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

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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

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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.