Emirates vs Etihad vs Qatar Airways: which one is the best?

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel conteststipsseries, or news.

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:

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:

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):
    1. 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).
    2. 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.
    3. Qatar B787, A380 & A350 (without Qsuites): spacious seats in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone layout offer direct aisle access for all passengers.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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).
    7. 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.

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  1. great reviews! how about the rates? please compare among the three, if possible with other airlines. many hanks and more power!

  2. Hi what is the difference between medium and long haul? I can’t tell from Lhr-Doh-Sin which legs are long haul and which are medium?

    Also do you have any idea if the A340 seats on Qatar are full 180 flat beds, as they are not mentioned above? Are they more similar to the 777 seats or the Dreamliner seats?
    Thanks. Great mood videos.

  3. @ August: Thx for your kind comment! Medium-haul flights are usually 1500 to 3500 miles long (e.g. Europe to Middle East), while longhaul flights are well beyond that distance (e.g. USA to Middle East; Middle East to Southeast Asia). Qatar’s A340 business class seats are similar to the ones on the A330: angle-flat seats with 165 degree recline.

  4. I recently flew from Sydney to Chicago by Etihad in economy class. This was my first experience with Etihad. I will never again use this. They are not friendly, food had no quality and the main meal was served after 13 hours into the flight. Before the main meal lthey just served some tidbits.

  5. Emirates are no longer in the course, they downgrade a lot since those 2 years regarding Qatar and Etihad, Emirates hired a lot of staff due to high number of A380 , but the staff is not well trained, too many mistakes onboard, and the Wifi is just awfull for webbrowsing, sorry Emirates but I won’t fly with you again….

  6. You will probably need to also review the economy class if you need to cater to a more larger mass on all the 3 airlines.

  7. God awful ground staff from Emirates at DFW. They all have attitude and they think..people need them and they the best. No matter how polite you speak to them but they this pathetic attitude toward customers. They do not even listen to their costumers they just have awful attitude like you are nothing to them… Never ever again…with Emirates….

  8. Hello I am looking to fly to Milan from Hong Kong either on Qatar Airways (from Doha) or Etihad Airways (from Abu Dhabi) in May 2017 on biz class.
    For Qatar, Hong Kong to Doha is on the Boeing 787-8 and from Doha to Milan is on Airbus 330-200.
    For Etihad, Hong Kong to Doha and Doha to Milan, both legs are on Airbus 330-200

    Which one would you recommend me taking? Thanks.

  9. Travelled on Qatar A350 and foundit the best of all. Exceptional service with on demand meals. No set times which is great for travellers crossing many time zones.

  10. I am not satisfied and feel that you are expert
    I see Emirates is far better than Qatar
    Cabin crew are well mannered and helpful
    In-flight entertainment far exceeds Qatar
    In-flight internet speed is excellent
    Emirates charge you 1 dollar with unlimited speed and I was able to use whatsup call
    Whereas Qatar you have pay money for a speed of 1900s
    Food quality and taste is better in Qatar but they give you a baby meal
    Drinks you have to literally beg Qatar staff for drinks and they show attitude. They got only one collection of scotch and that is red label whereas Emirates they serve you single malt Glenfiddich
    The writer of this article may be talking about few years ago
    I am writing comments as I just flew in Qatar and Emirates this month

  11. So far tried both Qatar airways and Emirates economy class. Emirates was just nice, friendly crew cabin, decent meals and in flight entertainment was good. Qatar airways had very good in flight entertainment, meals were okay and cabin crew was not friendly at all.

    This is my experience. Quite shocked because from what I’ve heard Qatar airways were good. My vote goes to Emirates.

  12. Emirates is best, but sometimes crew is rude to people.
    Qatar is best in hospitality. Take care of request of passengers.
    Etihad not best and does not show any hospitality to passengers in economy class.

  13. Advice pls…in the fall, will be flying biz class to Dubai from US and return from Singapore…which carrier(s) would you recommend…thx!

  14. It sounds like the differences between the Etihad A380 vs B787 business class products is negligible. I have to choose between connecting to A380 at JFK or the B787 at Dulles to Abu Dhabi. Recommendations or try one each way? 😀

  15. HI, Great review but I do have to correct you on one thing. Etihad do offer pyjama’s on their long haul business class flight. eg: BNE – AUH, SYD – AUH, MEL – AUH and vice versa.

  16. Flew on Etihad last week on the DUB-AUH-BLR sector and found the cabin to be good, clean and infotainment was excellent. The service levels of the inflight crew were also very nice with one hostess especially standing out in performance. Well done Etihad… way to go

  17. maybe when you scan the menus, you could take a few extra seconds so that we have time to read what is being shown. tks

  18. What a great article, Chock full of vital information for traveling in Australia. We spent 5 months with a little baby in Sydney and it was a beautiful place as we went on a business trip there. Anyway, we still did tonnes of free camping. Thanks for sharing the views with us. nice article.

  19. Have you tried Oman Air? It is very small compared to the big three Middle Eastern carriers but it outshines them in most areas especially Oman Air’s Boeing 787-9 and Boeing 787-9 products. They use the Apex Suite layout in business class similar to JAL. If you have the window then you have a lot of privacy because the window seats are staggered ahead of the aisle seat with a small passageway giving aisle access. On the night flights, business class passengers get pyjamas as well as a nicely appointed amenity kit. Price-wise, Oman Air comes in cheaper than the competition. I flew them from Manchester to Dubai for about £1,000 cheaper than Emirates’ direct service. Their lounge in Muscat is very beautiful with large windows to see the apron. They also have quiet areas where you can get rest and a bank of showers to refresh.

  20. Need help here choosing airlines for business class:
    1. Etihad A380 or
    2. Emirates 777-300??

  21. @ Michelle: Etihad’s A380 Business Class product is superior to Emirates B777’s offering

  22. I’m flying singaporevto Uk which would you recommend especially during covid?

  23. @Nagarj wtf Emirates crews are rude Qatar is better plus Emirates 2-3-2 in business it’s a fail
    Qatar crew are better Emirates is inconsistent. Lol Qatar food is better than Emirates and Etihad

  24. If one has a choice to fly Qatar A380 in business pick this over their other aircraft types.

    Qatar A380 Business class is a true luxury it is in the upper deck and also have a lounge in flight. I would any day love to fly in Qatar A380 Business class over their other aircraft products.

    Qatar 777 Qsuite from Bangalore to Doha was disappointing, I am writing from a window seat solo traveler perspective.

    Qatar A359 Doha to London was average there was no Qsuite compared to A380 this looks like a step down.

    The aircraft, staff, service for Bangalore Doha was inferior to Doha Europe/North America segments

    The lounge is Doha though huge during peak is a long wait for toilet/shower we are looking at hours! Food has excellent choice though. The lounge capacity is an issue in most of the international hub regardless of which airline we fly the business class. If we are in the peak traffic can expect a long wait or many times not even avail if our connecting flight is less than 4 hours duration.

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