Qatar Airways has a rather interesting reputation. Their CEO, His Excellency Mr. Akbar al Baker, has a reputation for uncompromising attention to detail and…um…”close management” of what is said about his airline. That said, he’s made Qatar Airways into a formidable competitor and a big part of the Middle East Three group of airlines (with Etihad and Emirates). Boasting not only an amazing A380 First Class but also one of the finest lounges in the world, Qatar Airways has a story to tell. For that reason I was excited to fly and write this Qatar Airways Business Class review on one of their new Airbus A350 aircraft.
How did I book the flight? What did it cost?
This one was easy. I was in Dubai visiting some friends and needed to fly back to Singapore. I went to ba.com to search availability and found Business Class availability from Dubai to Doha and then Doha to Singapore. A simple call to American Airlines Singapore desk later (since I happened to be in Singapore when making the reservation) I had confirmation numbers in hand. The business class leg cost me 30,000 AAdvantage miles (note: after the March 22 devaluation this award would cost 40,000 miles, actually one of the not terrible changes in the award chart) and $10-15 of taxes.
(aside) Dreadful delay management from Qatar Airways
Our flight from Doha to Singapore was scheduled to take off around 9:30am from a remote gate. I made my way to the gate, which was a considerable walk from the Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge, only to see that there was a delay on the board. The ground staff made an announcement that there was a delay and they would have more information at 9:30am for us. That’s annoying, but delays happen, no harm no foul. 9:30am came and went with no communication from the gate agents. At 10:00am I approached the desk and asked if they would make an announcement letting us know when to expect more information at least. The gate staff told me they would and never did. At 10:20am the screen at the gate suddenly showed a delay of roughly six hours, pushing our departure time back to 2:30pm. This caught the passengers at the gate by surprise and we asked the gate staff what was going on. The gate staff shushed us and told us to wait for the announcement over the loudspeaker. Minutes later the loudspeaker said what the screen in front of us said: there was a mechanical problem with our jet and we needed to wait for inbound aircraft. Again, annoying, but it happens. I walked back to the Al Mourjan lounge and relaxed for a bit with some food and some photo-editing. About an hour later a gentleman came through the lounge announcing the final call for my Singapore flight. WAIT, WHAT?! It turns out they had fixed the mechanical problem and moved the departure time up to basically that minute. No announcement was made in the lounge that I could hear, although they claim they “made many announcements”. After a brief sprint, I made it to the gate and boarded after a lengthy bus ride to a station outside the maintenance hangar where our jet was waiting.
Qatar, here are some recommendations:
- Keep your promises. If you tell a group of people you will give them more information at 9:30am, click that microphone at 9:30am, even if it’s just to tell them you are still waiting for more information.
- Beat your airline screens. Communicate the delay to your ground staff before it hits the screens, allowing your ground crew time to make an announcement and provide information to customers.
- Announce critical changes in all areas of all lounges. When I go into a British Airways lounge for a Cathay Pacific flight, I understand they will not announce information about my flight. Being at the Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge waiting on a Qatar Airways flight, I would expect that something as operationally serious as a departure time being moved up 4 hours would be announced.
Ok, back to the review…
Once we were cleared to board we got on a few buses and went on a long journey near the main maintenance hangar at Doha’s Hamad International Airport, where our Airbus A350 was waiting. I got off the bus and tried to take some pictures of the airline engine until I was informed that this was against the rules by a really rude airline official who grabbed my camera by the lens and forcibly moved it away from the engine. That is never acceptable and I’m lucky I had a good grip on my camera, otherwise it could have fallen and there would’ve been an incident.
So I’ll happily post this picture, in honor of the guy who thought that it was appropriate to mess with $4700 of camera equipment simply because I didn’t know it wasn’t permitted to take this picture.
Ok, so it should be abundantly clear to you at this point that I was not a very happy camper as I boarded the beautiful new A350 aircraft. To add insult to injury, the engines were turned off, due to maintenance, meaning the air conditioning was not functioning yet, leading to a rather warm cabin. I was sitting there in a bad mood, putting some serious thought into whether or not I should even do this review (since it’d be hard to be impartial). But the in-flight service manager came by, apologized for the delay, and so warmly welcomed me to the flight that I found my sunshine again and felt excited about the flight again. She was an absolute joy and took a personal interest in making sure I had a great experience.
Qatar uses a reverse-herringbone seat that’s similar to all the others that are so popular these days (indeed, I’ve called American’s version of that seat the best business class seat in the sky). The seat was very comfortable, easy to adjust, and provided quite a bit of storage space.
If I had to find a criticism I’d say that it didn’t provide very much privacy, but that doesn’t bug me that much.
The flight attendants were making extra sure everyone was comfortable by making sure every champagne glass was refilled promptly and distributing chilled towels to help with the heat. It was very much appreciated after the stress of the morning and helped me calm down.
The Qatar IFE system is absolutely fantastic and was available on the ground, so I perused the options while enjoying my champagne.
The flight attendants distributed amenity kits by Giorgio Armani.
The noise-canceling headphones were in the aisle-side armrest in a nice little compartment that also had a bottle of water, which was an excellent place for it, since the armrest descends into the seat when you’re in the sleeping position and it’s right next to you without having to reach anywhere.
The Flight and Meal
The engines eventually turned and, mercifully, the cabin started to cool down. We had a short taxi to the runway, since we were already away from the terminal by a good distance, and were in takeoff position shortly. The A350 has a tail camera, which I always enjoy watching during takeoff.
Once we were in the air the inflight service began.
I’ve always liked Qatar’s food, although I feel some of it is needlessly complex. It’s personal preference, sure, but I prefer simple food cooked well.
The meal began with some warmed nuts, and a dragonslayer to drink (I call a Bailey’s on the rocks a dragonslayer simply because I’m a guy with a beard and don’t want to feel unmanly for ordering a Bailey’s on the rocks).
After that I was presented with a lovely arabic mezze to start with some lovely hummus (I’m a hummus enthusiast and found it lovely in both taste and presentation).
The bread looked real nice and artisan-y.
For lunch I ordered the chicken. I find it’s pretty easy for an airline (or a travel blogger cooking at home last night) to ruin chicken and have it end up dry, but Qatar nailed it on this one, the chicken was delicious!
I was legitimately full at the end of the main course but I saved a bit of room for dessert, just so I could, you know, review it for you.
After the meal I used the in-flight wifi ($20 for the flight) to catch up on some emails and watched a few movies as I drifted in and out of sleep. Before I made my bed for a long nap I looked outside and was greeted by the curved wingtip of the A350 against a beautiful sunset and had to get a picture!
The Airbus A350
The new Airbus A350 is Airbus’s response to the Boeing 787. It consists of composite materials which are corrosion-resistant, allowing for higher humidity levels and a lower cabin pressurization “altitude” during the flight. Not to mention the windows are much bigger as well. All in all I definitely noticed a difference, walking off the flight I felt much more like a human being than the typical zombie-like state I’m in after long flights.
Qatar decorates its cabin beautifully. During the flight they decorated the separators pictured here (similar to the wall decorations on the A380) but I was dutifully sleeping instead of getting pictures, but the entire cabin was classy and refined.
Wrapping it up
I enjoyed my flight. The cabin was comfortable and felt luxurious. The service was wonderful and warm. The initial delay and rude airline official really frustrated me, as I’d assume the staff at the home airport would be the best-trained, but that may not be fair to Qatar Airways. There were elements of the delay that I’ve calmed down about since I took the flight but remain annoyed that the guy forced my camera away by grabbing the lens of my camera.
Anyway, I’m very happy to report that once I stepped foot into the business class cabin I had nothing to worry about. By the end of the flight I was sitting there wondering if it was indeed the same flight I was so upset about when I boarded. Qatar Airways was the most surprising flight of my First Class Round the World Trip back in November and I would not hesitate to book another flight on Qatar Airways in longhaul business soon!
I would not hesitate to book another flight on Qatar Airways in longhaul business soon!