First look: Qatar Airways A350XWB

Qatar Airways A350-900

Qatar Airways took delivery of the first of its new A350 aircraft from Airbus this week (see news, December 22).

The launch customer, the carrier has orders for 80 of the aircraft.

After a ceremony at Airbus’ headquarters in Toulouse, press and various suppliers were treated to a 45-minute local flight.

Qatar Airways A350 and A380 deliveries

Qatar Airways’ A350 and an A380 leave Toulouse for Doha

Qatar Airways A350XWB delivery
Boarding the aircraft took place via two air bridges direct from the delivery centre.

I’ve been on an A350 previously in Helsinki, when Finnair (the first European customer) unveiled the seating products it intends to have on-board (see news, August 13). But it was one of the “proving” aircraft that Airbus was touring around the world, and had generic seating on board.

This was the first chance to see what airlines can make of the interior of the aircraft.

The A350 XWB offers efficiencies for the airlines ordering it. According to Airbus, these are:

  • A 25 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency and a 25 per cent lower seat-mile cost compared to current aluminium long-range competitors, such as the B777. The A350 XWB is powered by new fuel-efficient and quiet Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines
  • For every seat offered, the A350 XWB — or A350-900 — burns 9 per cent less fuel than the 787-9
  • This fuel-burn advantage, combined with lower maintenance costs, gives the A350-900 a 10 per cent lower cash operating cost per seat than the 787-9
  • With up to 35 more seats than the 787, the A350 XWB offers a potential revenue advantage of 10 per cent or more.
To learn more about the aircraft, click here to view Airbus’ informative website, which has some stunning visuals.
Qatar Airways A350XWB delivery

Press conference: Qatar Airways and Airbus unveil the Gulf carrier’s new A350 XWB
As can be seen from the brief notes above, Airbus uses the B777 as a comparison for efficiencies (not the B787) but is keen to compare the A350 with the B787 when it comes to the width of the fuselage (hence the Extra Wide Body XWB designation).
It does this because the extra width of the aircraft potentially translates into extra seat width and therefore comfort in the nine-across economy seating on the aircraft.

Qatar Airways is now flying both types of aircraft.

First impressions on boarding its A350 XWB are of the headroom — there are no central overhead lockers in business class, and as with the B787 there is a central entrance area where the ceiling seems to soar through the use of interior design and clever lighting, creating a feeling of space rather than the familiar constriction of entering a metal tube.

Qatar Airways A350XWB

Not the best of photos, but note the dome-like entrance and the head height

Qatar Airways A350XWB windows blind

“Panoramic” window

Like the B787 Dreamliner, the A350 has wider windows than the previous generation of aircraft, including the A330 and A380.

Airbus calls them “panoramic”, which is pushing it a little, but they are undoubtedly larger than those on most other aircraft and certainly impressed after that morning’s flight to Toulouse on a Fokker 50.

Are they larger/wider than the B787? Hard to judge, but I will be following up with both Boeing and Airbus to try and find the winner on that one.

As on the B787, there is a button in business class allowing window blinds to be operated.

In-flight Entertainment

As you’d expect from this new-generation aircraft, high-bandwidth fibre optics are fitted and the there is In-flight Entertainment (IFE) system is in high-definition. In economy, the content is displayed on 12-inch screens.

It was possible to watch the entire flight from the tailfin camera, which was useful as I was in a middle seat and so unable to look out of a window.

Qatar Airways offers its On Air wifi and telephone service on the A350. This flight was too short in duration to test this out, but having used it on the carrier’s B787, it works well.

Qatar Airways A350XWB business class IFE

IFE screen: View from the tailfin camera

Overhead lockers

A welcome addition are the large overhead lockers, allowing bags to be stored lengthwise.

Note that if you are in the centre seats in business class, you will be using the lockers over the window seats – this isn’t a problem since this business class is very spacious at 1-2-1.

Lighting

The “mood” lighting of recent aircraft deliveries is continued with the A350 XWB, with full LED lighting apparently allowing a palette of 16.7 million possible colours for “customised ambiances”, surely enough to keep even the most jaded business traveller entertained for the duration of the flight.

Air

Airbus says that “the total cabin air is renewed every two to three minutes in a draft-free environment at the optimum temperature”.

This was impossible to judge on such a short flight, as was the lower cabin pressure altitude contributing “to the feeling of well-being, even on the longest-range trips“, although having flown some extremely long flights on the B787 I’m inclined to believe this. In general, I think the planes do make a difference.

They are also quieter, although on this short flight involving a climb and descent, several people felt the A380 was noticeably quieter. I’m not so sure. I chatted with my neighbour when we were cruising and found the flight very quiet, certainly more so than, say, a B777.

Seating

Qatar has fitted seats similar to those on the B787 (they may be identical – I’m waiting for measurements). The seat can be positioned in a number of different ways.

Qatar Airways A350XWB business class seat controls

Business class: Seat controls

Qatar Airways A350XWB business class

Spacious: The seat offers easy access to the aisle

Qatar Airways A350XWB business class inseat power

Business class inseat power (the wire is from my phone which was plugged into the USB)

As can be seen, they are extremely spacious, have easy access to the aisle, and with the central area splitting the one cabin into two sets of seating, you really do feel that the 1-2-1 configuration makes this one of the most spacious business class seats available.

The flight was too short to look at economy class in details, although I was lucky to board before most other passengers and so could take some photos.

As mentioned, Airbus is very proud of the fact that the width of the fuselage of the A350 is five-inches wider than the B787 Dreamliner, which allows for 18-inch-wide seats at nine-abreast as standard in economy.

The seat pitch (legroom) is the same as on the B787, but the width and the fact that these are new generation seats, with all the ergonomic improvements that have occured in seat manufacturing and cushions, mean they are more comfortable than economy seating on older aircraft. To read more about this, click here.

Qatar Airways A350XWB economy class

The economy class cabin

Qatar Airways A350XWB economy class

Bulkhead seats at the front of the cabin (16A and 16C)

Qatar Airways A350XWB economy class

Since Qatar Airways has both the A350 and the B787, Airbus representatives were perhaps less bullish on the extra width than they have been previously, not wanting to imply that economy passengers on Qatar’s B787 aircraft would be disadvantaged in terms of room when compared with its economy passengers on the A350.

The flight was over all too soon (not something I’ve ever written before) and we were off the aircraft and grabbing hold of a few soundbites from Airbus and Qatar Airways management.

The aircraft will be rostered on the airline’s Doha to Frankfurt route (see news, October 20), but Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker mentioned that it will first spend a few days at London Heathrow in January for some noise testing — so you may see it parked in a corner somewhere at the airport.

VERDICT

A combination of high oil prices pushing carriers to demand more efficient aircraft from the manufacturers and the massive expansion of the Gulf carriers has made the past few years extremely exciting for new aircraft deliveries.

And with B787s, A380s and A350s in its fleet, Qatar Airways has invested billions in this process. For anyone who hasn’t yet flown the carrier, these new aircraft provide a strong argument for trying a flight via Doha.

qatarairways.com

Tom Otley

First look: Cathay Pacific lounge at Tokyo Haneda

Cathay Pacific Haneda-Lounge-1

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific flew in to Tokyo Haneda for a sneak peek of Cathay Pacific’s (CX) new first and business class lounge, which officially opened today.

Reception desk at the new CX lounge in Haneda Airport

At 990sqm it is one of the largest CX lounges outside Hong Kong and feels very spacious. Natural light streams through floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides of the lounge, creating a bright, airy environment with fantastic views over the airfield. The iconic Mount Fuji is also apparently visible on a clear day.

Large windows provide great views and let in lots of natural light

Located on Level 6 near Gate 114, it is the first CX lounge to have been designed in line with the airline’s brand refresh and reflects a sleeker look to previous offerings.

London-based creative firm Studioilse have combined warm natural materials, such as cherry wood walls and limestone floors, with a muted colour palette to create a welcoming feeling that’s “more like a living room than an airline lounge”.

Bespoke, designer furniture in the lounge area

Leather sofas, cosy armchairs, plush carpets and lots of plants certainly help to add a homey touch, while the overall look remains quite simple and clean.

Different areas defined by individual characteristics

Director of service delivery, James Ginns, said: “We strive to make our passengers feel special and airport lounges are a very important part of that. We invest significantly in them to make sure ours stand out from the crowd.”

One new concept is a free-standing area with counters in front of a TV screen that gives people the option to stretch their legs and has quite a social vibe.

Business travellers spend enough time sitting down

There is free wifi and ample power points throughout, which are neatly hidden in side tables. Do note that the plug sockets are local or USB, so adaptors may be required. Alternatively, a partially secluded area called The Bureau is equipped with four iMacs and printers.

The Bureau work station

Food and beverage has been an important focus of the new lounge. Cathay Pacific’s signature Noodle Bar, a popular feature of the Hong Kong lounge, has been reincarnated at Haneda with a new twist. Passengers can now prop themselves up on a bar stool and watch the chefs create delicious dan dan noodles or wonton noodle soup, among other offerings.

The Noodle Bar

Signature dan dan noodles with a side of sweet French toast

For lighter bites, such as wraps, quiches or salad, plus barista-made coffee and desserts, travellers can check out the newly introduced Food Bar and retire to their favourite part of the lounge.

If you just fancy a quiet drink, there is a bronzed bar located in the opposite corner where bartenders can whip up a range of freshly made cocktails or other beverages.

Enjoy one of CX signature cocktails at the bar 

There are no shower facilities at the new CX lounge, however the washrooms are pleasant and equipped with hi-tech Toto toilets – quite a novelty for the uninitiated!

Overall, the lounge is warm, friendly and offers great views. A welcome space to relax before departing from Haneda Airport.

Parties eligible for access to the Haneda lounge include first and business class passengers, Silver or above Marco Polo Club members, and Sapphire or above oneworld members. The lounge is open from 7.30am-5pm.

The new design concept will be continued at a series of lounge openings in the coming months. Next to be revealed will be Manila in April, followed by Bangkok in May and finally the hotly anticipated Pier Lounge at Hong Kong International Airport.

The new CX lounge is the first at Haneda to be operated by a non-Japanese carrier. Speaking at the opening ceremony, James Ginns said: “The fact that we have chosen Haneda to launch our new lounge design shows the importance we place on the Japanese market.”

CX flies Hong Kong to Haneda twice a day, with a total of 129 flights per week to seven Japanese cities.

For more information,visit cathaypacific.com or haneda-airport.jp

Tamsin Cocks

First look: Rosewood Beijing

After much anticipation, Rosewood Beijing finally soft-opened last month as the luxury hotel brand’s first property in China (see story). Business Traveller Asia-Pacific has been given a private tour of the property, which is set for grand opening in March next year, when all the meeting and leisure facilities will be in operation.

The opening was delayed for a year due to the number of details that had to be ironed out. It is not difficult to understand that when one has a chance to look at the final product. The interior of the hotel has the air of a contemporary art museum, and while the overall feel is sleek and modern, art pieces that pepper all the rooms and public areas are firmly inspired by traditional Chinese culture. Reinterpretations of disciplines such as calligraphy and porcelain painting make for some striking visuals that bring in a sense of place.

The rooms have all been tastefully fitted. Even the entry-level Deluxe units feature walk-in wardrobes as well as Frette 600 thread-count linens, Frette bathrobes and custom-made bathroom amenities by Lorenzo Villoresi, as well as the 50-inch LCD smart TV; Blueray DVD player; iPhone 5-compatible Bluetooth music station and Samsung soundbar speaker system. The mini-bar is stocked with premium liquors and equipped with a Nespresso machine.

The 283 units include 207 Premier and Deluxe Rooms measuring around 50sqm, 16 Grand Studios at 63.5sqm each, eight Twin Rooms of 54.5sqm, 31 Manor Suites of 68.3sqm and 15 Rosewood Suites of 74.4sqm. Still being finalised are five Spa Suites, located in the Sense spa, and the Presidential Suite.

Rosewood Beijing premier twin room

Premier Twin Room

Business travellers would appreciate the very sturdy and roomy workdesk (although it is not available in some of the suites), and the Grand Studio even comes with an iMac. The connectivity panel located next to the desk has a universal socket and two other types compatible with the EU and US standards. There are also two USB ports and AV jacks. Control panels can be found on both sides of the bed, and they are designed to adjust lights and window shades throughout the room.

Rosewood Beijing Grand Studio

Grand Studio

Another big attraction is the Manor Club lounge, a 900sqm facility that comes with not just perks such as exclusive breakfast, evening cocktails and free boardroom use, but also chess games and reading material guests can enjoy in the sofa, the ottoman chairs or even at the outdoor terrace. But what really sets this place apart is the cigar room located at the end of the hall, which is set up with all the needed amenities as well as a billiards table. The in-house cigar menu starts from RMB85 (US$14) for a Montecristo No 4 to a RMB290 (US$47) Cohiba Esplendidos. Access to the lounge is complimentary to club floor and suite guests, but it can also be purchased for RMB850 (US$139) per day.

Rosewood Beijing Manor Club

Manor Club

Of the six of the food and beverage concepts, four have already opened: all-day-dining Bistrot B, with and outdoor garden and a wine room on the upper level suitable for a private cocktail function of up to 60; Bistrot B Lounge. Bar; Country Kitchen for Northern Chinese cuisine, also with an outdoor terrace; and The House of Dynasties that offers eight private dining rooms, for up to 16-20 people. All of the rooms have their own living area and a kitchen counter where a stationed chef can given every dish a final touch before serving it to the guests. Each room is themed after an imperial Chinese period, and each has its own custom-made crockery to reflect the theme.

We visited Country Kitchen for lunch, and found it to be a thoroughly memorable experience. Not only was the food superb, we also got to watch how they were made. All the food is prepared a la minute at the various show kitchens, ranging from noodles and dumplings to Mongolian barbecue and Peking ducks. Other than tables and semi-private booths, there is also kitchen counter seating for small groups or lone diners. There is a separate bar at the entrance where guests can hang out, or dine more casually if they’d like. A set lunch here starts from RMB110 (US$18).

Rosewood Beijing Country Kitchen Peking duck

Peking duck oven in Country Kitchen

The upcoming openings are Red Bowl hotpot restaurant next month and Mei, a multi-section entertainment bar, in March. It is expected to attract hipsters and the city’s well-heeled set.

On the front of leisure facilities, the fitness centre is open, and there will soon be yoga classes offered to staying guests on a complimentary basis. Both the swimming pool and Sense spa looked like they were ready to go, but we have been told that some final touch-ups are still required. According to the spa director, Fatna Fallah, while the normal operating hours of Sense will be 10am to 11pm, guests can request for off-hour treatments as long as they book in advance.

Rosewood Beijing Sense spa

Sense spa

There will be 3,350sqm of meeting space in total when all the venues are finished. Six function rooms are already in use, and before the grand opening, there will also be a pillar-less ballroom of 730sqm, with an adjacent 301sqm garden terrace. But what events planners really want to watch out for is the Pavilion, a residential-style space equipped with its own show kitchen.

A special opening package is currently being offered until February next year. Called “Time to Discover”, until December it starts from RMB2,188 (US$357) per night for a Deluxe Room and includes airport limousine pick-up, 24-hour flexible check-in and check-out, breakfast at Bistrot B, in-room local beer and soft drinks, and free wifi. From January to February, the starting price will be adjusted to RMB1,988 (US$325). Under this package, access to Manor Club can be added for RMB500 (US$82).

The Rosewood hotel brand is the luxury collection of Rosewood Hotel Group, owned by Hong Kong-based New World Development.

rosewoodhotels.com

Reggie Ho

Exclusive First Look: Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounge at HKIA

OVERVIEW

Singapore Airline (SIA) customers flying out of Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) from Friday will get the opportunity to visit the newly refurbished SilverKris lounge.

As previously reported by Business Traveller Asia-Pacific (see here), the 913 sqm lounge was temporarily closed in May while SIA revamped the facility to follow the same “Home Away From Home” concept that first premiered in the airline’s Sydney SilverKris lounge (see here).

We were given an exclusive tour of the new HKIA lounge, and here are the highlights:

ENTRANCE

Located in the same place as before, the refurbished entrance shares the same distinct look as its Sydney counterpart. A welcome counter (complete with a Singapore Orchid) is located to the right-hand side of the entrance, while the left side leads into the facility itself.

SilverKris lounge entrance

There is currently one noticeable absence from the welcome foyer – the customised batik-design screen resembling the airline’s iconic stewardess sarong (as seen below at the Sydney SilverKris lounge). However, according to SIA’s representative, Harry Chu, this will be added in the coming weeks.

SilverKris lounge in Sydney

THE GALLERY

The Gallery

Just past the entrance is a small sitting area known as The Gallery with eleven plush comfort chairs. This section of the lounge will also showcase several art pieces by local Hong Kong and Singapore artists. Visitors should be on a look out for the first of these works, the “Unititled” model by Singapore’s Ahmad Abu Baker.

SHOWER SUITES

Based on customer feedback, the renovated SilverKris lounge now offers three shower suites for its premium visitors. This is a particularly significant improvement as the previous design did not feature any shower facilities at all.

Panorama shot of the new shower suites

Each suite is spacious, and includes a dedicated rain shower booth, as well as a toilet and sink. According to Chu, the lounge will initially offer regular shower amenities, but given that SIA offers Ferragamo and Givenchy amenity kits to their first and business passengers respectively, it may offer similarly branded toiletries in the future.

BUSINESS CLASS SECTION

First and business class have their own dedicated sections in the lounge. Immediately after entering the main area of the facility, visitors will see a bar offering a carefully selected menu of wines, spirits and cocktails, including the ever-popular Singapore Sling.

Bar in the lounge with tour agents and SIA partners enjoying a drink during the preview tour – we highly recommend the Singapore Sling!

Behind the bar is a buffet section offering a generous range of hot food, sandwiches and drinks. We sampled the breakfast offering that will be available to business class passengers, which included scrambled eggs, hash browns and noodles.

Once the lounge has officially opened its doors, it will offer four different meal services throughout the day – breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner.

Business class dining area

The dining area is spacious and offers a good number of tables and chairs. However I did feel that the area could have used better lighting. Unlike Cathay Pacific’s The Bridge lounge, where large windows provide an abundance of natural light (see here), the SilverKris lounge does not have any windows, which did make the lounge a little dark.

Segmented sections in the business class area

Right next to the dining area is a sitting section. While both areas are essentially located beside each other, SIA has segmented the section through the use of wooden wall screens. These act as dividers for each area, but are not solid walls. I felt that the use of this was very smart, as solid walls would have made the lounge smaller than it really is.

Business class sitting area

FIRST CLASS SECTION

The first class lounge area is noticeably smaller than business class, owing to the fact that it usually serves fewer customers. This evokes a very intimate feel – one that first passengers will definitely appreciate.

First class seating area

Each section is also segmented through the use of wall screens. However, unlike its business counterpart, these dividers are not made out of wood, but rather a black, varnished material that appears more luxurious.

Comparison between the first (left) and business class (right) “productivity pods”

Seat designs here are similar to that found in business class, but there is one major difference. While the business class “productivity pod” are grey in colour, the first class variants are bright yellow. These pods feature a work desk and large seats that highly resemble the new SIA premium cabin products unveiled last year (see here).

Chair with oriental design

Both sections do however feature the chairs with high seat backs. These seat backs feature a distinct oriental design that provides an excellent contrast to the modern features of the lounge. The inclusion of a seat pillow was a nice touch.

Every seat in the first and business class sections (aside from those found in the dining area) offer a reading light, power outlet and USB port – perfect for business travellers looking to get some work done in the lounge.

Laksa (Singaporean-style noodle soup)

The dining offering in the first class section is also significantly different to that seen in business class. While business class customers are limited to a buffet selection, those travelling in first class have the choice of choosing from an à la carte menu.

Singaporean-style beef satay with peanut sauce and coconut rice

There are a total of five à la carte menus available, which will be rotated every couple of weeks. Each menu comes with two SIA signature dishes, one Singaporean favourite, one western choice, and a vegetarian option. Those visiting the new lounge over the next few weeks can look forward to:

Signature Dishes

  • Laksa (Singaporean-style noodle soup)
  • Wonton noodle soup

À la carte

  • Singaporean-style beef satay with peanut sauce and coconut rice
  • Poached Salmon fillet with mash potato and lemon butter sauce
  • Sautéed pasta with wild mushroom and herbs

Canapés for first class guests

A buffet spread is also available, but the choices are clearly superior to that found in business class. Canapés are a particular highlight – available during my visit was “tomato with feta cheese and basil” and “roasted bell peppers with herbs and pesto”. Definitely worth a taste!

LOUNGE ACCESS ELIGIBILITY

First class section

The first class lounge section is available to Suites, First Class, Life and Solitaire PPS customers, while the business class area is available to members of PPS (any tier), KrisFlyer Gold, or Star Gold travelling on any class of SQ or Star Alliance carrier out of Hong Kong.

For more information, visit singaporeair.com

Clement Huang

First look: Qantas’ new lounge at HKIA

Qantas has officially launched its new lounge in Hong Kong, which is open to first and business class passengers, as well as Qantas frequent flyer members (gold, platinum, platinum one tiers), and Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald cardholders.

Qantas HKIA lounge

Hong Kong remains a key hub within the region for the airline, and along with the new lounge, the company will also be upgrading the cabin products on its fleet of A330s (see here), which it will use to serve Greater China from Melbourne and Brisbane.

As reported previously by Business Traveller Asia-Pacific (see here), the 300-seat lounge draws inspiration from its local destinations in terms of the design and dining offerings.

The facility has 12 showers, a family zone and a flexible working area. It also offers a range of dining experiences for customers – from the Spice Temple BBQ Bar to yum cha trolleys offering different types of traditional Chinese dim sum, as well as an extensive buffet and locally influenced plate of the day.

Qantas HKIA lounge

Chief executive of Qantas International, Simon Hickey, has stated that the multi-million dollar development was important due to the timing of the carrier’s flights between Hong Kong and Australia.

“All of our flights from Hong Kong to Australia are overnight, so we know customers will enjoy being able to dine in the lounge before they fly so they can maximise their sleep onboard,” said Hickey. “The Hong Kong Lounge is stylish and contemporary, designed to reflect the colour, vibrancy and luxury of Hong Kong. It’s the perfect environment for our customers to relax and work before their flight.”

Building on the foundation set by the Qantas Singapore Lounge that launched last year (see here), the company has once again teamed up with consulting chef Neil Perry to design menus based on his Rockpool and Spice Temple restaurants utilising regionally inspired flavours and ingredients.

Qantas has also partnered with French luxury hotel chain Sofitel to offer a series of services that includes a hosted experience, along with shirt pressing, shoe shining and priority access to shower facilities for first class passengers and platinum one-tier Qantas frequent flyers.

“The new Hong Kong Lounge is testament to our continued investment in the lounge and inflight experiences right across our network. Our customers continue to tell us that Qantas lounges are a key part of their journey and that our international lounges are just as important as our lounges in Australia,” said Hickey.

Visit www.qantas.com.au

Scroll down for more pictures of the facility.

Clement Huang

Qantas HKIA lounge

Long bar for wining and dining

Qantas HKIA lounge

Work area; because of Hong Kong regulations, power sockets have to be all in the British 3-pin style, so bring an adaptor with you

Qantas HKIA lounge

Long table with a view

Qantas HKIA lounge

Self-service buffet

Qantas HKIA lounge

Catching up on some TV

Qantas HKIA lounge

These seats in the lounge have a similar design to those found on the airline’s upgraded A330s, especially the crisscross pattern

Qantas HKIA lounge

Help yourself to a drink