Failing to persuade av-journos Qatar CEO declares them irrelevant


“Andrei,” commiserates the National Security Advisor with the Russian Ambassador at the end of The Hunt For Red October (which I rewatched on IFE recently). “You’ve lost another submarine?”

I was reminded of the scene when I read that Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker had moved on from insisting to aviation journalists that Qatar Airways’ shrinking seat width and pitch does not affect comfort, and is now arguing that those same aviation journalists’ analytical opinion isn’t relevant — because they are aviation journalists.

Akbar, I thought. You’ve made another outlandish claim?

Writes AirlineReporter’s John Nguyen from Qatar’s LAX launch — hosted by model and Baywatch actor Brooke Burns:

[Al Baker] replied that the carrier’s own studies showed that there was a lot of wasted space on the 777, especially in the aisles, and that he would never compromise passenger comfort. He claimed that a general passenger who is “not a journalist in aviation” would not notice the difference in width and comfort, but that ultimately the airline was “in the business of making money” by adding as many passengers as feasible.

Mr Al Baker suggests that only aviation journalists notice narrower seats. Perhaps he might like to talk to aircraft lessor Amedeo, whose plan for a 3-5-3 layout on the Airbus A380 seems to have stalled (or at least run very silent and very deep) following a barrage of criticism after this columnist and other RGN contributors published photographs of it — criticism echoed widely throughout the general media.

Perhaps he might read RGN’s extensive coverage of narrower seats, including the article where IEEE government relations staffer Erica Wissolik — no specialist aviation journalist — highlighted in 2014 exactly why Qatar Airways’ 787 seats are so uncomfortable in lay terms. Those 787 seats are similarly narrow to the 777 seats Al Baker is insisting are not noticeably different at a nine-abreast or ten-abreats configuration.

Often feeling like a Simpson's punchline, Akbar al Baker's media strategy could use some refinement.

Often feeling like a Simpson’s punchline, Akbar Al Baker’s media strategy could use some refinement.

Perhaps he might talk to the Doha News, which says the airline’s narrow 787 seats are “lamented” — a case of journalists outside the aviation field drawing on the analysis of experts. Commenters on the piece overwhelmingly agree.

Perhaps he might consult the Tumblr of frequent flyer Jonathan Khoo, who highlights that not only is there little legroom to begin with, but shows that the legroom that is there is restricted significantly by IFE boxes.

Perhaps he might like to read FlyerTalk, where many frequent flyers decry these seats.

Perhaps he might have one of his people read Twitter, where this user (not an aviation journalist) highlighted the problems over a year ago.

Or perhaps he might like to relax while listening to a YouTube song that points out the problem.

It may well be very difficult for Mr Al Baker to understand the valuable role that an independent and knowledgeable expert media plays. Qatar, after all, places a lamentable 115th out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders 2015 World Press Freedom Index. But there certainly is a place for informed, authoritative journalism in the aviation industry.

The thing is, the more Al Baker slings mud at Delta archrival Richard Anderson (no favorite of this column), the more it is difficult for aviation journalists to avoid pointing out that Delta’s international economy seats are overwhelmingly more spacious and comfortable than the standard Al Baker insists Qatar Airways’ passengers deserve. (For completeness, of course, I should note that the airlines with which Delta codeshares on routes overlapping with the Qatar Airways network also offer narrower seats in 9-abreast 787 and 10-abreast 777 configurations.)

Qatar Airways has never been at the forefront of economy class comfort, although before the delivery of its 787 fleet it was middle-of-the-pack fine. Its A380 and A350 aircraft are above average — mainly because the average has dropped, though. The airline seems to have decided that an acceptable level of comfort is not sufficiently profitable — or to believe that its headline-courting CEO’s antics will distract prospective passengers.

Nine-abreast 787 seats and ten-abreast 777 seats are not comfortable, especially when combined with IFE boxes in the footwell. They’re certainly not premium.

For Al Baker to insist otherwise to aviation journalists is at the very least disingenuous, an adjective that is far kinder than many others use.

For him to then dismiss those aviation journalists’ expertise when it becomes clear he cannot pull the wool over their eyes is entirely objectionable.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8878

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 – Paris Air Show.


  1. Uh huh. I challenge him to fly to the US from Doha in one of those seats, with the middle seat next to him occupied by another adult. Even better, put him in the middle of a full Y cabin. Then let’s see if he notices or not.

    I’ve flown a couple of 14 hour flights on a 787 with 3-3-3 in the back. Sure, I survived, but it was not pleasant, and it felt very tight. Fortunately we had the exit row and on the return flight, the main cabin was only about half full, so we spread out with empty middle seats between us. Still, it’s not something I’d ever recommend unless you can avoid it.

  2. Jeff

    i’ve flown (not on QR) 787’s in economy class and it is painful. So bad it ought to be illegal on a 12+ hour flight!

  3. Karl

    Perhaps Akbar is just loyal to Boeing – for the time being. If airlines would stop putting 9 abreast on 787s and 10 abreast on 777s, then I’m afraid that Boeing’s entire wide body line-up would be rendered uncompetitive overnight. The fact of the matter is that the 787 at 8 abreast would be uncompetitive against both the A330-800/900 and A350-900 and the 777-9 at 9 abreast would be uncompetitive against the A350-1000. For example, the 777-9 at 10 abreast barely beats the A350-1000 on fuel burn per seat. It’s unfortunate that Boeing has painted themselves into a corner by designing the 787 slightly too wide for 8 abreast and slightly too narrow for 9 abreast. They have now no option but attempting to discard the notion that seat widths don’t matter

    With the 777X, Boeing will be able to offer at 10 abreast exactly the same seat-bottom width, armrest width and aisle width as the 787 at 9 abreast – or about the same seat-bottom, armrest and aisle widths as on their 737s. Due to the enormous success of the 777-300ER – many of which gave been delivered with the economy class at 10 abreast, Boeing seems to have allowed themselves to be lulled into a sense of “false security” – that a narrow seat width
    doesn’t matter on long range flights. It’s worth mentioning, though, that when Emirates put their first 777-300ER at 10 abreast into service, they compensated their passengers with an additional 2″ of added pitch (i.e. 34″ instead of 32″). With the 787 and 777X, the seat pitch is back to 32″, at the most.

    As more and more 787s at 9 abreast, 777 and 777Xs at 10 abreast, A350s at 9 abreast and A380s at 10 abreast (main deck),Boeing is risking that more and more passengers will start to vote with their wallets and actively start to avoid 787 and 777s/777Xs if there’s an alternative with A330s, A350s and A380s flying the same route and if the airfare is similar.

  4. Karl


    Due to the enormous success of the 777-300ER – many of which have been delivered with the economy class at 10 abreast….

    As more and more 787s at 9 abreast, 777 and 777Xs at 10 abreast, A350s at 9 abreast and A380s at 10 abreast (main deck)” enter into service…..

  5. Alexander Tan

    Cool article. Thanks!! The Qatar B787 is really cramped but their A350 is pretty good in Economy.

  6. RaflW

    I’ve been considering a trip to New Zealand, and I can tell you, Seat Guru users have noticed their switch to 3-4-3 seating! People comment on the very tight personal space.

    I have wondered if, at some point, passengers in more state-regulation friendly parts of the world might revolt and force airlines to adopt minimum seat and pitch for longhauls (say to/from the EU?). Is that what it’s going to take? I’m sure Al Baker wouldn’t like that at all.

  7. Adrian Game

    Loved the article. To add to your evidence I have been a frequent flyer with Qatar since 2009 flying regularly between London and Hong Kong.

    One of most recent trips used a modern 777. It has to be clearly stated that the seats were the most uncomfortable I have ever sat in. The width reduction it very noticeable from the original versions of the aircraft that were used.

    The seats are also hard with little padding and are only just better than the bucket seats found on Cathey 747s (the worst seat type in the world) It is thankful that the flight is on 6 to 7 hours. This is obviously an attempt to save weight in the aircraft.

    Where the options allow I always choose Airbus aircraft, even the 330 used from HK generally has more comfort (since the recent refit)

    I have noticed that recently there has been a major reduction in the quality of the airline and the treatment of their frequent flyer economy passengers.