Interview with Rossen Dimitrov

Qatar Airways doubles down on its Business Class allure

DOHA - Each new aircraft joining Qatar Airways has to pass a CEO inspection before flying passengers. Early 2017 Akbar Al-Baker will accept a first Boeing 777-300ER into the fleet featuring an all new Business Class cabin that will most likely raise the industry bar for premium travel.

Details are still secret, though Al-Baker already hinted the cabin will offer open suites and middle seats converting into double beds. We talked with Rossen Dimitrov, Senior VP Customer Experience Qatar Airways, about cabin and product strategy at the Doha based airline. Key insights from the interview:
  • Qatar Airways seeks to patent its cabins from now on
  • First Class will remain an A380 affair only at QR
  • Still no plans for Premium Economy in Doha
  • A flight should neither be a museum visit nor a bus drive Rossen, Qatar Airways plans to introduce a new Business Class. How will this new product raise the passenger experience bar for your competitors?

RD: We are very excited to introduce our new Business Class concept - we believe it will revolutionise the premium cabin experience. Our design will be complete by the end of the year, and we will work with suppliers and partners to ensure our ability to premier the product in the first quarter of 2017.

Until then, all details are being kept secret. We have introduced new elements on our aircraft in the past that have been copied by our competitors, so this time we are patenting our ideas.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350
Qatar Airways Airbus A350 Business Class, © You opted to unveil the new business class on a Boeing 777-300ER. How quickly will Qatar Airways retrofit its current Boeing 777, Airbus A350 and A380 wide-body fleets?

RD: The Boeing 777 fleet makes up the majority of our long-haul service, powering routes such as Atlanta, Melbourne, Seoul and Johannesburg, so we decided to refresh that fleet first. The modification programme depends on a number of variables such as certifications and approvals, so focusing on the fleet that serves our longest routes will serve the greatest number of people with the greatest benefit as soon as possible. Your direct competitors in Dubai and Abu Dhabi invest substantial amounts in top notch First Class suites to offer hotel room experiences in their aircraft. You focus your attention laser sharp on Business Class instead. Why does Qatar Airways see limited opportunity in First Class?

RD: Qatar Airways offers a best-in-class First Class experience on our A380 aircraft, on select routes such as Paris, Bangkok, Guangzhou and Sydney, where there is a specific demand for First Class travel.

However, we see the larger global trend in business and high-net-worth individual travel shifting more towards Business Class or private jet travel than towards First Class, so we have elected to focus on those products and make sure those markets have a Qatar Airways Group option for their travel needs.

When choosing to fly commercial, we know our customers expect certain things from their front cabin experience: Exquisite dining options, a comfortable lie-flat seat with direct aisle access, impeccable hospitality, power outlets, WiFi and entertainment.

We also know our customers don't want to pay for something they don't want or don't need, so by focusing on perfecting the details of what they do want, we meet and exceed their expectations every flight.

We know our customers don't want to move in, they just want a delightful and memorable flight. Alternatively, our Qatar Executive private jet experience is competitive with other airlines' First Class product, with the added value of being able to choose your own schedule, your own menu, and the guarantee of personalised service. Are there any plans at Qatar Airways to join the Premium Economy bandwagon?

RD: We do not have any plans to offer Premium Economy. Our Economy Class offering is certainly better than anything you can find on any other airline's Economy Class, and at par or better than what you find on the so-called Economy Plus offerings.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350
Qatar Airways Airbus A350 Economy Class, ©

We have the most entertainment options of any airline, the best dining options, wider and more comfortable seats, and beautiful new aircraft with technological advances like our A350 fleet, with its lower ambient atmosphere that leaves you feeling more refreshed and less jetlagged upon arrival. Qatar Airways will become the first A350-1000 operator in 2017. What are your passenger experience and cabin plans for the stretch?

RD: We are very excited to welcome the A350-1000 to our fleet. We will announce our cabin configuration and other plans closer to the induction of the first aircraft.

(Editor`s note: Al-Baker ruled out an A350-1000 First Class earlier this year.) You have some ultra-long-haul non-stops in your network. Are these the routes where travellers are most responsive to passenger experience incentives when choosing their airline?

RD: We know that customers who haven't flown with us before often choose us because we have the most efficient schedule and we fly to the places they want to go. However, once they fly with us, they tend to choose us again and again, because they find great value in the experience. Our attention to detail, our anticipation of their needs, and the hospitality we offer make Qatar Airways different than any other airline, and when combined, make for a truly unique experience.

Another factor that other airlines often overlook is our approach to service. Our cultural origins are rooted in traditional Qatari hospitality, so when we welcome you on board, we are welcoming you to our home. You shouldn't feel like you're visiting a museum when you fly, or taking a bus - you should feel comfortable and at ease, with anything you need at your fingertips. Those are the qualities that drive more repeat business than any other.
© | Abb.: Qatar Airways | Aug 23, 2016 09:56

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