Good Advice Tried and Tested

Qatar Airways A340-600 business class

04/10/2012

CHECK-IN I checked in online the morning of my day of departure for flight QR0002 at 2030 from London Heathrow to Doha with Qatar Airways. About two thirds of the business class cabin was full when it came to choosing my seat and, as I wanted a window, I opted for 11K. I then printed my boarding pass.

I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 at 1800, which was very crowded on this Friday evening, and headed straight for the business class desk (E7) almost directly in front of the entrance in Zone E. (There were four economy class desks around the corner – E20-25 – two of which were for passengers who had checked in online and wanted to drop their bags off.)

The man ahead of me was taking a long time to be processed, and it was rather chaotic as baggage handlers were loading bags on to a conveyor belt behind the desk. After a ten-minute wait, I dropped my bag off at the first class desk (E6), and was issued with a new boarding pass and an invitation to the Cathay Pacific business class lounge (A).

Upstairs, I joined the queue for fast-track security, where I waited for about 15 minutes to get through. (Laptops out, belts off, boots but not shoes off.) Once through passport control by duty-free, I changed some money at Travelex and stopped off at Boots on my way to the lounge.

THE LOUNGE Qatar Airways is currently using the Cathay Pacific Oneworld lounge, which is accessed via a series of narrow corridors and then up in a small lift to level two, making it quite hidden away. I was told that a new Cathay Pacific Oneworld lounge would be opening in spring. (Cathay Pacific’s first class facility is to the right and business class is to the left. The facilities are open 0830-2200.)

The business lounge, which was pretty busy when I was there, has three separate seating areas with chunky armchairs and square coffee tables, a room with eight PC workstations, a couple of phone booths, a shelf with international newspapers, free wifi (password is “X8X”) and three showers. There is no natural daylight. Flatscreen TVs showed BBC News 24 and departure boards were on view in the main seating area.

A refreshment area was stocked with a few bottles of spirits, tea and coffee, cans of juice, Coke, beer and wine. Ice came from a dispenser but it was in little chunks, which meant it was difficult to drink your drink without getting a mouth full of it at the same time (there were no straws). The food was as disappointing as the last time I was there – in addition to cup noodles, small bowls of nuts, crackers and plastic packets of cheese, there were a few trays of very stale and old-looking sandwiches on cheap sliced bread.

I helped myself to a packet of Kettle chips and a gin and tonic, and sat down to read the paper. At 1915 I noticed that my flight was boarding from Gate 20. When I next checked the screens at 1930, the flight was on its final call, so I quickly grabbed my bags and headed down into the terminal area and briskly walked to the gate ten minutes away.

BOARDING Once I arrived, I found there was a queue of about 15 people at the desks where passports and boarding passes were being checked before entering a large, crowded, waiting area. No one had started boarding. Boarding actually began at 1950, with business and first class passengers given priority. I fought my way through the queue of economy class passengers and entered the plane via and airbridge where, again, there was a bit of a wait.

Once on board, I was shown to my seat by a very polite and welcoming member of the crew who put my luggage and coat in an overhead bin and offered me a choice of water, orange juice or champagne. I accepted a glass of water and one of the bubbly, but this took about 15 minutes to get to me, and when it did, it was close to room temperature, so not as chilled as I would have liked. Newspapers were given to those who asked.

THE SEAT The twin-aisle A340-600 on this route is in a three-class layout with rows one to four assigned to first class (1-2-1), ten to 17 for business class (there is no row 13), and economy in rows 22 to 49 (2-4-2).

The light grey, fixed-shell business class seats, upholstered in burgundy fabric, are configured 2-2-2 (A-B, E-F, J-K). Only Qatar’s fleet of B777s have the new fully flat business product, so on this flight I had experienced its older angled-lie flat version, which has a pitch of 60-61 inches, a width of 20 inches and a recline of 65 degrees.

The in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen is 15 inches across, so a pretty decent size, and offers audio-video on-demand (AVOD). There was a good selection of films and TV shows including shorts and world cinema, eight newer “premier” films, about 30 “did you miss?” movies and eight “classics”. (Visit qatarairways.com for a list of films showing on your flight.)

There is EU and US in-seat power, lumbar support, an ineffective massage function, individual reading lights, and a slot under the screen for magazines and menus (in Arabic and English), plus a set of noise-cancelling headphones, and an IFE remote/telephone in the arm of the seat.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? I was in 11K, which was a standard forward-facing business class seat by a window. The only disadvantage of choosing a window seat is that if the person next to you has fully reclined their seat, you have to climb over them to get access to the aisle.

Seats B, E-F and J all offer direct aisle access, while seats in row ten have a little extra legroom as are behind the bulkhead. There are wall-mounted IFE screens here, as well as monitors that come out of the arms of the seats.

Row 17 is directly in front of economy so may suffer from some disturbance, and row 16 and 15 are closest to the galley and washrooms, so may also be a bit noisy if you are trying to sleep. However, some people like the more private feel rows 16 and 17 have in the “mini cabin”.

THE FLIGHT On this night flight, Qatar provided a soft, cotton-backed, acrylic blanket, grey tracksuit-style pyjamas (not particularly flattering), an eye mask and socks, and small Molton Brown amenity kit containing a hairbrush, earplugs, two types of moisturizer, eau de toilette, and lip salve. It was a shame there was no toothbrush and paste, however.

At 2040 the captain informed passengers that there would be a slight delay as the plane needed to be de-iced, and because of this they would need to turn the air conditioning off for 15 minutes. During this time, the crew came around to take dinner orders, handed out hot towels and collected empty glasses. Take-off was at 2115, 45 minutes late. 

At 1015, an appetiser of dates stuffed with cream cheese (delicious) was presented – the gentleman next to me also requested some mixed nuts to go alongside his aperitif, which they were happy to supply. At 1030, the tables – which slid out easily from a panel in the side of the middle armrest – were laid with a white cotton cloth, salt and pepper in china shakers, metal cutlery and a china bowl with a selection of soft, freshly baked breads including sun-dried tomato and seeded. (A very nice touch, I thought.)

Dinner was served at 1100. I had pre-ordered a vegetarian meal, and there were two meat-free starters and a main on the menu to choose from. I went for the classic Arabic mezze to start – hummous, salad, pitta, olives – and the Indian-style onion and cashew fritters with yellow dhal, pilaf of carrot and greens peas with baby okra for the main. Both these dishes were excellent, and presented attractively on white china dishes.

Other options on the menu included aubergine cream soup with aged Parmesan crusties or seafood cocktail to start, followed by seafood medley in rich saffron broth with steamed rice and vegetables or char-grilled chicken breast with lemon and thyme glaze, polenta ratatouille, and roasted baby vegetables.

The wine list consisted of one champagne – Lanson Brut Millésimé 1998, three whites – a 2006 Meursault chardonnay, Charton et Trébuchet from Burgundy, France, a 2008 Saint Clair Pioneer Block 18 sauvignon blanc from Marlborough New Zealand (a deliciously zesty number with a hint of pink grapefruit), and a 2008 riesling Kabinett Dr Loosen, Urziger Wurzgarten from Mosel, Germany.

The reds were – a 2003 Poggio Antico DOCG Altero Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany, Italy, and a 2006 Knappstein shiraz from Clare Valley, Australia. The port was Taylor’s 20-Year-Old Tawny.

For dessert, there was a cheese plate, warm cherry frangipani with honey cream, forest berries with vanilla and strawberry ice cream, and sliced fresh fruit. A good selection of coffees (cappuccino, espresso, café latte, macchiato, American) and teas (Earl Grey, English breakfast, green, mint, camomile) were also available.

After watching a movie, I slept for a couple of hours before being woken by the lights coming on and being informed that we were making our descent into Doha at 0245. A light continental breakfast was provided on-request before landing, although I wasn’t hungry so didn’t ask for it. However, I was extremely thirsty when I woke up, so asked a member of the crew for some water. There were no small bottles left but, after a 15-minute wait, I was provided with a litre-bottle of Evian.

During the descent, my right ear seemed to be suffering from the change in pressure – the first time this has ever happened. And for the remaining 30 minutes before landing, I was in quite some pain. Fortunately this subsided once we landed.

ARRIVAL The flight touched down at 0630 local time and we were promptly dismembarked via steps to the tarmac where a shuttle bus was waiting. This drove a short distance to the Premium terminal where I was met by a representative of Al Maha Meet and Greet service who took me to the front of the immigration queue, assisted with the purchase of my visa (QR 100/£17), waited with me while I waited for my luggage to arrive (this took about ten minutes), and then ushered me to the arrivals area where my driver met me.

VERDICT A decent business class flight with excellent food and drink, friendly crew and very helpful meet and greet service on arrival at Doha International airport. (Visit dohaairport.com to book this service.)

PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Doha started from £2,494 in February.

CONTACT qatarairways.com

Jenny Southan