Having experienced and flown both Etihad & Qatar Airways First Class on the A380 last November - I had quite a few friends and people ask me which experience they thought was better, so I thought I would write up an opinion piece of my experiences, which will differ from person to person, however it should give people an idea of the differences.
Scaling process - I'm going to assume people are flying out their home bases (Abu Dhabi for Etihad, Doha for Qatar), so we'll consider the comparison from that point of view. Criteria:
- Bed/Sleep Comfort
- Cabin Crew
- Amenities Kit
I consider the Lounge absolute in terms of the entire First Class (or even Business) Experience, thus it's imperitive to add it in. I'm cheating a little here because I experienced Qatar's Al Safwa First Class Lounge only after my first Class flight rather than before the flight - but I'll not consider it in that light.
Unfortunately I didn't take many pictures (or any) while I was transiting in the lounge in Abu Dhabi with Etihad, but I've taken them courtesy of OMAAT to showcase. Unfortunately Etihad do not have a dedicated First Class Lounge (opening in May 2016) - but a roped off area for First Class passengers. Service is more attentive than other flyers, however there isn't really any additional privacy or seating that makes it feel First Class.
Nevertheless, the lounge itself is nice looking and there are plenty of food options and sitting areas. Etihad's lounge also offers a complimentary Spa Treatment AND a shave/style service - which I'll be keen to try the next time I head through Abu Dhabi.
Qatar's Al Safwa First Class Lounge in Doha on the other hand is absolutely stunning - at least from an architectural point of view. A high roof really adds to the aura of the place, and it certainly offers a better 'Pure' First Class Experience for Qatar First Class travelers.
There is the issue though, that Qatar doesn't offer any complimentary services (unless you count Krug refills 😉 ) like a shave or spa session - but in fact they charge for these services which is a little disappointing.
At the end of the day however, for a pure First Class Lounge Experience, Qatar wins hands down (at least till we see what Etihad offers in May).
Etihad offers one of the most spectacular First Class seats found on any airline, and it's so big and private that they officially call is an Apartment, not a cabin!
There are only 9 First Class Apartments (and 1 Residence Cabin which we won't go into), each with a ottoman which converts into a bed which is separate to your seat. And it's HUGE! I was taken back by how amazingly big it was the first time I flew the Apartment as well. Not only that, it looks very rich in taste as well, beautifully designed. The Seat itself is fairly comfortable - but it doesn't actually recline much, as sleeping is meant to be done on the ottoman, though the seat is fairly comfortable normally.
Qatar Airways on the other hand is understandably gorgeous - in an understated kind of way. It oozes classiness and is also beautifully designed. The seat itself is very puffy and comfortable, and was extremely comfortable to sit in. The downside is that the seat isn't very personal as it's not technically a cabin - though there are partitions which rise for added privacy.
However - the winner is clear in that the Apartment has revolutionized First Class Travel.
Another crucial part of any flight - how comfortably are you sleeping (even though you don't want to sleep on First Class!).
Separate to the seat, the Etihad ottoman turns into a very long (though slim) bed which is comfortable at first, but you eventually realize that the bedding is kind of thin - and frankly - not very soft. Would I be able to sleep for a long time on this bed? Perhaps - but I was expecting a bedding of much better quality than what I received. The Comforter though we very snug.
Like most airlines, Qatar's seat becomes the bed itself. The seat itself was comfortably, so the bed in turn does become fairly comfortable, though not as comfortable as the seat would suggest. The pillow is rather thin, and I needed two to sleep comfortably, but I slept fairly well.
Substance over Style here, comfort is much more important to me.
While technically of lesser importance, the ambiance of the cabin can really set the mood for travelers
Etihad's walk way is pretty imposing yet welcoming, in between all the Apartment doors. The warm tones in the cabin do certainly set you in a comfortable mood, giving you a True impression of First Class. They also offer two 'small-ish' bathrooms, one with a shower, one without. Both are nice enough.
While a little plainer than Etihad's offering, as mentioned before, the Qatar First Class cabin really feels beautifully designed and luxurious. It's also very calming, and there's very little to put you off in this cabin. The bathroom is the largest bathroom I have ever seen on a plane, and it is quite pretty - but that's all it really is, a bathroom which is pretty.
A very hard decision, and even harder to separate between each other.
Both Flights offer a dine on demand (Order food whenever you want during the flight).
I'll let the picture's do a little talking for Etihad:
Etihad offer's a 'Chef on board' to help you with your choices - and it really does help, the food presentation was lovely, and the food was fairly delicious as well.
Qatar Airway's also has a few pics:
Qatar has the advantage of Caviar on board, which is a real treat, but the entire service without a Chef feels a little less personal, and the presentation shows it as well, which was nothing particularly impressive.
Not quite a clear winner, but a straightforward winner here, though I do wish Etihad offered Caviar as well.
This is a rather clear winner here, as Etihad prides itself on service. On my Etihad flight, one flight attendant was extremely professional (Savoy trained no less) and the other was very charming and friendly, giving a great contrast and mix with each other. The only downside was that the Chef on board was professional, but not the friendliest.
Qatar has never been known for their Cabin crew, and this experience wasn't any different. The Crew was professional, but lacked friendliness - that is with the exception of Jean who was extremely chatty when I pushed her to be, and she really helped bring the experience up, while the other's were almost uninterested in their job, which is a shame.
No I'm not necessarily talking about the in-flight entertainment system (because I hardly used it on either flight), but the Entertainment/extra options on board.
Etihad offers a shower (!!) on board, which was a heck of an experience to take a shower 38,000 ft above the air.
They also offer a 'Lounge area' which was empty every time I either used it or peeked into the area, which could be good to socialize with both Business and First Class passengers, if people every dropped by to use it. A little uncomfortable, but I like the thought.
Qatar doesn't offer a shower, but throws into the mix the most gorgeous bar/social area I've ever seen in a plane - and quite frankly it competes with ground bars as well in terms of design.
The bar was certainly utilized a lot more than Etihad's lounge, and it was very inviting to sit and chat, or just enjoy a quiet drink (much like I did). There's also a bartender who will pour your choice of drinks.
A tough call again, but the shower really brings a new experience over bars, no matter gorgeous on Qatar.
So, I forgot to take a picture of Etihad's kit, so here's another pic from OMAAT!
Etihad's kit bag isn't spectacular, but it's got a cool design which is nice to carry around. It's got the start amenities along with Bergamote 22 which were very nice. I appreciated how everything was already sealed prior to opening, which makes them easier to transport if you taken them out.
Qatar's amenities (wallet not included above) were very nice though, featuring Giorgio Armani amenities in a Giorgio Armani amenity bag - now that's a First Class kit! I was quite impressed with what came in this kit, and some of these items are actually hard to find in Australia - so I liked it.
Having done this, it wasn't as One-way as I would have thought, but I can safely say that Etihad was indeed a better flight experience, though not a perfect one. However, what surprised me is how many things I actually preferred on Qatar over Etihad on certain criteria's - so the eventual winner is Etihad for a better overall end-to-end flight experience (not forgetting that Etihad also offers a free Chauffeur pickup and drop off) - but at the end of the day, both are First Class and I would be happy to fly both again :D!