The two largest Middle Eastern airlines – Emirates and Qatar Airways – are some of the most popular options when it comes to flying, among other destination pairs, from the US East Coast to Southeast Asia and from Europe to Asia. Since flying Emirates for the first time in 2008 and Qatar Airways in 2012, I have been using the two airlines regularly for over a decade and flew on nearly 50 flights across the two carriers.
If you are thinking of choosing Emirates over Qatar Airways or vice versa because of a significant price difference or better flight times, then, by all means, go for it. Both of the airlines offer excellent economy class. That said, if you can’t decide, continue reading for a detailed comparison of the two airlines.
Safety and Punctuality: It’s a Tie
I assume that, more than anything, you want to arrive at your destination safely and on time. Both Emirates and Qatar Airways are not only safe but also, in general, punctual. In my nearly 50 flights with the two airlines, I can’t remember any that were significantly delayed.
That said, delays do happen, and zooming out – at least based on flight data provider OAG’s rankings – Emirates was the more punctual airline in 2022. While 81.13% of Emirates’ flights tracked by OAG in 2022 arrived on time (within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival time), only 77.50% of Qatar Airways’ flights did so.
This put Emirates in third place in the Middle East & Africa and Qatar Airways in fifth place. Emirates’ on-time performance was also good enough to put it in the 20th spot globally in 2022. Interestingly, in 2019, Qatar Airways was the more punctual airline of the two.
While I wouldn’t choose one airline over the other just based on safety or punctuality, if you are taking connecting flights I would go with the one with more transfer time (within reason, of course) just in case you experience a delay.
Frequent Flyer Benefits: Qatar Airways Wins
Qatar Airways is a member of oneworld Alliance. Emirates, on the other hand, is known for not being a member of any of the major airline alliances and – at least on the surface – going solo. If you only fly occasionally and don’t collect miles (chances are you really should), then you can skip this section.
If you collect miles, though, Qatar Airways’ oneworld membership means you will be able to not only credit your miles to Qatar Airways Privilege Club frequent flyer program but also to other oneworld programs like British Airways Executive Club, Finnair Plus, and JAL Mileage Bank. With Emirates, you can of course credit miles to its Skywards program. The airline also partners with others too, though, so you will also be able to credit your miles to Air Canada Aeroplan, Korean Air Skypass, and JAL Mileage Bank among others.
Before deciding where to credit your miles, you can use this tool to see which program will offer you the highest mileage earning rate.
Another consideration here is that having any frequent flyer status equivalent to oneworld Sapphire or Emerald will get you perks like lounge access and access to priority check-in desks when flying with Qatar Airways, even in economy class. With Emirates, you will in general need to have a status in their Skywards program to be able to enjoy such benefits.
Seats and Interior: Emirates Wins
The onboard comfort – in addition to the airline – also depends on the aircraft type operating your flight.
One big difference between Emirates and Qatar Airways is that while the former operates only large twin-aisle aircraft – Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 to be specific – the latter also has about 30 single-aisle Airbus A320s. While personally I have no issues with single-aisle aircraft – I flew on multiple five- to six-hour flights between Europe and Doha – there are some people that prefer the larger widebodies on medium- to long-haul flights.
Another advantage that Emirates has is the sheer number of Airbus A380s in its fleet. While Qatar Airways does have some A380s, their number of very limited and they only operate a handful of routes. The A380s tend to be more comfortable than the other aircraft used by either of the airlines, especially 777s, 787s, and A350s which feature noticably narrower seats in economy class.
That said, overall, both Emirates and Qatar Airways offer relatively comfortable seats with decent legroom across their fleets. Not only that but all aircraft operated by the two airlines are equipped with personal in-flight entertainment screens and you will generally be able to charge your devices – either using USB or a power outlet – too.
One last thing worth noting here is that in the latest iteration of its 777 cabin design, Emirates did a phenomenal job not only in first class (Emirates’ business class is subpar in general) but also in economy class.
Most notably, the lavatories on the aircraft are unlike anything I’ve seen in economy class on other airlines. In fact, they are nicer than what most other airlines offer in business class and first class.
Meals and Beverages: It’s a Tie
For better or worse, it is unreasonable to expect a gourmet experience in economy class. That said, both Emirates and Qatar Airways are airlines that get about as close to doing so as possible given the various constraints that economy class comes with. Regarardless of whether your flight is a sub-two-hour hop around the Middle East or an ultra-longhaul flight from Doha or Dubai to the United States, you can be sure that you will not go hungry.
While both Emirates and Qatar Airways offer a light cold meal on their shortest flights, you can expect a hot meal even on something like a three and a half hour flight from Dubai to Beyrut. On longer flights, you can expect two hot meals – a breakfast and a lunch or a dinner and a bruch, for example. On the longest flights, you can also expect a refreshment service between the two main meal services.
Neither of the airlines offered meals on full-size trays the last time I flew them (not many airlines do so anymore) but Emirates managed to squeeze a bit more onto its slightly larger tray. That said, both of the airlines’ meals were more than large enough and tasted good.
Both Emirates and Qatar Airways free alcoholic drinks in economy class and – in addition to a selection of wine and liquor – also offer all the typical soft drinks one would expect. On Emirates (I am not sure about Qatar Airways), you can also buy champagne if you wish and pre-order celebration cake if you want to surprise someone you are traveling with.
All in all, while Emirates offers slightly larger meals and possibly more paid options, I’d say it’s a tie between the two airlines when it comes to meals and beverages since both airlines offer better meals in economy class than most if not all of the other airlines I have flown on.
You can find sample Emirates economy class menus and see the menu for your specific flight with the airline here. While Qatar Airways doesn’t have any sample menus on its website, you can see menus for your flights once you book them here.
In-Flight Entertainment: Emirates Wins
Like with meals, both Emirates and Qatar Airways offer some of the best in-flight entertainment systems in the world. That said, while Qatar Airways’ IFE might be the second, third, or fourth best, Emirates’ IFE is undoubtedly the best one when it comes to content selection.
You can find Emirates’ ICE (Information, Communication, Entertainment) system on all aircraft in the airline’s fleet in more or less the same form (there might be some slight differences in the available content). The system offers a practically unlimited amount of entertainment in the form of movies and TV shows as well as music, games, and so on.
The airline lists the entertainment options available on ICE here.
Qatar Airways’ Oryx One system is excellent too. That said, the amount of content is not as extensive as Emirates’ (still, both offer more than enough options even for the longest flights) and there might be more significant differences in things like content library and screen quality among the different aircraft types in Qatar Airways’ fleet.
Qatar Airways’ entertainment options can be found on their website too.
It’s also worth noting that both airlines when I last flew them offered – for economy class standards – decent headphones rather than low-quality earphones. The ones offered by Emirates were considerably nicer than those offered by Qatar Airways, though.
Onboard Wi-Fi: It’s a Tie
Emirates offers wi-fi onboard all of its aircraft. Three different plans are offered by the airline:
- $2.99 – $5.99 depending on flight length for a plan allowing unlimited text-only chatting via WhatsApp, iMessage, Messenger, WeChat, Line, and Viber
- $9.99 – $19.99 depending on flight length for a plan providing full internet access
- $9.99 for 30 minutes on selected flights
Members of Emirates’ frequent flyer program that are also crediting their miles to the program can get free wi-fi to one degree or another. All members get the text-only chatting plan for free for the duration of the flight even in economy class. Similarly, Emirates Skywards Platinum top-tier status holders get free full internet access for the duration of their flight even in economy class.
While most of Qatar Airways’ fleet is equipped with wi-fi, the airline still has some aircraft that do not offer in-flight connectivity. You can check whether your flight will offer wi-fi or not here. It’s important to note that depending on the aircraft Qatar Airways has two types of wi-fi: standard and “Super Wi-Fi.”
Qatar Airways’ standard wi-fi is, like Emirates’, provided by OnAir and offers limited speeds. Super Wi-fi is provided by Inmarsat and available on all of the airline’s A350-1000s as well as some of its A350-900s and 777s. Ironically, while of exponentially higher quality, the Super Wi-Fi costing between $10 and $20 per flight is cheaper than the standard wi-fi which comes with significant data caps.
Overall, it’s a tie – Emirates is better in terms of free internet connection and (for better or worse) consistency across its fleet while Qatar Airways offers Super Wi-Fi, which is way better than Emirates offering or Qatar’s standard wi-fi, on many of its aircraft.
Emirates and Qatar Airways Flight Reviews
To see in more detail what actual flights on Emirates and Qatar Airways in economy class look like – and learn more about other service aspects such as the availability (or lack of) amenity kits, make sure to read my reviews of the two airlines:
- Emirates mid-haul economy class (Airbus A380 from Dubai to Vienna)
- Emirates long-haul economy class (Boeing 777-300ER with new cabins from Tokyo Narita to Dubai)
- Qatar Airways mid-haul economy class (Boeing 787-8 from Doha to Vienna)
- Qatar Airways long-haul economy class (Boeing 777-300ER from Tokyo to Doha)
Over the last decade or two, both Emirates and Qatar Airways managed to build themselves brands that many travelers and non-travelers alike consider to be high-end. While that is certainly the case for Emirates’ first class and Qatar Airways’ business class, luckily for those of us with more limited budgets, the two airlines’ economy class products are great too.
With both Emirates and Qatar Airways offering comfortable enough seats, some of the world’s best in-flight entertainment systems, and filling meals, I recommend simply going with whichever airline is cheaper and/or offering schedules that better suit your needs.
If it’s a tie in those regards and you are not particular about flying on a oneworld airline, then I’d probably slightly lean toward flying with Emirates – especially if the Qatar Airways equivalent included travel on its A320s or some of its older aircraft like A330s. That said, as mentioned numerous times, you cannot go wrong by choosing either.