In this Flight Reviews series, I’ll take a look at the onboard product offered by airlines across a variety of aircraft types and routes. These first-person reports will review a particular flight — a unique combination of factors including operating airline, aircraft type, route and class of service.
Many luxury travel bloggers — and Qatar Airways itself — have referred to QSuites as the “world’s best business class.” Qatar’s business class experience is exceptional, with delicious catering, top-quality wines and spirits, a fantastic selection of onboard entertainment and a super comfortable seat — but accessibility was at best an afterthought. Before we dive into that, let’s start with some basic flight details:
Airline/Flight: Qatar Airways, QR707
Route: DOH-IAD — Doha, Qatar to Washington Dulles
Flight Date: June 20, 2022
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER (77P)
The QSuite debuted in 2017, but hasn’t been installed on every Qatar Airways long-haul jet. Checking the seat map on your flight should reveal whether it is equipped with the QSuites product, but it’s important to note that unexpected aircraft swaps can occur. Here is the latest update on the number of planes with QSuites by aircraft type:
- Airbus A350-1000 — 19 of 19 aircraft
- Airbus A350-900 — 10 of 33 aircraft
- Boeing 787-9 — 7 of 7 aircraft
- Boeing 777-300ER — 38 of 48 aircraft
- Boeing 777-200LR — 7 of 9 aircraft
This flight was my second time experiencing the QSuite — the first was in 2019, on a 5th freedom flight from São Paulo, Brazil to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I wasn’t doing flight reviews back then, so didn’t write about the experience.
How I booked the flight
My complete itinerary (Doha to Florida) was purchased with American Airlines frequent flyer miles — The total cost was 70,000 AAdvantage miles plus $60.42 in taxes and fees.
This ticket was subject to redemption rates established as part of American Airlines’ Oneworld and Partner Award Chart, with the Middle East to United States redemption (70,000 miles in business class) being one of the “sweet spots” on the chart.
Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER Seating Layout
Qatar Airways has two different seating configurations on its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, with the two types being labeled “77P” and “77N.” On both this flight and my 2019 QSuites flight, the aircraft used was the “77P” configuration, which features 42 QSuites business class seats and 312 economy class seats arranged 10-abreast in a 3-4-3 layout.
The “77N” configuration is economy class-heavy, having only 24 QSuites and a whopping 388 economy class seats. There is no Premium Economy cabin on either type. Detailed seat maps and drawings are available from aeroLOPA at the following links: Type 77P and Type 77N.
“QSuite” Business Class Seat
Despite now being 5 years old, Qatar’s QSuite continues to be recognized as one of the world’s premier business class products — it won the 2022 Skytrax Award for Best Business Class Airline Seat. The seat is based on the Collins Aerospace platform and features a wall enclosure and sliding privacy door.
When the QSuite was first announced in 2017, I raised concerns about the potential accessibility barriers inherent in its design and later included it on a list of the least accessible business class seats. I’ll dive into the seat’s accessibility in the next section, but let’s first take a look at its features and design.
QSuite Features and Lay-Flat Bed
QSuites are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, with forward- and rear-facing seats in alternating rows. My seat, 9J, was a window seat on the right side of the aircraft in a forward-facing row.
The suite is aesthetically pleasing and exceptionally comfortable — a fantastic place to relax and enjoy a long-haul journey. The 21.5″ HD touchscreen display is enormous for an airplane, and it connects travelers to an impressive library of movies and entertainment, including live television channels.
Important note: Some of the photos taken on this flight were lost; as such, I am supplementing them with photos taken on my previous QSuites flight — that earlier flight used the same aircraft type, but I was seated in seat 9B — a forward-facing window seat on the left side of the plane.
From take-off to touchdown, the flight was 13 hours, 20 minutes in length. That’s a long time to be stuck on an airplane watching movies, so I was grateful to have a lay-flat bed in the sky. Since I am unable to stand or walk, the ability to lay down and relieve pressure during a long flight is critical to my health and safety.
The seat is endlessly configurable — a control panel next to the seat allows you to adjust the recline, enter into lay-flat bed mode, and even turn on the seat’s built-in back massage feature (no, I’m not kidding!).
When fully reclined into flat bed mode, the seat measures 79 inches from head to toe — plenty of space to stretch out! When you’d like to go to sleep, the cabin crew will provide turndown service — preparing your bed with a mattress pad, pillows and a fluffy blanket that looks and feels swanky.
All business class passengers are offered pajamas, which I change into every time. There’s just something about sleeping in PJs — in a bed — at 40,000 feet!
360° Tour of the QSuite
The following video provides a 360-degree view of the QSuite cabin, capturing it in a way that I could not match with traditional photos:
Be sure to take note of the position of the walls relative to the seat, as that will figure into to the discussion around QSuite accessibility.
Wheelchair Accessibility of the Qatar Airways QSuite Seat
In its QSuite, Qatar Airways erected a barrier to disabled passenger access that few carriers had done before. Immovable walls block direct access to the seat, preventing safe, lateral self-transfers and making it impossible for assistance staff to perform a traditional lift and transfer technique.
The screenshot above, taken from the 360-degree video shared earlier, depicts the degree to which the immovable wall restricts access to the seat cushion of a forward-facing seat. A narrow aisle chair can fit through the QSuite’s door opening at a 90-degree angle relative to the seat, but it can only partially enter the suite. In transferring into the forward-facing QSuite myself, I have found it easiest to first place the seat in lay flat mode before mustering my inner acrobat to crawl onto the seat.
A second screenshot, embedded above, depicts the design of a rear-facing seat. Rear-facing seats are not fully blocked by the wall enclosure, but they are set away from the aisle, with a small storage bin placed between the seat and the door opening. For passengers who can self-transfer, rear-facing seats are potentially easier to navigate — I recommend first transferring onto the storage compartment, then into the seat itself.
For passengers who require a full lift with the assistance of airline personnel, I cannot recommend the QSuite as a viable seating option. Assistance staff working on behalf of Qatar Airways in Doha and at other airports around the world have admitted to me that they received no special training on passenger transfers into or out of the QSuite. That’s alarming.
On Federal regulators and the qsuite’s Questionable approval
Prior to introducing QSuite in the U.S. market, Qatar Airways sought a special waiver from the U.S. Department of Transportation due to the absence of a moveable aisle armrest. In its waiver application, the airline submitted a video depicting the means by which immobile passengers would be lifted into the QSuite. On the basis of that video, the DOT approved an “equivalent alternative determination,” effectively green-lighting the wall that prevents disabled passengers from safely transferring into the seat. The video was granted confidential treatment, meaning it cannot be accessed by the public.
In September, I requested a copy of the video under the Freedom of Information Act. My request for expedited processing was denied despite my claim that “the safety of disabled passengers hinges on knowledge of the demonstrated transfer technique.” Passengers (and assistance staff!) need to see that video, and I intend to pursue every legal avenue to secure a copy.
Please consider making a donation to support my continued advocacy for equal access in air travel.
Food & Beverage Service
If you’ve flown in business class on a U.S. or European carrier before, you’ll likely recall a fairly standardized process: after takeoff, a meal is served, passengers eat, then settle in, and are offered a second (lighter) meal about an hour prior to arrival.
Qatar Airways is nothing like that. There is no schedule — you eat what you want, when you want. Dining is on demand. Every meal and snack is of high quality and presented to restaurant standards. And, if you’d like a second serving — it’s encouraged!
Given the morning departure from Doha, I started the flight with breakfast — a delightful selection of fruit, pastries and bread, served alongside an omelette with vegetables and sausage.
After watching a movie, catching-up on some email using the inflight wi-fi and enjoying a much-needed sleep session, I ordered lunch: a delicious serving of chicken with vegetables.
I passed on dessert, but enjoyed two bowls of tomato soup over the courser of the flight — the last one shortly before we entered U.S. airspace.
Qatar Airways offers a competitive drink menu in business class, with high-quality champagne, wine and spirits. A variety of whiskey selections are available, including my favorite beverage, Woodford Reserve bourbon. I celebrated the flight with a glass of bourbon prior to arrival in Washington, D.C.
Wheelchair Accessible Lavatory on Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER
The accessible lavatory on the Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER (Type 77P) is located in front of business class seat 8K and directly behind boarding door 2R on the right side of the aircraft.
During the course of the flight, I made three trips to the lavatory — twice to change into and out of my pajamas, and a third time to use the bathroom mid-flight. Each time, I rang the call bell and told the flight attendant that I needed to use the lavatory. Within a few minutes, the cabin crew member returned with one of his/her colleagues and the onboard aisle wheelchair, which they used to push me into the accessible lavatory.
Accessible lavatories come in a number of shapes and sizes, and some are much more accessible than others. I’m happy to report that the Qatar Airways Boeing 777 features what I consider to be among the best accessible lavatory styles, with space to park the onboard aisle wheelchair directly alongside the toilet. The design allows for safe, lateral transfers between the aisle chair and toilet, with space for a travel companion or caregiver to provide assistance.
For more information on getting to and using the bathroom on the airplane as a wheelchair user, read the article on wheelchair accessible airplane lavatories, which contains photos and descriptions of the various lavatory styles.
Qatar Airways’ QSuites Business Class is an incredible product — the seat’s comfort and privacy, paired with the airline’s world-class catering and an incredible commitment to service make it one of the best premium classes in commercial aviation. The big problem: it’s not accessible.
After disabled travelers overcome the tremendous hardship of transferring into the seat, it’s nearly perfect. But in a world where we can have suites with beds and doors in the sky, surely we can have accessibility too. Airlines continue to make unnecessary trade-offs at the expense of equal access and it is my hope that, through articles like this one and our collective advocacy, we’ll help the industry recognize that equal access should never be up for debate. The truth is simple: the best product in any category is an accessible one — and this, I’m afraid, just ain’t it.
Featured image courtesy Qatar Airways.