Background Qatar Airways has four flights a day from Doha to London Heathrow and one to Gatwick – flight QR75 departing at 0205. It also serves Manchester once a day.
Check-in Qatar’s Premium terminal for business and first class ticket holders is a superb, separate, two-storey building from where buses shuttle you out to the waiting aircraft. We have published several reviews of the terminal before (click here for more). Arriving at around 0030 for my 0205 morning departure to Gatwick, the place was almost empty, since few flights leave at this time.
Boarding Normally for this single daily flight to Gatwick, a two-class version of the A330 aircraft is used. However, after check-in at the premium travel desk and an hour’s rest in the lounge, I discovered that there had been an aircraft switch at the last moment, and we were now on a three-class A330. Better still I, and three of the other business class passengers, had been upgraded to first.
The seat I asked about the aircraft change and was told by the flight attendants that it had been very last minute. As such, it would be a business class meal service, as this is what had been loaded, but with a first class seat and flat bed. (Note that the food choices listed below were for the business class sector, not first class, and the review has been listed as a business class review, despite the seat [and cabin] being first.)
Before take off our jackets were taken and hung in the wardrobe, drinks were offered and the menus handed out. As this was short night flight, the menu was less substantial than for a longer flight: The “palate pleaser” was caviar on a baguette with sour cream. Starters were pea and mint soup, mushroom and chicken querelle or a seafood cocktail of king prawns and smoked halibut with mango salad, lemon and onion cream. Other options included classic Arabic meze, warm spiced chicken sandwich, sliced fresh fruit, pistachio and vanilla ice cream with forest berries or an individual cheese plate of Cheddar, double-cream Brie and mild blue. I wasn’t drinking, but in addition to the wines notes in the previous review of business class (click here) I noticed a few wines that were new to me, including a Château Monbousquet, 2002, St-Emilion Grand Cru.
The captain told us that as a result of air traffic control restrictions at Gatwick, we would be starting 25 minutes late to avoid arriving too early at Gatwick, but there were no further delays after this. On the A330 aircraft, the first class seat reclines into a fully-flat bed. I was in seat 1A.
I had flown first class with Qatar only a few weeks previously, and thought although the seat was very similar, there were slightly differences. On this A330-200, the configuration was the same 1-2-1 (A, E-F, K) over rows one to three making a total of 12 seats, but the TV screen was set in the back of the seat in front rather than swinging out on an arm, and there were no window bins along the side of the aircraft. The layout of the aircraft was also slightly different, since behind the curtain in business there was a cabin with a single row of seats (row ten) in a 2-2-2 configuration (A-B, E-F, J-K) and then the galley, followed by a larger business class cabin across rows, 11-14 (there is no row 13), in same configuration.
The flight By the time we took off, it was nearly 0300 so I wanted to sleep. I was offered a sleep suit top, which I changed into, then reclined the fully-flat bed. Normally, this is made up with cover and sheet etc, but since this was an aircraft swap, I was only offered extra blanket, which I declined. I put my earplugs in and face mask on, and got nearly five hours sleep. On waking, there was time for breakfast, and I had a banana, a mango smoothie, some fresh fruit with yoghurt, a croissant and a cup of tea. Hot choices were available, including ricotta hotcakes, raspberries with crème fraiche and maple syrup or lobster omelette with herb prawn sauce, sautéed mushrooms and asparagus.
Arrival We landed at 0650 and taxied to Gate 102. There was a ten-minute walk to immigration where the IRIS scanner was working. I only had hand luggage, so walked straight out and took a connecting train to the South terminal followed by a train into London.
Verdict Faultless. It helps that an aircraft change worked in our favour, sending us from business to first instead of first to business, and the staff explained it all very well. There were only a handful passengers in first/business class so the four flight attendants could easily have been over-attentive, with offers of Arabic coffee and dates, five-course meals and explanations of the IFE system, but instead recognised that we just wanted to sleep – they made no fuss, and more importantly, no noise during the night. They were there just at the right time to help, and the rest of the time left us in peace, which was exactly what was required. Having the experience to know what is superfluous and the confidence to do less (but still all that is required) is very impressive. Qatar is definitely a five-star airline.