CHECK-IN I arrived at Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International airport at the rather unsociable hour of 0220, after a 35-minute drive from the Oberoi hotel (oberoihotels.com) where I was staying. (The roads were clear at this time of night so traffic was not a problem.)
Passengers need a print out of their ticket or a boarding pass to gain entry to the terminal, which I had, fortunately. My passport and ticket was checked, before my suitcase was X-rayed and I was ushered to the check-in area. There was one desk open for business class and two for economy.
Flight QR295 (departing at 0410) was the return leg, a couple of day later, of the inaugural Doha-Kolkata service that launched in August (click here to read the review), which may have been why there were a few teething problems with the check-in process. After a 20-minute delay while staff made phone calls and tapped away on a computer, my bag was weighed and I was then instructed to wait in the nearby lounge while they sorted it out.
THE LOUNGE The facility was a shabby, soulless place but an ambitious revamp of the entire airport is in progress, with a new terminal being added that is expected to open in spring 2012. The food offering – a tray of sandwiches and pastries – looked stale and unappetising. There were small bottles of water, and tea and coffee on request. Newspapers, including The Times of India and The Telegraph were also on hand.
BOARDING Finally, at 0320, a member of staff arrived with my boarding pass to Doha (I was informed that a second boarding pass for my onward flight to London would be issued on arrival). I also had to complete a departure and immigration form, and put a tag on my hand-luggage. At 0330 I headed for immigration a short walk away. The terminal was very quiet as hardly anyone else was there so the process was quick.
I then went upstairs to security where my boarding pass was checked again and I was directed through a separate channel for women. (Laptops and liquids out.) After passing through a metal detector I was escorted into a small curtained booth where there were three female officers, one of whom gave me a pat down while another checked my boarding pass (again).
There was a short wait while economy passengers boarded from the only gate in this part of the airport, and I was I my seat by 0425, 15 minutes later than the flight was scheduled to depart.
THE SEAT I had been assigned window seat 2F in the business class cabin, which was configured with three rows in a 2-2 layout, and was pleased to find no one sitting next to me. The older-style product is upholstered in Qatar’s trademark burgundy fabric, and passengers are provided with hand-held entertainment devices that can be positioned on the central armrest. (On the new version of Qatar’s A320, that I experienced on outbound flight QR29, there are integrated seat-back screens and Onair Mobile connectivity, among other improved features.)
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? I noticed that the seats in front recline intrusively into your personal space, so those in row one might be preferable if you are shorter. However, as they are directly behind a bulkhead, the legroom is slightly restricted. Passengers in the front row do get served food and drink first, though, which is a plus if you want to eat and then sleep as soon as possible.
THE FLIGHT Once I was comfortable, I was offered a choice of water, fresh orange juice or a yoghurt drink, a hot or cold towel, and a choice of papers (Herald Tribune and Gulf Times) by a very polite member of crew. I was also provided with a blanket, noise-cancelling headphones and an entertainment menu. Overhead screens came down for the safety demonstration at 0440, at which point the plane also pushed back from the stand. Take-off was five minutes later.
There was a choice of eating before or after sleeping – I opted for the former because found myself to be quite hungry. Breakfast orders were taken at 0500 and I went for the banana smoothie, fresh fruit, bakery selection and chamomile tea, which was enjoyable. There was also an appetiser of grilled mushroom with a duo of cheese, an entrée of coriander and spring onion omelette with chargrilled peppers, pine nuts and cheese hash potatoes, and a traditional Indian breakfast.
ARRIVAL I slept well for the remainder of the 4.5-hour flight. The cabin lights came on at 0855 as the plane began its descent into Doha airport. We landed at 0925 (0655 local time) and disembarked within a few minutes via steps from the front of the aircraft. At the bottom, I was greeted by a smiling Qatar Airways concierge who took me to the Premium Terminal by shuttle bus. (Click here to read the review of the onward journey to London.)
VERDICT The check-in process was awful, Kolkata airport dreary and take-off delayed, but the service from the cabin crew and ground staff at Doha was excellent, and the breakfast service was good. Although the cradle-style seat on this A320 was the older version, I slept well. The flight schedule is fine if you want to arrive in time to do a full day’s work, but as the journey is not long enough to get more than about three hours’ sleep, you will feel tired. However, it does save on the cost of a hotel for one night.
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2 (A-C, D-F)
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from Doha to Kolkata in February started from QR5,670 (£991).