Image
Top
Navigation
July 16, 2016

Emirates vs Qatar vs Etihad – Who has the Best First Class?

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 often been asked is;

 Who do you prefer and who is the best?

I have had the good fortune to sample all of the First Class Product Offerings from the ME3 carriers and have decided to write a comprehensive review to compare them all.

In the below section, I will break down the review of their First Class Product into the following categories:

  1. Chauffeur Service
  2. First Class Lounge
  3. Airport Services
  4. First Class Suite
  5. In-flight Service
  6. First Class Dining
  7. First Class Bathroom
  8. Onboard Bar
  9. In-flight entertainment and Wifi
  10. 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

 

Chauffeur Service

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 any traveller, avoiding the trouble of having to arrange pre and post flight transportation.

Both carriers extended chauffeur driven service to award tickets. (Emirates only allow chauffeur driven service ticketed with Emirates, not with their partners such as Alaska Airlines, while Etihad allow chauffeur driven 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; all 3 airlines offer an extremely high standard and spacious First Class Lounge for their guest.

I have further broken down this category into: Lounge Comfort, Dining, Amenities and Accessibility.

The Emirates First Class lounge at Dubai is massive in scale; it is essentially a luxury concourse occupying the floor above the whole concourse.  Emirates have 3 large First Class Lounges in Dubai one 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.

Entrance of Emirates First Class Lounge

Entrance of Emirates First Class Lounge

 
Emirates First Class Lounge Dining Area

Emirates First Class Lounge Dining Area

 
Emirates First Class Lounge Cigar Room

Emirates First Class Lounge Cigar Room

 
Emirates First Class Lounge Quiet Room

Emirates First Class Lounge Quiet Room

 

Emirates First Class ticket holder receive complimentary spa treatment.

Emirates First Class Lounge Timeless Spa Menu

Emirates First Class Lounge Timeless Spa Menu

 
Emirates First Class Lounge Direct Boarding

Emirates First Class Lounge Direct Boarding

 

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 travellers alike. There are waterfalls 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.

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge

 
Qatar Airways First Class Lounge

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge

 
Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Bar

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Bar

 
Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Family Area

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Family Area

 
Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Day Room

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Day Room

 
Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Double Jacuzzi

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Double Jacuzzi

 
Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Double Jacuzzi

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Double Jacuzzi

 
Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Spa Treatment Room

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Spa Treatment Room

 
Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Spa Treatment Room

Qatar Airways First Class Lounge Spa Treatment Room

    The newly opened Etihad Airways First Class Lounge in Abu Dhabi is also fantastic and offers a great range of services 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 and that an Etihad food and beverage manager serves you personally with his/her recommendation. The menu also features an exclusive Emirates Palace Dining which features Emirati Local Cuisine.

Etihad First Class Lounge Entrance

Etihad First Class Lounge Entrance

 
Etihad First Class Lounge Private Room

Etihad First Class Lounge Private Room

 
Etihad First Class Lounge Cigar Room

Etihad First Class Lounge Cigar Room

 
Etihad First Class Lounge Relax and Recline

Etihad First Class Lounge Relax and Recline

 
Etihad First Class Lounge Bar area

Etihad First Class Lounge Bar area

 
Etihad First Class Lounge Fine Dining

Etihad First Class Lounge Fine Dining

 
Etihad First Class Lounge Fine Dining

Etihad First Class Lounge Fine Dining

 

Airport Services

Winner: Qatar Airways

This is an area that largely depends on 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 to be the most diligent, hardworking bunch and that they deserve an award. On many occasions they have ensured I met my flight connections in Doha when my arrival flight had been delayed; they also provide a personal escort to take you directly to their First Class Lounge after your arrival on a Qatar Airways First Class flight.

I have also noticed that Qatar Airways flights are usually the most punctual out of all 3 carriers on a regular basis.

First Class Suite

Winner: Etihad Airways

I have to admit, there's nothing that comes close to The First Class Apartment on The Etihad A380

More than just a seat, The First Class 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...

Etihad First Class Apartment A380

Etihad First Class Apartment A380

 
Etihad First Class Apartment A380

Etihad First Class Apartment A380

 
Etihad First Class Apartment A380

Etihad First Class Apartment A380

 
Etihad First Class Apartment A380

Etihad First Class Apartment A380

 

Looking a great seat for lounging and socializing?

The Qatar Airways First Class seat features an open design and it is a great seat for lounging and dining together when traveling as a pair. The padding is great and makes the seat very comfortable.

It has a really large dimension and there is a wall divider which allows added privacy.

 
Qatar Airways First Class A380

Qatar Airways First Class A380

 
Qatar Airways First Class A380

Qatar Airways First Class A380

 
Qatar Airways First Class A380

Qatar Airways First Class A380

 

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 doors to create a complete private space. There are a few fancy features including: 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 décor. It certainly adds to the Middle East Flavour of the cabin.

We are awaiting their new generation First Class Suite that Emirates announced last year.

Emirates First Class

Emirates First Class

 
Emirates First Class

Emirates First Class

 
Emirates First Class

Emirates First Class

In-flight Service

Winner: Qatar Airways and Etihad

This is a very subjective area on how you perceive 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 Flights 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!

Qatar Airways Cabin Crew

Qatar Airways Cabin Crew

 

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 The Residence and they also have a food and beverage manager.

Etihad Chef onboard

Etihad Chef onboard

Emirates Cabin Crew

Emirates Cabin Crew

First Class Dining

Winner: Etihad

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 offers an 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 of dining in a fine dining restaurant, with amazing presentation and serve some famous restaurant inspired cuisine.

Etihad Food and Beverage Manager

Etihad Food and Beverage Manager

 
Etihad First Class Dining Breakfast

Etihad First Class Dining Breakfast

 
Etihad First Class Dining Soup

Etihad First Class Dining Soup

 
Etihad First Class Dining Main Course Steak Fillet

Etihad First Class Dining Main Course Steak Fillet

 
Etihad First Class Dining Dessert "Texture" inspired by El Bulli Restaurant

Etihad First Class Dining Dessert "Texture" inspired by El Bulli Restaurant

 

I also love the fact that both Qatar and Emirates still serve Caviar as a starter. This is a timeless tradition that I enjoy a lot.

Krug Champagne Served on Qatar Airways First Class

Krug Champagne Served on Qatar Airways First Class

 
Qatar Airways First Class Dining Caviar Service

Qatar Airways First Class Dining Caviar Service

 
Qatar Airways First Class Billecart Salmon Brut Rose

Qatar Airways First Class Billecart Salmon Brut Rose

 
Emirates First Class Dining on a short haul flight

Emirates First Class Dining on a short haul flight

 

First Class Bathroom

Winner: Emirates

Emirates and Etihad both offer shower facilities for their First Class Passengers.

Emirates have two shower rooms (they called it Shower and Spa!) in the very front of the A380 upper deck. They're huge and they offer up to 10 minutes of shower time.

Etihad features one shower room in the forward lavatory and another shower room as part of the private bathroom exclusively for The Residence Passenger.

Qatar Airways do not have any shower facilities, however they do place some beautiful Roses in their bathroom as display. I particularly love their brand choice of toiletries "Rituals".

Emirates A380 Bathroom and Spa

Emirates A380 Bathroom and Spa

 
Emirates A380 Bathroom and Spa

Emirates A380 Bathroom and Spa

 
Etihad First Class Bathroom

Etihad First Class Bathroom

 
Qatar Airways A380 First Class bathroom

Qatar Airways A380 First Class bathroom

Onboard Bar

Winner: Qatar Airways

All 3 airlines feature lavish on-board bars on their flagship A380 aircraft.

Qatar Airways features a stunning on-board bar located behind business class. The bar itself is curved and has leather sofas on both sides of the bar area. The bar is decorated with swanky chandeliers and super roses (they can last several weeks on-board!)

Qatar Airways Onboard Bar

Qatar Airways Onboard Bar

Emirates were the first airline to offer the on-board bar concept.

Their on-board 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.

Emirates Onboard Bar

Emirates Onboard Bar

 

Etihad Airways has installed a lounge, designated ‘The Lobby’, on the upper deck of their A380 between the First and Business Class Cabins.  It seats up to six guests and is fitted with: seatbelts, power supply, connectivity ports, and a widescreen TV.

Etihad Onboard Lounge The Lobby

Etihad Onboard Lounge The Lobby

 

In-flight entertainment and Wifi

Winner: Emirates

All three airlines have installed excellent on-board IFE and Wi-Fi on their planes.

Emirates are the winners when it comes to the in-flight entertainment product. You just can't beat their ICE!

Emirates currently offer free Wi-Fi for first 10MB across all travel classes.

Qatar Airways offer free Wi-Fi for their First Class Passengers.

 

My Verdict

 

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 has been nothing like it in the past and it is raising the bar of First Class Travel to ground breaking heights.

Having said that, all 3 Middle East Gulf carriers remain extremely competitive, constantly challenge each other and they are raising the bar to benefit their passengers. It will remain interesting to see what will come next from all the competition!

Below is a selection of my latest reviews and offerings 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!

Tips on Smart Travel and finding the best airfare

I use Momondo to search extensively across the best airfare before buying it. Have a look at this post to see how it is working for getting a cheaper ticket! Momondo definitely features the best First and Business Class deals of any Flight Search Engine out there.  I have put together many useful travel tips and airfare promotions in my Smart Travel section to guide you travel in more luxury with lower price!

Comments

  1. I would have to strongly disagree with your choice of Etihad. Their champagne and wine selections are consistently well below those on Qatar and Emirates and in all three first flights I’ve taken with them in 2016 they have run out of several food options by mid-flight…something that never happens on the other two. I’ve also had two cases where pre-arranged limo service did not show up…and one where it showed up 3 hours earlier than they had confirmed. Agree the suite is by far the best seat product, but find they come up short in every other regard.

  2. Kieran

    I would respectfully disagree with your First Class winners (although it is always something subject to individual tastes). I have flown First Class on Etihad frequently (both on the 777 and the A380) and Emirates almost as much, with some First Class A380 flights on Qatar (a smaller sample due to Qatar only having very limited A380 First Class routes compared to EK and EY).

    Chauffeur Service – Etihad (Etihad tends to be more generous on distances than Emirates)
    First Class Lounge – Emirates for food, Qatar for wine & beds (have yet to visit new Etihad First Lounge so may change opinion there). All need to look at their showers.
    Airport Services – Qatar (certainly the nicest looking home airport too) tied with Emirates (due to boarding from lounge). Etihad really falls down here.
    First Class Suite – I am no fan of Etihad A380 First Suite (poor ergonomics), to the point I take the 777 if possible. I also found the Qatar First Class seat itchy and not all that comfortable either. Despite it not being perfect, the Emirates Suite works best for me.
    In-Flight Service – I have had very good service on all three airlines from time to time, but Etihad has the most variable (had some truly subpar experiences). Emirates can be very good, but does suffer at times due to it’s higher density First Class and the occasional bad apple. Qatar was typically good (but it’s a smaller sample).
    First Class Dining – Etihad’s Onboard Chef is more marketing spin than anything substantial (there is very limited culinary creation going on), what Etihad deserves recognition on is “Dine Anytime” – eating as you choose. Etihad’s food offerings tend not to be anything to write home about, and their wine list tends to be weaker. Emirates and Qatar tend to have stronger food quality and better wine offerings. Qatar tends to lead the others in quality.
    First Class Bathroom – Emirates. Qatar is the weakest here (the spout in the bathroom tends to spit water too) and while the shower in Etihad’s A380 tends to have better water pressure than Emirates, the bathrooms are a bit more cramped.
    Onboard Bar – Qatar (Etihad weakest here – not a fan of their lounge space)
    IFE/Wifi – Emirates is the leader here
    Overall – All things considered (particularly route availability) Emirates still deserves recognition, particularly if it’s planned refresh of First cabins impresses. Qatar deserves a special nod, and Etihad has areas it needs to work on (but is not without it’s merits)

    All this said, Air France’s New First La Premiere – in my view – puts the ME3 in the shade, overall

  3. Christian

    I would have to agree with you Sam, Etihad are by far the most superior out of the 3 for there overall first class product, although I have only ever flown Business on Qatar (we don’t have a first class service with Qatar out of Melbourne). I find Ethiad’s product offering to be very elegant and classy unlike Emirates which I find to be a little OTT and tacky (much like Dubai itself). I’m flying in Ethiad’s new A380 first apartment next year for my 40th in Venice via Paris and can’t wait…

    • Sam Chui

      Thanks for your comment. Qatar is also excellent in Business. Hope MEL will get their new Super Business Class product (on 787, A350 and A380) one day.

Submit a Comment