Good Advice Tried and Tested

Qatar Airways B777-300ER business class

04/10/2012

First impressions It’s been more than two years since I flew business class with Qatar Airways, and in the interim it has moved operations in London from Terminal 3 to Terminal 4. I arrived for my 1415 departure on QR012 to Doha just after midday via the Piccadilly Line. Check in was at Zone A and there was no queue at the business class desk. I through-checked my bags to my eventual destination after Doha (Chongqing - for a review of the second leg, click here), was given a card for lounge access, and went through fast track security.

The lounge Qatar is planning to open its own lounge at T4, slated to open in January 2012. In the meantime there is access to the two-storey Skyteam lounge, which this lunchtime was very quiet, with only a handful of people upstairs. I had something to eat, plugged in my laptop, made use of the free wifi and worked until 1330 and the walked to Gate 6 which was at the other end of Terminal 4 (about a five-minute walk).

Boarding: this was slightly chaotic, since a large number of passengers ignored the announcement of priority to families and business class passengers. To be fair, it’s not helped by the construction going on at this end of Terminal 4 which cramped the available room. Nevertheless, I was quickly on board, my jacket was taken and along with a choice of newspapers I was offered a choice of drinks. I went for the champagne and was pleased that I did since it was Lanson Brut 1998 served in a large champagne flute (the wine choice was outstanding, see below). 

At the seat was a bag containing flight socks, an eye mask and a seperate toiletry kit with Molton Brown products. In the seat pocket in front there was also a large leather folder containing the food and wine menus.

On the B777-300ER Qatar has its business class in two cabins separated by a galley. To see a seatplan, click here.

Which seat to choose? I’d go for rows two or three in this cabin. The first row has less storage space than the other rows. All others (ie: two, three and four) have a large storage compartment beneath the seat in front, which the first row lacks, and also a large side compartment for magazines, which is lost in the front row because this is where the IFE screen is stored. Rows one and four also may suffer from galley noise.

If you find only row one is free, avoid 1J – the overhead locker is for crew use and is where they keep everything from their own bags to the tablecloths so you may be disturbed in the early part of the flight. On this flight the middle seats were mostly unoccupied, so I spread out across the aisle using the plug point for seat 1F to charge my phone while I worked at my own seat and used the power there.  

All seats have in-seat power, several pre-set positions including a comfortable one for reading with a footrest, and one which reclines the seat. Note that Qatar has three different version of this seat – one which goes fully flat on the B777-200LR, one that goes very nearly flat, such as the one here, and one which is lie-flat as on the A330 aircraft. There’s an adjustable reading lamp, a small side pocket for stowing items.

The flight We backed away from the gate on time and had a short wait for our take-off. In the meantime the crew announced the IFE system had been turned on, so I pressed the button and the huge screen came out of the central area of the seat and I immediately started scrolling through the menu to find a film to watch. It’s a wonderful way of killing the time before takeoff, and makes me wonder why other airlines don’t do it. If Qatar Airways does it, then it is safe, so why do you have to wait up to 15 minutes after takeoff with other airlines, and why do they turn off the entertainment and take headsets 30 minutes before landing when with Qatar you can be wearing them and watching the entertainment while landing?

The IFE system had a range of entertainment so vast it took four flight segments totalling over 30 hours before I searched through it all. The range of films and TV is large, and the jukebox facility on audio allows you to create your own playlist, which is how I spent the hours while working on my laptop. The noise cancelling headphones were just that – just putting them on kept out the noise from the cabin.

The service on the flight was of the highest order. My neighbour in 1K had trouble charging his computer, and the flight attendant spent ten minutes sorting out the problem, which was with his laptop adaptor rather than any fault with the seat. All requests were met quickly to the point I felt there seemed more staff on board than on other airline’s flights. Perhaps they are just busier.

A middle-aged couple on the other side of the cabin were in chatty mood and one of the flight attendants had several long conversations with them, asking questions about their travels and experiences. That’s another way of building loyalty on these airlines. At first I thought the staff were almost over-anxious to please, but by the end they seemed to relax, almost as though they realised how impressed the passengers were.

The wine selection was excellent:

  • Champagne: Lanson Brut 1998
  • White wines: Meursault Chartron et Trebuchet, 2008, Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, Cellar Selection 2010, Riesling, Markus Molitor, Zeltinger Sonnenhur, Spatlese 2007. 
  • Red wines: Chateau Brane Cantenac 2007, Torres Salmos 2007, Hollick Shiraz 2009
  • Port: Kopke, Colheita 1974. 

The port summed it up for me. How many airlines serve a Colheita like this? It was older than some of the passengers in business class, and so delicious, only iron willpower stopped me having more than one glass.

Menu selections follow, please skip if they are of no interest, but stop to look at the wine choice.

Pre-dinner, there was a “Palate pleaser” of smoked chicken with pesto cream cheese and avocado. Then a choice of carrot ras al hanut soup with garlic and herb mini croutons, seafood cocktails (smoked salmon, crab, chilli prawn and a mango salsa or classic Arabic mezze. I had the mezze, which came with flatbread and was quite tasty.

The main courses were:

  • parmesan crusted chicken breast stuffed with pesto ricotta slow roasted baby tomato sauce, roasted rustic cut potatoes, snow peas and bay carrots (very good)
  • marinated baked halibut with tomato and herb veloute
  • porcini mushroom risotto with grilled baby courgettes
  • paneer makhani with nizami handi and green pea pulao. 

Then a cheese plate: Cornish double cream brie, vale of bevoir stilton and mull of Kintyre cheddar. I couldn’t manage the desserts which were warm triple chocolate fondant with vanilla crème anglaise, sliced fresh fruit or vanilla ice cream and rosewater pomegranate sorbet with forest berries. Choice of proper coffees and teas, which came out of the galley so hot I had to add water from the supplied bottle of Evian – fantastic they can serve properly hot drinks when so often you get lukewarm ones, but we warned, they are really hot.

Before arrival which in UK time was to be around 2030, Qatar time 2330, there was a choice of sandwiches, sundried tomato and spinach pie, plain and fruit scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve, selection of petit fours or forest berries, along with tea and coffee. I couldn’t eat any of it but had a couple of mugs of green tea – decent-sized and properly steaming hot, and worked until the seatbelt sign came on for out descent into Qatar.

Verdict Qatar’s chief executive says the carrier’s business class is better than many airline’s first class. In the case of the business class on these  B777-300ER aircraft, he’s right. I couldn’t fault it, and though it would have been good to have the fully flat that is on the B777-200LR aircraft, this is as close to fully flat as a lie flat bed gets. In many areas, service, inflight entertainment, the wine list, the flight surpassed expectations.

Contact qatarairways.com

Tom Otley