TAP Air Portugal, Economy Class – Embraer 195: Porto to Lisbon

INTRODUCTION

Porto is a nice, modern city with a lot of tradition. It’s also very touristy. In Porto I stayed at the Intercontinental, but to be honest, I don’t think I’d stay there again.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

From the Intercontinental you can either walk ten minutes uphill to Trinidade, or you can take the metro line D for one stop and then change onto the E line from Trinidade to the airport. Which is what I do to save me some walking.

The metro in Porto is nice. It’s quiet, clean, easy to use and modern. The metro to the airport only runs every thirty minutes, although I’m not sure if perhaps that’s because it’s the weekend. The journey time to the airport is thirty minutes. And it’s a very nice journey too!

CHECK-IN

TAP has a shuttle service between Porto and Lisbon. On weekdays, the first departure from Porto to Lisbon is at four in the morning, with subsequent flights running hourly during peak hours and every two hours for the rest of the day.

There are dedicated check-in counters for the Lisbon shuttle.

LOUNGE

Luckily there is a fast track for security, which is much less busy than the queue for the general security checkpoint.

TAP does not operate its own lounge here in Porto. However, there is a lounge operated by Nav Portugal. I am entitled to use this lounge because although my flight to Lisbon is in Economy Class, it was booked on the same ticket at the Business Class fare from Zürich to Porto.

The lounge is nice and has a good selection of finger food and snacks. There’s even a freshly made fruit salad, which is just excellent!

The entrance to the lounge is right opposite gate 32, which is the dedicated gate for the Lisbon shuttle.

BOARDING

Boarding for the flight starts at 17h30, although by the looks of it, it’s not going to be a full flight. The boarding process is the same as yesterday in Zürich, with a separate queue for premium passengers.

CABIN

Much to my surprise, this aircraft has a different – and much nicer – cabin configuration than the dreadful old plane I arrived with from Zürich yesterday. This aircraft has different, more comfortable seats. The most prominent difference though, is that this aircraft appears to be equipped with an inflight entertainment system, because there is a screen in the back of each seat and a control panel in the arm rests.

I am seated on the emergency exit, which is row 14. The legroom, obviously, is very good on this row.

CREW

There are three ladies working in the cabin this evening and again, they seem very nice and interact with the passengers in a relaxed and unpretentious way.

The flight time is announced as forty minutes.

THE MEAL

Much to my surprise, all passengers are served a snack and a drink on this flight, despite the short flight time. The snack box contains a packet with four crackers and another packet with a soft but tasty cheese. No cutlery is provided. Although it turns out it’s not really required, because the cheese is quite soft.

ARRIVAL

About twenty minutes into the flight, the pilots ease back the throttles and we start our descent. I’m assuming here that the Porto shuttle probably gets preferential treatment for the landing, traffic permitting. So eventually, we touch down in Lisbon after a flight time a few minutes short of the announced forty minutes.

TAP Express, Business Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Porto

INTRODUCTION

Taking this trip is probably not a good idea. Four weeks after the pain started, my back is still no better. But, in the end I couldn’t resist.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I catch the 16h31 train from Winterthur, which arrives at Zürich airport at 16h44. Fortunately, this service has level carriages at platform height, so I won’t have to climb any steps.

CHECK-IN

I’ve checked in online. I don’t have the TAP app because I don’t really use them that often. But the web check-in works fine on my iPhone. Airport check-in for TAP is done in check-in 1, which is the Star Alliance area, or at one of the self-service ticket machines in check-in 3, above the airport’s railway station.

LOUNGE

I arrive at the lounge at 17h15 and the place is crawling with people. I end up standing around for a few minutes for a seat to become available because the place is so crowded.

Eventually, I find a place to sit in a rather oddly shaped corner of the lounge. I’m guessing this is the ‘business’ area where passengers can work. One wall is kept in this really ugly and unfinished looking plywood. Or course, the opportunity to bullshit is too great for SWISS to pass up, which is why of course they have to put up a plaque declaring that this wall is hypoallergenic and made of freshly pressed hay from the Alps. Really SWISS, is that what you’re going with? You’re too cheap to properly renovate your lounge and now you’re going to pretend it’s because you’re doing your passengers a favour…

Eventually I figure I might as well step outside and find a place to sit there. It’ll be more comfortable for my back, and probably better for my blood pressure too…

BOARDING

Boarding is from gate A 75. There are four rows set up in front of the counter to queue. From right to left: one for ‘premium’ passengers, one for passengers without bulky hand luggage and two for everybody else. Boarding starts with a delay of fifteen minutes, which was caused due to the late arrival of the plane form Porto.

CABIN

On the Embraer 190, Portugalia, who operated the flight on behalf of TAP under the TAP Express brand, has managed to squeeze in an impressive 106 seats. To this end, the aircraft only has a quarter of a Business Class galley, so that row 1is more or less opposite the L1 door.

Unlike many airlines, seat numbers on this aircraft are A and B on the port side and C and D on the starboard side. A and D are the window seats. There are no seats 1A and 1B. Thus, the seats with the best legroom are the bulkheads rows on 1CD or 2AB.

Other than that, I have to say that the Embraer 190 is a very uncomfortable little aircraft that really should not be deployed by any airline on sectors of more than one hour. I know I have a back injury right now, but that does not account for the fact that I and the guy next to me eventually agree that the seat is rather unpleasant. By the time we land in Porto, my back is pretty much jammed up and my kneecaps are more or less locked in the bent position.

Oh yes, and more thing: in Business Class TAP Express will not leave the seat next to you empty.

CREW

There are three females working the cabin on this evening’s flight. And I have to say, they really are very lovely. They have friendly, warm smiles and their service is attentive and chic.

SERVICE

While we’re on the ground, there is no service at all. Boarding is completed at around 18h10. At around 18h40 the captain comes on the blower to explain that only the first fifteen minutes of our delay were cause by the aircraft being late. He explains that Swissport, the handling agent, is have problems finding an available tug to push us back from our stand. ‘Swissport company provides bad service at this airport…’.

Eventually, at 18h44 we push back. We are airborne at 19h03, with a delay of one hour.

THE MEAL

The other issue with the tightness of the Embraer 190 and the fact that both seats on a row are sold, is that it can be rather difficult to eat in this seat. At least not without shoving your elbow in the kisser of the person on your left.

But anyway, the tray arrives. It contains:

A small salad with shrimps, served with olive oil dressing

A pasteis de nata – which is something of a Portuguese national dish. It’s a filo pastry with a vanilla custard filling and burned sugar on top

A packaged refreshing towel

A small piece of milk chocolate

To drink with the meal, I have a sparkling water with ice and lemon. And then after the meal a cup of tea.

ARRIVAL

We land in Porto after a flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes. It’s already dark outside, which makes for a very nice approach right over the city with all the lights.

Porto airport is a bit of a surprise, because I was expecting the same kind of patched up facility as that in Lisbon. But instead, Porto has a very nice, spacious and airy terminal.

To get into town I take the metro, or tram rather, which makes the journey form the airport to the city in about thirty minutes, depending on where you’re going. A one way ticket will cost EUR2.30.


Qantas, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Townsville to Sydney via Brisbane

INTRODUCTION

My time with Professor Bond is a real eye-opener. I think I was able to ask him all the questions for which I was seeking answers. Having said that, he also gave me a lot of answers to questions I wasn’t even aware I had!

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

The journey to the airport takes about ten minutes by car. After all, it’s still very early and there are hardly any people on the roads.

CHECK-IN

The landside part of the terminal is disproportionately large, compared to the somewhat tight and narrow airside area at the gates.

Each one of the major airlines operating out of Townsville has its own dedicated check-in zone. I can bypass this today, because I’ve already checked in on the QANTAS app.

There is a queue for security, but it moves quickly. Of course it helps that in Australia they only want you to remove your laptop from your bag and not also your toiletries etc.

LOUNGE

Once I’m through security, I only have ten minutes before boarding starts. But I’m gagging for a coffee. Much to my surprise and delight, there is actually a fairly large QANTAS lounge, where the baristas will even make you a cappuccino to go!

BOARDING

So with my coffee in hand, boarding starts on time with an initial call for Business Class and frequent flyers passengers. It’s only once I settle in my seat that I realise it’s raining quite heavily outside.

CABIN

QANTAS has a dedicated Business Class cabin on its Boeing B 737-800 fleet. There are three rows of seats in a 2 + 2 configuration, which makes for a total of twelve seats.

Every seat is equipped with its own video screen, an electricity plug and USB port. There is also a footrest that can be raised when the seat is in the recline position.

The wifi on board works surprisingly well.

I think the Americans in particular tend to frown upon the European interpretation of Business Class seating, which basically means blocking the middle seat on a row of bog standard Economy Class seats. Which is, admittedly, pretty lame. But it seems to me that the average sector length in Europe is probably much shorter than in vast countries like the US or Australia, and which therefore hardly warrants the installation of a more comfortable solution with a dedicated Business Class cabin and seat.

CREW

The maître de is serving the Business Class cabin and I have to say, this guy is really absolutely brilliant. His manners are impeccable! He addresses every passenger by name and no request ever seems too much for him.

SERVICE

The service on the ground consist of a welcome drink. There is a choice of still or sparkling water or apple juice. There are no towels, newspapers or anything.

The flight time is announced at one hour and thirty minutes.

THE MEAL

Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. There is a choice of either Quiche Lorraine with bacon or an omelette served with a mushroom sauce, spinach and bacon. I go with the latter option.

The tray comes with two slices of sourdough bread, butter and apricot jam. There’s also some awfully healthy looking packed thingy, which I decide to steer clear of.

Later on, the maître de passes through the cabin offering cranberry muffins that are fresh out of the oven and taste lovely.

To drink with the meal, I have an orange juice, still water and a coffee. Oh yes, the coffee! Full and extra brownie points for QANTAS on the coffee front. Instead of that horrific instant stuff you get on most airlines these days, QANTAS serves a lovely brew made in a coffee press, which just tastes so much better!

Once the tray is removed, the crew pass through the cabin with small bottles of still water and ask passengers if there’s anything else they’d like. I order a Coke Zero and then settle in to read the latest book of the PC Grant series, which my friend the wiry R. and I both find quite entertaining.

Transfer in Brisbane

We land in Brisbane about ten minutes ahead of schedule. I disembark the aircraft through gate number 23. I check on one of the FIDS, only to find that my flight to Sydney in slightly over an hour will be operated by the same aircraft from the same gate.

The glorious beauty of the English language…

Language change is unavoidable. One of the key drivers of language change is exposure of the language as it is used in a specific area to the other languages in use around it. In which case there may be regional approximation of two or more languages coexisting in that region.

Why am I even bothering you with this? In British English a thong refers to a particular type of knickers or underpants. If you look up the term on onelook.com, it will give you as a definition: ‘a piece of underwear or bottom part of a bikini with a very narrow piece of cloth at the back’. So basically, it’s the type of underpants that look as though they need to be surgically removed from your butt crack.

Which makes it all the more hilarious that when I enter the QANTAS lounge during my layover in Brisbane, the lounge dragon will not let me enter because they have ‘a strict no thongs policy’ in the lounge that she’s asking me to respect. Of course, what she’s referring are what we call flip flops in Europe that you wear on your feet.

THE MEAL

In any case, the only other thing worthwhile mentioning on the next leg to Sydney is that there are three options for lunch: a kale and spinach frittata, fruit salad or a smoked salmon salad. The tray comes with a large tub of blueberry yoghurt on it. The bread is served separately.

ARRIVAL

Our arrival into Sydney is stunning. We approach the city from the north. At some point, we make a gentle left turn for the downwind, which brings us in right over Manly. In the distance I can see the harbour bridge with the opera house and CBD. It just looks so spectacular from above! I shall miss this when I leave again for Europe tomorrow.

CONCLUSION

I rather enjoyed these two short-haul flights in QANTAS Business Class. My previous experiences with their Business Class product have all been on longer sectors, on which the meal concept was somehow always a bit odd. So it’s good to see that this is not the case here.

To me QANTAS’ biggest selling point are definitely their crews, which are friendly, properly trained and really do represent ‘the spirit of Australia’.

Qantas, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Melbourne to Sydney

INTRODUCTION

The meeting with the people at the language testing research centre is interesting and I feel quite excited about visiting again, even if that won’t be until next year. At least this will give me something to look forward to.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

The meeting ends just after 15h, which should give me enough time to leisurely make my way back to the airport for the return flight to Sydney. From the University of Melbourne, I first take a tram 19 back to Bourke Street and then from there a tram 86 or 96 to Southern Cross. The tram stop is right across the road from the entrance to the coach terminal at Southern Cross station.

CHECK-IN

There are four terminals at Melbourne airport that are connected to each other. QANTAS domestic flights operate out of Terminal 1, which is the last one of the two stops of the Skybus, although the distance is short and you might as well get off at the first stop and then just walk over to Terminal 1.

I’ve already checked in, which is a shame really, because QANTAS’ check-in and the whole departure area look very fresh and modern. Seems as though they’re trying to keep up with Virgin Australia in projecting the image of being hip and classy.

LOUNGE / AIRSIDE

Right behind security, there is the food court and the entrance to the QANTAS lounge to the right of that. I haven’t had lunch yet, so I figure I might as well treat myself to a snack while I enjoy the excellent views of the apron.

In hindsight, I have to say it was totally worth it for the view, but the egg and lettuce sandwich I got at one of the shops is just… meh!

BOARDING

Boarding is from gate 1 on the C pier, which is the gate closest to security and which, I guess, is why it is probably reserved for the Sydney flight. Both Virgin Australia and QANTAS operate a shuttle service between the two cities.

What I always find interesting with QANTAS, is that the cabin crew are also the ones who do the boarding at the gate. Because this is something that, to my knowledge, is not done in Europe even though, come to think of it, it’s not a bad idea.

CABIN

The seats are kept all in black, which certainly makes for a gloomy but elegant looking cabin. I guess it probably also saves on cleaning. In contrast to Virgin Australia, QANTAS has individual video screens installed in every seat back and there are also USB plugs. Complimentary earphones are available as you pass through the gate for boarding, and should you forget to pick up a pair, the crew will come by offering earphones just before push-back.

CREW

The crew is clearly what tips the scale in favour of QANTAS, as far as I’m concerned. First of all, they’re all older than the ones on Virgin. Perhaps that’s why they come across as having a lot more personality. Furthermore, the way they interact with the passengers is just a lot more professional. For example, on this QANTAS flight the cabin crew giving the safety briefing for the emergency exit row makes a point of giving a very detailed explanation and making sure that everyone seated on the exit rows feels that they are being addressed. In contrast, the crew on Virgin did the same briefing in about half the time and with a total lack of enthusiasm.

THE MEAL

Once we’re airborne, the smell of hot food starts wafting through the cabin and I kind of assume it’s for the Business Class section. Much to my surprise though, despite the flying time of only one hour and five minutes, QANTAS will actually serve a hot meal in Economy Class too. In fact, there appears to be a choice between either minced pork in gravy with pak choy and jasmine rice or a cold salad of grilled chicken breast on quinoa salad.

ARRIVAL

About 25 minutes out of Sydney, the pilot eases back the throttle and we start our descent. The approach into Sydney brings us in over the sea and it’s quite spectacular flying along the coast with the sun setting in the distance.

We touch down at 19h22. I then make my way back to the train station and then from there to Circular Quay. I arrive at the wharf at 20h02 and it looks like I’ve just missed the regular ferry back to Manly. The next one is not until 20h45. Fortunately, there is also the express ferry, which costs slightly more but only takes 18 minutes to make the journey. And as my luck would have it, that boat will be leaving at 20h15. A single ticket for the express boat will cost you AUD9.80.

CONCLUSION

QANTAS wins this round hands down. While the cabin and branding of Virgin Australia are all modern and glitzy, you somehow can’t shake the feeling that they’re trying just a bit too hard to be different. Which is okay, as long as you don’t forget that what makes the passenger’s experience is not only the hard product but also the soft product. And that’s where I think QANTAS has the advantage. First of all, as I already mentioned above, the crew came across as being a lot more polished, professional and experienced. In addition to that, the meal service on QANTAS is definitely way superior to that horrific portein bar served on Virgin Australia.

Royal Air Maroc, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Casablanca to Paris Orly

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INTRODUCTION
I wake up this morning to find it’s raining. The light outside is strange, with the sun trying to push through the cloud while the rain is still pelting down. We’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about how long it takes to leave the country, so we’ve decided to make an early start.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
We exit the hotel just after 8 in the morning. The journey from Mohammedia to the airport should take roughly an hour and we still need to refuel our car and return it to Europcar.

About five minutes into the drive the heavens open. At least this will hopefully slow down the traffic which is ‘interesting’ here in Morocco, to say the least… Theoretically, you could also take the train all the way from Mohammadia to the airport, but I don’t think I have the nerve for that this morning.

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CHECK-IN
We return the car without any issues and then make our way towards the terminal. And this is where the fun starts. To enter the terminal, you first have to go through security and have your passport checked (1). Fortunately, you only need to show your passport and not your ticket, because I only have that in electronic form.

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From there I head one floor up to the departures level. Royal Air Maroc operates out of terminal 2. There is a dedicated area for Business Class passengers. The check-in agent is not overly friendly and not overly bright I don’t think. There are immigration forms on the counter, but it doesn’t occur to her to point out to me that I might need to complete one of these for immigration, even when she checks my passport (2).

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From check-in I head for the dedicated fast track for security and passport control. To enter the fast track area, again you have to show your passport (3). Immediately behind the security check is the passport control (4), where my passport is checked and stamped. And then behind passport control there is another guy who checks your passport (5) before allowing you inside the actual airside part of the terminal.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE
The lounge really doesn’t look like anything much to write home about. In addition, I’m here with the wiry R., whose flight to Brussels will be leaving 5 minutes after mine. So instead of staying in the lounge by myself, we decide to have a coffee and this really tasty chocolate thing at one of the many cafés in the terminal.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts twenty minutes behind schedule, due to a medical case that needs to be boarded first. When eventually boarding starts, I first show the gate agent my passport (6) and boarding pass, which he scans. Immediately behind the boarding gate another guy is already waiting to inspect my passport (7). And then finally, before I can enter the airbridge, I actually have to show my passport again (8)!

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THE CABIN
The cabin of this aircraft is quite nice. Royal Air Maroc has a dedicated Business Class cabin in a 2 + 2 configuration. I really like the colours of the cabin and seats. The only thing I’m not too happy about, is the fact that the seats are covered in leather rather than cloth.

Other than that though, the seat is comfortable. There is a pillow on every seat when I board the plane. The leg room is good and even when the woman in front of me reclines her seat, I still have more than enough space. There is also an extendable footrest.

Mind though that there are no power plugs on the seat.

For inflight entertainment, Royal Air Maroc uses a system called Sky-RAM. You need to download the Royal Air Marco app first. Once that’s done, you can turn on the wifi and watch films, listen to music, etc. on your own device for free.

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SERVICE
The service in the Business Class cabin is done by a really friendly and very charming young Moroccan lady. While we’re still on the ground, she passes through the cabin with a selection of drinks. She also distributes newspapers and magazines.

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Once we’re airborne, the maître de distributes the menus, which have the same intricate pattern as the bulkhead. Before the meal service begin, the crew hand out hot towels that are scented with jasmine.

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THE MEAL
The meal service is really the highlight of this flight. We start with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne and a bag of salted almonds.

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Shortly after, the table is set. The trays are then brought out individually and contain the first course and the dessert.

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The first course is a plate of honey-marinated scallops with salad and asparagus. This is quite good and the vinaigrette served with the meal goes well with the lemon as a dressing for the scallops.

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No sooner has the first course been removed that the hot meals are brought out. Royal Air Maroc places all the hot meals on a cart, which is nicely decorated with roses. There is a choice of lamb tagine or chicken breast in a cream sauce with rice and vegetables. I decide to go with the latter, and it really is good. The vegetables are not at all soggy and don’t give you the impression of having been cooked to death. The chicken has a tasty grill flavour and the rice also very flavourful.

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After the hot meal, the plates are removed and the cheese cart is rolled out. Blimey! There is a choice of five different cheeses. I make the mistake of asking to try a small piece of each one. But obviously the charming young lady’s interpretation of ‘small’ is not the same as mine and she cuts me a large chunk of each cheese. The cheese is served with bread, crackers and fruit.

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And then finally, it’s time to tackle the dessert which has been eyeing me all through the meal. The wiry R. would be drooling right now if he saw this. It’s a tasty pecan caramel pie that is simply lovely. I really wish more airlines would make desserts like this. Seriously, it’s divine. The pasty is crumbly and buttery. The caramel is sweet, with a subtle hint of salt.

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The meal concludes with a glass of sweet Moroccan tea, served from a dainty little silver tea pot.

ARRIVAL
Eventually we land in Paris Orly just slightly ahead of schedule. Royal Air Maroc operates out of the south terminal, together with all the other carriers from the Maghreb. But the process is fairly swift and efficient and within just a few minutes I’m through passport control and already have my suitcase back.

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And now I shall kick back and enjoy the weekend in Paris! To get into town, I exit the terminal through door C and then take the shuttle bus to the RER station Pont de Rungis. A ticket on the shuttle will cost EUR2.-. From Pon de Rungis I take the RER train to the Gare d’Austerlitz. That ticket costs EUR10.40.

CONCLUSION
All in all, I must admit I was quite surprised by Royal Air Maroc. Quite frankly, I thought they were going to be a real stinker. But it turns out their service is in fact quite professional and elaborate. Admittedly, I’m not so sure I’d want to connect through Casablanca – their hub – which is just tedious and really very boring. But other than that I don’t think I’d mind having to travel with them again.

Qantas, Business Class – Airbus A 330-200: Perth to Brisbane

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INTRODUCTION
At this point you’re probably wondering why the heck I didn’t just fly directly from Bangkok to Brisbane, instead of taking the detour through Perth. It’s a long story and I’m not even going to attempt to explain. It has something to do with a compulsion for flying, a fascination with aeroplanes and probably some deeply rooted neurosis a psychologist would likely have a field day with…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
To get to the airport, I take the bus line 935, which makes the journey in about 30 minutes. The fare is AUD4.70 and the bus stop is literally across the road from the hotel. In the photo below, my hotel is the tall building in the background.

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CHECK-IN
I’ve checked in using the QANTAS app. If you’re checking in at the airport, QANTAS have these very funky self-service check-in machines at which you can check yourself in, issue the baggage tags and drop off your baggage. It nearly makes me wish I had more than just hand luggage!

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AIRSIDE/LOUNGE
There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers for security. The process is swift and efficient. From security I head straight for the QANTAS lounge.

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I really do think QANTAS seriously has the best lounges of all airlines. Ever. In the world. And the lounge here in Perth is no exception. It’s beautifully appointed and offers a wide range of seating options. Even the loos have style!

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There is a large buffet with an extensive selection of hot and cold dishes. Apart from that, there is a coffee station where they make excellent coffee and a separate drinks bar. Oh yeah, and the apron views are pretty good too!

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BOARDING
Boarding for my flight is from gate 14. Business Class passengers use the L1 door of the aircraft to board, while all others use the L2 door. From what I can tell, the flight is completely sold out in Business.

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CABIN
Qantas operates the A 330-200 in two different configurations. There is one version with a seating capacity of 199 in Economy and 36 in Business Class and another with a seating capacity of 243 in Economy and 28 in Business Class. The lower-density configuration is used primarily on international services but is also deployed on domestic routes, while the higher density configuration is only used on domestic services and to New Zealand.

The international configuration has the Qantas Skybed, which is sufficiently comfortable but offers very little storage space and is really quite ugly to look at. This configuration has angled lie-flat seats that are 21.5 inches in width and have a pitch of 60 inches. The seats are in a 2 + 2 + 2 layout.

The domestic configuration is definitely much nicer and obviously newer. This is a completely lie-flat seat, width is also at 21.5 inches. Stretched out into the bed position, the seat is 78 inches long. The seats are laid out in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration. On uneven numbered rows, the A, F and K seats are aisle seats. While on even numbered rows only the E seat is directly on the aisle.

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Apart from the fact that it looks much nicer, the domestic configuration also provides a lot more storage space. And fortunately for me, today’s flight is operated by an aircraft in the domestic configuration.

CREW & SERIVCE
There are four female cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. They’re friendly enough I guess, but their interaction comes across as being slightly put on. But at least they are very professional in the way they deal with the passengers. But I have to say, throughout the flight the crew come through the cabin repeatedly to make sure passenger are hydrated and have something to drink, which is something for example the Thai crews didn’t do.

While we’re still on the ground, welcome drinks are served. There is a choice between wine, water and some cranberry juice spritzer, the name of which I didn’t catch.

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THE MEAL
The meal service is something I never really quite get about QANTAS. I’m assuming they think is very stylish and sophisticated. I just think it’s weird and more than just a little pretentious. The menu has a choice of two starters, four main courses and two desserts, which is quite extensive I think, especially on a domestic flight. But the things they have on the menu are just slightly odd.

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For the starter I go with the mozzarella with grilled radicchio, green beans and crushed hazelnuts. This is rather unusual and quite good. So far so good. The dish is served with a minute side order of salad and two slices of sourdough bread.

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For the main course I have the chicken parmigiana, which is also quite good but just looks slightly forlorn, sitting on the plate with just a slice of lemon and nothing else. I mean, some sort of side dish might have been nice.

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And then for dessert I have the cheesecake with berries.

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I spend the rest of the flight watching an Australian film called ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert’, which I can highly recommend. The film is not that recent, but I thought it was hilariously funny in a tragic sort of way.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we land after a flight time of just over four hours. The approach is spectacular and brings us in right past the city of Brisbane on our left.

The temperature is more or less the same as in Perth, but it’s definitely more humid here.

GETTING INTO TOWN
In Brisbane I’m picking up a rental car. My first stop is a small town on the Sunshine Coast that goes by the name of Mooloolaba and which has a lovely sandy beach. I have to say, it really does feel so nice to swim in the sea and feel the heat of the sun on my body again. With the rubbish weather we’ve had back home recently, I’d started to forget what the sun even looked like!

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Oman Air, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Muscat to Kuala Lumpur

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Date: 13. April 2017.
Departure: 10:10.
Arrival: 20:40.
Flight time: 6 hours 30 minutes.
Seat: 10A, window.

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TRANSFER IN MUSCAT
Upon entering the terminal building in Muscat, transit passengers turn left and then head up one floor to transit security and the airside area beyond. As in Zürich, the terminal seems very quiet and is certainly calmer than the last time I was here in 2016.

LOUNGE
The Oman Air lounge is operated by the same company that runs the Chedi hotel in Muscat and it shows clearly in the design of the lounge. The gentleman at reception informs me that boarding for my flight to Kuala Lumpur will be from inside the lounge.

The lounge is also very quiet, with only a few seats here and there occupied. The lounge has all the amenities one might expect, including toilets and showers on the premises and a spa. Complimentary wifi is also available. Lounge access comes with a 15 minutes complimentary massage.

In theory, the lounge has some excellent views of the apron, but the curtains obstruct the view and I’m not about the make a spectacle of myself by lifting them to take pictures…

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The buffet is excellent!

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BOARDING
At 08h20 I go to the boarding desk inside the lounge and the gate agent directs me down the stairs to ground level, where a small mini bus is waiting to take the KL bound passengers to their aircraft.

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Eventually pull up next to an Airbus A 330-300, together with the two regular busses carrying the Economy Class passengers. And then we wait. And we wait. And then we wait some more. Eventually, when our bus does start moving again, it’s to take us back to arrivals. I ask the bus driver what’s up but he’s none the wiser. So I step inside the arrivals hall and ask one of the Oman Air agents there about the status of my flight. To which he tells me to go back upstairs, through security again and then to gate 20 for further information.

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So I do that. At gate 20 nobody really seems to want to be responsible. So I ask some random guy in an Oman Air uniform what’s going on and he tells me that our flight has gone tech. I should return to the lounge and await further instructions. Brilliant! Oh yes, and I’m given the rather funky and very old school Egypt Air transit card. Not quite sure what to do with this though…

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So I return to the lounge and figure I might as well have breakfast. After about thirty minutes in the lounge, the flight to KL is called again and so I head downstairs once more to the waiting bus. This time everything seems to go without a hitch. Eventually we take off form Muscat with a delay of 75 minutes at 10h05.

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CABIN & SEAT
The seat on this aircraft is the same as the one on the Boeing B 787-9. Immediately after take-off I change into my running shorts and lie down to have a nap. The seat really is very comfortable and provides ample space, even for a larger person. I am 184cm tall and could stretch out fully. The seat is also wide enough for me not to hit anything or knock something over when I turn.

Every seat is equipped with USB ports and an AC power port.

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CREW & SERVICE
The crew on this flight are much better than the previous lot. You can tell by the ease with which they interact with the passengers and the efficiency with which they complete their pre-departure tasks. To be fair, they’re probably also in a good mood because there are only eight passengers in the Business Class cabin on this flight.

VANITY KIT
The vanity kit is identical to the one I received on the previous flight from Zürich. I think I forgot to mention in my previous post that the kit for men also includes a one-way shaver with shaving cream.

IFE
Once I wake up again, I make a closer inspection of the inflight entertainment system. The selection is sufficiently large, but even so, I think there isn’t a single thing I would actually want to watch. Then again, perhaps there are people who actually do enjoy watching the untalented Mr Gosling trying to make his mind up whether he wants to talk or sing his way through an entire movie…

FIRST SERVICE
On this flight the service makes a lot more sense than it did on the previous flight and follows the same sequence as my morning flight from Dubai to Amsterdam the week before. Just after departure a small breakfast is served, which I pass on, and then the proper of full meal service takes place before landing in KL.

SECOND SERVICE
About two and a half hours out of KL passengers are starting to stir from sleep so it’s time for the crew to begin their main service. As on the previous flight, there are four options for the first course, main course and dessert. I have the following:

  • amuse bouche
  • cream of asparagus soup
  • seasonal salad with vinaigrette
  • linguine pasta with a creamy pesto and parmesan shavings
  • ice cream selection with pistachios and chocolate sauce for dessert
  • selection of breads served with butter or balsamic vinegar

The soup is served with a cheese stick and lemon, which goes surprisingly well with the fine taste. There’s also something spicy in there to give the soup a bit of a zing.

The main course is tasty, although the pasta is definitely overcooked, which is normally the case when you have pasta on a plane. My favourite though is definitely the dessert.

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ARRIVAL
We land in KL at around 20h40, more than an hour later than our scheduled arrival time. The approach is pretty spectacular. There are storm cells in the vicinity of the airport and with the darkness around us, the bursts of lighting look pretty impressive!

CONCLUSION
Okay. On this flight Oman Air definitely managed to redeem themselves after last night’s rather unpleasant flight from Zürich to Muscat. The delay was not such a major issue for me and we were only a bit more than an hour late arriving in KL. However, I do think the staff on the ground could have handled the situation much better. No information was given at any time unless you explicitly asked for it, which is obviously not the way to do it in case of an irregularity. All in all, Oman Air is a nice little airline but they lack polish and professionalism in my opinion.

Oman Air, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Zürich to Muscat

Oman Air Logo

Date: 12. April 2017.
Departure: 21:50.
Arrival: 05:57.
Flight time: 6 hours 7 minutes.
Seat: 15A, window.

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INTRODUCTION
Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday. In Switzerland Good Friday and Easter Monday are bank holidays so all public services and most offices and shops will be closed. Many people take advantage of the long weekend to go away. And so I’m expecting Zürich Airport to be rather busy when I arrive by train. Much to my surprise though, the place is really quiet. In fact, it’s a lot quieter than usual.

CHECK-IN
Oman Air has its check-in counters on row 1 of terminal 2 at Zürich Airport. There is one counter for Business Class passengers and four counters for Economy Class passengers. And there’s loads of staff milling about. What on earth do they need all these people for? Some of them are check-in agents from Swissport that are just wearing an Oman Air tie or a scarf. Others however, look as though they’re employed by Oman Air and are wearing the airline’s full uniform.

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I step onto the plush, soft carpet in front of the Business Class counter. The young lady behind the desk issues my boarding passes straight away and has already prepared for me the lounge invitation for my transit in Muscat. If you’ve already checked in online, Oman Air will hand you a ‘proper’ boarding pass at the gate and will hand you your lounge invitation for Muscat at the gate.

The young lady informs me that an Oman Air rep will come to the lounge to collect me once boarding begins. So far I’m quite impressed by the operation here in Zürich.

LOUNGE
Oman Air uses the Swissport Aspire Lounge in the E dock. My flight will be departing form gate E46.

The stairs leading up to the Aspire lounge are located right in front of the Starbucks Café on the E concourse. The selection of food and beverages in the lounge is limited to small cold and warm snacks, things like greasy spring rolls and very sweet cakes.

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The design of the lounge is nice, bright and airy. However, there are no toilets or showers on the premises. Despite all this, I very much like this lounge for its one redeeming feature which really is a major selling point in my view: it has an outdoor deck. It’s a good thing it’s already getting dark, otherwise I think I’d seriously be at risk of missing my flight for all the plane spotting you can do here. As it happens, runway 28 is in use for arrivals this evening, which means I get to see Emirates’ evening A 380 service to Zürich applying some pretty serious braking action on the relatively short runway.

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BOARDING
Boarding is from gate E46 and start about forty minutes before departure. I’m guessing that with the very strict curfew in place at Zürich Airport the airline is keen the make sure to get away without any major delays.

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Business Class passengers are invited to board the aircraft first.

CABIN & SEAT
Today’s flight is being operated by a brand spanking new Boeing B 787-9 which has only been in revenue service for six weeks. After the short hop last month from Heathrow to Paris CDG on Air Frances’ B 787-9, this will be my second journey on this type. Yes, I know I’m a nerd but that’s still no reason to be sloppy with the details. Yeah?

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Seat numbering is rather strange on Oman Air. The airline is in the process of abolishing its First Class product and refitting all aircraft with a Business Class/Economy Class seating configuration. Even so, Business Class has retained the original numbering, so that the first row in this cabin is row 11. On the Boeing B 787-9 the main Business Class cabin is located between the L/R1 and L/R2 doors. In addition, there is a single row in a mini cabin located behind the galley before the Economy Class cabin starts. This is row 15 and is where I am sitting today.

I really like the colours in the Oman Air cabin. Everything is kept in earthy tones, with light and dark brown colours and a bit of turquoise thrown in for good measure.

The configuration in Business Class is 2 + 2 + 2. The seat is based on a similar principle as the Japan Airlines seat in that the two seats on every pair are staggered. There is also a privacy screen that can be raised after take-off in case you don’t fancy staring at your neighbour’s ugly mug for six hours. The best feature though, is that the staggered seating configuration enables that passengers seated by the window to also have aisle access without the embarrassment of having to climb over the person sitting on the aisle seat. Storage space is good. Being a night flight, a blanket and pillow have already been placed at every seat.

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CREW & SERVICE
The crew are the usual mix of nationalities that you find on all the Middle East carriers. I’m guessing some of the crew are form the Philippines, some from Thailand and a few from India.

The service starts with a welcome drink, hot towel and the distributions of the menus and vanity kits. Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with the traditional Omani welcome of dates and saffron scented Arabic coffee.

VANITY KIT
The vanity kit has a good toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, eye shades, earplugs and a range of cosmetics from Oman’s Amouage perfume, which is, admittedly, an acquired taste and very strong.

IFE
The IFE screen is fairly big and can be operated either using the remote control or via touchscreen, although the latter is somewhat inconvenient given the distance between the seat and the screen.

FIRST SERVICE
There is a choice of four options to choose from for the first course, main course and dessert and there is usually a vegetarian option included on the menu. Given that it’s already late and the flight is not that long, I decide to go with just the Arabic mezze.

The meal service does not start until more than an hour after take-off and it is quite obvious that the crew are unprepared for passengers like me that just want a light meal in order to give them some time to sleep. So instead of dishing out the food straight away, the crew go all out and start serving the aperitifs and an amuse bouche. By this time it’s become quite apparent that it’ll be a while longer until they finally start serving the meal. So the next time a member of the crew walks by, I tell them I’m tired and that I’ve decided not to have dinner after all.

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SECOND SERVICE
I awake about eighty minutes out of Muscat. As soon as the crew notice I’m awake, they bring me the breakfast, which consists of:

  • coffee
  • a bowl with different rolls and pastries
  • a bowl of yoghurt with some green unidentifiable fruity stuff in it
  • a bowl of fruit salad

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According to the menu there should also have been some cheese, but none of the passengers seem to get any of that. What’s more, there is no jam and if you want a juice you have to request it specifically.

ARRIVAL
The new terminal in Muscat has yet to open. But I ain’t complaining because as long as the old facility is still in use, all passengers will need to deplane via stairs and journey to arrivals by bus.

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There is a separate, dedicated Business Class bus to bring passengers to the terminal.

CONCLUSION
All in all, I think Oman Air’s performance can only be described as an epic fail. First of all, I think their service concept on this flight is highly unsuitable for the flight time and schedule. On a flight that leaves fairly late in the evening, it should be expected that many passengers will want to get to sleep as quickly as possible and there should be an appropriate meal option for them.

Other than that though, I also found today’s crew somewhat unprofessional and inattentive. For example, my coffee cup was not collected prior to take-off and the passenger seated next to me did not eat one of the canapés that was served as an amuse bouche. When I woke up for breakfast a few hours later, the small plate had still not been removed and the amuse bouche looked decidedly unappealing.

 

Qatar Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 350: Doha to Frankfurt

qatar_airways_logoDate: 17. February 2017.
Departure: 08:00.
Arrival: 12:10.
Flight time: 6 hours 10 minutes.
Seat: 4A.

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INTRODUCTION
I have just enough time to upload and post my review of the Melbourne to Doha leg, and then it is already time to head to the departure gate for my flight to Frankfurt. I suppose you could say I am literally on my last leg…!

BOARDING FROM AN AWKWARD GATE
The flight is departing from gate B8, which is the end gate on the B pier. As such, the position of the gate in relation to how the aircraft is actually parked is awkward and does not allow for any reasonable photos. Add to that the fact that the windows on the B pier have these opaque dots on them and it becomes near impossible to take any decent pictures of your awaiting chariot.

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CABIN & SEAT
The Airbus A 350 features Qatar Airways’ new Business Class configuration in a 1 + 2 + 1 layout that gives every passenger direct access to the aisle. The additional width of the A 350 really comes into its own in this cabin layout, giving a spacious and airy feel to the cabin.

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The only thing I do not like about this aircraft is the fact that it has those electronically controlled window blinds. And while these are obviously a lot of fun to play with if, like me, you spend way too much time around engineers than is really good for you, they have the disadvantage of being remote controllable by the crew.

No sooner has the fasten seatbelt sign turned off after take-off the blinds come down and can no longer be opened individually until about ninety minutes out of Frankfurt.

YET ANOTHER EXCELLENT CREW
The crew on this flight are a chirpy bunch. Their service is efficient but unrushed and they are obviously determined not to waste any time so passengers can maximise the amount of rest they can get before we reach our destination. This is yet another thing that Qatar Airways does really well in my opinion. One of the things I really cannot stand on Singapore Airlines or SWISS is that for some reason their main meal service always seems to take for ever. On a flight across the Atlantic you are usually already half way there by the time they finally finish and clear everything up.

THE VANITY KIT IS BACK TO ITS OLD TRICKS
The vanity kit is another one of the senselessly oversized tube of aftershave balm variety. Come to think of it, it would be interesting to know what is in the ladies’ vanity kit and if that has any more sensible contents.

YOU REALLY WILL NOT GO HUNGRY ON QATAR AIRWAYS
I know it has not been that long since my breakfast on the inbound from Melbourne, but I am feeling peckish nonetheless. I blame it on the jet lag.

I start with a tasty strawberry and banana smoothie with is rich and creamy.

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Next I have the Bircher Müsli with berries and nuts, which is served nicely decorated with a sprig of mint that gives it a refreshing twist.

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And then for the main course I have the Indian dish, in this case something called Aloo paneer tikki with jeera potatoes, green pea upma, makhani sauce and sambhar. And what an excellent dish it is too, even though I am really not quite sure what it is I am eating. Luckily, Qatar Airways always seem to have at least one Indian dish on their menu, usually the vegetarian option.

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For dessert I have a combination of lychee éclair and a coffee and chocolate mousse cake, which is also very good.

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Once the meal is over, I figure I may as well make another trip to Noddy land to pass the time before the next feeding.

THE SECOND SERVICE
Ninety minutes out of Frankfurt the cabin crew pass through the cabin asking passengers if there is anything they would like to eat before we arrive in Frankfurt. There is a section with light options on the menu for passengers to choose from. I decide to go with the shredded beef salad with Thai noodles. The dish is good and tastes authentic, but I am kind of disappointed because I had been hoping for something with a bit of ‘umpf’ in it, which this dish does not have.

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ARRIVAL
Twenty-three hours after departing from Melbourne I arrive back in Frankfurt. We approach the airport from the East and land on the new runway that lies north of the apron. As I step off the plane I finally get a chance to take a proper look at her and take a few pictures. This is a really very cool plane!

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CONCLUSION
This flight brings to a close my journey to the land of Oz with the fabulous Qatar Airways. Their performance on the four flights I took has been truly stellar. What’s more, they are consistent in the service level they provide, even in comparison to my experience on previous trips with them. In comparison to the other Middle Eastern carriers I have tried, I think Qatar Airways definitely takes the biscuit. They are certainly more professional than Oman Air and their service feels a lot more sophisticated than Emirates. I also think their cabins are a lot classier than Emirates, which tends to be a bit flashy, bordering on gaudy. Of course Qatar Airways also has the advantage that with Hamad airport, they have a very spacious and nicely designed hub.

I shall be flying with Etihad for the first time in two months, and I am curious to see how they will compare to Qatar Airways, but I think it is safe to say that Qatar Airways is a hard act to follow.

Qatar Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Melbourne to Doha

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Date: 16. February 2017.
Departure: 23:15.
Arrival: 05:25
Flight time: 13 hours 55 minutes.
Seat: 3B, aisle seat.

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INTRODUCTION
Next Monday the new semester begins, which means it is high time for me to get a move on and head back home. Again, I shall be travelling in Qatar Airways’ formidable Business Class, which admittedly softens the blow of having reached the end of my vacation…

My flight to Doha will depart at 23h00 from Melbourne, which means I have all of Thursday at my disposal.

SKYBUS COACH TO THE AIRPORT
In Melbourne I am staying at the Radisson on Flagstaff, which is just a short ten minutes walk away from the coach terminus at Southern Cross Rail Station. The journey from the city centre to the airport takes approximately 25 minutes and there is a Skybus coach leaving for the airport every 10 minutes. A one way ticket will set you back AUD19. There are no trains to the airport.

CHECK-IN AT TERMIANL 2, ROW B
All of row B is dedicated to Qatar Airways. You can check in online for this flight too. Even so, it is probably still worth it to make a stop at the check-in counter when you get to the airport because Business Class passengers are given a voucher for the security fast track that they can use in both Melbourne and Doha. You will also need to complete a customs form for departing passengers, which is also available at the check-in counter.

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QANTAS BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
Qatar Airways uses the lounge of its Oneworld partner Qantas in Melbourne. And thank God for that, because lounges are something Qantas does really well. It is a fairly large space with a variety of seating options. I like the design of the Qantas lounges. My only grippe with the lounge is that it is rather dark.

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Apart from that though, the food selection is rather good and there are salads, various pasta dishes, soup and a really delectable and sinful tasting chocolate cake.

BOARDING FROM GATE 8
At around 22h10 I leave the lounge to stretch my legs one last time before the long flight. Boarding for the flight has already started, even though we still have another hour to go before departure. I wonder if perhaps the crew is hoping to get away earlier for some reason or other.

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Melbourne airport is quite busy at this time of night. To our left, Singapore’s A 380 is being readied for its flight back to Singapore, to our right the Thai Airways flight to Bangkok is also in the final stages of boarding, and as we taxi out, I also spot aircraft from Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, Qantas and Emirates.

OLD SCHOOL SEATING ON THE BOEING B 777-300ER
Tonight’s flight is being operated by one of my favourite aircraft, the mighty Boeing B 777-300ER – so please excuse my little fanboy outburst…

The last time I flew on Qatar Airways’ Boeing B 777-300ER was back in 2012 on a short flight from Hanoi to Bangkok. Admittedly, the cabin on the Boeing 777 is not near as nice as that of the Boeing 787 or the Airbus A 350. The seating configuration is in a 2 + 2 + 2 layout, which is rather old school and less private. But still, the seat is very comfortable, even when it is extended into a bed. The inflight entertainment is pretty much on a par with that of the other Qatar Airways aircraft I have flown with on this trip. The only major difference, from what I can tell, is that there is no wifi available on board this aircraft. But in the sum of all things, I do not really mind any of this. First of all, because it is the crew that makes the flight and secondly, no matter what the cabin may look or feel like, as far as I am concerned, the Boeing 777 is just one hell of a machine…oops, there goes the fanboy again.

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SERVICE & CREW
Just when you think you have seen it all and done it all, along comes Qatar just to remind you that really, you are just so clueless. The crew on this flight are even better than those of the two previous flights. They are courteous and friendly, considerate and attentive and nothing seems to be too much for them. Throughout the flight they are constantly present in the cabin, making sure passengers are comfortable and properly hydrated. The toilets are kept in impeccable condition during the flight.

The service sequence follows the usual protocol, what else?

A VANITY KIT THAT MAKES SENSE
While I think it is nice that airlines provide a vanity kit, I often wonder what on earth they were thinking when putting together the content. On the two previous flights with Qatar, the vanity kit included this really enormous tube of Armani aftershave cream, which somehow seems a bit of a waste. At least on this flight, the aftershave balm has been replaced with a large tube of Armani shower gel, which to me just makes more sense. There is also a small flacon of the perfume in the kit. Toothbrushes are available in the toilets.

À LA CARTE DINING WHEN IT SUITS YOU
As a welcome drink I have another one of those tasty lime and mint affairs, which probably contains more sugar in one glass than an average, mid-sized country consumes in a whole month. But it is just so good.

When the cabin crew comes round to take my order – Susanna from Macedonia – I explain to her that I really just want to sleep right now. Of course, this being Qatar, she tells me that that will not be a problem. She will take my order and put it aside and then I can eat whenever I wake up.

And so, as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off, I convert my seat into a bed and head off to Noddy Land for six hours.

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For a starter I have the Arabic mezze, which is very tasty and includes hummus, something with red pepper and tabouleh. A few years ago I flew to Singapore with my colleague, the tall blond M., who struck up a conversation with one of the Arab cabin crew on that flight. At some point the guy told us that as an Arab he would only ever have the mezze on flights out of Doha, because the quality of the mezze is just so much more authentic. And I think I tend to agree. While this mezze platter is good, I think it kind of lacks a bit of zing. As far as the hummus is concerned, I think it could have done with a bit more tahina.

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For the main course I have the gnocchi with a spinach and blue cheese sauce that is served with walnuts and ruccola leaves. I notice that the food is piping hot, whereas the plate is not. I can only assume therefore, that the food is not plated in advanced and instead is assembled on the aircraft.

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And then for dessert I have the ice cream – chocolate and vanilla, with mixed berries and a chocolate biscuit thing that tastes very good.

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The Valhorna chocolate after the meal has been replaced with a praliné by Godiva.

THE SECOND SERVICE
The second service already starts two hours and thirty minutes out of Doha because the crew is expecting heavy turbulence as we approach our destination. But in fact the bad weather starts much earlier, and the service has to be interrupted repeatedly.

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The breakfast service begins with a warm, rose scented hot towel to wake me up, followed by some Greek yoghurt with cherry compote and granola. The yoghurt is good, but the compote is just a bit too sweet, even for me.

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For the main course I have the Arabic breakfast, which is very tasty and quite extensive. There is a small plate with pita bread, another plate with cucumber, olives, tomatoes and feta cheese and a separate, hot dish of foul mudames, which is made with beans.

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The main is excellent, it is not spicy in the sense of being hot, but there are just a lot of different spices in the dish that make it very fragrant.

ARRIVAL IN DOHA
Eventually we land after a flight time of 13 hours and 55 minutes. In the end it was not quite as bumpy after all on the approach. Much to my surprise though, the ground is wet and the captain informs us that there have been heavy rain showers in the area.

Security is already busy. It is quite apparent that this is the rush hour here in Doha. Even so, with the separate fast track for security, I am quickly processed and soon find myself airside again. Time to head for the lounge.

I had hoped to be able to take a shower, but they guy in charge tells me there is a waiting list that will take about an hour to clear.