I arrived at Cape Town International Airport’s departure zone at 1720 for the 1855 departure on flight QR1366 from Cape Town to Doha (via Johannesburg), a flight of ten hours and 55 minutes.
The night before, I had used Qatar Airways’ online check-in service to reserve my seats and print my boarding passes. However, I was only able to get assigned seats for the last sector of my flight from Doha to Hong Kong. For this first sector from Cape Town to Doha, I received an error message alerting me that seat selection for this flight was only available at the airport check-in counters.
At departure zone C, Qatar Airways was checking passengers in at seven open counters – two for business class and Oneworld tier holders and five for economy class and bag drops only. There was no queue when I went to one of the business class counters, but there were long queues for economy class that did not seem to move at all.
Qatar Airways allows 40kg checked luggage for business class passengers. Having spent two weeks on an adventure trip exploring South Africa and carrying all sorts of gear, I was overweight but this was not even mentioned by the check-in agent, for which I was grateful.
I learned at check-in that my flight was completely overbooked in both business and economy, but was nonetheless able to get my desired window seat in the first of the two business cabins.
The airport was not busy at that time of day and it took a mere five minutes to clear security and immigration. There are no fast track lanes for first and business class passengers at Cape Town International Airport.
Qatar Airways does not operate its own lounge in Cape Town. Passengers are directed to the Bidvest Lounge, a shared facility at the far end of the international departure hall.
While walking to the lounge, I passed the British Airways Executive Club Lounge, which I thought looked nice and decided to give it a try. I was surprised to learn that Qatar Airways passengers do not have clearance to enter despite British Airways and Qatar Airways being Oneworld partners.
The welcoming board outside the Bidvest Lounge revealed that the lounge is shared by almost all international airlines serving Cape Town, Emirates and British Airways being the only exceptions, as well as Priority Pass holders and a various premium credit card holders.
The lounge is rather small and was so busy that it was hard to find a vacant seat. It was bright and airy, though, and offered nice views of the runways.
I did not see any food on display. The drinks selection, however, was adequate with a wide selection of spirits and liquors available in addition to international beers, wines, coffee, tea and soft drinks.
There was a boarding announcement in the lounge at 1820. It was a short three-minute walk from the lounge to Gate 5. Priority boarding for business class worked flawlessly and I was aboard the aircraft within seconds.
I was then escorted to my seat and offered a choice of water, juice or champagne. My coat was hung and my carry-on luggage stowed away by a crew member who identified himself as my “personal assistant throughout the flight”.
There was a large selection of international newspapers available in English but the magazines were almost exclusively in Arabic. I like flicking through periodicals on flights so found the lack thereof disappointing.
This overnight flight leaves Cape Town at 1855 and takes approximately two hours to Johannesburg. Passengers continuing on to Doha stay onboard the aircraft at Johannesburg while more passengers join the flight.
The service is operated by Boeing’s modern and much-praised B777-300ER, a twin-engine, twin-aisle long-haul aircraft. Seating is in a 2-2-2 configuration.
I was in seat 3A, a window seat, with amenity kit already waiting for me but no slippers. In the seat pocket in front there was a large leather folder containing the food and wine menus. For a seat plan of this aircraft, click here.
The seat was the latest business class product offered by Qatar Airways, featuring a 79-inch seat pitch and 180-degree fully-flat recline that converts into a bed at the press of a button. There are several pre-set seating positions to choose from, including a comfortable one for reading, one for watching TV and one for dining.
I liked the large and crystal-clear 15.4-inch PTVs programmed with Qatar Airways’ latest Oryx Entertainment (its onboard entertainment system). There is ample storage space in the lower compartments left and right of the seat, as well as in the overhead compartments.
The cocktail table was large enough to hold a glass of champagne, a glass of water and a small snack bowl all at once, making for a relaxed pre-departure atmosphere.
All the controls for the seat and the IFE are in a convenient position to one side, along with a reading light, and the in-seat power (US plug) and iPod USB jacks are here as well.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE
I was seated in 3A and satisfied with that seat.
Business class on the 777-300ER is spread across two cabins. The first cabin comprises rows 1-4, while the latter spans rows 5-7. I prefer the first cabin in the very front of the aircraft as it tends to be quieter.
I do not recommend rows 1, 4 and 5 for they are close to the galleys and toilets so it can get noisy there. There are large TV screens installed on the walls immediately facing rows 1 and 4 which I personally find very distracting on an overnight flight so I would avoid these rows in particular.
You will still find enough room to manoeuvre in and out of your seat even with your neighbour’s seat in fully-flat sleeping mode.
We pushed back on-time, at 1855 exact, and took off less than five minutes later. Once the seatbelt sign went off some ten minutes later, the cabin crew got busy preparing the dinner service.
Qatar Airways’ Oryx onboard entertainment is fantastic. I took four long-haul flights with Qatar recently in quick succession and never once felt bored with the entertainment choices available. There was a vast collection of the latest Hollywood movies, all-time favourites and classics, as well as TV shows and documentaries of all conceivable genres available in seven languages – English, Arabic, Hindi, French, German, Chinese and Korean.
The noise-cancelling Bose headsets were effective and cancelled out all cabin noise by just putting them on.
The dinner service on the first hop to Johannesburg started about 20 minutes into the flight when the cabin crew came around placing a table cloth on each passenger’s large dining table and taking entree choice orders.
The dinner menu was accompanied by an impressive selection of wines and champagnes and read as follows:
- Individual Selection of Feta, Sesame Crusted Prawn and Grilled Vegetables
- Stuffed Chicken Breast with Sundried Tomatoes and Cheese
- Vegetable Lasagna with Cheese Tomato Sauce
- Fresh Fruits
Understanding fully well that this was just the first of two dinners to come that evening (the next one being served after departing Johannesburg), I still could not help but feeling somewhat underwhelmed. In short, I have seen much better.
The appetiser was tasty, but very small. There were literally two small cubes of feta, half a sesame-crusted prawn and a couple of grilled vegetable slices on the plate.
I opted for the lasagna as my main course. I liked that it was served steaming hot. In fact, it was so hot that I burnt my tongue but that was hardly the airline’s fault. Taste-wise it was unremarkable though and heavy on cheese, butter and olive oil, instead of fresh vegetables, which I would have preferred.
The trays were cleared quickly after each course and the next courses came out shortly thereafter.
Arrival into Johannesburg was on-time and once at the gate all passengers continuing on to Doha were asked to remain on the aircraft while more passengers were boarding the flight. During this period the entertainment program was left running and the cabin crew continued to serve drinks and hot towels.
Push-back from the gate at Johannesburg was on-time at 2150, but then the flight crew discovered a malfunctioning door at the rear of the aircraft forcing us to return to the gate. The pilot walked to the back of the plane several times to examine the door and technicians came onboard to fix it. The passengers were kept informed regularly by the flight deck.
The faulty door was eventually fixed and we took off at 2330, one hour and 40 minutes late. Having an hour-long connection in Doha I was expecting to miss my connecting flight to Hong Kong and informed the cabin crew of my predicament. To my surprise the crew did not seem very apologetic of the situation and told me and the surrounding passengers also missing their flights that we would have to see what happens once we land in Doha.
Flight delays and missed connections happen all the time and they have happened to me a lot, too. Yet, I have never before experienced a cabin crew showing so little care for passengers’ queries and anxieties. On other airlines I have often experienced that the cabin and flight crew would communicate with operations control on the ground to sort out onward connections while the flight is still in the air so that passengers can be met with new, possibly rerouted, boarding passes at the door when they land.
The flight itself progressed smoothly and the dinner service out of Johannesburg was an uplifting experience that again came accompanied by Qatar Airways’ outstanding wine and champagne selection.
- Chicken and Leek Pie
- Cream of Sweet Corn and Carrot
- Selection of Sesame Tuna, Smoked Chicken and Poached Prawn
- Classic Arabic Mezze
- Fish Curry
- Coriander Rice, carrot tomato stew and sauteed spinach
- Baked Chicken Stuffed with Goats Cheese and Mushrooms
- Roasted potatoes and artichoke, buttered broccoli and bell peppers
- Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli
- Cherry tomatoes and asparagus
- Malva Pudding
- Vanilla Ice Cream
- Selection of Fresh Seasonal Fruits
- Cheese Platter
The canape was a nice touch and an effective way to kill time while waiting on the dinner service to start.
I had the selection platter for starters but, just like with my previous observation during the first dinner that night, the portion was very small — one piece of tuna, a piece of chicken and half a prawn. It tasted great; I just wished there had been more of it.
The fish curry was a good main course choice. It arrived piping hot and had a pleasant amount of spiciness to it that was well-balanced out by the accompanying rice, tomato carrot stew and spinach. The Riesling offered was a great wine to pair with the curry.
I skipped the dessert courses and went straight to sleep.
The captain came on some 45 minutes before arrival into Doha and gave us a new arrival time of 0800, still one hour and ten minutes behind schedule so I was sure to have missed my connection.
We did touch down at 0800 exactly and to my dismay there was nobody present at the aircraft doors to deal with missed connections. The business class passengers were bussed to Doha’s Premium Transfer Terminal where it took another 55 minutes before anybody so much as spoke to me.
The problem was clearly understaffing. There were four ground crew members at the transfer desk to deal with the 34 business class passengers that had missed their onward flights. This situation could have been dealt with a lot better. I was finally rerouted by 0945 and put onto a 1300 flight departing Doha to Dubai (click here for the review of the flight) from where I departed later in the day to Hong Kong.
A mixed experience altogether.
The onboard hard product can hardly be faulted. The seats on this Qatar Airways B777-300ER aircraft are among the best I have had the fortune of sampling. In fact, they are so comfortable and spacious that I think they can easily be favourably compared to other airlines’ first class seats.
The catering was good but not excellent. The portions of the appetisers were really not sufficient enough and made me question “why bother with it at all?”. All hot courses arrived the way they should – hot – and tasted good. The drinks selection was another “wow factor” to the flight, comprising both Lanson and Taittinger Rose champagnes, as well as a wide selection of quality red and white wines and spirits.
The cabin crew worked hard and did their best to accommodate passenger requests, but appeared not trained to deal with passengers missing their connections and wanting to hear a few reassuring words of care and kindness and sense of duty.
The on-the-ground service at the Premium Transfer Terminal transfer desk was shockingly bad, leaving a bit of a bitter aftertaste to an otherwise great premium experience.
- PLANE TYPE B777-300ER
- CONFIGURATION 2-2-2
- SEAT WIDTH 20.5in
- SEAT LENGTH 195cm
- SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
- PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from Cape Town to Doha in March start from £2,180
- CONTACT qatarairways.com