BACKGROUND Qatar Airways has daily departures from Doha to both Washington DC and New York JFK, with a new daily departure starting on March 30 to Houston. The first two routes use the B777-300ER, with the Houston route, which can take up to 17 hours, using a newly delivered B777-200LR.
The majority of the B777-300ER and all of the new B777-200LR aircraft have Qatar’s new fully-flat business class seating on board, which eventually will be retro-fitted across the carrier’s long-haul fleet. For travellers from Europe flying in business on Qatar Airways, it is most likely that this new fully-flat seating will be encountered on the onward section of a journey, perhaps down to Asia, since the current angled lie-flat business class product currently installed on its aircraft is still only a few years old. Since it is Qatar’s stated aim to have one of the youngest fleets in the world, averaging only five years, it is likely that fully-flat seating will eventually be on all long-haul flights. Note that those B777-300ER aircraft which have the angled lie-flat rather than fully-flat seating on board have the same seat plan and will be retro-fitted with the fully-flat seating this year.
CHECK-IN I was on the 1010 QR51 daily flight from Doha to Washington DC in business class. For business and first class passengers there is a separate Premium terminal at Doha International airport. This two-storey building, which opened in 2006 and is complete with security, lounges and duty-free shops, is already being expanded. It will then be superseded when the New Doha International airport opens in 2011.
Unlike Etihad and Emirates, there is no free transfer service included in the price of the ticket. I arrived early at the terminal at around 0730. Check-in is completed at comfortable seats in front of desks, and I then went through security, past the duty-free and departure gates, and up the escalator into the lounge (left for business class, right for first class).
THE LOUNGE The lounges are roughly the same size, but the first class lounge has a spa at the far end (treatments for a fee). I had plenty of time to have breakfast and do some work. On the first floor, there is a large business centre, a games room for children, prayer rooms, and plenty of space to work.
BOARDING We were told it was time for boarding at 0950 so I headed downstairs. For flights to the States there is a further round of security, which took place on a bus immediately outside the door with another X-ray machine on board. Another bus then took business class passengers to the aircraft.
THE SEAT Having flown two days before on the London-Doha route in business, the immediate difference between the old and new business class cabins is the amount of extra space passengers get. In the latter, each window seat has three windows (apart from those in row one and row four) and have a pitch of 198cm/78in (up from 156cm/61.5in for the angled lie-flat business class seat).
The B777-300ER is configured in two classes with 42 business seats and 293 economy seats, which are fitted in a 3-3-3 configuration, and feature a maximum pitch of 34in/86cm and 27cm/10.6in TV screens. Business class is across two cabins configured 2-2-2 (A-B, E-F, J-K) with rows one to four in the front cabin and rows five to seven in the middle cabin. All seats have AVOD in-flight entertainment systems and a large choice of films.
Storage is impressive with very large overhead lockers and a further good-sized bin under the seat in front (although this is obviously not an option for those sat in row one). Nice touches include storage space for shoes, a foothold in the side of the aisle seats for gaining a little extra height when accessing the overhead lockers, a spacious side pocket for magazines, and a large table which comes out of the arm, although I found this wobbled slightly when typing.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Avoid row one because of the lack of storage space in front of you, especially seats E and F, since the washroom is immediately in front of these. But if you want access to the aisle without having to climb over anyone or be climbed over, then seats E and F in any row are the ones to choose. On the basis of this flight and the return flight that I took, families are put in the second cabin, so business travellers would be advised to choose the front cabin (rows one to four). Click here to view a detailed seatplan of Qatar’s B777-300ER aircraft.
THE FLIGHT The food order was taken shortly after take-off with passengers choosing from a menu presented in a leather cover. The flight attendant offered to delay the service, and one passenger asked for to have it in a couple of hours’ time since he had just eaten. For lunch, there was a “palate pleaser” of palm heart with herb cream cheese, then a choice of starter including curried butternut-squash soup, seafood cocktail of marinated prawns, sesame-smoked salmon on Russian salad with cocktail cream, or Arabic meze. The main courses were seared tenderloin of Australian beef with spring root vegetables and morel butter, Atlantic salmon with gratin of horseradish potato and dill, and cellophane noodles with mountain vegetables. There was also a cheese platter of farmhouse-aged Cheddar, double-cream Brie and Fourme d’Ambert, and two choices of desserts, along with tea and coffee including cappuccino, espresso, caffé latté and macchiato.
Travelling west, the journey time is longer because of prevailing winds, and this flight took nearly 15 hours. As well as lunch, there was the offer of snacks such as salads, noodles, linguini, steak sandwiches or cookies, and then later on there was another four-course meal service. This time, the mains were seared veal tenderloin, baked hammour (the Middle Eastern equivalent to cod), or tofu and vegetables in chilli-bean sauce.
For both of these meals, the wines were the same excellent choices as I had seen on the London-Doha flight (click here for the review), and included Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé 1999, and a rosé champagne (not listed on the menu). White wines were Bouchard Père et Fils, Premier Cru Beaune du Château, 2008; Saint Clair Pioneer Block 18, New Zealand sauvignon blanc; and a Riesling Kabinett, 2006, Doctor Bernkasteler from Mosel, Germany. Red wines were Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, 2002, 5th Grand Cru Classé; Pauillac Poggio Antico DOCG Brunello di Montalcino; and a 2004, Hollick Australian shiraz.
The in-flight entertainment is impressive, as it needs to be on flights of this length, and has obviously been designed with the 17-hour journey to Houston in mind. The Panasonic eX2 system had a lot of trouble starting and it was rebooted several times at the beginning of the flight with this also affecting the in-seat power, something I noticed since my screen kept dimming and brightening as the power went on and off. Once up and running, it worked well. In economy, it is a touchscreen system, whereas in business class the 15.4-inch seat-back screen is too far away for that to be convenient and is controlled by a handset which allows you to move a cursor around the screen. The live TV function is not yet operating.
As Qatar uses three-point plugs, these have also been fitted on board, so those with UK adaptors can simply plug in and go, something not even BA or Virgin offers. While working, I watched the Rockwell Collins Airshow 4,200, in which the progress of the flight was interspersed with advice to keep moving my legs, drink lots of water and avoid wearing contact lenses, all of which I followed.
ARRIVAL We arrived slightly early at Washington Dulles International airport and disembarked onto the “mobile lounge” with business class passengers using the front door and economy the back door. At the airport, there was the customary giant queue for immigration.
VERDICT One of the best business class products available. A fully-flat bed, lots of space, great service, excellent entertainment (despite the early glitches) and a good Premium terminal for departing flights and transfers.
Below are photgraphs taken by Business Traveller on board the aircraft.