Qatar’s denser 777 shows gulf widening between business, economy


Travelers sometimes wonder whether more spacious business and first class seats come at the expense of passengers further back in economy. The answer is usually a mixture of yes and no, but not on Qatar Airways, where an extra seat has been squeezed into every row on the airline’s newest Boeing 777 aircraft, yet business class has not yet been upgraded.

The news that Qatar has gone 10-abreast was tweeted by RGN contributor Jason Rabinowitz, and addressed in a piece by Alex McWhirter at Business Traveller. Commenters on his story call 10-abreast “truly horrendous” and “a nightmare”. And I must agree — it’s one of the least pleasant ways to fly. Qatar had previously been the only airline of the big three Gulf carriers to offer a nine-abreast 777 after Etihad converted its entire fleet to 10-abreast a few years back.

Seat - Economy - Qatar Airways Boeing 777

Qatar Airways’ 9-abreast configured 777

Qatar Airways says [PDF] it has 28 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, currently split between high-business (42 seats) and low-business (24 seats) configurations. McWhirter reports that the high-business version is the one that has been fitted with 10-abreast, and detail is still lacking on whether 10-abreast will be a high-density subfleet or is the new standard for Qatar’s economy class. I am awaiting a response from the airline on this and a number of other questions.

The move does, however, bring Qatar 777s in line with its Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, which are nine-abreast and, with the selection of a wider aisle, offer some of the narrowest seats on a full service airline, slightly narrower than even most other Dreamliner nine-abreast operators. Passenger experience observers had perhaps hoped that the spacious nine-abreast seating on the Airbus A350 (wider than a Dreamliner yet narrower than a 777) and the 10-abreast configuration downstairs on the Airbus A380 signified an interest in an 18″ comfort standard

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 - PAS15 Paris Air Show - JW - IMG_8879

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 – PAS15 Paris Air Show. Credit: John Walton

On board the new 777 passengers will find Recaro 3710 full-featured slimline seats, although the pitch is as yet uncertain. It would seem likely that the current generous 32” of space will reduce to either the remarkably cramped 30”, which the airline quotes [PDF] for its Dreamliner seats, or the slightly better 31” which Qatar gives [PDF] for the Airbus A350.

Yet the real surprise is that the airline has not also taken the opportunity of upgrading its business class seat from the very middling 2-2-2 fully flat bed it currently offers on the 777 to the world-leading B/E Super Diamond seat provided on its A380, A350 and 787 aircraft.

Qatar had been tipped to make that upgrade in the near future, and the reasoning for the lack of better business seats is unclear — another question to which the airline has not responded.

Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER business class seats side of cabin

Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER business class seats side of cabin

It may well be that the airline was hoping to increase the angle at which the outward-facing herringbone seats are arranged away from the aircraft centreline in order to take advantage of the wider 777 fuselage, and ran into the same issues with head impact certification that have plagued Virgin Australia and B/E Aerospace this year.

Yet more widely, in terms of market segmentation, turning what used to be a very pleasant economy seat into one of among the worst in the sky means that the gap between economy and business class (with its fully flat bed and direct aisle access) is growing.

This trend is echoed across the big three Middle East carriers, adding another notch to the question of why Qatar, Emirates and Etihad have yet to announce a premium economy product. 


  1. TweetyBird

    1. Seat pitch is the same as the same as the 3-3-3 777 in QR’s fleet. New seats are thinner so should result in some more legroom.
    2. Business class not changed on the 777, awaiting certification of a new seat design.

  2. Never Again

    I’ve flown with Qatar on the 787 and will not do that again. It’s a nightmare.!Has no Qatar executive travelled in economy? Or do they simply follow what the “Chief” says? Let us hope no other carriers decide to follow the Qatar example.

  3. Andrew

    I’ve flown business on the Qatar 787 twice now and will avoid this product into the future. The design of the seat is terrible and far too tight and restrictive around the middle section of the seat . I don’t know who designed it but it wasn’t for people of a more ‘normal’ body size (and at 80kg I’d hardly consider myself to be off the scale, body wise).

    Qatar Airways used to be the no expense spared 5 star airline. But in the last year things have dropped and the increase in cabin density is just another step towards it being a pack em in style airline.

    I was a loyal customer but all these little changes have made me rethink whether I will fly with them or other One World carriers in the future. I used to enjoy the lounge access in Hamad Airport (now the reward for being loyal is to be denied entry to the Al Mourjan lounge and instead squeezed into their woefully pathetic ‘business class lounge’ – it’s a sad sad reflection on your airline when your frequent flyers get a higher level of service at other airport than at your hub. I used to enjoy the champagne in economy, but that is gone. I used to enjoy redeeming miles for upgrades but that has become an impossibility.

    And now with the prospect of a sardine economy cabin that’s as dense as a LCC why will I keep flying with them?

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  7. Will

    Middling 777 business seat? Not sure how you get your definitions? I concur with others – the ‘new’ 787 business seat that gets all the rave reviews from some quarters is a significant downgrade and they haven’t even ‘upgraded the entertainment system on the 787. The 777 business cabin is still by far the most outstanding seat for passenger comfort so I really don’t understand where this ”middling” comment comes from. And they have a better range of movies on that aircraft. Win, win.

    Re. economy – I used to think my only hope now is Oman air but now I see they’re going to make this a cattle service. It really is in humane.

    I’m also hoping for the day when the recliner seat is abandoned in cattle. I know they’re not the best but the seats that recline working the shell at least offer passengers behind at least some sort of hope.

  8. Nolan Snoeyink

    Okay, so having flown both configurations, I think I’m qualified to comment.

    3-4-3 isn’t THAT bad. People make it sound like it’s the end of the world. It’s not. You’re a tad closer together, but the aisle width has been reduced as well, so it’s not all coming out of other seats. The legroom actually seemed better on the 3-4-3 config, presumably because of the slimline seats. I actually thought the seat was more comfortable to sit in; at least my back felt much better after 14 hours in the Recaro seat vs 12 hours in the 3-3-3.

    Keep in mind our 3-4-3 flight was 97% full, and our 3-3-3 flight was only 50% full and I had an empty middle seat on the 3-3-3 flight, so I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum.

    Routes flown were ORD-DOH and DOH-ORD. A7-BAO (3-3-3) and A7-BEH (3-4-3), which was only 2 weeks old when I flew on it.

  9. Julian Klan

    It’s all academic. Every cent you spend on Qatar Airways goes to its owners – the government of Qatar – which had institutionalised the oppression of women and gays and treats their foreign workers like trash.