Today (April 19, 2019): Travel tip: Emirates vs Etihad vs Qatar Airways: which one is the best?
The last decade has seen the rise of the three 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 30.000 feet, they also raised the bar for their competitors with unmatched service in the skies and on the ground. All three carriers are regulars in my many of top 10 aviation and travel lists:
- Top 10 best airlines for longhaul Business Class
- Top 10 best airlines for longaul First Class
- Top 10 best Business Class amenities kits
- Top 10 best First Class amenity kits
- Top 10 best airlines for inflight food
- Top 10 best Business Class airport lounges
- Top 10 best First Class airport lounges
Indeed, flying onboard one of the three Middle Eastern carriers is quite an experience. Over the past years, I published several trip reports about my flights with Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, in Business and First Class. You can read them here, or watch clips on my popular Youtube channel:
- Etihad Airways flight reviews:
- Emirates flight reviews:
- Review: Emirates B777 (new) First Class from Dubai to Brussels
- Review: Emirates B777 (new) Business Class from Brussels to Dubai
- Review: Emirates A380 First Class from Dubai to Amsterdam
- Review: Emirates Airbus A380 Business Class Dubai to Sydney
- Review: Emirates A380 Business Class from Brisbane to Dubai
- Review: Emirates A380 Business Class from Düsseldorf to Dubai
- Qatar Airways flight reviews
When choosing one of the three Middle Eastern carriers, the big question is which one offers the best flight experience? 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 its Business Class passengers across the globe, while Etihad Airways only offers chauffeur transfers to/from Abu Dhabi airport. Qatar Airways does not offer complimentary airport transfers (even not in First Class). A huge plus for Emirates!
- Lounges: All three carriers offer an expansive lounge network, both at their hubs and at their international destinations.
- Qatar Airways’ Al Mourjan lounge at Doha’s Hamad International Airport is the world’s best and visually most stunning Business Class lounge that I’ve ever encountered during all my travels. It simply outclasses all the current competition out there. If you transit via the Middle East, then Qatar will offer you the best lounge experience. Unfortunately, Qatar doesn’t have a lot of lounges outside of Doha (and mostly makes use of other airline’s lounges at these destinations).
- Emirates features a massive lounge with excellent facilities at Dubai, although the space is not as refined and architecturally overwhelming as Qatar’s Al Mourjan lounge. Emirates also operates its own lounges at many international destinations, offering a consistent product for its passengers.
- Etihad’s lounge at Abu Dhabi International Airport is a lovely, modern space with a pleasing design, but the lounge can feel crowded at peak hours and over the past years, the airline has dropped several facilities at the lounge (e. g. spa, barber) because of financial challenges.
- Fleet-wide consistency of the Business class product: Unfortunately, the layout of the Business Class cabin and the seat type you’ll get depend on the aircraft type since none of the three major Middle East airlines offers a consistent Business Class product across their wide-body fleet. That said, Etihad is the only carrier that offers fully flatbed seats across its wide-body fleet (more on that below), while Emirates and Qatar still have wide-body planes flying around with (uncomfortable) angled flatbed seats, so I would say that Etihad is the winner here.
- Cabin interior & design:
- Etihad’s A380s & Dreamliner B787s feature an extremely elegant and refined decor in their Business Class cabins (which Etihad calls ‘Studios’). The stylish cabins feature a neutral color palette of different beige tones mixed with some gold and copper, creating a soothing ambience. Although the carrier’s B777 and A330’s Business Class cabin interiors once had an exclusive feel, they now feel a little dated and could use a refurbishment.
- LED mood-lighting baths the Business Class cabins in Qatar Airways’ A350, A380 and B777 aircraft in the carrier’s signature burgundy light, a soothing color palette which is enhanced with elegant and warm rose gold detailing and and even with some marble-finish whites. However, if you don’t like pink, then you may not like Qatar’s cabin design.
- Emirates features rather bombastic interiors in both its B777 and A380 planes, with lots of walnut veneer, gold trim and pearlised plastic, which is not entirely to my liking.
- Cabin layout & seats: you need to take the aircraft type into account when booking a flight on one of the three Middle Eastern carriers, since that will largely determine your Business Class experience. The best wide-body Business Class layout & seats are (in order from excellent to mediocre):
- Qatar B777 & A350 with Qsuites: this is the world’s best Business Class seat, with private doors and the possibility to convert some seats into a suite with double bed (for couples) or even a quad suite (for colleagues or friends).
- Etihad B787 & A380: configured 1-2-1 in a forward and aft ‘dovetail’, the Business Studios all have aisle access and the seats convert into fully flat beds.
- Qatar B787, A380 & A350 (without Qsuites): spacious seats in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone layout offer direct aisle access for all passengers.
- Emirates A380, Etihad A330, & Etihad B777: the staggered 1-2-1 layout of the seats onboard these aircraft guarantees direct aisle acces to all passengers, but the seats are not as wide and long as compared to the seats described above, which can be problematic for tall passengers or passengers of size.
- Qatar B777 without Qsuites: a 2-1-2 configuration means that passengers seated in a window seat have no direct aisle acces. This seat layout wil gradually disappear as Qatar is refurbishing these planes with the new Qsuite.
- Emirates B777: the seats onboard these aircraft are still arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration, which implies that not everyone has direct aisle access: passengers in the center and window seats will have to scramble over their neighbor’s legs to reach the aisle. To make things worse, most B777s are still flying around with angled flatbed seats (although the newly delivered B777 and some refurbished ones come with fully flatbed seats).
- Qatar A330: Qatar offers several types of Business Class products on its A330 fleet, with some aircraft featuring the old seats (that don’t fully recline) and some other featuring the updated product (with fully flat-bed seats). Regardless of the seat type, the seats are always arranged in a suboptimal 2-2-2 layout.
- 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 flatbed seats on its Airbus A330 fleet by true lie-flat seats (after which the whole Qatar fleet will offer flat beds).
- Amenity kit: Emirates has by the far the best amenity kit of the three 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.
- Emirates amenity kit is presented as a large toiletry bag and contains the usual necessities – albeit in luxe edition – such as toothbrush and toothpaste through to handkerchiefs and deodorant. The men’s amenity kit also provides Gilette shaving foam and a razor, as well as moisturizers and aftershaves by Bvlgari. The women’s one is different, offering a range of feminine toiletries.
- Qatar’s softshell amenity kits are created by stylish Italian luggage brand BRIC’S. The kit provides standard items for longhaul travel, such as socks, eyeshades and ear plugs. It also contains lip balm, hydrating facial mist, and moisturizer from Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio, skincare products which are 100% natural and characterized by actives coming from olive extracts.
- Etihad’s Business Class unisex wallet bag is developed in partnership with Italian fragrance brand Acqua di Parma and can be buttoned to create a stylish and useful valet tray. It contains a Colonia sampler and hand cream in addition to as essentials like socks, eyeshades, earplugs and dental kit.
- Pyjamas: Qatar Airways offers pajamas 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.
- Food: meals are decent on all three carriers, but my best gastronomic experiences have always been on Qatar Airways, followed by Etihad, and then Emirates. In fact, Qatar Airways’ food offering in Business Class is as good as what you get in First Class or in a top-notch restaurant on the ground (with an amuse-bouche, soup and luxury chocolates accompanying every three course dinner). The Doha-based carrier even offers dine-on-demand service in its Business Class cabins: you can dine at any time of your choosing and order whatever you want from the menu. Qatar Airways is clearly the winner in the catering department.
- Number of meal services: on longhaul flights, all three carriers offer two meal services (one after takeoff and one 90 minutes prior to 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 has now skipped that in favor of a snack menu in case you get hungry again, so Qatar wins (again).
- Inflight entertainment: all three Middle Eastern carriers offer a great inflight entertainment selection, and most passengers won’t notice any difference between them:
- Emirates offers the best inflight entertainment product in the world (called ‘ICE’), with large screens and a phenomenal selection of films, television shows, and audio options. There’s not an airline in the world with a selection like that, so you will never get bored, even on ultra-longhaul flights.
- Called ‘Oryx One’, Qatar Airways’ inflight entertainment system allows you to choose up to 3000 entertainment options, with a wide selection of movies, series, TV programs, music, games and reads. Oryx One is also compatible with your own media device: you can plug it into the HDMI port to play your own entertainment content. Qatar Airways newest planes even feature a contactless NFC reader which allows to transfer your preselected playlist from the Qatar Airways app to your screen with a tap.
- Etihad’s inflight entertainment system is called ‘E-BOX’, and although it offers hundreds of hours of inflight entertainment on-screen or on your personal device as well as live sports and news on selected aircraft, it is not as impressive and extensive as the entertainment selection offered by Emirates and Qatar.
- WiFi: onboard WiFi is offered by all three Middle Eastern carriers, but with a different price tag:
- Emirates offers the cheapest WiFi. You get 20MB of free WiFi within the first two hours of log in across all your devices on board most of its flights. If you like to use onboard WiFi for longer or you need more data, you can choose from one of Emirates’ data plans, with a pricing dependent on the fact whether you are a member of Emirates’ loyalty program ‘Skywards’ or not.
- With Qatar Airways, you get the first 30 minutes of WiFi complimentary. If you like to use onboard WiFi for longer or you needed more data, you will be offered different tariff plans (which are about twice as expensive compared to Emirates).
- Etihad Airways only offers (90MB of) complimentary Wi-Fi access to First Class passengers but not to Business or Economy Class passengers. The carrier used to offer the most attractive WiFi pricing of the three Middle Eastern carriers (with no data cap), but Etihad recently increased their tariffs, which are now somewhere between Emirates and Qatar’s WiFi rates.
- Onboard bar: an onboard bar, exclusively accessible for passengers flying the premium cabins, is only present on the Airbus A380 aircrafts. 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 more than 100 of these megaplanes in its fleet (Qatar Airways and Etihad both own 10 A380s).
IMHO, Qatar Airways offers (by far) the best Business Class product onboard its A350 and B777 planes equipped with the Qsuites. 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. Emirates’ A380s also offer a great Business Class experience (I personally prefer Qatar and Etihad), although the carrier’s B777 feature a subpar product with a 2-3-2 seat configuration.
What’s your favorite Middle Eastern carrier? Leave a comment below or take my poll below.