Economy class passengers on Qatar Airways‘ new A321neo fleet will have a new seating experience starting later this year. The carrier unveiled its new coach offering at ITB Berlin this week with several interesting innovations included. Increased knee/shin room and an updated reclining mechanism lead the mechanical innovations while larger screens and the latest in inflight wifi connectivity are the key takeaways on the technical side.
We are very pleased to reveal our new Economy Class experience here at ITB, proving that our commitment to providing the very finest experience extends to all of our passengers, not only those in Premium class. Our new Economy Class seat, with its redesigned recline system and additional leg room, will ensure that our passengers in Economy Class arrive at their destinations feeling rested and refreshed.
– Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker
The new seat recline is likely to be the most discussed of the changes delivered. The carrier describes it as a “semi-fixed” system. In more traditional terms it would be known as an articulating seat pan, where the base slides forward as the passenger reclines. Key to this design is that the seat back has minimal movement as part of the recline process, limiting impact to other passengers on board. It is not a fully-fixed shell seat but, from the videos Qatar Airways has released thus far, it is a very small movement (see 0:37 below).
Such designs add extra parts to the seat, a move that historically led to higher maintenance costs and failures. They are also contentious among passengers with some loving the more cradle-like feel of the recline while others note that the recline requires trading knee room away as the seat pan slides forward. As a new product the Qatar Airways version has the opportunity to improve on these challenges; how well it does so will be judged over time.
Update: The seat is confirmed to be the Optimares Quadra, a model that the vendor put on display in late 2017. It is a unique mechanical setup that sees the seat pan drop lower as it articulates, creating the extended “recline” range Qatar Airways highlights in the release.
The seat also includes a dual tray-table design, with the upper tray offering a cup holder and tablet or phone rest for passengers who want to watch media on their own devices rather than the embedded IFE screens. The tablet holder does not secure the device in place like more advanced PED holders, though it does offer it a place to rest at eye level. Each seat now includes USB-A and USB-C charging ports for passenger devices.
The seats also feature 13.3″ 4K screens for passengers to enjoy the Oryx One entertainment content. The screen size is massive for economy class and matches the dimensions that Emirates put into place on its 2-cabin A380 configurations when those aircraft entered service. The screen size pushes the limits on what can fit in an economy class seat and also what the human eye can consume at that close a distance.
Some have questioned the decision to install 4K screens given that so little of the IFE content on board is available even in 1080p HD today. The entertainment hardware vendors are unfazed by the lack of content, focusing instead on the overlap with manufacturing from the commercial market to help bring down costs. A 4K screen is cheaper, lighter and consumes less power than the HD or SD screens of prior generations. They simply are the base model for sale today and so are being installed on the planes, even without content tailored for their higher resolution.
Qatar Airways also advertises inflight connectivity 10x faster on the new planes. This is delivered through Inmarsat‘s GX Aviation product that is also deploying on the carrier’s newer twin-aisle aircraft.
The carrier also announced updates to the economy class catering, branding the “Quisine” inflight dining experience. It includes new retail-style tableware, a menu offering more choices, 25 percent larger main courses, 20 percent larger appetizers, and 50 percent larger desserts. Quisine will also reduce single-use plastics and increase recyclable and biodegradable products used in the meal service.
The comment from Mr. Al Baker about delivering the best experience to all passengers, including in economy class, echoes previous justification for not adding a premium economy product.
Timing for the retrofit of the Qatar Airways fleet with the new seating product is unclear, though expected in the coming years based on comments made during the press conference unveiling the product. Qatar Airways did not respond to inquiries seeking clarity by publication time.