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Emirates vs Etihad vs Qatar Airways: Best Airline In The Middle East


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

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?

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 is best for food, seat, service, lounge, and pre and post-flight offerings.

1. Lounges

If the layover is important to you, choose your Middle Eastern carrier 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. We’ve 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.

2. Pyjamas

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

3. Duvets

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

4. Fleet-wide consistency

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

5. Cabin interior & design

Etihad’s Airbus A380s and Dreamliner B787s feature exquisite 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 pearlized plastic.

6. 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

7. 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 flatbeds (although they are still comfortable). Qatar Airways is currently replacing the (very uncomfortable) angled lie flatbeds on its Airbus A330 fleet with genuine lie-flat seats (after which the whole Qatar fleet will offer flatbeds).

8. Food

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

9. Number of meal services

On long-haul flights, all three carriers offer two 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.

10. Inflight entertainment

Emirates has a more extensive inflight entertainment offering, with large screens 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.

11. Wi-Fi

All 3 Middle Eastern carriers currently offer onboard Wi-Fi, but with different costs: Emirates offers the cheapest Wi-Fi, while Qatar’s Wi-Fi is expensive, with Etihad somewhere in between.

12. Amenity kit

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

13. Onboard bar

An onboard bar, exclusively accessible for passengers flying the premium cabins, is only present on the Airbus A380 aircraft, which are now operated by all three carriers. But 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).

14. 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 have a better chance of experiencing the best Business Class experience by booking onto Qatar Airways. Emirates A380s come in third place.

All three carriers feature in our top 10 Best Business Class airlines for long-haul travel and we have also investigated the best First Class suite in the sky: Emirates vs. Etihad and we’ve compared Etihad First Class to British Airways, Emirates and Qatar in First.

Note: Benefits & upgrades subject to availability. Benefits offered correct at the time of writing. Terms & conditions apply. Enquire for more information. Posts may be sponsored by the proprietor or brand being appraised. All opinions remain our own & are in no way influenced.