Qatar Airways was the launch customer for the A350 XWB, and took delivery of the aircraft in December last year.
Business Traveller took a short flight around Toulouse on that occasion, and to read those first impressions, click here. Subscribers can read about the A350 and a tour of the Hamburg factory in more detail here.
Next year, it will launch daily A350 services to Philadephia (from January 1), New York JFK (March 1) and Boston (March 16) (see news, June 1).
Qatar Airways’ A350s feature 36 seats in business class in a 1-2-1 configuration, and 247 in economy in a 3-3-3 layout.
I had arrived at Doha’s Hamad International airport at 0550 on connecting flight QR002, from London Heathrow, for my onward seven-hour flight to Singapore on QR0938.
This was a tight connection of only 45 minutes, the minimum connection time at the airport, so I was concerned when we parked at a remote stand.
Fortunately, we had arrived 25 minutes early, so making the 0700 departure proved to be very easy. Business class passengers have their own bus, which took us straight to the terminal, and the queue at security was short.
Of course, if the transfer time had been longer I could have visited the Qatar lounge, which is huge and well worth spending a few hours in.
My main concern was to make the connection and so I swiftly walked to Gate B7. Since boarding had already commenced, I walked straight on board and was in my seat by 0630.
The A350 XWB takes its name from the acronym Extra Wide Body, and this is Airbus marketing the fact that unlike Boeing’s new generation B787, the A350 is wider with a 220-inch fuselage cross section, giving a more spacious feel to the cabin.
Qatar Airways has laid out its B787 business class in a 1-2-1 configuration, so you would be hard pressed to notice the difference, in space terms, between the Dreamliner and the A350.
It is more noticeable in economy. Although the configuration is the same — nine across in a 3-3-3 configuration — the seat width is up to 18 inches, wider than is possible on the B787 (which originally was designed to have eight-across seating).
Qatar Airways’ A350 seats 283 passengers, in contrast, for instance, to Vietnam Airlines’ A350, which is in a three-class configuration with 305 seats. To see a seat map, click here.
As my connecting flight from London to Doha had been on a B787, this was a good opportunity to compare the on-board experience between the two.
Both the B787 and A350 feel spacious, helped by the larger windows and the welcome area on board – this is even more pronounced on the A350, with its circular illuminated dome in the ceiling, no lockers above the centre seats, and a wide seating area.
The overhead lockers above the window seats are the new design which allows roll-on bags to be placed on their side lengthways, meaning there is enough storage space. However, on this flight I think the majority of passengers were connecting and had checked their bags through to their final destination.
As far as the aircraft is concerned, Qatar Airways claims that “customers enjoy reduced jetlag due to innovations such as the latest high precision air management system that filters the air every few minutes and a carbon fibre fuselage that provides reduced cabin pressure”.
As far as I’m aware, these claims are still being investigated in long-term studies, but there’s little doubt the aircraft is lovely and quiet and the atmosphere is pleasant to sit, work and sleep in.
The windows on the A350 work in a slightly different way to those on the Dreamliner, not dimming like on the B787, but instead having both a blackout blind and an opaque blind, which works well since you can vary how much light you let in much more easily.
The business class of 36 seats is in a 1-2-1 configuration (A-EF-K) and is split into two sections as it is on the B787.
But whereas on the B787, 20 of the 22 business seats are in a main section of five rows with a pair of seats behind the entrance area, on the A350 there are six rows in the front cabin (rows 1-6) and then three rows (7, 8, 9) also in an A-EF-K layout.
The seats are very spacious. They have a side-table area large enough for storing books, papers, iPads and a laptop when the fold-out table is in use for dining, and the table is large enough to continue working while still having drinks and food on it.
The seats recline into 80-inch long fully-flat beds with a width of 30 inches. In design, they are similar to those on the airline’s B787 and A380 aircraft, and are superb.
I find them comfortable for working and sleeping. On the flight from London, I had slept for about six hours of the six and a half hour flight, and on this flight of similar duration I worked the entire flight in comfort.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
The first decision is front section or back. In truth, there isn’t much to choose between them.
Worries that it might be noisy in the area between the two sections if people stand and talk certainly weren’t founded on this flight, which was very quiet, but there are subtle differences in the seats.
Seat 7K: Note that in this seat and 7A an air vent replaces the storage space below the seat controls
As mentioned, there are two sections (rows 1-6 and 7-9) making a total of 36 seats. I was in row 7 for this flight, and in 7A and 7K you lose the storage space down below the seat controls due to an air vent.
Instead, there is a storage space in the panel in front. There was a larger locker below marked “Crew Use”, but I was told I could use that as well as cabin crew weren’t using it.
On the other seats, there is also a slide-out locker for shoes which isn’t in the front row (note this is 7A and 7K). There is also a different locker for seats 7E and 7F.
As noted, there are no overhead lockers above the central seats, so if you worry about people getting their bags and perhaps dropping them on you, centre seats are ideal, but you lose the advantage of the window seats having access to the large windows.
Service comes from the front galley, so I would avoid the front couple of rows and also the last row since there is a washroom immediately behind it.
For this reason, I would go for row 8 in the second section. There’s very little footfall because it is economy behind, and the service remains good – although you might have to wait a little longer for drinks or food, I didn’t notice any delay on this flight (although a lot of people were sleeping).
Once on board, I was offered a choice of drinks, and selected one of the signature non-alcoholic mint drinks, and a choice of hot or cold towels.
Already on the seat was a Giorgio Armani amenity bag containing a large tube of aftershave lotion, a small amount of aftershave, flight socks, ear plugs, and lip balm. There was also a food menu and a drinks menu.
We departed slightly ahead of schedule, a few minutes before 0700. From there it was a short taxi to the runway. After the seat belt sign went off I wanted to work.
The IFE system is the latest from Thales (the Avant system), and in business is viewed on a 17-inch screen, compared to 10.6 inches in economy. Unlike the B787 system, there is also the option of having a camera from the tailfin on the IFE system, which is fun during taxi, take-off and landing.
The wifi and GSM connectivity is offered through the OnAir system, which was slow to be turned on. Various reasons were given for this, including not yet turned on, being reset, and being “in the wrong area” for it to work since we were over China, which we weren’t, because we’d just left Doha.
There may be very good reasons for it not to work (I imagine because were close to Iran), but it seems strange to tell us all about it at take-off and that it will be turned on when we are in the air, and then not have a good reason why it doesn’t work once airborne.
On a day flight like this there were several people who wanted to connect and work. After 80 minutes (once we were past Iran) the system worked, although there are certain areas where the service is restricted.
When this happens, a message appears on the home screen: “We are currently flying over an area where internet use is not allowed. Please return later in the flight to check service availability.”
As it turned out, because there is no internet access available while flying over Pakistan and India, buying the full package for this flight probably isn’t worth it at $22 (£14) since for nearly three hours of the flight no service was available.
The menu choice reflected that this was a morning departure. It was as follows:
- Freshly squeezed orange juice
- Peach and honey smoothie
- Cucumber and apple juice
- Seasonal fresh fruits bound with yoghurt and toasted granola
- Choice of breakfast cereals: cornflakes, Weetabix or toasted muesli
- Bircher muesli: rolled oats
- Smoked tuna: lemon and herb labneh, grapefruit, plum tomatoes and rocket leaves
- Traditional Arabic breakfast: labneh with za’atar, feta cheese, cucumber, tomato, falafel and mixed olives swerved with foul medames and Arabic breads
- Pepper and cheese frittata: sautéed potatoes wih red onion, roasted plum tomatoes, portobllo mushroom and chicken sausage
- Congee: steamed bay shrimps, choi sum, steamed carrot, ginger, black mushroom, spring onion, fried yutiao, red chilli and soy sauce.
With the breakfast, or served whenever requested, there was also a “Light Options” menu:
- Grilled lemon grass chicken salad: mozzarella, red beet curls, roasted yellow capsicum, red cherry tomamtoes and frisee lettuce
- Chicken shawarma wrap: spinach fatayer, lahem bilagine, cucumber, cherry tomamto, radish and pomemgranate seeds
- Udon noodles with Asia style vegetables and flaked red snapper: garlic sauce, sautéed lotus root, wood ear musrooms, grilled red capsicum and bok choi
- Laduree: selection of indulgent individual dessert.
The selection, as you’d expect when travelling in business with Qatar Airways, was simply outstanding:
- Champagnes: Billecart-Salmon, Brut and Pol Roger Extra Cuvee Reserve, 2006 (Champagnes)
- Pinot Gris, Domaince Zind Humbrecht, Clos Windsbuhl, 2001, Alsace, France (white)
- Sauvignon Blanc, Pioneer Block 2012, Marlborough, Bew Zealand (white)
- Riesling: Dr Loosen, Erdener, Treppchen, Spatlese, 2012, Mosel Valley, Germany (white)
- Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac Leognan, Grand Cru Classe, 2009 Bordeaux (red)
- Shiraz: Hollick, 2012, Wrattonbully, Australia (red)
- Pinor Noir: Villa Maria, Cellar Selection, 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand (red)
- Gewurtztraminer: Gustave Lorentz, Altenburg de Bergheim, Grand Cru, 2010, Alsace, France (red)
- Tawny Port: Kopke, Colheita, 1974, Douro Valley, Portugal
As mentioned, I spent the whole flight working, since I had work to do, but also knew that on the return flight from Singapore I would be departing in the early morning and would want to sleep.
We arrived at Singapore on time, and were quickly disembarked. There was no queue at immigration and our bags were quickly on the carousel.
This is a lovely aircraft. Like the B787 and A380, it is quiet and, like the Dreamliner, has Qatar Airways’ newest products onboard. It is also extremely spacious – in business, but also in economy, something that will be welcomed by passengers.
When these A350 flights start flying to and from New York, Boston and Philadelphia, it will be fascinating to read the reaction.
The US carriers have upped their game considerably in recent years, but at present, there are few airlines in the world matching Qatar Airways in terms of onboard product, service and lounges.
Until then, those heading to Singapore have the chance to marvel at the new aircraft – it’s well worth the trip, and not just because of Singapore’s new attractions.
SEAT CONFIGURATION 1-2-1
SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
BED LENGTH 80 inches
BED WIDTH 30 inches