CHECK-IN I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 4 at 0600, after having been picked up in a Climate Cars (climatecars.com) Toyota Prius from north London. As the roads were very clear at this time in the morning, the journey only took 45 minutes so was very quick and easy. I had checked in online the night before, accepted the seat I had been assigned and printed my boarding pass. Once in the terminal building I turned left and walked the short way to check-in Zone A, where the Qatar Airways desks are, to drop my suitcase off.
There was only one person ahead of me at the business/first class desk so I was seen to promptly. (There was a long line for economy.) After being issued with a new boarding pass – including one for my onward flight to Kolkata, India – and a lounge pass, my bag was weighed and tagged. The agent was very friendly and gave me clear directions of how to get to the airside lounge. Security was only a couple of minutes’ walk away and fast-track lived up to its promise – I was through in less than three minutes (laptops and liquids out and belts off as usual).
THE LOUNGE The departure area looked polished and new, with plenty of high-end shops. I picked up a few last-minute essentials from Boots and then headed for the Skyteam lounge, about five minutes’ away, opposite Gate 10. (Note that Qatar Airways has use of this facility even though it is not a member of the alliance.)
It was pretty quiet inside so I found a seat by one of the windows overlooking the tarmac and left my bags before going to the buffet bar to get some breakfast. There was a good selection of self-service hot dishes including scrambled eggs, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, bacon, sausages and hash browns (upon tasting it, though, it reminded me a bit of school dinners), along with yoghurt, fruit, croissants, rolls, cheese, coffee, juice (from concentrate), tea, and other soft drinks.
There was a decent number of newspaper titles to hand and I helped myself to a copy of The Times. The lounge occupies two floors and totals 1,600 sqm, which equates to a capacity of 300 people. Wifi access is free, and there are PCs available to use, games consoles, a spa (although this was closed when I was there) and Jo Malone products in the washrooms.
BOARDING There are no announcements in the lounge so I had to keep getting up to check the departure boards for my 0800 flight to Doha. It didn’t appear as “boarding” until 0710 so at this point I left and made my way to Gate 5, which is a good ten minutes’ walk away. En route I noticed that the status of my flight had changed to “final call” and then by the time I got there it said it was “closing”, so I was pretty anxious at the thought of missing it. However, it was fine, and I was ushered on to the plane via an airbridge without a hitch.
Once in my seat (10B) at 0730, I was offered a drink and a newspaper. At this point I noticed crew helping passengers lift cases into overhead lockers – something I was told by an attendant on another well-known carrier that they aren’t allowed to do “because of health and safety” – and that one was paying special attention to two nannies who were looking after children in the seats in the same row as me.
THE SEAT This A330-300 is configured with three classes – first (1-2-1/A, E-F, K) across rows one to three, business (2-2-2/A-B, E-F, K-J) across rows ten to 14 (no row 13) and economy (2-4-2/ A-B, C-D-E-F, K-J) from rows 16 to 44. As it happened I was lucky to be in row ten as it is effectively in its own private cabin between the business class section behind and first class cabin in front. I was also fortunate to find no one sitting next to me so was able to move to the window seat beside me.
Qatar’s product is angled-lie flat and features burgundy upholstery and grey shell surrounds and carpet. My seat felt very spacious and comfortable, particularly as no one was sitting next to me, and a large touchscreen in-flight entertainment (IFE) display came out of the central armrest. (There is also a remote stored here.) All business class passengers are provided with cotton-backed wool blankets, noise-cancelling headphones, two amenity kits – one with socks and an eye mask in it and the other with a brush, tissues, earplugs, Molton Brown moisturiser, eau de toilette and lip balm.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The best business class seats are in row ten as it is in its own private cabin. There is plenty of legroom (at least 1.5 metres) and is close to the washrooms, which are just behind the curtain leading to the galley behind.
THE FLIGHT The plane pushed back at 0750 and, while taxiing, there was a safety demonstration. Take-off was 15 minutes later and, at 0825, breakfast orders were taken. There was a wide choice of options including juice or mango lassi, followed by sliced fruit and Greek yoghurt or a salad plate of hot-smoked salmon and peppered mackerel with cream cheese and pumpernickel bread.
After that, options were of Belgian waffles with raspberry ragout and crème fraiche, Arabic meze with pitta and hummus, or scrambled egg and wild mushroom parcel with creamed spinach and vine-ripened tomatoes and either a herb chicken patty, grilled teriyaki salmon or potato and carrot roesti. A breadbasket and tea and coffee were also offered.
While the crew was preparing the food, each premium passenger was personally welcomed by the purser, and the girl who brought me my meal proved to be very amiable and helpful, answering the few questions I put her way. The fruit and the spinach parcel with potato and carrot roesti that I ordered were very good (although I didn’t eat much of it as wasn’t particularly hungry) and were presented attractively on white china plates with metal cutlery. My coffee was served in a mug, which I liked.
I spent most of the six-hour 20-minute flight working or watching films on the Onyx IFE system, which had a pretty good selection of recent releases. A choice of snacks was served at 1300, but I wasn’t hungry so ordered a tomato juice instead. The descent began at 1350 and there was a video presentation on the transfer procedure that will be in existence until the New Doha International airport opens next year. First and business class passengers, such as myself, who are transferring so have been issued with burgundy boarding pass wallets and cabin baggage tags, were instructed that once off the plane, they were to board a luxury limousine or bus that would take them to the Premium Terminal.
ARRIVAL Upon landing, which took place at 1430 (1630 local time), disembarkation was swift, with first class passengers exiting from the front of the aircraft and business class from the door just behind row ten where I was. At the bottom of the steps a smiling Qatar Airways concierge was waiting for me, and I was ushered to a waiting bus that took me – and me alone – to the terminal.
After being screened at security, which only took a moment as there was no one else there and I didn’t have to take my laptop out or any liquids, the concierge took me upstairs to the business class lounge where I was to wait a few hours for my connection to Kolkata at 1940. (For a review of the onward leg, click here.)
VERDICT A perfectly stress-free journey from start to finish. The Qatar Airways crew are extremely keen to offer assistance, are well presented and attentive. I enjoyed the food, the flight was on time and the seat was spacious and comfortable. My only comment would be that on a night flight the fact that the product is angled lie-flat as opposed to fully flat might be a disappointment to some travellers.
PLANE TYPE A330
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2-2 (A-B, E-F, K-J)
SEAT PITCH 60in/152.5cm
SEAT WIDTH 20.5in/52cm
SEAT RECLINE 165 degrees (angled lie-flat)
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Doha in October started from £2,450.