New versus legacy airlines – who wins on service?

My husband and I were privileged enough to have a wonderful holiday in Taiwan recently.  It’s a fantastic country that I would highly recommend  anyone visits to discover the best of Asia.  As is often the case, rather than flying to Taiwan directly, we took the opportunity to fly on 5 different planes with 3 different airlines.  I’ll ignore the flight with British Airway flight as it was within Europe, and was unremarkable and run-of-the-mill.  For the next two flights, we flew with Qatar Airways (from Stockholm to Doha, then Doha to Singapore.) Then, we took Cathay Pacific (from Singapore to Hong Kong, then Hong Hong to Taipei.)  We took the same route with the same carriers back, so experienced 4 flights with each carrier over the course of a week.  Given the hype about Far Eastern & Middle Eastern carriers, who rated best for service?

Qatar Airways:

Qatar Airways has a super fleet of new aircraft, which are more fuel efficient, quieter and offer a much more pleasant experience on-board.  The seats are incredibly comfortable, with great amenities and excellent food and wine pairing.  With beautiful lighting and open spaces, the airline creates a sense of calm and tranquility, which feels a far cry from many legacy carriers in Europe! Overall, flying with Qatar Airlines was a real treat.

But there are a few challenges to drill down into.  Firstly, Qatar Airways flight times are often not great, and it usually involves transiting through Doha Airport (Qatar Airway’s hub.)  The transit process itself is confusing, and when it’s 1am in the morning, you really want the process to be clear and simple.  The lounge was overcrowded and vacuous, and whilst full of staff, few seemed willing to do anything other than their assigned role.

Qatar Airways crew are truly international.  They are young and fresh and keen to deliver a great service.  Nothing is to much effort, and the service delivery has clearly been extremely well planned.  At times, though, it can feel a little too much, especially on long flights when passengers may just want to sleep.  Also, the inexperience of some staff shows, so consistency from staff is sometimes evident.  That said, overall, the crew certainly made a lot of effort to deliver a great service.

Cathay Pacific:

Cathay Pacific really get the importance of customer experience, from the moment you step onto the plane, the warm and genuine welcome makes you feel at home.  They routinely seek out the most frequent fliers to thank the customer for the continued loyalty.  The food onboard reflects both the local destination and the Asian heritage, offering customers a chance to taste both experiences.

Cathay Pacific’s fleet is a mix of new and older planes, so you may find yourself on a brand new gorgeous A350-1000, or an older A330 or Boeing 777 which does not even offer beds on red eye flights in business class. The seats are sometimes showing wear and tear, and together with the lack of amenities or pyjamas, it feels a little lacking.

Where Cathay Pacific excel is their lounges – beautifully designed, themed and varied, and at their hub (unlike Qatar Airways), there is a huge choice of lounges throughout Hong Kong International Airport.  With no queues to use the facilities, and friendly staff around the place, you can really settle in and forget the jetlag!  Whilst it feels that they may be catering most to your traditional “suited and booted” business traveller, everyone can feel at home in a Cathay Pacific lounge.

So overall, Qatar Airways in-air and uniquely innovative plane experience won us over, whilst Cathay Pacific ground and curated and stylish lounge experience were our strong preference, but who won us over on service?  With a long establish history and a well established reputation, Cathay Pacific was, for us, the best when it came to service.  The human touch in the air and on the ground was simply more consistent and more genuine. I would like to thank every crew member that served us, for both airlines they are many rockstars, but if I had to chose one over the other, Cathay Pacific pipped Qatar Airways to the post!


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