CHECK-IN My Qatar Airways flight (QR001) was set to depart at 1230 so I arranged to be dropped off at the dedicated first and business class Premium Terminal at 1030. It’s worth noting that by 2012, the new US$14 billion New Doha International airport is set to open, which will double capacity to 24 million passengers a year. Once it is in operation, the current airport will be knocked down, and possibly even the Premium Terminal, which only opened in 2006 – such is the rate of development in Qatar.
In the mean time, those using the Premium Terminal will find it as stress-free as you can get. When I was there, the check-in area was almost empty, and welcoming staff at the desks (two open for business and first class) swiftly checked in my luggage and issued a boarding pass. Security was equally rapid, with no one ahead of me. The ground floor has a duty-free section on one side and the gates on the other, and directly ahead of the security channel is an escalator up to the lounges.
A business centre for all premium passengers offers international newspapers (The Times, Gulf Times, Gulf News, Peninsula and Daily Mail), photocopiers, printers, faxes, free wifi, mobile phone chargers, two meeting rooms for three people in each, and a conference room for up to ten delegates, on a first-come first-served basis. On the opposite side of the corridor is a kids’ room with Playstations and table football. The subtle sound of running water and birdsong is played overhead in the public areas, which adds to the sense of calm.
THE LOUNGE The first class lounge – featuring a martini bar, spa, sauna, pool and five bedrooms – is on the left, while the business facility is on the right. The latter provides passengers with plenty of seating (around 800) either by floor-to-ceiling windows or in the dining and relaxation areas, the use of two showers, a smoking room, free wifi (no password required), and staff who come around to inform travellers when their flights are boarding.
In terms of the beverage offering, there is a self-service drinks trolley stocked with spirits and champagne (Duval Leroy), Nespresso machines, numerous fridges filled with soft drinks, and waiter service for top-ups if you so require. Breakfast is available 0600-1000, lunch 1130-1500, afternoon tea 1530-1700 and dinner 1800-0230.
When I arrived at 1045 there was nothing available to eat, but fortunately I was told guests can order light snacks or meals on-request, and was soon brought an appetising selection of filled wraps (chicken/cheese/tuna). The buffet lunch included spaghetti in a cream sauce, steamed vegetables, roast potatoes, beef in gravy, rice, soup, cold pasta salad, tabouleh, hummus, bean salad, tuna salad and three types of fresh bread.
BOARDING The departure screens in the lounge showed that boarding started at 1140, but a member of staff assured me that she would come and get me at the right time. After about 20 minutes I was slightly concerned that she had forgotten me, but at 1210 she returned to escort me downstairs to Gate 8, where I was then taken to the plane with my fellow passengers in a shuttle bus. I noticed that I was not getting special treatment, however, as a number of other passengers were also being led the same way.
THE SEAT I was in 16F, an aisle seat in the middle of the twin-aisle aircraft. 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.
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 eyemask, socks, Molton Brown moisturiser, lip balm and perfume spray, plus a comb and earplugs. Toothpaste and toothbrushes were available in the washrooms, which were to the front of the business class cabin.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? I would have preferred a window seat on this daytime flight but it wasn’t a huge problem. However, as all seats are forward facing, if you do go for a window seat you have to be prepared to climb over your neighbour to get out, which can be a little 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 I was in my seat by 1217 and was immediately offered a soft drink or glass of champagne, a newspaper (UK ones were photocopies) and the option to have my jacket hung up. Take-off was ten minutes late, with an estimated flight time of six hours and 35 minutes.
At 1400, the lunch service began. There was a little confusion over what I had ordered as I was given my main before the starter (I think they thought I had wanted to skip it altogether) but after an apology and brief explanation I was soon brought the Arabic mezze (pitta bread, pink hummus, and crunchy salad) platter I had wanted. When my main course of tagliatelle with creamy mushroom and tomato sauce was returned to me, it had obviously been reheated too much as the pasta around edges was a bit chewy. It did, nevertheless, go rather nicely with a glass of the Brunello di Montalcino.
After a plate of cheese and crackers (with and dried fruit as opposed to chutney), bottles of Evian and Godiva chocolates were handed out, along with tea and coffee for those who wanted it. During the rest of the flight I watched a film and read the paper, and for those who still had an appetite, afternoon tea was available.
ARRIVAL The plane started its descent at 1845 (1645 local time) and landed at 1925, a little later than scheduled. The process of getting off the plane, getting through fast-track and collecting my suitcase from the reclaim area in London Heathrow’s Terminal 4 took about 25 minutes.
VERDICT Excellent check-in and lounge facilities at Doha’s Premium Terminal, and a relaxing daytime flight to London, with helpful crew and a comfy seat.
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight in January started from £2,000.