For nearly two years, Qatar Airways sat atop the business class throne, alone.
There was the Qsuite, and about a mile behind – every other airlines next best. In August, 2019, Japan’s All Nippon Airways – better known as ANA – had something to say about that. With the swift introduction of “The Room”, ANA looked as if an airline could finally take a shot at the throne, elevating the bar once more.
In 2021, these two are still battling it out to be “the best”.
With endless levels of excitement, I hopped on the first ever flight to feature the new ANA business class, and I could hardly believe my eyes. Surely, I’d made my way into the wrong cabin, and a cabin crew member would politely direct me to “business class, not first class” and bow accordingly. Nope, I was in the right place.
Could this really be the world’s best business class experience? It’s time to weigh in on the verdict.
I think a flying experience can adequately be summed up into 5 parts.
The pre-flight bits like check in and lounge. The seat on board, the service on board and the food and drinks on board. Five areas of judging keeps things simple enough, and I think it’s worth weighting the seat with 2/5th of the total outcome, since it’s really the only thing you’re guaranteed.
I’m going to award one point for pre-flight, two points for the best seat, one point for the best service and one point for the food, beverages and all other elements. With any hope, the math will add up to the winner, in the eyes of GSTP.
I’ve experienced both Qatar Airways and ANA at their respective “home bases” and also at plenty of outstations abroad. Based on the wow-factor of lounges, the consistency of high quality food, drinks and amenities on the ground and helpful agents, Qatar takes the point here.
ANA lounges are incredibly busy in Japan, and to be fair, Qatar’s Al Mourjan lounge in Doha is too, but the overall offering in Al Mourjan is superior, and Qatar’s lounges elsewhere tend to be much more refined than the Star Alliance Lounges ANA typically uses.
In the battle of the world’s best business class, it’s now Qatar Airways 1, ANA 0.
The Qsuite changed the game, bringing the first business class cabin to feature a privacy door at every seat, in addition to the latest electronics and massive storage space. It’s still a delight, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what ANA has managed to carve out with “The Room”.
On that very first flight, I proclaimed ANA to have the world’s best business class seat, and haven’t remotely reconsidered since. It’s wider, the screen is bigger, sharper, the storage is better, and the privacy door is more substantial. There’s even a portion of the privacy door you can open just a peek during service times.
The crowd is going wild, because the battle for the world’s best business class just went 2-1 in favor of ANA over Qatar Airways as we head past the half way mark.
On Board Service
ANA cabin crews really couldn’t be any more professional or polite. They’re lovely, and treat every guest with such respect in line with Japan’s admirable standards. But sometimes it’s sometimes a style of service that can be mistaken for being impersonal by some. ANA also still sticks with a “we choose meal time” service, with just a few items available at any time.
Qatar Airways on the other hand re-wrote the playbook on standards of dining in business class, bringing a successful dine on demand concept. Basically, you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and the cabin crew is typically fantastic at sticking to the polished service script.
With the game headed into the final minutes, Qatar Airways just leveled the best business class score at 2-2, leaving the crowd on their feet as the final plays draw to a close.
The Final Showdown: Food, Drinks, Amenities
Both airlines manage to highlight and celebrate their heritage with the food, drinks and amenities on board. I can’t pass up an okonomiyaki snack or a lovely sake with my meal on ANA, and I can’t pass up a biryani and karak chai tea on Qatar Airways.
When you get down to price points, consistency and overall quality however, Qatar starts to pull ahead. On amenity kits and other perks, the lead only extends further.
Price points don’t determine good wine, but they can certainly help, and Qatar Airways tends to have wines in business class between $20-$50, including Grand Cru chateau’s, whereas ANA tends to stick to the $10-$25 range.
Catering standards are excellent on both airlines, but to most travelers the options on Qatar Airways are more accessible. Qatar Airways amenity kits also tend to beat ANA on design and what’s inside.
Despite an inferior seat, Qatar Airways just manages to squeak by here overall, based on what’s known as the “soft product” – aka things that aren’t bolted to the floor of the plane. If you don’t eat or drink on the plane, you could easily call this a draw, or even move the win over to ANA too.
A draw would be a fair result.
If ANA were to match Qatar on just one of these other elements of the business class experience, such as lounge amenities or dine on demand, the scales could easily tip entirely in their favor, but for now, despite ANA offering the world’s best business class seat – Qatar Airways still offers the world’s best business class experience overall, if you ask me.