Qatar Airways is seen as one of the ‘true’ Five Star airlines in the world and it has worked hard over the past decade to position itself as a true luxury carrier. At the heart of its recent efforts is the airline’s QSuite, a Flagship product that only a few carriers have managed to surpass for their Business Class passsengers. But could the recent leaked details from HFP show that the carrier’s lofty ambitions to create a bespoke business class product could be its own Achilles heel?
Should the Adient Ascent seat be the new hard product for the carrier’s Boeing 787-9, this will actually increase the diversity of hard products across the fleet, rather than streamline them. Meaning that their flagship product is now only found on the 777 and A350 wide-bodied aircraft – accounting for approximately just half of the fleet.
While this ordinarily isn’t an issue for traditional legacy carriers, the hub and spoke model that Qatar Airways operates means that the lion’s share of passengers will be taking two flights to get from A to B. And with such a diverse fleet, the chances of being on the same metal and hard product for both trips isn’t a shoe-in.
This means that most premium passengers will most likely experience the flagship QSuite product, with its all-singing all-dancing bespoke design, and an off-the-rack product too. While these standardised products are certainly industry leading, they aren’t unique to Qatar Airways, meaning its hard product can be easily replicated by competitors.
In fact, Hawaiian Airlines is already launching the same product on its 787s, and while we love the carrier, its overall business class product isn’t in the same league as Qatar showcasing how flexible the Ascent seat is.
With Qatar’s diverse Business Class hard product range, with forward/rear facing seats, herringbone, reverse herringbone, some with and without doors – from a passenger experience perspective there’s little consistency, and naturally smaller elements like storage, seat controls and privacy will be noticeable to many passengers who may have to get used to a new product for each leg of their journey.
There’s a certain forgiveness for narrow-body business class products, and Qatar offering an above-standard Diamond flat-bed product on certain Airbus A320 family aircraft is a blessing. However, with the rise of long-haul narrow body aircraft, comes the rise of custom all-aisle-access products too (we’re looking at you, JetBlue). Meaning that Qatar Airways will need to show some love as well on their impending narrow body deliveries.
The issue is Qatar Airways has made a stall for itself as an industry-leading carrier, often criticising other airlines for not living up to their brand promises. This means it has to invest and deliver an excellent product every time. And while the Ascent seat is going to be one of the best products on the market for the next few years, Qatar’s ‘off-the-rack’ approach goes against the grain.
The issue will not be in criticism of the hard product, as all of the products Qatar Airways currently has (Diamond, Super Diamond, QSuite and possibly the Ascent) are perfectly suitable premium products, but instead, the criticism may be based on the inconsistency of product across a singular passenger journey. Many other carriers will only have one – at most two – different long-haul hard products.
Has the pandemic caused a material impact on the investment Qatar Airways makes on its future products? Most certainly, but when you’re one of a handful of carriers at the top of your game, you need to keep shining bright and we’re hoping that in the future the airline looks to unify, rather than diverge its product offering. This can simply be done by rolling out this new Ascent seat on all the aircraft that can’t support its flagship QSuite product.