Good Advice Tried and Tested

Qatar Airways A340-600 business class

04/10/2012

CHECK-IN I checked in on Qatar Airways’ website the day before for flight QR002. (The service is available for most flights 36 hours before departure.)  Strangely, the seat-selection option brought up a seat plan different from the one on the Qatar website, which shows a 2-2-2 (A-B, E-F, J-K) configuration on board the three-class A340-600 with rows ten to 15 in the main business class cabin and rows 16 and 17 between the galley and the economy class section. I chose seat 14A. To view a detailed seatplan of this aircraft click here.

I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 at 1900 for my 2030 departure and dropped my bag off at the business class check-in in Zone F. I was given a pass for the Cathay Pacific business class lounge (signposted Lounge A airside), and after using fast-track security, went through to the lounge.

THE LOUNGE I was told the flights were called, but seeing on the electronic board that the flight was closing, I had a quick snack and walked to Gate 35, which is a good 15-minute stroll from the main shopping area – something to bear in mind if you are thinking about buying heavy duty-free. Once there, I was able to board immediately.

BOARDING My jacket was taken and I was offered a choice of drinks, including two types of champagne – a rosé and a Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé 1999. The menu arrived before take-off in a large leather folder, as did an Aigner amenity bag and sleep-suit bag. When I opened this, I found it only had a top in it. I was told that business class passengers only get a top, and first class get the whole suit, which I said seemed bizarre, and so a minute later they came back with a full suit. I was also impressed that the flight crew started the entertainment before take-off, even though there was no delay, so it meant I was already watching a film as we taxied onto the runway. The IFE system is a good, stop/start AVOD system, although one that doesn’t come with instructions, so I had to ask the flight attendant how it worked.

THE SEAT Qatar’s business class product on this aircraft is an angled lie-flat rather than fully-flat seat, with a pitch of 156cm/61.5in and a width of 5cm/19.5in. (For a review of the carrier's new fully-flat business class product on its B777-300ER aircraft, click here.) There is in-seat power and a good-sized table so it is possible to work throughout the flight, although this being a night flight (and a short one at that) I was anxious to get to sleep as soon as possible since we would be landing in the middle of the night UK time (around 6am local time).

If you want to sleep without being disturbed, then window seats (A and K) are best since in B and J you might have someone climbing over you. Seats E and F allow you to have unimpeded access to the aisle but lack privacy. Avoid row ten because of its proximity to the washroom and galley, which can be noisy, plus you miss out on storage space as there are no seats in front. Some flyers like rows 16 and 17 in the small cabin but there is the potential for being disturbed by noise from the galley.

THE FLIGHT I should have gone straight to sleep but it was still evening, so I had the dinner service. This started with a “palate pleaser” of English pickled onion, stuffed vine leaves and kalamata olives. This was followed by a classic Arabic meze, then a main course (there were three choices) of baked chicken in cinnamon coating with Iranian sauce.

Accompanying the meal was a selection of wines including Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé 1999 and a rosé champagne (not listed on the menu). White wines were Bouchard Père et Fils, Premier Cru Beaune du Château, 2008; Saint Clair Pioneer Block 18, New Zealand sauvignon blanc; and a Riesling Kabinett, 2006, Doctor Bernkasteler from Mosel, Germany. Red wines were Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, 2002, 5th Grand Cru Classé; Pauillac Poggio Antico DOCG Brunello di Montalcino; and a 2004, Hollick Australian shiraz.

The cabin was almost full but the staff were excellent, spending time with each passenger to make sure they were enjoying the flight. Finally, there was dessert, and tea and coffee, although at this point I decided to recline the seat and fall asleep.

The bed was comfortable although not fully-flat, with the arms of the seat lowering to create more width as it reclines. I had no one next to me so there was little chance of being disturbed, but after only two hours there was an announcement saying that we were beginning our descent into Doha, strong winds having helped our progress.

ARRIVAL There was time for a quick wash and a glass of orange juice before we landed around 35 minutes early at 0530. Business class passengers had priority on disembarkation and we took a bus to immigration, which was quick, yet our luggage still beat us and was waiting on the carousel.

VERDICT Hard to fault. The seat is angled lie-flat rather than fully-flat, but on a sector which averages five to seven hours depending on winds and direction (Doha to London is slower), it is perfectly possible to sleep for the whole journey if you are tired. The staff are very good, and cheerful, perhaps because the airline is expanding even in the current economic climate, or perhaps because they are simply well trained and motivated.

CONTACT qatarairways.com.

Tom Otley