Qatar Air Scraps Most First-Class Seats in Business-Class Push

Qatar Airways Ltd., which markets itself as a luxury carrier, will remove most first-class seats from its fleet and reserve them for the Airbus A380 slated for delivery within weeks as ultra-premium travel demand shrinks.

Qatar Airways is working on a new berth it calls “super business class” that it will introduce within 24 months, Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker told journalists in Dubai today. The new model will replace the current herring-bone layout and will provide aisle access, he said

“I don’t think there will be a return to first-class travel,” Al Baker said. “The chunk of our premium occupation is business travel. There is very little leisure travel in the front cabin, except when there’s point-to-point local traffic that we generate within our community.”

Qatar’s approach to high-end travel contrasts with Etihad Airways PJSC, which unveiled first-class enclosed suites and apartments this week for its A380. Qatar Air began scaling back the first-class offering in 2008 as the global financial crisis hit, and its entire fleet of Boeing 777 wide-bodies now only has economy and business. New orders of its Airbus A350, for which Qatar is the first customer, and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, will also feature a two-class layout.

The second-largest airline in the Middle East behind Emirates has financed two of its four Airbus A380s set for delivery this year, and has entered discussions with three European banks including Credit Agricole SA and HSBC, Al Baker said in an interview. The carrier has no further requirements to raise funds or refinance existing loans this year, he said.

The airline expects to take delivery of the Airbus A350 in the fourth quarter and is “confident” the first airliner will come in October or November, Al Baker said.

“We have a team of people sitting in Toulouse with Airbus monitoring every performance parameter, production schedule, quality,” the CEO said. “So we’re really involved in a very heavy way, Airbus has been very transparent with us.”

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