Best First Class Airline? British Airways Vs Emirates Vs Etihad Vs Qatar


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Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways are the three leading Middle Eastern airlines and are considered to offer a better First Class than most other airlines, but are their offerings that much better than British Airways, and which should you choose for your next First Class flight?

We’ve published several trip reports about recent flights in First with Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, and British Airways. You can read these reviews below:

When choosing one of these four carriers, the big question is how they differ in premium cabin class offerings, in their First Class seats and cabins.

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

Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Qatar vs. British Airways First Class Cabin – Lounges

If the layover is important to you, you might want to choose your airline by the lounge on offer at its respective airport hub. We 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. The Concourse A Emirates First Class Lounge at Dubai International Airport is also very good. British Airways offers different lounges for different classes of travel in Heathrow Terminal 5, with the Concorde Room and First Class Lounge In Terminal 5 available to First Class passengers. Both these lounges are also excellent.

The Etihad First Class lounge is almost a cathedral to travel in its enormity. It is the best, but you can’t go wrong with these lounges. The lounge is not the deal-breaker when choosing between these first-class products.

Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Qatar vs. British Airways First Class Cabin – Which Is Best?

Etihad’s Airbus A380s & Dreamliner B787s feature extremely elegant decor and fantastic private cubicles in their First 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 pearlized plastic. British Airways is classic and stylish, and we like the classical music they play.

On Emirates, First Class is located in the forward upper deck of the Emirates A380. The cabin features 14 enclosed suites in a 1-2-1 configuration. All have direct aisle access. The eight suites along the windows are spread across four rows, while the six middle suites are spread across three rows. All suites enjoy complete privacy, as none of the rows quite line up, so nobody is directly looking into the suite across the aisle, even when you don’t close the sliding doors of your suite.

On Etihad Airways, the First Class cabin is located on the forward upper deck of the A380. The First Class cabin on Etihad’s A380 is stylish, with two beautifully crafted walls framing a small corridor leading to the forward staircase and containing the sliding entrance doors of the Apartments. The lighting patterns in the ceiling project Arabian mosaic-like figures on the walls and floor, adding to the relaxing atmosphere.

Etihad Airway’s A380 First Class cabin is the industry’s first-ever single-aisle cabin, and only nine First Apartments are on the plane. There are 5 First Apartments on the right side of the cabin (with 2 toilets in the front), while the left side features 4 First Apartments. This asymmetry is explained by the fact that the missing 5th First Apartment and lavatories on the left side of the cabin are replaced by The Residence (featuring a private living room, separate en-suite shower room, and a bedroom with a double bed). We’ve a full review of a flight in Etihad First Class Apartment and have taken further pictures on a second trip in Etihad First Class.

Qatar First Class on the A380 is in an intimate cabin with a very airy and spacious feel because it does not have completely enclosed suites like on the A380s of Emirates Business Class and Etihad First Class Apartments. The cabin features a pallet of calming colors that match quite well together: pink (cushions, TV screens), beige (seats), and brown (wood panels). There are eight seats spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration, all of them having direct aisle access.

British Airways has a variety of cabin arrangements. First Class on the BA Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft feels very private as it only features eight seats, compared to the usual 14 seats in BA’s other aircraft types (B747, B777, and A380). The eight seats are spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 herringbone configuration. All have direct aisle access. The First Class cabin features a beautiful, contemporary, somewhat minimalistic design: it feels luxurious, and the dark and light neutral colors create a relaxing ambiance of well-being and comfort.

I think Etihad is best for ambiance, space, look, and style. The Emirates cabin is glitzy and full of gold and bright colors, which aren’t to my taste, although you can’t argue about the luxury Emirates offers. The privacy and space are also better on Etihad. Qatar comes in third and British Airways in fourth.

Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Qatar vs. British Airways First Class Seats – Which Are Best?

Emirates First Class is configured with only four suites per row. The First Class suites on the sides are ideal for solo travelers (with a generous 3 windows per seat, offering great views). In contrast, the 6 suites in the middle are perfect for those traveling with a companion since dividers between these suites can be raised or lowered to provide a feeling of extra spaciousness.

Etihad has configured their cabin with only two First Class suites per row which are clearly better. The very comfortable recliner seat has an in-seat massage and a pneumatic cushion control system. The seat has two armrests: one holds the tray table, while the other holds the Apartment and inflight entertainment system controls. By pressing a button, you can change the ottoman’s position, raise or lower the window blinds, and control the light settings for various lamps within the Apartment. Next to the seat, there’s a minibar stocked with a premium selection of beverages, as well as a cabinet that holds the noise-canceling headsets.

Two suites per row are much better than four, so Etihad wins again for the best First Class suites.

Qatar and British Airways offer seats rather than suites. Both seats are lie-flat and comfy to sleep on. The Qatar seat is extremely comfortable and has generous dimensions, with a width of 23 inches (59 cm) and a length of 83 inches (210 cm). The British Airways seat offers a less generous width of 22 inches (56 cm) and a pitch of 73 inches (185 cm). It features dark, leather-stitched upholstery, giving you the feeling of being seated in a luxury car. I prefer the look of the BA seats, but Qatar wins on dimensions and the overall product, bringing it in at number 3.

Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Qatar vs. British Airways First For Sleeping – Which Is Best?

On Emirates, at the push of a button, the seat automatically reclines into a fully flat bed of 86 inches (218 cm) long, with a fully retractable armrest. When you want to sleep, a cabin crew member installs a mattress, fluffy pillow, and soft duvet.

Etihad creates an entirely separate bed using the ottoman in your suite, allowing the bed to be made without sacrificing your seat (see above). If you have a significant other traveling with you, certain rows of the First Class cabin allow you to lower the divider between suites so that your head is next to your loved one’s head. If you want a double bed, you must upgrade to The Residence by Etihad.

Once again, Etihad wins on space and privacy for sleeping and the option for a double room. An apartment will encourage more sleep than the option to sleep in an open cabin offered by Qatar and BA, which come in 3rd and 4th, respectively.

Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Qatar vs. British Airways First Class Duvets

Qatar Airways and Emirates offer duvets on medium-haul flights (to increase sleeping comfort), while Etihad only offers them on long-haul flights. British Airways offers nice duvets in First (but rather poor blankets in Business).

Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Qatar vs. British Airways First Class Food – Which Is Best?

Food is delicious on all 3 Middle Eastern carriers and not so good on British Airways. Our best gastronomic experiences have been on Etihad, followed by Qatar Airways and Emirates. British Airways once again comes at the bottom of the pile.

Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar offer meals equivalent to a Michelin-starred restaurant. Etihad has real-life onboard chefs (recruited from Michelin-starred restaurants worldwide). The food is an exquisite seven-course tasting menu with amuse-bouche, granita, and pre-dessert tasters. The Mezoon Grille menu is available to Etihad’s First Class customers only, featuring various premium produce, including beef, chicken, lamb, and seafood, along with a range of delicate sauces, sides, and delicious desserts, all of which were prepared to order. Everything is served on fine bone chinaware, cutlery, and crystal glassware. An example of just one meal choice I chose on Etihad is:

  • Amuse bouche
  • Middle Eastern style chicken salad
  • Chickpea Soup, with Arabic spiced ratatouille
  • Starter
  • Marinated prawns, with Quinoa and wake salad, and red pepper sauce
  • Grapefruit sorbet
  • Entree
  • US rib-eye steak, with steamed green beans, creamy mashed potatoes, and garlic and herb butter
  • Pre-dessert
  • Mini-choclate mousse
  • Dessert
  • Trio of berry and cinnamon frangipani, apricot cheesecake, with passion fruit meringue, chocolate mousse

The Emirates’ First Class menu, by comparison, is extensive, and you can order whatever whenever. However, the meal did not have the style, delivery, and flavor of that in Etihad. These were my lunch choices:

  • Canapés
  • Tartlet of marinated feta with aubergine caviar and schichmi
  • Foie gras on gingerbread with smoked salt
  • Arm salmon tempo sushi with herb crust
  • Appetiser
  • Caviar, presented with a traditional selection of finely chopped onion, grated egg, sour cream and lemon, served with melba toast and blinis
  • Pumpkin soup with croutons and sour cream
  • Main
  • Seafood harra, which is a traditional Middle Eastern dish of oven-baked prawns and fish in spiced tomato sauce, served with saffron rice
  • Dessert
  • Banana cheesecake with toffee sauce

Emirates vs. Etihad First Class In-Flight Showers – Which Is Best?

Both Emirates and Etihad have two showers at the front of their cabins. Qatar and British Airways don’t. In the all-important category of shower-to-passenger ratio, Emirates wins, with one shower for every seven passengers, while Etihad only provides one shower for every nine passengers. We have a completely separate article with Emirates sky shower pictures. There is very little to choose between the shower rooms themselves, although Emirates’ showers have a panoramic wallpaper view of the Dubai skyline on the walls. The volume per passenger is key here, which is why Emirates wins.

The reason there are fewer showers on Etihad is that they feel their passengers in The Residence need their own shower.

Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Qatar First Class Bar/Lounge – Which Is Best?

An onboard bar, exclusively accessible for passengers flying the premium cabins, is on the Airbus A380 aircraft of Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar but not British Airways. Your chances of flying an Airbus A380 and thus socializing with other passengers in a fantastic onboard bar are highest with Emirates, which has no less than 60 of these mega planes in its fleet (Qatar Airways and Etihad own only 4 and 2 Airbus A380s respectively).

The Etihad bar is designated as “The Lobby” but even in First Class, you’ll have to have your drinks refilled from the display case rather than having an onboard bartender serving you. If you prefer a more traditional bar experience, you’ll find it on Emirates with extensive seating, mood lighting, a horseshoe-shaped bar, and a real-life bartender.

Qatar Airways also features a stunning onboard bar located at the plane’s rear, between the Business Class cabin and a small Economy Class cabin. The bar is curved, with leather sofas on both sides of the bar area. It has stunning chandeliers inspired by contemporary Arabian design and fresh flowers. It looks good, but you are less likely to experience the onboard bar on Emirates.

Emirates, therefore, wins, harking back to the heydays of luxury air travel.

Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Qatar vs. British Airways First Class Wine List & Bar Menu – Which Is Best?

Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, and British Airways have complimentary top-shelf alcohol for those over the age of 18. These include extensive wine lists and a vast range of spirits, liquor, and champagne. All are served in proper crystal glasses.

Both airlines offer extensive alcohol, but in terms of brand and cost, Emirates wins as it offers more drink options breaking the $100 USD per bottle ceiling. They are also the only airline serving Hennessy Paradis Cognac in First Class, with a retail price of around $700 USD per bottle. All the airlines offer a glass of decent champagne in First, but British Airways is notable in that it cheaps-out on the wine list with very low-grade wines which would rrp around £10 – £15 GBP compared to, say, Emirates who’s wines cost double this (so arguably should be twice as nice).

Emirates vs. Etihad First Class Entertainment & Wi-Fi – Which Is Best?

Both Etihad and Emirates First Class suites on the Airbus A380 feature big screens with a wide variety of content. Qatar offers a good range of content on a 26-inch HD LED screen, and British Airways is lagging behind with decent entertainment but comparatively few channels and Wi-Fi only just rolling out.

Etihad wins with a superior entertainment system, a screen that not only swivels back to let you watch TV in bed, but it also has split-screen capabilities with four different screens. Plus, surfing the web is actually possible on Etihad. Emirates offers made Wi-Fi affordable for everyone – free for the first 10 MB and only $1 USD for 500 MB of data. Unfortunately, this means the internet connection is virtually unusable due to the number of passengers logged on.

Emirates vs. Etihad First Class Amenity Kit – Which Is Best?

We’ve reviewed the best airline amenity kits in the world and in this listing, Emirates comes second, offering bespoke beauty goodies from one of my favorite scents; Bulgari. They also give you a fragrance. Emirates has also introduced the world’s first moisturizing pajamas in first-class designed for airline use and to overcome dry air, thus giving the passenger a better nights sleep.

Etihad comes in lower at number 5 in my best first-class amenity kits, and passengers get Christian Lacroix loungewear and toiletries from Hungarian skincare brand, Omorovicza. The British Airways First amenity kit comes in a pretty Liberty London amenity kit, but it isn’t a patch on the Emirates kits where you get, among other things, a nice fragrance. Qatar has complimentary pajamas and slippers by Missoni, while amenity kits include Armani toiletries.

The amenity kit from Emirates is the most generous and therefore wins. I love a free fragrance, and their pajamas are groundbreaking. The Qatar and Etihad kits come in joint second.

Conclusion British Airways vs. Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Qatar – Best First Class

Which has the best in First Class British Airways vs. Emirates vs. Etihad vs. Qatar? Etihad has a better suite, seat, bed, entertainment, and food. Emirates has a better shower, onboard lounge, amenity kit, and alcohol. Qatar and British Airways both have great seats but simply do match up to the Etihad and Emirates suites. So I choose Etihad as the winner offering the best First Class suite. Etihad wins by a small margin, so your final choice depends on what matters to you onboard.

All 3 carriers feature in our top 10 Best Business Class airlines for long-haul travel and best Middle Eastern carrier; Etihad vs. Emirates vs. Qatar.

Image © Lukas Gojda / Adobe Stock.

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