Good Advice Tried and Tested

Qatar Airways A340-600 business class

04/10/2012

CHECK-IN Flight QR11 from Doha to London Heathrow was departing at 0735 on this Monday morning, so I checked in online the night before, and chose window seat 11A. As I was in my hotel room and had no direct access to a printer, I thought I would try getting my boarding pass sent to my mobile. However, it didn’t work as the website automatically prefixed my mobile number with the Qatari dial code.

The next morning I was driven to the Premium terminal for first and business class passengers, which is located about fives minutes away from the Sharq Village and Spa, where I was staying. When I arrived at 0540 the terminal was empty, so I went straight to the business class check-in desk where I dropped my suitcase off and was issued with a boarding pass.

I then went through security, which was a mere formality and nothing like the chaotic procedure I encountered at Heathrow on the way out. It was a single gate with two friendly staff on the other side – I simply put my laptop (still in the bag) and coat on the conveyor belt and stepped through the metal detector. The whole process took less than ten seconds.

Once airside, I made a couple of purchases in duty-free, and then took the escalators up to the business class lounge – a member of staff greeted me at the top, checked my boarding pass and directed me left towards the facility. (First class passengers turn right to gain access to their lounge.)

THE LOUNGE There was no reception desk in the lounge, so I went straight in and had a wander around. It is a large venue with plenty of seating, several fridges stocked with soft drinks (no alcohol is available) and two self-service dining areas, one on each side.

When I arrived, breakfast was being served and there was a range of hot dishes including scrambled eggs, omelettes, baked beans, fried tomatoes, mushrooms and sausages, plus toast, rolls, cheese, cold meats and cereals. Once seated, a waiter asked if I wanted anything to drink – I ordered a cappuccino and a fresh orange juice, and then went up to help myself to some food. Unfortunately, when it came to eating it, I discovered that it was almost cold so can’t have been very hot in the first place.

The lounge is well staffed, with plenty of people clearing tables and walking about informing people of flight departures. However, I thought this was a bit unnecessary as overhead announcements would have been a better use of manpower – plus it was not very relaxing, and there were enough display screens dotted around to keep your eye on. Saying that, it was nice to know you could talk to them if you had any questions about your flight.

Wifi is free throughout, although when I tried to get online it was so slow I could barely get a connection. Other features included two smoking rooms, newspapers, a Playstation room, three PC workstations, showers and floor-to-ceiling windows.

BOARDING The departure screens in the lounge didn’t show gate numbers, just the flight status, so when I noticed mine had started boarding at 0720 (a little late, as I had been warned at check-in), I just headed back downstairs to where the I knew the gates were. From here, I was ushered through passport control and on to a shuttle bus that took first and business passengers to the aircraft.

The plane was accessed via steps up from the tarmac, and once on board at 0745, I was greeted by a member of the crew who seemed genuinely pleased and surprised to see me – she said she remembered me from the outbound flight a couple of days previously (click here to read the review). Coats were then taken, and water, orange juice and lemon juice with mint were offered.

As with the outbound flight, amenity kits (containing an eye mask, socks, hairbrush, earplugs, two types of Molton Brown moisturizer, eau de toilette and lip salve) were placed on the seats, but as this was a daytime flight, pyjamas were not given out. Newpapers including The New York Times were available.

The captain came on at 0800 to inform us that the flight would be six hours, 45 minutes, and apologised for the late departure. The man next to me then moved to another seat as there were quite a few free, which meant I had plenty of space to spread out in. Breakfast orders were taken at 0820 (I had pre-ordered the vegetarian option) and hot towels handed out. We finally pushed back at 0845, taking off at 0900, about one and a half hours late.

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 Oryx 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 11A, 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 Breakfast was served at 0945, and as with the outbound flight, a member of the crew came and laid my table, which slid easily out of a panel in the side of the middle armrest, with a white cotton cloth, metal cutlery and a china bowl of assorted breads and pastries (a warm croissant, banana muffin and toast soldiers).

To start, I had a strawberry and avocado smoothie, followed by a fruit platter, and then a classic Arabic breakfast of spicy potato curry, feta and tomato curry, flatbread and falafel. Although this was not something I would normally opt for early in the morning, it was very tasty.

Other options for the starter were toasted muesli or a salad plate of gravlax and branade of salted code. Mains were ricotta hotcakes with raspberries, crème fraiche and maple syrup or Japanese crab omelette with ponzu sauce, field mushrooms and asparagus. A good selection of coffees (cappuccino, espresso, café latte, macchiato, American) and teas (Earl Grey, English breakfast, green, mint, camomile) were also available.

During breakfast I started watching a film, but just as it was getting towards the end, the IFE system went down. I noticed that this had affected most of the screens in business class but not all, and those passengers who particularly wanted the entertainment were offered the chance to move to one of the free seats that still had a functioning system. I wasn’t particularly bothered so took the opportunity to catch up on some work.

About four hours into the flight I was offered a snack from the “indulgence” menu. I decided to try the Arabic mezze, which was a small portion of hummous, salad and pitta (although this was a bit crunchy). Other options were cream of roasted zucchini soup, tandoori chicken kofta, a warm sandwich of pesto chicken and tomato and herb salsa, or a cheese plate.

ARRIVAL We began our descent into London Heathrow at 1515 and landed at 1250 local time, 25 minutes late, which meant we had made up some of the time en route. We disembarked quickly and exited from the front of the plane via an airbridge. Once through fast-track immigration (passes were handed out on the flight) I went to baggage reclaim, where I had to wait 30 minutes for my suitcase to appear, despite it being priority tagged.

VERDICT Although there were a few problems with the journey – the plane was late taking off, the IFE system breaking and my suitcase taking a long time to appear – the Premium terminal and lounge made for a pleasant start, the angled lie-flat seat was comfortable for a day flight such as this and the food tasty. The crew were also very friendly and helpful.

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

CONTACT qatarairways.com

Jenny Southan