Emirates vs Qatar vs Etihad
The ME3 - Who has the BEST First Class?
As a Middle East based frequent flyer, I often use the ME3 (Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad) on my travels. One question I have been asked often is, who do you prefer and who is the best?
I have the good fortune to sample all of the First Class product offerings from the ME3 carriers and decided to write a comprehensive review to compare all of their First Class offerings.
In the below section, I will break down the review of their First Class product into following areas:
- Chauffeur Service
- First Class Lounge
- Airport Services
- First Class Suite
- In-flight Service
- First Class Dining
- First Class Bathroom
- Onboard Bar
- In-flight entertainment and Wifi
- Overall and My verdict
The rankings are based on my own extensive air travel experiences and preferences.
I do not receive any benefit/goodwill/commission by compiling this list.
All photography in this post is by Sam Chui
Winner: Emirates and Etihad
Both Etihad and Emirates offer complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers for their First Class passengers in a limousine car, while this is not the case with Qatar Airways. The free chauffeur drive is definitely a plus for traveler without the trouble to arrange pre and post flight transportation.
Both carriers extended chauffeur service to award tickets. (Emirates only allow chauffeur drive ticketed with Emirates but not with their partners such as Alaska Airlines while Etihad allow chauffeur drive service from partners awards such as American Airlines)
First Class Lounge
Winner: Qatar Airways
It is extremely hard to pick a winner in this category as all 3 airlines offer extremely high standard and spacious First Class Lounge for their guest.
I have further break this area into Lounge Comfort, Dining, Amenities and Accessibility
The Emirates First Class lounge at Dubai is massive in scale and it is essentially a luxury concourse occupying the floor above the whole concourse. Emirates have 3 large First Class Lounge in Dubai in each of the concourses (A, B and C) it operates. The space is so huge that it somewhat lacks an exclusive, upscale ambience. Facilities are great though, with duty free luxury shops, a fine dining area, a wine cellar, an old-fashioned cigar room, and – a unique airport feature I like the most – direct boarding access from the lounge that connected to most gates.
For more details please read my full review of the Emirates First Class Lounge here.
Emirates First Class ticket holder receive complimentary spa treatment.
The Qatar Airways First Class Lounge at Doha is named Al Safwa First Class Lounge.
This lounge was opened in October 2015.
You can see a full review here.
Upon entering the lounge, the soaring ceiling immediately takes your breath away...
The lounge’s artwork and minimalist design create the ambience of a modern art museum that will impress even the most discerning frequent flyers and travelers alike. There are a waterfall on the walls and an impressive water fountain as the centerpiece of the lounge.
It is extremely spacious with amazing facilities such as restaurant style dining, a pay to use elegant spa, hotel style day rooms and family area.
The newly opened Etihad Airways First Class lounge in Abu Dhabi is also fantastic and offer a great range of service and amenities.
This lounge doesn't have the sheer size and space as the other 2 does, but it added a more cozy feeling. It features fine dining, private rooms, cigar rooms and a "relax and recline" area.
I really enjoyed the fine dining in the restaurant, that a Etihad food and beverage manager serve you personally with his/her recommendation. The menu also feature an exclusive Emirates Palace Dining, which feature Emirati local Cuisine.
Winner: Qatar Airways
This is an area that largely depends your own travel experience.
All 3 carriers offer an exclusive area for First Class check-in and formality.
I personally found Qatar Airways ground staff are the most diligent and hard working bunch that they deserves an award. On many occasions they have ensured I met my flight connections in Doha when my arrival flight is delayed and they have personal escort to take you directly to their First Class Lounge after your arrival on a Qatar Airways First Class flight.
I also notice Qatar Airways flights are usually most punctual out of all 3 carriers on a regular basis.
First Class Suite
Winner: Etihad Airways
I have to admit, there's nothing come close to the First Class Apartment on Etihad A380
More than just a seat, the First Apartment has a large leather armchair and a separate bed. There is even space to walk around after closing the privacy doors.
Seeing is believing...
Looking a great seat for lounging and socializing?
The Qatar Airways First Class seat features an open design, it is a great seat for lounging and dining together when traveling with a pair. The padding is great makes the seat very comfortable.
It has a really large dimension and there is a wall divider which allows added privacy.
The Emirates’ First Class seat was revolutionary when it was introduced a decade ago, but it’s design is now somewhat surpassed by its competitors.
The suite can be fully closed with two sliding door to create a complete private space. There are a few fancy feature include your own mini bar, a table lamp and in-seat massage function.
I have to admit, I am actually a fan of the Gold trim and glossy wood decor of its First Class. It certainly adds the Middle East taste to the cabin.
We are waiting their new generation First Class Suite that Emirates announced last year.
Winner: Qatar Airways and Etihad
This is a very subjective area on how you perceive as good service. All 3 airlines employ a large international multi-culture and multi-lingual crew. I must say I have never received any bad service on any of my First Class flight with the ME3. As a frequent flyer, I look at consistency on the service delivery. Qatar Airways are very highly regarded in terms of their consistency of services. They're nicknamed the Singapore Airlines of the Middle East!
Etihad has certainly tried very hard in improving their in-flight service. On their A380 flight they have a dedicated chef for First Class and Residence and a food and beverage manager.
First Class Dining
All three airlines offer excellent food in their First Class and you can order your meals from an a la carte menu, in any order, at any time on demand.
Etihad is the only airline that offer a in-flight chef and a food and beverage manager so naturally they shine in the area of dining. They have certainly elevated in-flight dining to the standard dining in a fine dining restaurant with amazing presentation and serve some famous restaurant inspired cuisine.
I also love the fact both Qatar and Emirates still serve Caviar as starter. This is a timeless tradition that I enjoy a lot.
First Class Bathroom
Emirates and Etihad both offer shower facilities in their First Class cabin.
Emirates have two shower room (they called it Shower and Spa!) in the very front of the A380 upper deck. They're huge and can offer up to 10 minutes shower time.
Etihad features one shower room in the forward lavatory and another shower room as part of the private bathroom exclusively for Residence passenger.
Qatar don't have shower but they have placed some beautiful Roses in their bathroom as display. I particularly love their brand choice of toiletries "Rituals".
Winner: Qatar Airways
All 3 airlines feature a lavish onboard bar on their flagship A380 aircraft.
Qatar Airways features a stunning onboard bar located behind business class. The bar itself is curved, with leather sofas on both side of the bar area. The bar is decorated with swanky chandeliers and super Roses (they can last several weeks onboard!)
Emirates is the first airline offered onboard bar concept.
Their onboard bar is located at the rear of the upper cabin, behind the Business Class cabin, and it’s a hub of activity throughout the flight.
Etihad Airways has installed a lounge, designated ‘The Lobby’, on the upper deck of their A380 between the First and Business Class cabin. It seats up to six guests and is fitted with seatbelts, power supply, connectivity ports, and a widescreen TV.
In-flight entertainment and Wifi
All three airlines have installed excellent onboard IFE and wifi on their planes.
Emirates is the winner when it comes to the in-flight entertainment product. You just can't beat their ICE!
Emirates currently offer free Wifi for first 10MB across all travel classes.
Qatar Airways offer Free wifi for First Class passengers.
Overall Winner: Etihad
Out of all the categories, Emirates won 2, Qatar won 4 and Etihad won 5!
It is really hard to beat Etihad's First Class Apartment in-flight experience on their A380. There's nothing like it in the past and it is ground breaking that raise the bar of First Class travel to a new level.
Having said that, all 3 Middle East Gulf carriers remain extremely competitive and constantly challenge each other and raise the bar to benefit its passengers. It will remain interesting to see what come next from all the competitions!
Below are a selection of my latest reviews and offer from the ME3
Do you agree with my preference? Who is the best of ME3 for you?
I'd love to read your comments below!