, body lotion, shower gel, and shampoo. Not forgotten are the basics such as eyeshades, socks, earplugs and lip balm.

Winner: Qatar AIrways



12. Onboard bar

Qatar Airways features a stunning onboard bar located at the rear of the plane, between the Business Class cabin and a small Economy Class cabin. The bar itself is curved, with leather sofas on both side of the bar area. The bar’s set-up is perfect to socialize with other First and Business Class passengers, or to simply relax and enjoy the ambience. Under the stunning chandeliers, inspired by contemporary Arabian design, there are fresh flowers gracing the lounge.

On the Emirates A380, the onboard bar is located at the rear of the upper cabin, behind the Business Class cabin, and it’s a hub of activity throughout the flight. One can choose from premium spirits, exclusive wines, champagne, cocktails and beers alongside hot and cold beverages served by a dedicated bartender. It’s a good platform to stretch your legs while interacting with other passengers and the international crew. In addition, the First Class cabin also features a walk-up bar, which is located in the nose of the plane, between the 2 lavatories. Before landing, the bar is transformed into a spa-like lounge with a mini-waterfall.

Etihad Airways has installed a lounge, designated ‘The Lobby’, on the upper deck of the A380 between the First and Business Class cabin. The lounge is an intimate space that is more resemblant of a lounge in a boutique hotel than an airplane cabin, and it is the perfect spot to relax or socialize with other passengers. It seats up to six guests and is fitted with seatbelts, power supply, connectivity ports, and a widescreen TV (so you can watch a live game or sporting event with other guests).

Winner: Qatar Airways



13. Overall experience & my verdict

IMHO, Etihad’s Airbus A380s currently offer the best overall First Class experience, because of its groundbreaking and overwhelmingly impressive First Class Apartment concept. Emirates comes second with its enclosed suites, the mouth-watering food, the excellent crew, and the over-the-top onboard facilities. Qatar Airways is a close third: it stills offers a terrific experience but somewhat lacks the wow factor of its UAE based competitors (except for its Al Safwa lounge, which will blow you away).

What’s your favorite Middle Eastern carrier? Leave a comment or take my poll!

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4 Comments on Best airline for First Class: Emirates, Etihad or Qatar?

  1. Great summary, thank you!


  2. Please correct me if I am mistaken, but – Emirates does not provide chauffeur services anymore for those travelling on award tickets.


    • This is partly correct: Emirates has eliminated chauffeur service for those booking through partner airlines (such as Alaska Airlines); but you will still get the complimentary airport transfer when you book via a reward ticket via Emirates’ own loyalty program (Skywards).


  3. Didn’t Qatar airways win though? Qatar airways won in 5 categories, Etihad airways won in 3 and Emirates in four. Anyways, that was a great comparison. Very enjoyable to read.


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