A dream to fly: Reviewing Qatar Airways’ new business class on the Boeing 787-9
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Qatar Airways’ newest aircraft type also sports its newest business-class seats.
In late 2019, the Doha-based carrier began taking delivery of the first of the 30 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners that will eventually join its fleet in the coming years.
However, the plane didn’t end up flying passengers until this past June, after exclusively operating cargo missions during the height of the pandemic.
When these Dreamliners ultimately entered commercial service for Qatar, they also debuted new business-class seats that are a novel take on the airline’s award-winning Qsuite. These have been specially designed for the smaller width of the cabins aboard the 787-9 (compared to the Boeing 777s and Airbus A350s on which you’ll find Qsuite).
Qatar now has seven of these 787-9 wide-bodies in its fleet, and I’ve been keen to give the new business-class product a try. That opportunity came on the way home to the U.S. after flying to Dubai in Emirates’ new premium economy.
So, how did Qatar’s latest business product perform? Read on to find out about my experience flying from Doha (DOH) to Madrid (MAD).
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Routes and availability
Though the 787-9 has the range to make it to the U.S. and other long-haul destinations from Qatar AIrways’ hub in Doha, Qatar’s current deployment strategy has it flying on shorter routes.
A look at Cirium schedules for December show that the plane is mostly operating on a handful of frequencies between Doha and the following cities:
- Barcelona, Spain (BCN).
- Berlin (BER).
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KUL).
- Madrid (MAD).
- Manchester, England (MAN).
- Nairobi, Kenya (NBO).
- Oslo, Norway (OSL).
- Paris (CDG).
- Phuket, Thailand (HKT).
If you’re interested in flying the jet for yourself, you’ll want to confirm the plane type on your specific flight before booking, and note that schedules are always subject to change, especially at the last minute due to the pandemic.
For now, Qatar Airways has just seven of these planes and due to manufacturing-related delays with the Boeing assembly line, the plane-maker has suspended all new Dreamliner deliveries until April 2022 at the earliest.
As such, Qatar’s 787-9 footprint is going to be quite limited for the foreseeable future.
Since Qatar Airways is a member of the Oneworld alliance, redeeming miles for the carrier’s new 787-9 business-class product is quite seamless, assuming you’ve found award availability.
While award availability was sparse on the Doha-to-Madrid route that I flew, there were a handful of dates with seats open for mileage bookings, especially on dates closer to departure.
American charges 42,500 miles for the one-way segment from Europe to the Middle East, while Alaska charges 65,000 miles.
Another option for those who aren’t flush with American or Alaska miles is to transfer 62,000 points from American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards (or Capital One miles) to the British Airways Avios program.
While using Avios for an award is more expensive than redeeming AAdvantage miles, for most people, accruing Avios is easier than AAdvantage miles thanks to those transfer options, especially if you don’t frequently fly with American or Alaska.
Of course, you could also pay for your business-class seat, which could make sense during one of Qatar’s frequent promotions. Just be sure not to book one of Qatar’s new “business class lite” fares that don’t include lounge access or seat assignments, assuming those things matter to you.
Round-trip business-class fares between Doha and Madrid hover around $3,700 during off-peak dates.
In my case, I snagged a deal relative to just booking this single segment from Doha to Madrid. I purchased a multisegment business-class fare originating in Dubai and arriving in New York, with connections in Doha, Madrid and London, for a total of roughly $3,500 (which included segments on Qatar’s Boeing 787-9, Iberia’s Airbus A350 and British Airways’ Boeing 777 with Club Suites).
It always pays to play with the connections and itinerary to see if you can unlock a lower fare.
My time with Qatar Airways began roughly 250 miles across the Persian Gulf from Doha.
I had just arrived in Dubai (DXB) after flying Emirates’ new premium economy and was headed back home with Qatar via Doha and Madrid.
As such, the entire check-in process for my itinerary was completed in Dubai. I was asked to present my negative COVID-19 test results (to satisfy the U.S. entry requirements), and I was then issued onward boarding passes for my connecting flights.
Upon landing in Doha — at a gate, thankfully, rather than a remote stand that would have required a bus transfer – I made my way to the airport’s transit area. It required clearing a security checkpoint, though it took just a few minutes thanks to the dedicated area for premium-cabin flyers.
From there, I navigated through throngs of people (yes, 1 a.m. really is rush hour at Hamad International Airport), before arriving at a quiet oasis for the night, Qatar’s Al Safwa first-class lounge.
Had I been originating in Doha, I wouldn’t have had access to Qatar’s first-class lounge — it’s limited to those departing in first class (to London, Paris and other points in the Gulf region), as well as top-tier Privilege Club frequent flyers.
Arriving first-class passengers have historically received access to the Al Safwa lounge only if they were coming off a European route. However, during the pandemic, anyone arriving in first class, regardless of destination, has temporarily been able to use the Al Safwa lounge. It’s not clear if this will become a permanent change to the access policy, but I’m certainly hopeful.
While I was seated in the business-class cabin from Dubai to Doha, Qatar technically sells these seats as first class on routes within the Gulf region, meaning that I’d have access to Al Safwa.
Had I not been eligible to use the Al Safwa lounge, I would’ve instead been admitted to the Al Mourjan business-class lounge. It’s one of the best business-class lounges in the world, but Al Safwa still has it beat.
We’ve reviewed the Al Safwa lounge extensively at TPG, so I’ll just cover some highlights of my six-hour stay there.
The first thing I did when I arrived was head directly to the spa area to inquire about the availability of one of the 12 private nap rooms.
Fortunately, one was ready when I arrived, and after signing some paperwork, I was given access to room No. 12.
With a bed dressed in proper linens, a desk, a closet and a private bathroom with a walk-in shower, these rooms resemble a hotel room more than a nap room. It was my second-favorite airport lounge bedroom after the one I used in the Swiss first-class lounge in Zurich in 2019.
Everyone who has access to the Al Safwa lounge can use these rooms on a first-come, first-served basis. The first six hours are free, and additional six-hour blocks cost 450 Qatari riyals, or roughly $125.
Fortunately, my layover was just a tad longer than six hours, so I was able to use the room for my entire stay free of charge. I napped for an hour but was disappointed that I couldn’t turn off every light in the room (a safety feature, I figured). At least the twin-size bed was supremely comfortable.
Toward the end of my stay, I showered in the private bathroom, and I especially appreciated the woodsy Diptyque shower amenities. More than anything, the private room proved to be a great place to safely keep all my belongings while I wandered around the lounge.
While I spent a significant amount of my stay in the private room, I ventured around the lounge in the middle of the night, around 3 a.m., to capture some pictures.
It’s one of the most visually appealing lounges I have been to. The extremely tall ceilings provided an open-air experience without letting in the noise from the terminal. Inspired by the design of Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, the lounge had some historically significant vases, ceramics and textiles displayed along the wall — and indeed, walking around the lounge felt more like browsing a museum than killing time in one of the busiest airports in the world.
I was a big fan of the two water features inside. One had water lightly dripping down from a wall and another was a long cylinder with water streaming down from the ceiling into a circular pool below. The white noise created from the water movement added to the sense of relaxation.
The best part about the lounge was that it never felt busy (unlike Al Mourjan, which often gets very crowded during peak times).
I ended up ordering dinner during the middle of my stay, and I was impressed by the quality of all the food. You can’t go wrong with Qatar’s traditional Arabic mezze, which is comprised of individual bowls of hummus, tabbouleh and muhammara, served along with some Arabic bread.
I also tried the vegetable falafel with spinach and tofu tortellini, then baked apple for dessert — all of which tasted more like what you’d find in a restaurant than an airport lounge. All meal orders were served a la carte, with servers taking orders from a digital menu that was available after scanning a QR code (and linked here).
Roughly an hour before boarding, I decided to book a treatment in the lounge’s spa. Unlike some other first-class lounges, which offer short, complimentary services, all the ones available here are a la carte, and they are expensive. My 20-minute massage was 230 Qatari riyals, or roughly $65.
It was a splurge, but one I found well worth it. After all, this was a legitimate spa: There were multiple treatment rooms with massage beds and individual bathrooms — none of the chair massages that you might otherwise find in an airport lounge.
There was a menu of treatments available via QR code (and linked here), which included body therapies as well as facials and skin treatments (all available at an additional cost).
Once my service was finished, it was time to head back to my room to shower and make my way to the gate.
My flight was departing at 8:30 a.m., so I left the lounge around 7 a.m. to arrive at Gate A7 with plenty of time to ensure that I was one of the first to board. Despite a short 15-minute delay due to a late-arriving aircraft, boarding was orderly, with those seated in business class being invited to line up first.
Once the gate agent received the all-clear from the crew at 7:55 a.m., I was excited to finally try Qatar’s new product.
Cabin and seat
Business-class passengers were invited to board from the forward door, which required a right turn to enter the cabin past a textured wall with “Qatar” emblazoned prominently across it — a visually exciting way to start the experience.
Qatar outfitted its 787-9 Dreamliner with 30 individual pods, spanning the entire length of a single cabin between the first and second exit doors of the plane.
The seats were arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration with direct aisle access for every passenger. The first seven rows of the plane were aligned with each other, with the final two single seats in Row 8 offset from the rest of the cabin, providing a little bit of extra privacy for those solo passengers.
The first thing I noticed when I set my eyes on the cabin was how spacious it felt relative to planes with Qsuite.
While the seats had walls like Qsuite, they weren’t as tall, so the cabin felt considerably airier. The drawback, of course, was that the spaciousness came at the expense of some privacy.
Additionally, since it was just a single, eight-row cabin, the aisles felt considerably more crowded, especially during the boarding process when passengers were trying to arrange their bags and personal belongings for the flight.
As for the seat itself, Qatar became the launch customer for the Ascent seat produced by Adient, a joint venture between the automotive seat maker Adient and aircraft manufacturer Boeing. Though this seat is new, it’ll soon start popping up on other airlines, including on Hawaiian Airlines’ new Dreamliners and possibly on future American Airlines aircraft too.
Overall, I thought the seat was very comfortable and offered a good amount of privacy (but not as much as the Qsuite). The only major drawback was the lack of storage space, as I came to realize when I explored the seat’s various features.
I had selected 8K, the window seat in the last row of the cabin. Once I settled in and closed the 48-inch-high door, it instantly felt like “my” space.
Qatar’s signature purple branding accented many of the cabin finishes, including the sliding door. The door’s texture and design weren’t as visually appealing as the intricately patterned ones that Qsuite sports.
Unlike with Qsuite, however, the doors on these were super easy to use. They were locked open by the crew for taxi, takeoff and landing, but once unlocked, they felt significantly lighter than those in Qsuite, making it easier to slide open and shut as needed. Another plus was that they closed completely without the small gap that you sometimes find with other doors in business-class products.
The seat itself measured 21 inches wide, and I was particularly impressed by how much shoulder room there was — I didn’t once feel constricted or claustrophobic when seated.
The shoulder straps needed to be fastened during takeoff and landing, but they could be released once airborne.
Seat controls were on the side of the armrest. There were three preset positions, along with a button to raise or lower the leg rest.
The seat converted into a lie-flat bed at the touch of the button. It measured 77 inches long, two inches shorter than the one in Qsuite. By lowering the aisle-facing armrest, I was able to add a few inches of width to the sleeping surface. I managed to sleep for nearly four hours without interruption — pretty impressive for a day flight to Europe.
While the bed itself was comfortable, the footwell felt cramped. Those with larger feet will just barely fit.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to the new seat was the lack of storage space.
The two-tiered side table wasn’t large enough for my laptop, though I appreciated that the smaller level doubled as a cocktail tray. That way, I didn’t need to worry (as much) about spilling the contents of my drink onto my computer.
There was a small storage cubby next to the seat. It was no more than 6 inches deep at its widest, so my larger items didn’t fit. That said, I managed to keep my wallet, headphones and loose change secured inside while I slept.
The door to the cubby had a small, 8-inch-wide and 6-inch-long mirror with an adjustable viewing angle — a nice touch for otherwise dead space.
The one item that I had the hardest time storing was my 13-inch laptop. It didn’t fit on the side table, nor in the shallow literature pocket.
I also had trouble finding space for my shoes as there was no dedicated area to secure them, either. I ended up leaving them in the small area between the armrest and the foot cubby.
Aside from the lack of storage, though, Qatar thought through many of the other finer details, and I was particularly impressed with the lighting options. In addition to an overhead light controlled by the remote, there was an LED reading light at shoulder level, along with a light fixture with a textured shade and three brightness settings. The lamp didn’t swivel like the ones in Qsuite, though.
When it came time to dine and work, the tray table popped out from under the entertainment monitor. It could be pulled forward and backward along its track, and it swiveled outward to create the table — making it especially easy to get up even if you were in the middle of a meal.
Its surface measured 17.5 inches long and 12 inches wide, which was plenty large for my 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Just like in some rows of Qsuite, the two center seats could be converted into a makeshift double bed. The substantial privacy divider between seats could be raised or lowered at the touch of a button, creating a larger private space for couples traveling together.
There were two lavatories for the 30 business-class passengers. Both were located at the back of the cabin. They featured Dreamliner-standard amenities like touchless sinks and flushing, and they even had windows.
No matter where you sit, Qatar’s new 787-9 business-class seats feel comfortable and stylish. That said, couples traveling together should opt for the center seats.
Solo travelers will likely prefer the single seats along the sides of the cabin, but beware that the ones in Row 5 had missing windows.
The bulkhead row was set slightly back from the galley because of some large storage compartments that pushed those seats back into the cabin.
While galley noise shouldn’t be much of a distraction in the bulkhead, these seats are missing an overhead bin in the center section (due to the pilot crew rest above).
Qatar added an enclosed cubby in front of each of the center bulkhead seats to compensate for the missing bin, but it wasn’t nearly large enough for a standard-size rollaboard.
The only other seats that I would consider avoiding are those in the last row, due to the proximity to the lavatories and the plane’s main boarding area. No passengers congregated there during my flight, but your experience may vary.
All told, Qatar Airways’ new business class on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner offered a top-notch onboard experience, even though it wasn’t the airline’s signature Qsuite product.
While not as private or spacious as the Qsuite, the new seat provided a supremely comfortable bed with a sliding door, as well as an ergonomic place to relax and work with a large tray table. The one big downside was the lack of storage, which is an element where competing products, like British Airways’ Club Suite, in particular, excel.
As for the configuration, I appreciated that all the solo seats faced the window. Those in the center faced the aisle, which was likely good news for the couples sitting next to each other, but somewhat awkward for solo passengers. Fortunately, the privacy dividers were quite high, and those solo flyers seated in the middle didn’t seem to be bothered, especially once they closed the privacy door.
Along with Qatar’s customized finishes, the cabin featured amenities you’ll typically find on the Boeing Dreamliner, including large, electronically dimmable windows, spacious overhead bins and touches geared to enhance passenger comfort, like greater cabin humidity and pressurization than on some other conventional jets. Qatar Airways even opted to install individual air nozzles on its 787-9s, which is a nice touch for anyone who enjoys controlling their own climate.
Amenities and inflight entertainment
By the time we arrived in Madrid, I needed to make room in my bag for all the goodies I received as a business-class passenger.
It started during boarding with an olive-colored Bric’s amenity kit already waiting for me at my seat. It was stocked with all the essentials, including earplugs, an eye mask, Monte Vibiano Vecchio moisturizer, lip balm and facial mist and some warm socks.
Dental and shaving kits were stocked in the lavatory during the flight.
Along with the amenity kit was a travel protection kit, which included a face mask, a bottle of hand sanitizer and a pair of disposable gloves.
Each business-class passenger received two pillows: a larger one for lounging and sleeping and a smaller decorative one with a cute inspirational message like, “Today is a good day.”
A thick — and supremely comfortable — duvet was also waiting at the seat.
Unfortunately, the bedding was only on loan for this flight. so I couldn’t take it home, though I did receive a pair of The White Company-branded pajamas and slippers to add to my collection. (Pajamas were available on request — I had forgotten to ask for a pair when I went to bed.)
Each seat was outfitted with an 18-inch high-definition touchscreen with access to Oryx One, Qatar’s customized inflight entertainment system. Note that the screen didn’t tilt or swivel, which made for an awkward viewing angle if you were watching TV fully reclined in bed mode.
Instead of using your finger, you could control the screen using the remote, which doubled as a second screen.
With over 3,000 movies and TV shows, there should be something for everyone. Of note, there were plenty of new releases like Disney’s “Luca” and “Heart of Hope,” as well as full box sets of TV shows from the BBC and HBO. Qatar even loaded some holiday-themed movies, like “Elf,” to its entertainment system for the festive season.
The 787-9 Dreamliner had two outdoor cameras — one facing forward and one downward — so naturally, as an aviation enthusiast, I was glued to the screen during taxi, takeoff and landing.
A pair of average-quality noise-isolating headphones were waiting for me in the small storage cubby.
There was a single AC outlet and just one USB-A charging port at each seat, though both of mine were broken (even after the crew performed a reset). It appeared that this was just a fluke with my seat, as I observed my fellow passengers charging their devices without an issue.
The broken power outlet didn’t bother me much because the Qi wireless charging pad — an amenity only found on this plane in Qatar’s fleet— was working. By the time I woke up from my nap, my iPhone 13 Pro Max was fully charged (it was at around 40% before I dozed off). Note that you’ll need a mobile device equipped with Qi charging capabilities to use the wireless charger. Apple’s latest iPhone models, as well as the recent models from Google and Samsung, support this standard.
While Qatar kept me entertained, it didn’t keep me (or anyone else on the plane) connected. The airline’s 787-9 Dreamliners aren’t equipped with Wi-Fi internet access.
Personally, that didn’t bother me much since I was flying during the wee hours of the morning on the East Coast. It would’ve been a completely different story had it been the middle of the workday. In fact, I likely would have avoided this plane had I been traveling during business hours.
Hopefully, the airline works on an aggressive rollout plan to equip these birds with internet access soon.
Food and beverage
Even though the business-class seats might differ from plane to plane, one thing is (almost) always consistent with Qatar Airways: the food and beverage offerings.
Qatar offers its premium-cabin passengers the option to dine on demand and mix and match any dishes on the menu.
On my flight, there was a selection of brunch and all-day fare. In recent years, the airline has scaled back on the number of dishes available, so be sure to ask the crew to reserve some of your favorites during boarding.
I wasn’t particularly hungry when I boarded — I had just eaten a three-course dinner in the lounge a few hours prior, so my first order of business was catching up on sleep.
I reserved a handful of dishes that I thought I’d enjoy and asked the crew to wake me up before landing.
Once we reached cruising altitude, I was served a welcome beverage of my choice (a spiked pineapple margarita), which was served alongside a ramekin of warm mixed nuts.
I was also offered a pick from the snack basket before going to sleep.
I promptly hit the sack and was woken up 90 minutes before arrival. I still wasn’t hungry but figured I could pick at the things that looked best.
After my table was set, the flight attendant brought my Arabic mezze appetizer, along with a three-in-one bread roll and some pita bread. Even when I’m not hungry, I can always find room for Qatar’s mezze selection of hummus, tabbouleh and muhammara.
I selected the herb-crusted cod filet as my entree, and I was quite impressed by the portion, presentation and flaky texture of the fish. The fish itself was delicious, and I enjoyed the mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables on the side.
Finally, for dessert, I chose the gooey chocolate and cherry cake — a very decadent ending to an already indulgent meal.
I stuck with water throughout the flight, but a full assortment of alcoholic drinks was on offer, including Charles Heidsieck Brut and Laurent-Perrier Rose Champagne.
The good news is that meals are once again served uncovered on real silverware and china on Qatar, though several minor pandemic-era changes were still in effect on my flight.
I wasn’t offered traditional salt and pepper shakers or a personal breadbasket, nor was I presented with the airline’s signature electronic “candle.”
Funnily enough, the day before my flight, Qatar published a press release touting the return of the pre-pandemic dining experience. Flights to London and Paris, as well as those to the U.S. and other ultra-long-haul destinations, have already seen the reintroduction of the full service, with the complete experience returning network-wide in January 2022.
The service in Qatar Airways’ business class typically ranges from good to the best in the sky — and the crew operating my flight ranked very close to the latter, in my opinion.
I was addressed by name throughout the flight, and every flight attendant I interacted with remembered my preferences and asked if there was anything else they could do for me.
The dine-on-demand concept was executed flawlessly on this particular trip. The crew was happy to reserve my preferred meal and serve it to me just before landing.
Turndown service was offered proactively the moment we reached cruising altitude, and the flight attendants couldn’t have been friendlier or more apologetic when my power outlet wasn’t working.
One of them even offered to bring my phone to the crew rest to charge. It’s the small things that make a big difference in my service experience, and this crew knocked it out of the park.
Qatar’s new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner business class was a pleasure to fly.
With a comfortable seat and ample privacy thanks to the sliding door, I didn’t want the six-and-a-half-hour flight to end. Add in the plethora of amenities I was given and a delectable culinary experience, and I had an excellent experience in this new product.
That said, if you’re expecting the airline’s Qsuite, you might be disappointed. In certain ways, I was too, which I’ll discuss in a future post.
However, for this particular flight and others you might take between the Middle East and various cities in Europe or Asia, this is still a standout way to fly.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.
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