When you think of international Business Class, images of lie-flat beds likely spring to mind. And hey, when you’re travelling even further forward in First Class, expectations can be even higher. Private suites, caviar, vintage Champagne… the mind wanders. But when you’re flying on Qatar Airways’ Airbus A320, Business Class and First Class are a little different.

Perhaps I should clarify. The cabins are different in name – and each flight only has one cabin or the other. On the same aircraft, you could be in Business Class on one leg and First Class on the other, with only Economy behind you. But what can get confusing is that on these planes, Business Class and First Class offer exactly the same seat.

As for why, Qatar Airways uses these planes on shorter routes. You certainly won’t find them flying to Australia – the distance is too far for the plane to reach, so don’t be concerned about an aircraft swap. But on flights within the Middle East and Central Asia – such as between Amman and Doha – the Airbus A320 has its place in the Qatar Airways fleet.

As luck would have it, I got to experience both cabins on the same plane, on the same day. My recent travels took me from Almaty (Kazakhstan) to Doha (Qatar), before continuing onwards to Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates).

Out of Almaty, the premium cabin on this five-hour flight was ‘Business Class’. But then, on the 65-minute hop over to Abu Dhabi, it changed to ‘First Class’. For the same seat, on the same plane.

Confused? I was, too – so naturally, I was keen to suss things out.

Sitting up front on Qatar Airways’ Airbus A320

Remember, you won’t find Qatar Airways’ famed Qsuite aboard its Airbus A320 jets. Instead, when it comes to the seat, set your expectations to what you’d typically get on a domestic Business Class flight in Australia on the Boeing 737s of Qantas, Virgin Australia and Rex.

This typically means a reclining chair – and again, that’s true whether you’re booked in Business Class or First Class. In the single-aisle cabin of the Airbus A320, seats are in a 2-2 layout. Qatar Airways does have some Airbus A320s with lie-flat beds, also in a 2-2 configuration. Once again, these could be sold as Business or First, depending on the route. But today, both of my Airbus A320 flights have simpler recliners.

While some will always prefer the space afforded by Qsuite, the legroom here is ample, at least. When travelling with a companion, it’s also quite nice being able to sit together from take-off until touchdown. And on a daytime flight, overall, it’s still quite comfortable. Certainly, much more so than further back in the Economy cabin.

Overnight flights are a different story – but I’ve planned my journey to travel during waking hours. And when it comes to aircraft seats, I find it’s handy knowing what to expect. I didn’t get on expecting a palatial suite and find a recliner in its place. I booked the flight knowing what was in store – and with a hint of excitement, knowing there wouldn’t be an extra person in the same row as a third wheel.

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Food and beverage up front on Qatar Airways’ Airbus A320s

So, with the same seat carrying travellers in both Business Class and First Class, how does the food differ on Qatar Airways’ Airbus A320s? Interestingly, for the most part, Business Class is actually better than First Class.

First Class

Qatar Airways generally sells Airbus A320 First Class on its shorter A320 routes. In my case, on the hour-long journey between Doha and Abu Dhabi. These flights don’t provide a lot of time to relax and enjoy a meal, so the serving style is quick and efficient to ensure everybody gets something.

The journey begins with an offer of Arabic coffee – the one thing not mirrored when flying Business Class. After that, there’s a quick pre-departure drink. Today, I choose the alcohol-free sparkling. It seems like a good option after trying one of everything on the Champagne menu on the previous flight! (Champagne is still there if you want it, but on the menu, it’s just ‘Champagne’).

Afterwards, the meal is a simple ‘all-day platter’ with three main bites. There’s hummus with Arabic bread to start, a white chocolate gateau to finish, and a choice of a sampler in between. Today’s options are a prawn curry pie or a mushroom-filled brioche. I go for the prawn and it’s quite delicious.

For an hour-long flight, it’s all you need. But when I say Business Class is better than First Class in this respect, let me show you what I mean.

Business Class

On longer Airbus A320 flights, Qatar Airways brands the same seats as Business Class. And on these journeys, the food and drinks are more along the lines of the more traditional expectations of sitting at the pointy end.

To circle back to Champagne, Business Class brings a choice of Champagne. Before we’ve even left the gate in Kazakhstan, a glass of Laurent-Perrier Grand Cuvee Alexandra Rose 2007 finds its way to my seat. (Yes, the vintage bubbles are in Business Class, not First Class. See, I told you it was better!)

Once we’re in the air, I migrate to a refreshing Champagne cocktail – starring Frapin XO VIP cognac mixed in – served aside warmed nuts. Then it’s a leisurely lunch spread across four tasty courses.

My table is set for the scrumptious seafood chowder to start, then it’s onwards to the tapas plate (alternatively, smoked salmon). For the main, four options greet me – from which I choose the chicken roulade with mushroom sauce. Then to cap it all off, an apple and cinnamon tart and a coffee.

I tell you what, I’m glad I didn’t sample much at the hotel breakfast that morning!

Other privileges of flying Qatar Airways Business Class vs First Class

So the seat is the same between Business Class and First Class. The meals in Business Class are generally better than in First Class on Qatar Airways’ Airbus A320. But there is one point of difference that works in favour of First Class – and that’s lounge access.

In Doha, a ticket in Qatar Airways First Class gets you into the famed Al Safwa First Lounge. And that’s true whether you’re just darting across the Middle East on a one-hour flight or are jetting off to London in 1A on the Airbus A380. By comparison, a seat in Business Class on the Airbus A320 could get you into the Al Mourjan Business Lounge instead.

This can make short-haul points bookings in Qatar Airways First Class more appealing. Sure, you part with more points because it’s ‘First Class’ rather than ‘Business Class’. But having access to the Al Safwa lounge means you can enjoy a proper restaurant-style meal on the ground before you fly in a vast, quiet and exclusive space.

But it wouldn’t be fair to mention these lounges without also highlighting a noteworthy exception to the rules. Qatar Airways only grants access to these supreme spaces for travellers who book Business Class or First Class outright. Those who upgrade from a lower cabin don’t qualify.

As it happens, we’d originally booked Economy, and I upgraded us as a surprise. This meant that even though we had First Class tickets, we couldn’t visit the actual Al Safwa First Lounge. (At least, I knew this beforehand, which saved any embarrassment on the day)! Instead, this is where my frequent flyer status came in handy, as we could instead venture to the Qatar Airways Platinum Lounge as a quick pre-boarding pit stop. (It’s an option for Platinum members of both Qantas and Velocity, as well as oneworld Emerald frequent flyers).

It’s a quirky rule because travellers who book Business Class or First Class using points outright are welcomed with open arms. But those who’ve stumped up for a full-fare cash ticket in Economy and paid even more money (or Avios) on top for the upgrade aren’t treated in the same way.

This is another time where having the right expectations and knowing the rules makes for a smoother and happier journey.

Also read: Unearth the majesty of Petra with Qatar Airways First Class flair

All photography by Chris Chamberlin, who travelled (and upgraded) at his own expense.

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What’s the difference between Business Class & First Class on Qatar Airways’ Airbus A320s? was last modified: February 19th, 2024 by Chris Chamberlin