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Transport : Airlines

Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways are the 3 main Middle Eastern airlines. They offer excellent First and Business class products, but which is best and which should you choose for your next flight?

Flying aboard one of the 3 Middle Eastern carriers is a luxury experience. I have published several trip reports about my recent flights with Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, in Business and First Class. You can read these reviews below:

Review: Etihad A330 Business Class Review Hong Kong to Abu Dhabi
Review: Etihad Business Class On The A380 Abu Dhabi to London
Review: Etihad Airways A380 First Class London to Abu Dhabi
Review: Etihad Airways A330 Business Class Abu Dhabi to the Maldives
Review: Etihad Airbus A380 First Class Apartment Review London to Abu Dhabi
Review: Emirates A380 Business Class London Heathrow to Dubai
Review: Emirates B777-300 Business Class Dubai to Cape Town
Review: Emirates Airbus A380 First Class Dubai to Amsterdam
Review: Emirates A380 Business Class Brisbane to Dubai
Review: Emirates B777-300ER Business Class Brussels to Dubai
Review: Qatar Airways Dreamliner B787 Business Class Brussels to Doha
Review: Qatar Airways B777-300ER Business Class Doha to Bangkok
Review: Qatar Airways A380 First Class Doha to Paris

When choosing one of the 3 Middle Eastern carriers, the big question is how they differ in premium cabin class offerings. Which is the best Middle Eastern Business Class and First Class airline?

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Emirates is based in Dubai, UAE, Etihad Airways is based in Abu Dhabi, UAE and Qatar Airways is based in Doha, Qatar which may immediately affect your flight choice as you may prefer to layover in one of these destinations. If the layover does not affect your airline choice, I also outline which of these airlines are best for food, seat, service, lounge and pre and post flight offering.

Lounges
If the layover is important to you, you might want to choose your middle eastern carrier by the lounge on offer at it’s respective airport hub. I have reviewed these below and in my opinion, the Qatar Airways’ Al Safwa First Class in Doha’s new Hamad International Airport is the best airline lounge in the world. I am also a fan of Etihad’s First Class Lounge & Spa in Abu Dhabi. I have also reviewed the following lounges at these respective airline hubs: Etihad Airways Premium Lounge in Abu Dhabi Airport, the Al Mourjan lounge at Hamad International Airport in Doha and the Concourse A Emirates First Class Lounge at Dubai International Airport.

Chauffeur service
Both Etihad and Emirates offer complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers, while this is not the case with Qatar Airways. A huge plus for Emirates and Etihad.

Pyjamas
Qatar Airways offers pyjamas on overnight medium- and long-haul flights, while Etihad and Emirates only offer them in First Class.

Duvets
Qatar Airways and Emirates offer duvets on medium-haul flights (to increase sleeping comfort), while Etihad only offers them on longhaul flights.

Fleet-wide consistency
Etihad offers a consistent Business Class product across its wide-body fleet (with the exception of its superior Dreamliner B787 & Airbus A380 products, which were recently introduced), while Emirates and Qatar offer a more variable Business Class product across their wide-body fleets.

Cabin interior & design
Etihad’s Airbus A380s & Dreamliner B787s feature an extremely elegant decor in their Business Class cabins, while Qatar’s A380, B787 and A350 cabins are very chic with a red/white theme. Emirates features slightly gaudy interiors, with lots of walnut veneer, gold trim and pearlised plastic.

Cabin layout & seats
You need to take the aircraft type into account when booking a flight on one of the 3 Middle Eastern carriers. The best wide-body Business Class layout & seats are (in order from excellent to average):
Etihad B787/A380
Qatar B787/A350/A380
Emirates A380
Etihad A330/B777
Qatar B777
Emirates B777
Qatar A330

Flat beds
Etihad Airways is the only carrier to offer flat beds (with 180 degree recline) across its wide body fleet. Contrary to their A380s, Emirates’ B777s have angled lie flat-beds (although they are still comfortable). Qatar Airways is currently replacing the (very uncomfortable) angled lie flat-beds on its Airbus A330 fleet by true lie-flat seats (after which the whole Qatar fleet will offer flat beds).

Food
Food is delicious on all 3 carriers, but my best gastronomic experiences have always been on Qatar Airways, followed by Etihad, and then Emirates.

Number of meal services
On longhaul flights, all 3 carriers offer 2 meal services (one after takeoff, and one 90 minutes before landing). On medium-haul flights though, Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways only offer one meal.

Inflight entertainment
Emirates has a more extensive inflight entertainment offering, with large screens and and a very large range of films, television shows and audio options, but Etihad and Qatar offer a decent selection too so this should not be a deal breaker.

WiFi
Onboard WiFi is currently offered by all 3 Middle Eastern carriers, but with a different costs: Emirates offers the cheapest WiFi, while Qatar’s WiFi is just way too expensive, with Etihad somewhere in between.

Amenity kit
Emirates has by the far the best amenity kit of the 3 airlines, with Etihad offering the least impressive Business Class amenity kit. Unfortunately, Emirates only offers them on longhaul flights, while Etihad and Qatar Airways offer amenity kits on both medium and longhaul flights. You can read my detailed review of the best First & Business Class airline amenity kits in the world.

Onboard bar
An onboard bar, exclusively accessible for passengers flying the premium cabins, is only present on the Airbus A380 aircrafts, which are now operated by all 3 carriers. But your chances of flying an Airbus A380, and thus socialising with other passengers in a fantastic onboard bar, are highest with Emirates, which has no less than 60 of these megaplanes in its fleet (Qatar Airways and Etihad own only 4 and 2 Airbus A380s respectively).

Conclusion
In my opinion, Etihad’s Boeing 787s and Airbus A380s currently offer the best overall Business Class experience. So far, only a few routes offer this new product (e.g. Abu Dhabi-London, Abu Dhabi-Sydney, Abu Dhabi-New York) as Etihad just started to roll out their new planes so although Etihad is the best Business Class experience from the Middle Eastern airlines, this is only the case on very specific routes.

For a more consistently excellent offering pick the Boeing 787s, Airbus A350s, and Airbus A380s of Qatar Airways. This Business Class is available on most routes so you are in with a better chance of experiencing the best Business Class experience by booking onto Qatar Airways. Emirates A380s come in third place.

All 3 carriers feature in my top 10 Best Business Class airlines for long haul travel and I have also investigated the best First Class suite in the sky: Emirates Vs Etihad and I have compared Etihad First Class to British Airways, Emirates and Qatar in First.