Good Advice Tried and Tested

Qatar Airways A320 business class

04/10/2012

CHECK-IN As I was transferring through Doha from London, I was already checked in for my onward journey, which was to be Qatar Airways’ inaugural flight (QR29) between Doha and the Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) at 1940. As my plane had landed at 1630, I had a few hours’ wait in the business class lounge in the Premium Terminal before my connection. (For a review of the London Heathrow to Doha leg click here.)

THE LOUNGE I was escorted to the lounge by a Qatar Airways concierge at 1645, and after a glass of sparkling mineral water, I headed to the washrooms for a shower. The facilities are impressive, with marble walk-in rainshowers, L’Occitane toiletries and towels provided.

I spent the remainder of my time working on my laptop on one of the many comfortable cream leather armchairs near the floor-to-ceiling windows facing the runway. There is waiter service, and once I was finished, I ordered a glass of champagne, which came with a small dish of nuts.

The lounge offers everything a business traveller could need – from plenty of power sockets, free wifi, members of staff who regularly come around informing passengers of the next flights that are boarding, a good selection of newspapers, free self-service bars with spirits, beer, wine and soft drinks, and two dining areas where buffets are laid out at set times throughout the day.

Dinner was served at 1800 and I helped myself to a selection of cold items including hummus, pitta bread, tuna and potato salad, green leaves and aubergine dip, all of which were delicious and of good quality. 

BOARDING At 1920 a member of staff came to inform me that it was time to board the aircraft and took me downstairs to the gate where my boarding pass was scanned and I was ushered straight on to a waiting shuttle bus. After a short drive my fellow business class passengers and I stepped out and walked a few paces across the tarmac to a set of steps leading up to the front of the plane. I was welcomed on board by smiling crew and in my seat by 1930. 

THE SEAT This new A320 is configured with four rows of business class seating (2-2/A-C, D-F) and 21 rows of economy (no row 13) in a 3-3 (A-B-C, D-E-F) layout. (Note that the airline describes the product as “first class” but sells it as business.) The cradle-style seat was very clean and comfortable, with lumbar support, power ports and a 10.5-inch touchscreen in-flight entertainment (IFE) display that comes out of the armrest in the middle. (There was also a remote, which I preferred to use.) Pillows, blankets, noise-cancelling headphones and newspapers were all provided. There were no amenity kits but toothbrushes and paste, and Molton Brown moisturiser was available in the washroom.  

I was lucky enough to find that the seat next to me was free (I was in 2A) so had extra space to spread out in. I also discovered, thanks to an informative video presentation, that the aircraft was equipped with Onair Mobile connectivity. So for the first time I was able to switch my phone on once at cruising altitude and send text and picture messages to friends on the ground back in the UK. It was also supposed to allow internet access and although I tried to send an email it didn’t appear to have sent until I was on the ground. When I tried to access Twitter it did not work. The sending and receiving of SMSs was pretty instantaneous though. It is not possible to make voice calls and charges are billed by your network provider according to its roaming rates. The service is only available on Qatar’s new single-aisle planes.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? All seats in business are pretty much the same, although I would opt for one in row two as you can store belongings under the seat in front and don’t have to wait too long to be served. Row one might be preferable to taller passengers, though, as feels more spacious as there are no seats in front.

THE FLIGHT Champagne (Lanson Gold Label brut vintage 1998), juice, water, Arabic newspapers and hot and cold towels were offered to business class passengers at 1940, and drinks orders were noted down for once we were airborne. The plane pushed back at 1945 and took off shortly after.

Dinner was served at 2055. There was a good selection of options but I went for the deep-fried Camembert and blue cheese with chutney and salad, which was restaurant quality and served on a china plate with proper metal cutlery. For my main I ordered vegetable biryani with gobi masala, channa doodi and basmati rice. This was presented attractively, full of flavour, cooked well and came with chapatti bread and optional condiments such as sweet mango chutney and mixed pickle.

Other main courses included mushroom and coriander filled chicken with sumac and olive sauce, and prawn curry. An assortment of warm bread came as standard, and dessert was of gulab jamun tart with orange mascarpone and raspberry coulis, but this was too sweet for me. I enjoyed a very good glass of Brunello di Montalcino with the meal and a mug of fresh mint tea to finish.

The flight was reasonably short, at about five hours, but I had time to watch a movie and get a little bit of sleep before being woken for a cup of tea and packet of shortbread at 2315.

ARRIVAL The plane started its descent at 0045 Landing at 0100 (0330 local time). Business class passengers were disembarked quickly and efficiently before being bussed to the terminal. Immigration was also speedy as I was one of the first on the ground. I handed over my completed arrivals card and my visa was checked. Once landside, it was unfortunate that I then had to wait about 35 minutes for my suitcase to appear, despite the fact that it was priority tagged.

VERDICT A very nice new plane with top-class service from the cabin crew. It was a bonus to be able to try out the airline’s Onair Mobile service, which allowed me to successfully send SMS and MMS messages. The food and beverage options were also excellent.

FACT FILE

PLANE TYPE A320

SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2

SEAT PITCH 45in/114cm

SEAT WIDTH 20.5in/52cm

SEAT RECLINE 12in/30.5cm

PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Doha in October started from £2,450.

CONTACT qatarairways.com

Jenny Southan