One of the most technologically advanced and passenger-friendly aircraft touched down for the first time at New York’s JFK yesterday afternoon. That plane was the Airbus A350-1000 with launch customer Qatar Airways. The PMTTP team watched the aircraft as it landed and later hopped onboard for an up-close look at the cabin with the Qatar team.
Qatar Airways at New York’s JFK
Qatar operates two flights each day from JFK to Doha—one in the morning and one in the evening. Yesterday, Qatar replaced its evening Boeing 777-300ER flight from JFK with the A350-1000, operating as QR 702 on the flight to Doha and QR 701 on the return. The A350-900 will continue operating the morning flights, QR 703 and QR 704, flying with the far-less-private business class reverse-herringbone seat.
Qatar Airways’ Airbus A350 History
In 2014, Qatar Airways became the launch customer of the entire Airbus A350 program with the -900 series. This airplane was a huge milestone for Airbus, giving them a direct competitor to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. Fast forward to February of this year and the airline did it again—becoming the launch customer of the A350-1000, a 23-foot extended version of the original -900. The -1000 competes with Boeing’s 777-300ER but has just about every category beat from efficiency to passenger comfort.
Qatar A350-900 Vs. A350-1000
There’s really just two words to describe the difference between these two planes: 1) Longer 2) QSuites
As mentioned, the A350-1000 variant is about 23-feet longer than the A350-900, which means extra passenger capacity. It has a total of 44 extra seats onboard—10 in business and 34 in economy. While the -1000 fuel tank is also larger, it doesn’t quite have the flying range of the -900 since it’s carrying more weight.
Then, there’s QSuites. It’s the business class product that’s been the talk of the airline world since its launch in 2017. For the A350-1000, QSuites comes delivered straight from the factory. Meanwhile, the A350-900 has reverse-herringbone seats (not a bad product itself) with a retrofit to QSuites upcoming. However, QSuites really is in a league of its own. It’s just that good. Qatar even cleverly branded its newest business class with some wordplay: First in Business. Not only is it a leading business class seat, it also eliminates the need for a first class cabin.
Experiencing QSuites and Economy On The A350-1000
This A350-1000 for the inaugural flight to JFK was registered with tail number A7-AND, delivered to Qatar less than a month ago.
I won’t rehash what has been covered already since QSuites launched last year. I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with the product firsthand—I don’t think the praise has been overhyped at all. The suite feels spacious in large part to the large padded storage compartment next to the seat. It’s so big that it can honestly almost double as a buddy seat for a companion to snuggle in and watch a film with you. (TBD if that would be condoned by the cabin crew.)
Qatar also seriously paid attention to the details on this seat. Not just in terms of ergonomics, but also in terms of aesthetics. Materials seemed top notch with smooth surfaces where they needed to be, and padded and quilted touch points throughout the suite. My OCD went into overdrive as I poked and prodded various elements of the seat, buttons, and walls. They all got my thumbs up.
Of course, when in QSuites, you have to try out the double bed. It was comfortable as can be and included a cushion so you and companion don’t experience a gap in between the two seats.
Back in economy, things didn’t look too shabby either. The A350 already has a slightly wider fuselage than Boeing’s 787 but not wide-enough to make into a 3-4-3 seating arrangement as it is on most Boeing 777’s. This means seat width is fairly comfortable, as was legroom. Seatback monitors were quite large and even articulated for comfortable viewing if a seat was reclined in front of you.
No to Premium Economy & Yes To More Planes
Speaking to Qatar’s SVP of the Americas, Eric Odone was candid about their product offering and acknowledged the huge gap between economy and QSuites. However, premium economy isn’t at all in the company’s plans. However, what is in the works are more aircraft including more fleet types. Qatar has an order of 60 Boeing 777X with first deliveries scheduled for 2020. This is an even larger plane than the A350-1000, but not quite as large as the massive Airbus A380. While many airlines are trying to limit the number of different aircraft they operate to streamline operations, Qatar has a different strategy. Odone mentioned that they have a diversified range of planes to cater to different market sizes and to be nimble in terms of capacity adjustments.
While not exactly a groundbreaking launch since the 777-300ER being replaced also had the QSuites, this A350-1000 aircraft is a notable improvement for economy. Seats are 3-3-3 instead of 3-4-3 with increased seat width. Better cabin pressure and bigger windows and overhead bins are also a win for everyone on board.
Overall, it was great to experience the fanfare and excitement of Qatar’s latest and greatest product.