Qatar trip report.

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  rferguson 19 Oct 2017
at 13:25
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  • rferguson
    Participant

    I recently travelled to asia after purchasing a crazy cheap Qatar Airways fare ex Brussels to Tokyo. I paid GBP570 return (yes, i’m not missing a ‘1’ at the beginning)! Five hundred and seventy pounds for a return flight from Brussels to Tokyo all in. Who could refuse?

    My final journey was Brussels – Doha – Narita – Taipei – Hong Kong – Shanghai – Haneda – Doha – Brussels using QR, CX and JL and all in J class (apart from NRT-TPE which I flew ‘Vanilla Air’). I’ll do a separate report on the intra asia flights.

    I’ve done a few QR reviews so will keep this one a bit more general instead of going into detail on the seats etc.

    Brussels Airport:
    Check in swift and given boarding passes all the way to Narita in a very swish glossy silver premium boarding pass holder. Exit passport control was swift thanks to the multiple e-gates that take biometric passports of all EU nations. This was not the case on my return to BRU. The e-gates were closed and there were long queues at immigration both arriving and departing.

    Qatar uses the BA Galleries lounge. I wasn’t expecting much given the general standards of BA’s lounges especially those in europe but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a modern, spacious and airy lounge with a really good range of food. Much better than what one would normally find in the flagship T5 business class lounges actually. As is normal for Qatar they call the flights crazy early for boarding and I made my way to the gate.

    Priority boarding was enforced and I think given the fact they start boarding so early it always seems to be a pretty leisurely affair. I’ve noticed when departing other european cities on Qatar and monitoring the inbound flights that the aircraft spend a lot more time on the ground at outstations than most other airlines. I was chatting to one of the staff in Brussels about it and she explained that QR tends to do the reverse of what other airlines do. Instead of longer turnarounds at their home base where QR have an army of people to turn a jet around quickly and almost all ground services are inhouse (let’s face it – Hamad airport is basically ‘Qatar Airways Airport’) they roster the longer turnarounds at outstations where they are more likely to incur delays operating in congested european airports and relying on third party contractors. Also as they are effectively a bridging airline with 80% of its passengers in transit they can afford to delay flights ex DOH if they are waiting on a large amount of transfer passengers from another late inbound flight without the return flight to Doha being impacted. Pretty clever. Despite all this we had a delay departing BRU. We were all closed up and ready to go fifteen minutes before STD but had a slot delay of around an hour.

    The aircraft/seats:
    Three of my sectors were operated by new generation A350’s with one sector (DOH-NRT) operated by a 777-200ER. The A350 has the reverse herringbone seat and the 777 the older style more conventional 2x2x2 fully flat seat. I won’t go into detail as many of us have done so in plenty or trip reports previously. Each seat has its pros and cons and I know i’ll be in a massive minority now but I actually prefer QR’s third generation seats on the 777. What they lack (not direct aisle access for all, little privacy from a neighbour, limited storage) they more than make up for in overall spaciousness, a feeling of being less cluttered and enclosed. I ALWAYS feel more comfortable and sleep better in these seats than the newer style which all that I like and dislike is pretty much the reverse of the 777. All have direct aisle access, there is an abundance of storage space and plenty of privacy. But I just feel more cramped and enclosed in these seats and I just don’t sleep as well as I do on the older style ones. Part of this is down to QR’s custom design where the TV and table is fixed in front of you. I don’t have the same cramped sensation of say CX’s seat which is the same bones as QR’s seat but with a TV and table that flip out. Or perhaps i’m just being a princess. Lol. On reflection perhaps I prefer the reverse herringbone for the shorter daylight flights and the old style 777 ones for the longer night flights. Regardless, they are still streets ahead of what many other airlines offer and i’m pretty sure that regardless of longhaul aircraft type you are guaranteed a fully flat bed (not 100% sure on the handful of A340-600’s though).

    Service elements –
    Pre flight:
    Although there were small variations (on the longer flights you get PJ’s, on some sectors the amenity kit was waiting at the seat on others it was distributed) the standard was pretty consistent. Crew member welcomed you, introduced themself, asked for your pre take off beverage (champagne, fresh OJ, signature mocktail or water) which was delivered with your choice of hot or cold towel then gave out menus. On two of the sectors the crew took the drink and meal order on the ground on the other two after take off. I guess it’s a ‘time permitting’ thing. A bottle of Evian, headseats and a large pillow and duvet were on the seat.

    Catering:
    To be honest, a mixed bag. And i’m very careful to find fault here with Qatar as they put a lot of other airlines to shame in Business Class in terms of their service style – a la carte dining at any time, entire service run by hand. My critisism is more levelled at the choices available – and the amount carried of each of these choices, particularly on the european sectors. If you are a vegetarian you will LOVE the catering on Qatar. If you enjoy sinking your teeth into some form of beast you could be left a little wanting. An example is the BRU-DOH sector.

    There is one meal service and you can have this at any time. Perfectly reasonable for a six hour flight. The starters comprised 1) Garden pea soup. 2) Classic arab mezze. 3) butternut squash and feta cheese salad. And the mains 1) chicken biriyani 2) fillet of fish with sweet pepper sauce 3) cheese filled pasta with tomato, olives and basil. So three out of three starters vegetarian and only one ‘real’ meat dish of the mai courses. On the longer sectors the choice is much better. I imagine its because my longer sectors were on a japanese route but there was a lot more variety and choice as well as a second substantial meal. The variety is not across the board on the long routes though. On my BRU-DOH flight I found a left over menu which was for ADL-DOH which I believe is their longest route? The first meal was identical to the BRU-DOH menu. Very ‘veg’ heavy. The only difference being that the ADL-DOH flight also had a substantial second meal (breakfast) listed. QR also offer an amuse bouche which is a really nice touch.

    The other issue seemed to be the ratios of each meal. On two of the four sectors I did not get my choice despite being sat in the third row (of eight). QR does offer the option to pre order your main meal on some routes now although at the moment its only on flights ex DOH.

    Despite not being crazy about the choices and the issues with the ratios the delivery and presentation of the food was on par with what many airlines would serve in First Class. The japanese meals on the DOH-TYO-DOH routes were superb.

    I did not indulge in the cellar but there were the same choices on each route: 1) Lanson black label champagne. 2) Lanson brut rose 3) Jean-Marc Brocard chablis premier cru 2015 4) Attems Venizia Giulia 2016 5) Viognier Clarksburg, 2014 6) Chateau Branaire-Ducru, Bordeaux 2011 7) Mount Langi Ghiran, The Hollows Shiraz, 2013 Aust. 8) Castle Rock Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. 9) Valdivieso dessert wine, 2013, Chile. 10) Grad Crus Port, 1992.

    Crew:
    In short, exceptional on all four sectors. I’ve flown Qatar for quite a while now mainly due to their exceptional J class fares. One thing I was not particularly keen on in earlier days was their crew. They were perfectly fine and hard working but seemed to be trained to be extremely robotic and not deviate from a certain script. The head cabin crew manager at the time was known as ‘the dictator’ and there were very strict rules the crew had to adhere to, even in their own time downroute and on their days off. In short, the crew were strictly controlled and it showed, well to me anyway. A couple of years ago a new manager took over the crew (perhaps due to bad press QR was getting regarding their employee policies) and loosened the reins a little. Qatar is still well known for keeping a close watch on its employees and imposing curfews and such. And although these still exist they have been significantly relaxed. And it’s shown on its crew. On every sector the crew looking after me were fantastic. Relaxed, professional, friendly, helpful, efficient. A few of them were absolute standout really showing their personality and one that was even a little quirky and cheeky in the most fun way which I love. I made sure I sent my comments to Qatar.

    Hamad Airport and Al Mourjan lounge.
    Hamad Airport is like a well oiled machine when it comes to a transit hub as any newly built facility should be. It is literally seething with staff and as you walk around the usual airport customer – staff relationship is turned on its head. Instead of the customer seeking out a staff member to help with directions staff all over the place approch the customer to direct them and keep an eye on those running late for their transit flight.

    An interesting thing happened on the flight from BRU. As I mentioned earlier the flight was running around an hour late and I guess most of the passengers on board were in transit, many at risk of missing their connecting flights. The transit procedure that i’ve always followed had been the same as that in most airports worldwide – you follow the signs for transfers, have your boarding card checked, pass through security again and emerge back in the departure hall. On this delayed flight something different happend – the ground staff directed transferring passengers not to go along the indicated ‘transfer’ path but instead to go through another door – which led directly back into departures area completely bypassing any security. I found this odd. I’d always assumed that the transit security was a requirement but I guess it must just be a ‘best practise’ measure? On my return flight via DOH I was routed via the regular transfer path and it was the whole laptops out, belts off affair. In fact I had a bottle of water confiscated. I knew it was in my bag but given they didn’t bother with ANY security on the outbound transit I assumed they wouldn’t be too strict generally. Wrong!

    I like the design of Hamad but I am amazed at the amount of remote stands flights have to operate from as there are no gates available. It seems astonishing that a brand new airport built on virtually limitless land is almost full in terms of on pier parking stands.

    The lounge i’ve reviewed many times. It is a solid offering and not a lot has changed.

    Haneda Airport JAL lounge.
    QR uses the JAL lounges at HND and with my BA Gold status I had access to the First Class lounge. The lounges at HND are relatively new and i’d say the JL HND First Class lounge is a step up from the JL NRT First Class lounge although that isn’t really too hard. The lounge is basically one long rectangular space broken up into separate areas. The general lounge area has plenty of seating with most seats having multiplug power close by. This led into a dining area with some tables and chairs. The food choices were OK. The best option was the live cooking station that seemed to have a dish of the day. On my day it was a kind of tepanyaki beef which was delicious. The remainder was pretty underwhelming. A few different hot dishes, some canape sized bits and pieces. There was one display of sushi with two varieties. Everything is pre plated and self service. So for the cheese plate you get two little cubes of cheese and that’s it. The same with the canapaes. Each plate would have one small cocktail stick of say a bit of salmon and an olive on it. I could have easily piled my little tray high with six or seven plates but was self concious i’d look greedy.

    Beverages were also not particularly varied. The usual spirits. One each of red, white and champagne. Soft drinks from a soda dispensing machine (!!). And really really basic coffee machines.

    Beyond the dining area is a different themed lounge area that kind of doubles as a library come museum and exhibits a lot of old school JAL memorabilia. Then right at the end of the lounge is a games room. There were also showers, a smoking room and a room which comprised of six or seven massage chairs. I read a display that the JAL lounge was discontinuing its massage service due to the increase in the massage chairs so i’m guessing that they used to offer actual spa treatments in the lounge.

    Misc:
    IFE – On the A350 controlled via the touchscreen or via a (very fiddly and sensitive) touch stye handset. There was decent content (especially in the music category) but movies are heavily edited. There’s also the usual maps, games as well as a multi directional camera views from the aircraft. On the 777 the content seemed pretty similar although much easier to control via the old school handset.

    Power – All flights had multiplug power charging points and USB outlets.

    Wifi – fitted on the 350. Free for the first 15 minutes. USD5 for one hour. USD20 for the whole flight. I used the free 15 minutes on each sector and it worked perfectly for general browsing, whatsapp, messenger etc.

    Electronic window blinds – if I had to have one moan at the crew it would be the control over the electronic window blinds. I completely get that there is nothing worse than someone opening the window blinds letting the sun flow in when they are the only person awake on a ‘night flight’. However on a day flight straight after take off when everyone is awake I think is a different story. On the BRU-DOH sector the wheels had barely left the ground before all the window shades were closed. This was on a 17:30 departure. The crew didn’t lock them at least so at least I could open mine. The HND-DOH flight departs at 23:45 and lands in DOH at 05:35. In other words complete darkness the entire flight except for the last hour where the sun is just coming up. Yet again the blinds were not only automatically lowered after take off but also locked closed. Call me a weirdo but sometimes when I wake up at a random hour on a night flight when its pitch black outside (especially on a clear night and when over land) I like to have a look out the window at the lights on the ground below. It doesn’t interfere with anyone elses sleep (it’s pitch black) so i don’t understand what the problem is. The joys of modern aircraft!


    esselle
    Participant

    I have flown 6 sectors in J on Qatar in the last two weeks, MAN-HKG-MAN, and MAN-DOH-MAN.

    I recognise a lot of the points rferguson comments on, but franklŷ they manage to maintain the whole service thing which I would put on the “consistently very good” category in a way that moss airlines don’t.

    And often, at prices which are hard to beat.


    FDOS_UK
    Participant

    Re the security procedure at Hamad, some trusted airports are fed straight into the departure lounge, just like it happened in transit at all airports all those years ago.


    Inquisitive
    Participant

    Qatar copied most service and operational aspects from SQ (IMHO) and getting better and better.
    SQ also allows more time than required at outstation compared to homebase in Singapore for the exact reason that RF indicated.

    I travelled Singapore-Doha-Philadelphia and return in J with Qatar a few months ago and could not fault the whole journey even for a small item except the crowd and transit security check at Hamad.


    Ah,Mr.Bond
    Participant

    Just to confirm, the base fare for this would have been no more than GBP250 ? When did you book this?


    rferguson
    Participant

    Yes MrBond. £570 return. All in. ‘Business Promo’ fare on qatarairways.com (booked into ‘R’ class). Was booked in JAN of this year. I discovered it on the ‘premium fare deals’ thread of FT. I’d say it was most certainly a mistake fare that QR honoured.

    If one looks there are plenty of deals to be found. Last year I flew QR ARN-DOH-ADL round trip for £1280 in J.

    I’ve just booked MH KUL-BOM-KUL for £251 in J round trip.

    But yes, BRU-TYO for £570 was exceptional :-)))))))


    K1ngston
    Participant

    Awesome report rferguson I am getting an amazing J trip on QR from BKK to LHR via DOH, this price was $1000 against the price ex Singapore of $2789…

    What with an airmile flight on SQ from SIN-BKK I am going to treat myself, and with hubby staying at home I dont have to subject him to the madness that is Immigration at T4..

    I will of course report but I will certainly not do it justice compared to your report

    Thank you again


    seasonedtraveller
    Participant

    I just took the MAN / DOH / ICN several days ago and found it overall to be very good.

    My biggest issue was getting to the right lounge in DOH, not sure if it was just me or if it’s badly signed but I was directed incorrectly, to 3 different lounges before finally being escorted to the correct lounge (Oneworld Emerald) which took 30 mins out of the 90 minutes available to me.


    rferguson
    Participant

    Seasonedtravller – yes, the lounge situation is a little complicated in DOH.

    Al Safwa lounge – First Class passengers

    Al Mourjan lounge – Business Class passengers.

    First Class lounge – Oneworld Emerald.

    Business Class lounge – Oneworld Sapphire.

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