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.

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

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Date: 09. February 2017.
Departure: 21:15.
Arrival: 17:40.
Flight time: 12 hours 30 minutes.
Seat: 3K, starboard window seat.

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INTRODUCTION
I have just enough time to post the report of my flight from Frankfurt to Doha before it is time for me to leave the comfort of the al-Mourjan lounge and head for gate C5 from where the flight to Adelaide will be boarding.

Since my last visit to Doha airport they have changed the security regime. Where previously you used to go through a centralised security checkpoint, which tended to get slightly hectic and chaotic during peak periods, you now only have to go through security before you enter the respective gate for your flight, which makes the whole process far more efficient and much less of a hassle for passengers.

LOUNGE
Location:
Just off the central plaza that links concourses A, B and C.
Name of Lounge:
Al-Mourjan.
Type of Lounge:
Qatar Airways Business Class lounge.
Access:
There is a long escalator that leads up to the lounge.
Toilets & Showers:
Both are available in the lounge and there is an attendant who obviously keeps the place spotlessly clean.
Food & Beverages: There is a huge selection of hot and cold dishes. In fact the food offerings are more comparable to what many airlines provide in their First Class lounges. One floor up from the central lounge area there is also a restaurant with buffet and à la carte dining.
Connectivity:
Complimentary wifi is provided by Doha airport.
Newspapers & Magazines:
There is a large selection of magazines and newspapers in English and Arabic.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate lane for security for Business Class passengers. Business Class passengers are invited to board the aircraft first and there is a separate airbridge attached to the L1 door.

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CABIN & SEAT
The seat on the Airbus A 350 is very similar to that on the Boeing B 787 on my previous flight. There are however, a few differences. First of all, due to the fact that there are no overhead bins for the middle row of seats, the cabin has a very spacious and cavernous feel, which is very pleasant actually. There is a shoe compartment large enough to store a pair of shoes properly (I wear a size 46 and managed to stow my shoes easily). And finally, the inflight entertainment system is slightly updated. Is has a larger selection of films and can be operated either via the handset or using the touch screen.

The Business Class cabin is also larger on this aircraft. There is one toilet behind the forward galley on the left and two toilets by the L2/R2 doors.

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SERVICE & CREW
The service sequence is identical to that on the previous flight – welcome drink, menu, vanity kit. However, because of the longer flight time of twelve hours and fifty minutes, a few additions have been made to the service:

  • Slippers are provided and they are rather comfortable.
  • Pyjamas are also provided.
  • There is a turndown service to convert the seat into a bed.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Lemon and mint juice.
Pre-meal drink:
Coke Zero, served with a ramekin of warm nuts.
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Choice: There are three choices for the first and main course and dessert.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Late dinner.
Amuse bouche:
Salmon tartar with mango salsa.
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First course: Spicy lentil soup.
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Second course: Arabic mezze with hummus, moutabel and tabouleh, served with Arabic bread.

Main course: Red snapper with a saffron cream sauce and asparagus. Served with crushed new potatoes and spring onions and a confit of cherry tomatoes.
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Dessert: Ice cream.
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Cheese: There is no cheese course on the menu but it is available on request.
Hot towel after the meal:
Rose scented hot towel.

THE SECOND SERVICE
Pre-meal drink:
Strawberry and banana smoothie.
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Choice: The breakfast menu can be put together individually and includes a wide selection of hot and cold dishes.
Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
Main course:
Scrambled eggs with chives, served on toast with ruccola and grilled tomatoes.
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Bread: A selection of breads, served with butter and marmalade.
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ARRIVAL
We land in Adelaide after a flight time of twelve hours and thirty minutes. The approach brings us in right over the city and offers some great views of the hills in Adelaide’s hinterland.

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Once we land I have ninety minutes to make my domestic connection and then I’ll be done. For today.

SO WHAT’S THE VERDICT…?
This flight and the previous one from Frankfurt to Doha have firmly established Qatar Airways as one of my favourite airlines, together with the legendary Cathay Pacific. As I already mentioned in a previous post on Qatar Airways, it never seizes to amaze me just how reliable and consistent their crews are in their service delivery. And they are all so nice about it.

But it is not just the crews that make flying with Qatar Airways such a brilliant experience. The quality and quantity of the food is really something else and puts many of the First Class products I have had the pleasure of sampling to shame.

And then there is also the aircraft. This was my second flight on the Airbus A 350 and I must say, she’s really something else. The feeling of space and comfort that the cabin provides makes even a twelve hours journey pleasurable. The only problem you have with this aircraft is that it is so quiet in the cabin that you can hear the dude snoring five rows further back!

Qatar Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 787-8: Frankfurt to Doha

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Date: 09. February 2017.
Departure: 10:45.
Arrival: 18:30.
Flight time: 5 hours 30 minutes.
Seat: 2 K, starboard.

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CHECK-IN
Terminal 1, hall C. Qatar Airways has its own dedicated check-in counters. There are two counters for Business Class passengers.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Terminal 1.
Name of Lounge:
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge.
Access:
There is a set of stairs and an escalator adjacent to gate B42 which take you one floor up. You see the lounge entrance as soon as you get off the escalator.
Toilets:
Available in the lounge. The toilets are clean and look rather nice.
Showers:
Available in the lounge. Contact reception for a slot.
Food & Beverages: There is a fairly large bar area but the selection of food and beverages is fairly limited. There are no hot dishes. But at least they have Lavazza coffee.
Connectivity:
Complimentary wifi is available, no password required.
Newspapers & Magazines:
There is also a good selection of English and French language magazines and newspapers.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Business Class passengers are invited to board the aircraft first and have their own, dedicated gate. Boarding is through the L2 door.

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CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1.
Cabin Layout:
Business Class – 22 seats.
Economy Class – 232 seats.
Pitch: 80 inches.
Width: 22 inches.
Length as a Bed: 80 inches.
AC Power:
AC power plugs are available at all seats in Business and Economy Class.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand, handset controlled.
Earphones: No-name noise-cancelling earphones.
Connectivity: Onair wifi available.
Comment: A pillow and a blanket are already on the seat.

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SERVICE & CREW
The crew on today’s flight are all either from Thailand or the Indian subcontinent and they are all very friendly.

The service begins with a welcome drink and a choice of either a hot or cold towel. I choose a cold towel and have a lemon juice with mint with that.

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Shortly after that the vanity kit and the menus are distributed.

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Once the doors close, the crew pass through offering Arabic, English and German language newspapers.

VANITY KIT
Armani branded vanity kit. There are obviously different kits for men and women. The kit contains earplugs, lip balm, perfume, after shave cream, socks and eye shades. Toothbrushes and toothpaste are available in the toilets.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Lemon juice with lime.
Pre-meal drink:
Apple cooler – Apple juice, soda water, lemon juice, mint leaves and a slice of lemon. Served with a bowl of nuts served with the drink.
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Menu: There are three choices for the starter, main course and dessert.
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Delivery:
À la carte service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.
Amuse bouche:
Balik salmon with a horseradish sauce.

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First course: Soup of roasted butternut squash with a lemon and herb crème fraîche.
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Second course: Smoked salmon with pea and potato salad with confit tomatoes and a lemon dressing.
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Main course: Paneer tikka masala with makhini sauce, servied with coriander and mint basmati rice, spiced asparagus and black-eyed beans.
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Cheese: A selection of cheese with crackers, red onion chutney and condiments.
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Dessert: Chocolate ice cream with berries.
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Tea:
The meal concludes with a hot, rose scented towel and a mug of Karak Chai with cardamom. Before the lights go out, the crew pass through the cabin with small boxes of Godiva pralines.

ARRIVAL
We arrive in Doha at 18:30, just slightly ahead of schedule, after a flight time of five hours and thirty minutes. I know have a bit more than two hours to make my onward connection.

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Qatar Airways, First Class – Airbus A 380: Doha to Paris

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Date: 10 March 2016
Departure: 07:55
Arrival: 13:10
Flight time: 7 hours and 15 minutes
Seat: 2A, window on the port side

TRANSFER IN DOHA
It is just gone five in the morning when I arrive in Doha from Riyadh, so the lines for security are still fairly thin. Security is a painless affair. Behind security, the young lady who picked me up as I deplaned is waiting for me. She guides me to the lift to take us one floor up to the reception area of the Qatar Airways First Class lounge.

LOUNGE
Location:
One floor up from security.
Type of lounge: Dedicated Qatar Airways First Class lounge.
Facilities: The lounge is very generously laid out and has an elegant, understated feel. There is one à la carte and one buffet restaurant, a business area with meeting rooms and Apple workstations, day rooms with beds, showers, toilets, a baggage storage room and an integrated duty free shop.
Name: Al-Safwa Lounge.
The lounge is impressive. First of all, because of the very high ceilings it is very quiet and there is a hush about the place. Given that not all aircraft have a First Class cabin, the number of passengers using the lounge is somewhat limited, which gives the place a very exclusive touch and feel.

The young lady wishes me a pleasant stay and informs me that one of her colleagues will come to pick me to escort me to the gate at B3 at 07:15, just slightly over one hour from now.

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BOARDING
At Hamad International Airport the gates equipped to handle the A 380 are on two floors. The lower area is obviously for Economy Class passengers, while the upper waiting area is for First and Business Class passengers. There is also a separate desk for premium passengers to enter the holding area. Right behind the desk is a set of stairs and a lift to take you one floor up.

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Once the flight is ready for boarding, the young lady invites me by name to step on board. She escorts me down the airbridge, introduces me to the purser standing at the door welcoming passengers and then bids me goodbye. From a passenger point of view, the experience it is a perfect handover from the ground staff to the cabin crew.

The flight attendant guides me to my seat on 2A, while one of them hangs my jacket in my own clothes locker, the other places the bulkier one of my two bags in the storage compartment at the front of the First Class compartment.

THE CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 2A, window seat on the port side of the aircraft.
Pitch: 80 inches.
Width: 83 inches.
Capacity: 8 seats.
The Qatar Airways First Class seat is not of the closed suite variety that most airlines appear to be adopting these days. Even so, I like the seat very much. I think it looks rather classy. And once the privacy screen is raised after take-off, you really are completed hidden from sight. The seat has been well designed I think, and the storage space is convenient and certainly sufficient. There are no overhead bins in the First Class cabin. However, larger items and bags can be placed under the ottoman. In addition, there is a large storage closet at the front of the cabin. There are two toilets for First Class passengers, located to the left and right of the staircase leading down to the main deck of the aircraft.

Every seat is equipped with a power socket and USB port. Two pillows and a blanket have been placed at every seat before boarding.

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VANITY KIT
The First Class vanity kit is nearly identical to the Business Class one and is also Giorgio Armani branded. The main difference is that the First Class kit includes a small flacon of perfume and a tube of shower gel. Other than that though, it is about as useless as the Business Class kit, especially given that Qatar Airways, unlike Emirates and Etihad, does not have a shower on board.

SERVICE
As in Business Class, the service on the ground begins with a welcome drink, hot towel and a bowl of nibbles.  This is followed by the dates and coffee once the doors are closed.

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 THE MEAL
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
Delivery: Individual delivery.
Service: À la carte, you can dine whenever you please.
Menu:

  • Strawberry and banana smoothie.
  • Fresh fruit
  • Greek yoghurt with strawberry compote and toasted granola with nuts.
  • Buttermilk pancakes with mixed berries, honey and vanilla mascarpone.
  • Selection of bread and pastries with butter and marmalade.
  • Tea and coffee.
  • Valrhona chocolates.

The timing of the first service is very good, it is not rushed and there is a enough time between the individual dishes. The smoothie is very tasty, so when the cabin attendant asks me if I would like another, I give an enthusiastic ‘yes’!

The pancakes are very tasty, but also very sweet. I think I might end up falling into a sugar coma! Strangely enough, I had a very similar meal in Singapore Airlines Business Class recently on my way to Brazil.

I had an early start this morning. So once the table is cleared away, one of the flight attendants turns my seat into a bed and raises the privacy screen for me.

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SECOND SERVICE
Menu:

  • Smocked halibut with mackerel rillettes.
  • Paneer tava tikki with chilli potato wedges, saffron upma and sambhar.
  • Selection from the breadbasket with butter and olive oil with balsamic vinegar.
  • Chocolate dessert with a lemon éclair.
  • Tea or coffee.

By the time I resurface, we are only ninety minutes out of Paris. One of the cabin crew asks me if there is anything I would like before we land, so I decide to go with the fish and then the Indian main dish. Both dishes are very spicy. Qatar Airways’ catering is not shy with the spices and puts a decent zing in the Indian dishes, but without blowing the top of your head off.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually the flight draws to an end and we start our descent into Paris. I rather liked the countryside in Saudi with its immensity. Even so, I must confess I am rather glad to be back in Europe with its familiar climate and lush green vegetation.

Terminal 1 is very quiet when we land and there are only four other aircraft parked at the satellites.

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Qatar Airways, First Class – Airbus A 330-200: Riyadh to Doha

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Date: 10 March 2016
Departure: 04:15
Arrival: 05:00
Flight time: 45 minutes
Seat: 3J, aisle on the starboard side of the aircraft.

INTRODUCTION
The course in Riyadh has gone well and we managed to finish one day ahead of schedule. A quick mail to my travel agent and I am booked to return home one day earlier than expected. Cool!

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Private car provided by the hotel.
Journey time: Around 30 minutes, depending on the traffic situation and your driver’s sanity.
Departs from: Doubletree Hotel by Hilton in al-Muroj.
Arrives: Riyadh King Khaled International Airport.
My flight will be leaving at 04:00 in the morning, so I guess it is best if I check out of the hotel at 01:30 to arrive at the airport at around 02:00, two hours prior to departure.

The traffic in Riyadh is interesting. There are definitely not as many cars here as you see in Dubai for example, so you rarely get the kind of clogged up traffic jams where nothing moves anymore. Even so, the Saudis have an ‘interesting’ style of driving, to say the least. Essentially, their motto is to do what ever you like on road, just as long as you can solve it by honking your horn. Repeatedly.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 1, counters 118 – 121.
Counters: Three Economy Class counters and one Business Class counter.
Facilities: Only airport check-in available.
Check-in is a huge mess. There is only one person ahead of me but he is travelling with eleven heavy suitcases of luggage. The problem is that the luggage belt is having difficulties dealing with the copious amounts of luggage passengers are checking in. So the belt keeps stopping to let other pieces from other counters pass. Eventually, it takes no less than 45 minutes to process the eleven suitcases and that is still a lot faster than the crawling Economy Class lines.

I then head straight for immigration and security, where the queues are surprisingly short and processed in an unexpectedly efficient way.

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THE LOUNGE
Location:
Behind security turn right and right again, there is a set of escalators leading up to the Lounge.
Name: Premier Lounge.
Type of lounge: Contractor lounge.
This is yet another sad excuse for a ‘premium’ lounge. From what I can tell, there is no food available in the lounge. Those dried biscuits do not qualify as food I think. The drinks selection is also somewhat limited and the presentation is positively lousy. I sit down long enough to drink a small bottle of water and then decide to leave the lounge again.

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BOARDING
Boarding starts a whole hour before departure with a first call for Business Class passengers. It is going to be a full flight in Business Class this morning and most of the passengers are looking about as bleary eyed as me.

THE CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2 + 2
Seat: 3AJ, aisle seat on the starboard side of the aircraft.
Capacity: Unfortunately it is dark outside, so I cannot make out if it is an Airbus A 330-200 or a -300 that will be taking me back to Doha tonight. In addition, Qatar Airways operates both types in a number of different configurations.

Despite the configuration, the seat on the A 330 is still fairly private. The seat pairs by the windows point outwards. In addition, the seats are staggered, which means that the aisle seat is slightly further back than the window seat. There is also a large divider between the seats. Every seat is equipped with a power socket and USB port.

A pillow and blanket has been placed at every seat before boarding.

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SERVICE
As usual, the crew is an interesting racial mix of nationalities. There are three female cabin crew working the Business Class cabin – they are from Bulgaria, Zimbabwe and Jordan respectively. All three of them do an excellent job interacting with the passengers, making sure they get settled in for the flight. By the time the crew pass through the cabin taking orders for breakfast, I have already nodded off to sleep. But once we get airborne, the Bulgarian notices I am awake again and comes to ask me if I would like to join for breakfast.

THE MEAL
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
Service: À la carte service.
Delivery: Individual delivery service.
Menu:

  • Avocado and date smoothie.
  • Seasonal fresh fruit.
  • Potato and spinach tikki with fig chutney, za’atar labneh, feta cheese, cucumber, tomato, olives.
  • Tea or coffee.

The flight time to Doha this morning is only 45 minutes. Even so, Qatar Airways provide an extensive service. The trays are brought out individually and the meals are served – in theory – whenever the passenger requests to eat, although of course the options are limited given the short flying time.

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ARRIVAL
I have just finished my last bite of food when the captain comes on the speakers and announces our descent into Doha. Everything happens rather quickly. The crew clean up the cabin in no time and shortly thereafter we are already touching down.

As I exit the aircraft, there is a young lady from Qatar Airways ground handling waiting to escort me to the First Class lounge. Our aircraft is parked at one of the farthest contact stands in the terminal and it is a good 10 minutes walk from there to transfer security.

Qatar Airways, First Class – Boeing B 787-8: Doha to Riyadh

Folie1

Date: 06 March 2016
Departure: 01:20
Arrival: 02:15
Flight time: 55 minutes.
Seat: 3A, window on the port side.

TRANSFER IN DOHA
Behind security I head one floor down to the central airside area. I am always a bit disoriented in Doha. But eventually I do find the escalators leading up to the First Class lounge. Unfortunately though, by this time the departure time for my flight to Riyadh is already quickly approaching and I still have another 15 minutes walk to make it to my departure gate. So I decide to skip the lounge this time. Something to do on the way back, when I have a longer layover in Doha.

BOARDING
Boarding already starts about 45 minutes before departure. By now it is already nearly one in the morning, so I am not complaining.

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THE CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1.
Seat: 3A, window seat on the port side of the aircraft.
Pitch: 80 inches.
Width: 22 inches.
Capacity: 22 seats.
The seat and cabin configuration is the same as on the Airbus A 380. The only difference is that the hull of the aircraft has a narrower diameter, so the cabin feels less cavernous. A pillow and blanket has been placed at every seat before boarding.

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SERVICE
Service begins -as usual – with the distribution of welcome drinks and towels. I go with the lime and mint juice and a cold towel to wake me up. Next come the newspapers. With a flight time of only 55 minutes, no vanity kit or slippers are distributed. Once boarding is completed, the crew will pass through the cabin offering passengers dates and a cup of Arabic coffee.

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THE MEAL
Type of meal:
Midnight snack.
Service: À la carte service.
Delivery: Individual tray service.
Menu:

  • Once more, I forget to take the menu, so I cannot remember the exact name of the dishes I had. All I know is that it was an Indian meal and that the piece of chicken that was served with the dish was warm.
  • Selection of breads.
  • Chocolate dessert.
  • Tea and coffee.
  • Valrhona chocolates.

Qatar Airways’ offering on such a short flight is really quite impressive. What is more, it is quite amazing that they manage to serve all passengers with enough time to spare for them to be able to enjoy the meal.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually the aircraft dips its nose and we start our descent into Riyadh. I am about to arrive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the first time. Much to my surprise, and contrary to all the reports and reviews I had read prior to this trip, immigration is a swift and easy process. There are two channels for foreigners. One is for first time entries into the Kingdom, while the other is for repeated entry passengers. In any case, fifteen minutes after exiting the aircraft I find myself standing outside the terminal looking for a taxi to take my into town.

Oh yes, about that. Sometimes in life it is easiest to just surrender to your faith. The only means of transport to and from the airport is by taxi, and the driver will rip you off.

Qatar Airways, Business Class – Airbus A380: Paris to Doha

Folie1

Date: 05 March 2016
Departure: 15:00
Arrival: 23:25
Flight time: 6h 25 min
Seat: 14A, window on the port side

TRANSFER IN CDG
Transport:
Shuttle bus and automated train.
Journey time: About 15 minutes.
Departs from: Landside.
Arrives: Terminal 1 CDGVAL station.
Fare: Complimentary.
I make my way to the landside exit of Terminal 2G. I do not have my boarding passes for the onward connection yet. The N1 and N2 shuttle busses both run from 2G to 2F, which is  the central complex of Terminal 2. The journey to 2F will take approximately 5 minutes. From the bus stop head one floor down and follow the signs marked CDGVAL, the airport’s automated people mover. It is about a 5 minutes walk. The CDGVAL takes another 5 minutes to make the journey from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 1, Hall 2
Counters: Six Economy Class counters, two Business Class counters, one First Class counter.
Facilities: Qatar Airways has an app that works rather well. However, you cannot add the boarding pass to Passbook and can only print a copy of the boarding pass. There are no self service check-in machines for Qatar Airways at CDG.

There is quite a queue at Economy Class, apparently today’s flight is full, but the Business Class counters are empty when I arrive. A young lady immediately checks me in and issues my boarding passes for the flight to Doha and my onward connection. She also hands me an invitation to the Galaxy lounge. First and Business Class passengers are eligible to use the fast track at CDG, which goes by the name of ‘No 1. Access’. It is highly convenient, given that the queues can be rather long.

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LOUNGE
Name:
Galaxy Lounge.
Type of lounge: Contractor lounge.
Location: In the main building of Terminal 1. Access is via lift.
This is the same lounge Qatar Airways was using the last time I flew with them from Paris last year. Back then though, it was called the Air France Première lounge. Alas, apart from the name nothing much has changed and it is still the same rat hole it was when I last visited. In fact, I open the door to the lounge and I am instantly reminded of how little there is to enjoy in this lounge. So I turn around again and leave. Instead, I head for the satellite from which my flight will be leaving.

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The security check at CDG’s Terminal 1 is done just before you enter the satellite. Here too, premium passengers can avail themselves of the No. 1 Access priority lane, but essentially all this means is that you get to jump to the head of the queue. Behind security I buy myself a sandwich, a chocolate maccaron and a cup of coffee and find myself a quiet seat by the window.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts on time. There is a separate gate for all passengers on the upper deck of the aircraft, so the premium passengers are completely segregated from the riffraff.

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THE CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 14A, window seat on the port side of the aircraft.
Pitch: 80 inches.
Width: 22 inches.
Capacity: 48 seats.
The Business Class seat on the A 380 is very similar to that on the Boeing B 787. The seat offers a lot of privacy because the window seats all point outwards towards the window. Which obviously also means the seat is great for looking out the window. But apart from that, the seats are not aligned in a row. As a result, it becomes pretty impossible to make eye contact with anybody, unless you really, really want to. And there is ample storage space, even for larger items like a laptop, iPad or Kindle. The cabin has a very spacious and airy feel. Every seat is equipped with a power socket and USB port.

A pillow and blanket has been placed at every seat before boarding.

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VANITY KIT
The Qatar Airways Business Class vanity kit is branded by Giorgio Armani. It features a lot of pretty useless items and lacks a lot useful ones. There are socks, earplugs and eye shades, but there is no toothbrush and no comb or brush and no shoe horn. Instead, there is a fairly large tube of Giorgio Armani moisturizer. Toothbrushes are available though in the toilets. They come with Colgate toothpaste.

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SERVICE
Service begins, as usual on Qatar Airways, with the distribution of welcome drinks and towels. Every passenger has a choice between a hot or cold rose scented towel. To drink I go with the lime and mint juice, which is very sweet but very refreshing too. Next come the newspaper and then finally the vanity kit. Once boarding is completed, the crew will pass through the cabin offering passengers dates and a cup of Arabic coffee, which is very tasty as well, as long as you like cardamom – otherwise steer clear!

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The amazing thing about the service on Qatar Airways is that it is highly predictable, it is always the same and you always know exactly what to expect.

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After take-off, there is a drinks service. I have a Coke Zero and a ramekin of warm nuts to go with that.

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THE MEAL
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Service: À la carte service.
Delivery: Individual tray service.
Menu:

  • Smoked haddock on a bed of rocket salad with peas.
  • An Indian dish, the name of which I cannot remember. But it was certainly very tasty.
  • Strawberry frangipan tart with vanilla mascarpone and raspberry coulis.
  • Selection of breads.
  • Tea and coffee.
  • Valrhona chocolates.

On mid-haul flights Qatar Airways only offers one service in Business Class, which is perfectly adequate for a flight with a duration of around six hours. However, should you feel hungry at any point during the flight, they do have small snacks. There is also the large bar area in between the Business Class section and the Economy Class mini cabin on the upper deck, where they serve drinks and canapés.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually we start our descent into Doha. Our routing takes us right over the downtown area and due south of the airfield on the downwind. As we begin a series of turns to line up with the runway, it becomes quite apparent that we are reaching Doha in the middle of its late night arrival bank. There are flashing lights of other aircraft all around us in the air.

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By the time we reach our parking stand and I alight from the aircraft, I only have an hour or so to make my connection. I make the long trek to security, which is crawling with people that have just arrived on all those other aircraft we could see in the air. Fortunately, there is a dedicated line for premium passengers and despite the chaos, the line moves quickly.

Qatar Airways, First Class – Airbus A 380: Doha to Bangkok

Folie11Folie1 INTRODUCTION

The ground attendant who picked me up from the Paris flight makes sure I am comfortable in the lounge before she bids me goodbye. She reminds me that she will be coming back to escort me to the aircraft at 01h15 for a 01h50 departure to Bangkok.

LOUNGE
Location:
One floor up from the arrivals and transit security level.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated Qatar Airways Al-Mourjan Business Class lounge. Facilities: À la carte and buffet restaurant one floor up from the main lounge area, bistro style restaurant on the main level, drinks and snack stations are available throughout the lounge; washrooms and showers are available, but you need to make an appointment for the showers.
Internet:
Free wifi is available throughout the entire lounge. The opening of the Qatar Airways First Class lounge is a long and complicated saga. Originally, it should have opened last April, at least that was the last date that was given for the opening, and even that had been moved a couple of times. I am not quite sure what the hold up is. In a way it is not really that important, given that Qatar Airways’ Business Class lounge puts many First Class lounges of other carriers to shame.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Available. The gate is on two levels. There is a separate waiting area for First and Business Class passengers on the upper level. To this end, premium passengers enter the lounge through a separate entrance, which leads straight to the stairs and lift to the upper level. At 01h15 the ground attendant returns to the lounge to pick me up. It is about five minutes from the lounge to the departure gate. She takes my boarding pass and passport and escorts me to the entrance of the aircraft, where she hands me over to the inflight service manager. Like the previous flight, tonight’s flight to Bangkok will be full. IMG_8370

CABIN
I am sitting on 2A, which is the first row in front of the galley. Initially I was a bit concerned it may be a bit noisy here, but in actual fact I am able to sleep perfectly and do not not hear a thing all night. A more detailed description of the cabin and seat can be found in my previous post. However, I manage to take some more photos before the other passengers on my row appear.

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SERVICE The crew on this flight are even friendlier than the ones on the previous flight. I like the way they interact with the passengers. They are chatty and personable but still leave passengers their space.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Lime and mint juice with a ramekin of warm nuts.
Hot towel before the meal: Hot rose scented towel (I know M., …)
Type of meal:
Breakfast.
Meal:

  • Fresh orange juice.
  • Cappuccino
  • Greek yoghurt with peach compote and toasted granola.
  • Scrambled egg with a small piece of steak, Portobello mushrooms, hash brown.

By the time we push back from the gate, it is already gone two o’clock. The flight time is announced as six hours and twenty minutes. So instead of indulging in another full meal, I decide to sleep instead. Before departure one of the crew comes to ask me if she should wake me for breakfast and to take my order for the meal.

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Later on, as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, she returns and makes up my bed for the night while I head for the bathroom to change. On night flights Qatar Airways will provide a Missoni pyjama and slippers. Basically, there are two sizes for the pjs – S/M and L/XL. The same goes for the slippers, although they are very comfortable.

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In any case, again the meal is very tasty and hits the spot nicely. It is not a full size meal but for me it is perfectly adequate.

ARRIVAL
Despite the departure delay, we still manage to arrive in Bangkok more or less on time. The Emirates A380 has landed ahead of us, and for one horrible moment I am afraid this will mean chaos at immigration. But fortunately, that is not at all the case and even though I need a visa on arrival, I am out through immigration in no time.

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GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Rolls-Royce sent by the hotel.
Departs from: Arrivals level at the airport.
Journey time: About 45 minutes, depending on the traffic. Once I have cleared immigration, I pass through customs and then proceed to gate B, which is located near carousel number 12. As I exit, the driver from the Peninsula is already expecting me. He takes my luggage and walks me to where the Rolls is already waiting.

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Qatar Airways, First Class – Airbus A 380: Paris-Roissy to Doha

Folie10Folie1

INTRODUCTION
This is where the fun starts. I must say, since my trip to Singapore with Qatar Airways in June I have become quite a fan. Back in June I was certainly impressed by the quality of Qatar’s Business Class product, which only left me wondering what they could possibly offer with their new First Class product on the A380 that could top their Business Class. Time to find out, me thinks.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
RoissyVal – automated shuttle train.
Departs from: Roissypôle station, which serves Terminal 3. The CitizenM is two minutes away on foot.
Journey time: Roughly five minutes, the shuttle makes an intermediary stop at the long-term car park on its way to Terminal 1.
Fare: Complimentary.

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CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 1, Hall 2.
Facilities: Airport check-in, Web check-in.
Counters: There are seven Economy Class counters, one counter for Qatar Airways status card holders, two Business Class counters, one First Class counter and a supervisor’s desk.

Check-in is swift and efficient. Fortunately, there is no queue for the First Class counters. The agent issues my boarding pass for the flight to Doha and for my connecting flight, hands me a lounge invitation and sends me on my way. There is nothing overly First Class about the transaction, but that is okay.

The boarding pass is marked with Accès No 1, which is the dedicated fast track for immigration and security later on. And thank God for that because the ‘normal’ queue for immigration is endless.

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LOUNGE
Location:
The lounge is located behind immigration. To access the lounge, there are lifts at the very back of the duty free area. So far back that you are likely to miss the lifts if you are not paying attention. The Air France lounge is on the tenth floor.
Type of Lounge:
Air France Premier Salon. An invitation card is required to access the lounge.
Facilities:
None actually, loos are outside.
Catering: None either. There is s small bar with biscuits, Jacob’s crackers, instant noodle soup and some really sad looking sandwiches which taste of something indistinguishable but should be tuna. I think.
Internet:
Apparently free wifi is available, but I would not know because both my iPhone and my MacBook Air are unable to pick up a signal.

The lounge – no offence – really sucks. There is no other way to put it and I really cannot for the life of me imagine what is supposed to be First Class about it. I am aware of the fact that space is limited in Terminal 1 and the facility is difficult to expand. But it is not just that. Basically the Lounge looks like some sad, rundown hotel lobby from before I was born.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
Theoretically there are two separate gates for this flight, one for the upper deck and another for the lower deck.

About an hour before departure I decide it is time to head for the gate. I mean, it is not exactly as though I will be missing anything much in the lounge… Security is swift, thanks to the Accès No 1 priority lane.

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Behind security though, the place is a mess. Quite simply, the satellites at Terminal 1 are way too small to accommodate an aircraft the size of the A380. The place is crawling with people and there is really no getting through. Eventually, there is even a gate change due to the fact that there is a United Airlines aircraft parked to our left and security will not allow the Qatar Airways passengers to walk past the entrance to the airbridge for that flight. And that is when chaos ensues. So in the sum of all things, yes there should be priority boarding, but there is not on this occasion. To be fair though, I should add that none of this is really any of Qatar Airways’ fault.

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CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Seat: I am sitting on 1A, which is the window seat on the left side of the aircraft. There are eight seats in total, all of which are 180 degrees lie flats. The seat is not necessarily as private as the Emirates seat or the Thai Airways A380 suite, but it is certainly much classier and very elegantly appointed. The only downside, from what I can tell, is that there does not appear to be a lot of storage space for items you may need during the flight. Other than that, small items of hand luggage can be placed under the footrest. For larger items there is a cupboard in front of the First Class cabin. Alternatively, every seat comes with its own closet behind the television screen, which offers enough space to hang some clothes and place a few items of hand luggage. Qatar Airways has installed the First Class cabin on the upper deck, ahead of the Business Class cabin. The lower deck is Economy Class only.
Pitch: 83 inches.
Width: 23 inches.
Facilities: AC power outlets and USB ports are available at every individual seat in all cabin classes; wifi is also available on board and free of charge for First Class passengers.
Length as a bed: 83 inches.
Audio and Video: Audio and Video on Demand. There is a large selection of films, television programmes and music to choose from, with a good mix of new releases and some classics.
Toilets: There are two toilets for eight passenger in First Class, which are located on either side of the stairs leading to the lower deck. There are fresh roses and even real orchids in the toilet. Cosmetics are provided by Rituals.

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SERVICE
As I step aboard, I am greeted by the inflight service manager, who immediately calls for one of the flight attendants to show me the way and help me get settled in my seat. Another flight attendant appears and asks me if there is anything I would like to drink and whether I would prefer a hot or a cold towel. She disappears and shortly after yet another flight attendant appears with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, a ramekin with nuts and a rose scented hot towel (According to the valiant M., rose scent if for old ladies. And while I must concede that he does have point, I must also admit the towel is very refreshing…). A bit later on, two new cabin crew appear offering the traditional Arabic welcome of coffee and dates. I do not have a date but the coffee is excellent, with a subtle hint of cardamom.

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At some point I stop counting how many crew there are up front. Somehow it is always somebody else who serves me.

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AMENITIES
The amenity kit is in the closet of my seat. There are different kits for men and women. The kit for men contains:

  • Socks.
  • Eye shades.
  • Ear plugs.
  • Lip balm.
  • Armani Acqua di Gio perfume.
  • Armani Acqua di Gio aftershave balm.
  • Armani Acqua di Gio energising lotion.

Shaving kits and toothbrushes are available in the toilets.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice with nuts.
Hot towel before the meal: Rose scented hot or cold towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Fruity fizz mocktail – a refreshing balance of apple, cranberry and lime.
Choice:
There are four choices for the starter and one soup, plus four choices for the main, a cheese platter and four choices for dessert. It rarely happens to me but on this flight I am really lost for what to choose because all the dishes sound rather tasty.
Delivery:
À la carte dining is available throughout the flight.
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Menu:
There is a separate menu for the wines. But I do not drink much anyway and rarely on a plane.
Meal:

  • Amuse bouche of fig with cream cheese and a date filled with almond flakes and walnut paste.
  • A selection of bread with butter and olive oil with lemon vinegar.
  • Carrot and cumin soup with spices almond flakes and lemon crème fraîche.
  • Smoked mackerel and spring onion potato cake with garden peas, asparagus, sun dried tomato salad and horseradish dressing.
  • Kerala style chicken Korma with chilli potatoes, onion and pine nut pilaf rice, cashew nuts and coriander rice with edamame beans and carrot stir-fry.
  • Warm dark chocolate and walnut tart with raspberries and crème fraîche ice cream.
  • Green tea with mint, served with honey.
  • Still water with the meal.

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What can I say? The meal is truly excellent. But it is not just the taste, the presentation of the food is also very nice and every dish looks as though it was assembled individually.

The soup and the dessert are definitely the highlights of the meal. The soup has a nice tangy flavour and the spices really bring out the taste of the carrot. As for the warm tart, that simply tastes of heaven.

ARRIVAL
The rest of the flight passes quickly. About an hour before we land in Doha, one of the flight attendants drops by and asks me if there is anything else I would like to eat before we land. But I am still full from the lunch and just have a cappuccino to wake me up.

TRANSFER IN DOHA
We land with a delay of about thirty minutes. As I exit the aircraft, there is a ground attendant expecting me to escort me through security and to the lounge. She advises me that she will return to pick me up when it is time for boarding.

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