CHECK-IN Qatar Airways was due to move from Heathrow Terminal 3 to Terminal 4 on November 24, but this has now been delayed until December 8, “To allow for essential developments to the baggage handling system at our new terminal, which will assist us in offering our customers a hassle-free and enjoyable travel experience”. The Qatar Airways check-in area at T4 will be in Zone A across desks 115-122.
Passengers flying with Qatar Airways can check in online from 36 hours before departure, although when I tried to do so the night before it wouldn’t allow me to, saying that my flight might have been cancelled. As I was part of a group booking I headed to the airport as planned, and arrived at London Heathrow’s Terminal 3 at 0850 for the 1050 flight to Doha. I walked to Zone E, positioned directly in front of the entrance, and after a short wait was able to talk to a member of staff at one of the check-in desks.
There was indeed no record of the flight reservation but as the trip was being hosted by the airline, we were assured that the problem would be resolved. At 0910 our passports and luggage were taken by a member of staff and we were issued with lounge passes, escorted through security, which took about ten minutes, then up to lounge A, which is actually the Cathay Pacific business class facility. We were asked to wait there while they sorted out the flight booking and checked us in.
THE LOUNGE The Cathay business lounge is about five minutes’ walk from security through the duty-free shopping area and via a lift to level two. The Cathay first class lounge is adjacent. The business class lounge is decorated in a neutral palette with cream and brown furnishings. There is no natural daylight but travellers can avail themselves of the free wifi, three showers and a choice of eight PCs.
The choice of food was limited to nuts, crisps, Cup Noodles, pastries, crackers and sorry looking croissants – nothing very tempting for this time of day – so I helped myself to an orange juice (from concentrate) and a watery filter coffee. There were also mini cans of mixers in the fridge and a few bottles of spirits and, across the way, a decent selection of magazines and newspapers. It was fairly quiet so there was plenty of seating to choose from. By 1015 we were reunited with our passports and, fortunately, boarding passes for the flight.
BOARDING As boarding had already started (at 0940) there was a bit of a rush to get to the gate (35), so we were driven by airport buggy in a matter of minutes. (It probably would have taken a good ten minutes to get there on foot from the lounge.) I was one of the last people to board at 1030 – economy was about 40 per cent full, while business was about 80 per cent – and once across the airbridge and in my seat, I was offered a choice of water, orange juice or Lanson champagne by a friendly member of crew, before a delay to take-off was announced due to air traffic control issues. At 1055 hot towels were handed out and lunch orders taken.
THE SEAT The three-class A340-600 that plies this route is configured with eight first class seats configured 1-2-1 (A, E-F, K) across rows one and two, 42 business class seats across two cabins in a 2-2-2 (A-B, E-F, J-K) layout (rows ten-17), and 256 economy class seat arranged 2-4-2 (A-B, D-E-F-G, J-K) across rows 22 to 54.
I had been assigned seat 17J, an aisle seat at the back of the cabin near the galley – had this been a night flight I might have suffered some disturbance from people walking to and fro, and from noise from the food preparation area, but since it was a day flight it did not bother me. Each of the magenta fabric-upholstered angled-lie-flat business seats has an Oryx 15-inch personal touchscreen in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen, a 165-degree recline with three pre-set positions for eating, relaxing and sleeping, a 20.5-inch width, 60-61-inch pitch and EU/US in-seat power.
The product also features an in-seat vibrating massage function, lumbar support, a small drinks tray that comes out of the central armrest, a pillow, a fleece blanket, and a compartment for newspapers. Amenity kits contained an eyeshade, socks, Molton Brown moisturiser and perfume spray, plus a comb and earplugs but no toothpaste or toothbrush. Washrooms were to the front of the business class cabin.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? As all seats are forward facing, if you go for a window seat you have to be prepared to climb over your neighbour to get out, which could be quite inconvenient. Middle seats E and F both provide direct aisle access but no view through a window. Those sitting in row 16 and 17 may experience some disturbance from the galleys and washrooms. Any of the other seats are good options.
THE FLIGHT Take-off was a little late at 1125 and, about 30 minutes later, an aperitif and a “palate pleaser” were offered to those in business, and tray tables were laid with white cotton cloths and metal cutlery. As there was no vegetarian option I went straight on to the starter – a delicious spicy spinach and paneer cheese soup, worthy of a place on any restaurant menu. It also came with three different kinds of freshly baked bread roll (white, seeded and sundried tomato).
The main course (there was also a meat option) was also very tasty – a generous portion of aubergine and lentil curry with basmati rice, an onion bhaji and a stuffed pepper – and went down well with a cool glass of chardonnay. Dessert was strawberry and vanilla ice cream with berry compote, and a choice of tea and coffee followed. The crew were very amenable, bringing extra drinks when requested and efficiently clearing away dishes in between courses.
There was a good selection recently released movies on the IFE system and noise-cancelling headphones could be found in a panel in the side of the seat. I spent the afternoon reading magazines and watching films and, at 1600, tea was served. I opted for a Diet Coke and declined the offer of more food as the lunch was quite enough.
ARRIVAL The plane started its descent into the Qatari capital at 1715 and landed in the at 1745 (1945 local time). We were then promptly disembarked down steps from the plane and on to a shuttle bus. Once at the terminal, my group was taken to the arrivals area where a member of staff helped sort out our entry visas and escort us through immigration (so no queuing) into baggage reclaim where our cases were waiting. The drive into the city centre takes about 20-30 minutes depending on traffic.
VERDICT Top-class food and service from the Qatari carrier, as usual. The seat might not be fully flat but it is more than adequate for the six- to seven-hour flight between London and Doha.
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight in January started from £2,000.