This review focuses on the second leg of a Dubai-Doha-Hongkong flight taken in the second quarter of the year. Qatar Airways flies daily from Dubai to Hongkong via Doha, Qatar’s capital, using an Airbus A330-300 for the Dubai-Doha leg and an A330-200 for Doha-Hongkong. Starting October 29, an A340-600 with a First Class lounge will operate between Doha and Hongkong (subject to change).
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Qatar may be a small country, but it plans on a grand scale. One proof is the New Doha International Airport (price tag: US$5.5 billion), rising four kilometres east of the existing terminal. The first phase of the complex – to be open in 2009 – can handle 12 million passengers, and when fully completed in 2015 will handle 50 million passengers.
But for now, taking pride of place is the Premium Terminal, a dedicated First and Business Class facility, which opened in November 2006 at Doha International. The US$90 million, two-storey structure features 10,000sqm of space for exclusive check-in, separate First and Business Class lounges (spa facilities are available in First), a business centre, duty-free shopping, nursery and prayer rooms among others.
BOARDING: Having been on the go since 6am, catching the 1.10am flight to Hongkong was a pain but it couldn’t be helped. Instead, I decided to get a bit of shut-eye at the lounge. Upon arrival, a concierge greeted and ushered me to one of the four Business Class check-in desks (First Class also had four), where I was quickly processed. To get to the lounges, one had to pass Duty Free and reach the next level by escalator.
Since flights for European cities such as Frankfurt, Zurich and Paris usually leave Doha past midnight (to make for morning arrivals), the Business Class lounge was expectedly packed. The buffet spread was small but adequate for a decent meal with offerings like chicken biryani (saffron-flavoured rice). A business centre offered several workstations and a meeting room. Wi-Fi was available.
At 12.50am I was invited by the concierge to proceed to the boarding gate to take the shuttle to the aircraft, and by 1.05am I was in my window seat 15K (the last in the row) onboard QR812.
THE SEAT: The wide-bodied A330-200 has 24 Business Class seats and 236 in Economy. My section boasted a 2-2-2 configuration with 55” pitch and seats that reclined 160 degrees. Five electronic controls allowed for aircraft takeoff, meal, upright, relax and sleep positions, and there was a seat position memory function and back massage control as well. Designed by Recaro of Germany, seats can be converted into a two-metre bed and were equipped with a 15” LCD television, AVOD, laptop power point and phone. A shoe compartment was located at the bottom of the seatback in front while another section contained the inflight magazine. What I liked most was the ample leg space, which allowed me to perform my stretch exercises when I felt the need to, not making contact with my neighbour towards the front.
THE FLIGHT: The attention to detail was obvious from the moment I boarded the aircraft – Bvlgari amenity kits placed on the seats, prompt drink service, the handing out of hot towels, reading materials (the likes of Fortune and golf magazines) and sleep shirts, the taking of breakfast orders (a choice of American or Chinese) and enquiries into our comfort. Although our ETD was 1.10am, we were still on the ground at 1.30am, prompting crewmember Navneet to explain that a delay of the aircraft in London had affected the schedule. By 1.47am, the captain had us taxiing, after which we took off.
For supper, we were presented with a choice of Western and Chinese. I opted for scallop congee, which was too salty for my liking. So I signalled to a flight attendant to have it changed. The cabin crew did their best to get the taste right, with at least two of them asking incessantly about my congee and making sure I had my fill – a nice gesture, I thought. Two movies were all I could manage before I fell into deep sleep.
About three hours later, I was awoken by the gentle mechanical sound made from adjusting the highly sophisticated electronic seats. By then, everyone was awake and ready for breakfast.
ARRIVAL: It wasn’t until the captain announced it was 1.42pm (Hongkong time) that I realised we had been onboard for over eight hours. Touchdown was five minutes early at 2.20pm.
VERDICT: Service was high quality and consistent. The Premium Terminal experience is icing on the cake for what Qatar has to offer to its passengers, particularly those who benefit from its current expansion plans across long-haul destinations like the US (flights to NY via Geneva started in June and a non-stop daily service to Washington DC from July).
PRICE: A Doha-Hongkong Business Class ticket costs from 3,550 QAR (US$1,002) for a weekday departure in mid-October, to 8,790 QAR (US$2,481) for Friday, Saturday and Sunday departures.