Qatar Airways’ Five-Star Airlines Report:
Here is a report that I have promised you all to write, but due to the recent crash of my macbook, it has obviously taken been a bit longer to write this report, as well as downloading all the pictures. So what is my verdict? I love Qatar Airways, and the first class experience is definitely on par to my expectation, and the service is definitely surpassing Cathay Pacific and most European Airlines. All North American airlines are not even close in terms of lounges, services on board, seats, amenities, and all aspects, except mileage programs. Singapore Airlines is still the number one spot, as well as Swiss, which will be featured on the next report. Qatar is definitely my top three airlines now.
QR 817 – http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8QbNHDNy5bqK4g
QR 21 – http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8QbNHDNy5bqK6o
May 12, 2008; Monday
QR 817 HKG-DOH Lv1930 Arr2300 Airbus A340-600HGW A7-AGD
Booking: I booked the ticket directly on Qatar’s own website, which was relatively easy to navigate and got the $35,000HKD discounted fare (which was discontinued for now). However, I have problems selecting the seats using the seat map functions and have to call the HK office to get the seating done. I have subsequently changed the dates for a few times, and the HK reservation office did a fairly good job. However, I got into problems at the airport later on.
Check-in: May 12 was a public holiday in Hong Kong and the airport was very quiet, as well as the Hong Kong Airport Express. Cathay Pacific was the handling agent for Qatar Airways and there was a Qatar Airways’ uniformed agent walking around, but the rest wears the typical CX uniform. Nonetheless the staffs are just pleasant as they are working for Qatar Airways, and all the premium lines were lightly occupied (well there ware two passengers in F and five passengers in J). I was checked in quickly and my problem came. For this time of age, most Asian airlines still have this rather uncalled rule requiring the passengers using its own website to book the ticket to show their credit cards that was used to purchase the ticket. Why? It was to target identity theft case, and also without the original credit card, they will not able to issue your boarding passes. They need to enter your whole credit card number to unlog the booking. Of course, I totally forgot that the visa card that I used to purchase the ticket (an Alaska Airlines Visa) has been changed. MBNA and visa has merged last year, and they send me a brand new Alaska Visa Signature card, with a completely new number. I tried to explain to the staff, but there was nothing much she can do. She immediately called on the supervisor, which was very friendly and asked if I have any statements or documents containing the whole credit card number. Of course, my macbook has also crashed so the answer was a “no.” Then the supervisor told me that I will have to buy a new ticket, and thankfully, the price will be based on the original ticket, and since I have a first class ticket (yes discounted, but still refundable), I will just get the refunds back. (I called a few days later, and Qatar has indeed processed the refund on the original ticket already, despite messing up my return portion. But it was fixed anyway.) I think it is a fair solution, and I got a new paper ticket (classic written paper ticket on a Qatar Airways ticket stock) at the ticketing desk shortly. It took another ten minutes, and I returned to the desk and got my boarding passes and bag checked all the way to CDG. It took a bit longer time, but I arrived really early this afternoon (since I planned to visit the observation deck at terminal two.) I give high marks to the CX agents for being helpful and not giving me any troubles at all. I am just thankful that I am not at Doha or Paris because from what I heard, those agents are not as nice. Anyway, Qatar definitely gets high marks by using CX as its agent at HKG.
The observation deck at Terminal Two is super nice and with a light breezy weather (well hazy too), it is a nice way to spend an hour there watching planes. Lots of plane enthusiasts were up there as well taking pictures due to the public holiday. Here is the list:
El Al Boeing 777-200ER 4X-ECE
Sri Lankan Airbus A330-200 4R-ALB
China Airlines’ Airbus A340-300 B-18801
Lufthansa’s Airbus A340-300 (Munich flight) D-AIGT
Kenya Airways’ Boeing 767-300ER 5Y-KQX
Emirates’ Boeing 777-300 A6-EMQ BKK flight
South African’s Airbus A340-300 ZS-SXC
British Airways’ Boeing 747-400s G-CIVP and G-CIVL
China Airlines’ Boeing 747-400 N168CL
Air Canada’s Airbus A340-300 C-GDVZ
Qantas’ Boeing 747-400 VH-OJT
Continental’s Boeing 777-200ER N78001
Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 747-400 9V-SPG
Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A330-300X B-LAF for Sydney early evening one
Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A340-300 B-HXN to Taipei as CX 402
Swiss’s Airbus A340-300 HB-JMG
Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 747-400 B-HOP to CDG as CX 261
Qatar First Class passengers can use the CX’s first class lounge, which is fine as usual. I used the Pier today, as our gate was 29. I had a bowl of soup and some light snacks, as I anticipate a great meal onboard later. The lounge was lightly occupied due to early hours, and made a few calls before heading to the gate.
The load was very light today with 2F, 5J, and 138Y, and boarding was completed quickly. The official boarding time was 6:50pm and I was there during last call. Marianne, the leading purser, immediately welcomed me aboard, and the other first class passenger was already onboard at seat 1A. I took 1K, and the rest of the team, Reena and Asiwana, welcomed me as well with the usual pre-takeoff beverage, newspapers, pajamas, and other items. Amenity kits were already pre-placed at the seat, and everything was fine. I immediately gave them a box of brownies as a token of appreciation (which I always do these days on international flights), and Reena initially asked, “do you want me to put them in the fridge for you?” and I smiled, “these brownies are for you all.” They were all very gracious and a couple them came by and said “thanks” too. One can argue if they said their thank you wholeheartedly or not, but I think they in general are thankful for the nice gestures.
Boarding was completed early, but we still had some cargos to load and a few passengers to look for. Door was closed at 7:25pm, and we pushed back at 7:28pm. We slowly taxied towards Runway 7R and took off at 7:46pm for our eight hours and nineteen minutes flight to Doha. Flight route took us towards Hainan Island at 36,000feet, and towards Hai Phong, Hanoi, and then Mandalay, Chittagong and Calcutta, before climbing up to 38,000feet, and passing the Indian cities of Bilaspur and Nagpur, and cities Nashik and south of Surat, crossing the Arabian Sea and straight towards Muscat and Abu Dhabi and then our descent to Doha.
On both this segment and the next one, which is actually an Airbus A330-300 flight, they all featured these updated first class suite seats. They are fully flat, and the F/As will do a turndown service. From you can tell, the seats are quite nice with ample storage rooms for various personal items and even a small laptop on the storage bins in front of the seat. However, the width of the seat is not quite sufficient for a big guy like me, and the armrest cannot be lowered during the bed position, which is a bit disappointed. When I flew Swiss first class on the return, the seats while in bed position felt much wider because the armrests can be lowered. The seats are comfortable and well-padded, but not as private as the Emirates’ first class suites on Airbus A340-500s, as well as the new breed of seats by CX and SQ. However they are comparable to CX’s older version of first class suite seats and SQ’s Givenchy suites on the 747s.
With only two passengers in first class, the crews are efficient and very accommodating to all kinds of requests. Both of us obviously had our dinner immediately after takeoff and then we can request of any of the snack items after dinner. There are two meals service – one main meal/dinner after takeoff, and then a meal, called “indulgence” by Qatar Airways, which are a list of snack items – everything from noodles to cheese plate, and you literally can order anything from the menu. They will not say no if you choose to have one item each.
Wine list and menu transcripts:
Champagne Laurent Perrier Cuvee Grand Siecle 1996
Chardonnay, 2003 Domaine Latour Giraud, Meursault-Genevrieres 1er Cru AC, Burgundy, France
Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Forrest Estate, Marlborough, New Zealand
Riesling Kabinett 2005 Doctor Berncasteler, Mosel, Germany
Domaine Weinbach 2005 Vendange Tardive Gewurztraminer Grand Cru, Furstentum, Alsace
Chateau Brane-Cantenac 1998 Margaux AC – 2nd Grand Cru Classe, Bordeaux, France
Pinot Noir Domaine Georges Michel 1005, Marlborough, New Zealand
Shiraz 2001 Knappstein, Clare Valley, Australia
Taylor’s 20 Years Old Tawny Port, Portugal
Glenfiddich Single Malt Solera 15 Years Old
Chivas Regal 18 Years Old
Camus XO Superieur
Ginger Ale – Schweppes
Soda – Schweppes
Tonic – Schweppes
Dinner a la carte
Caramelized Cep in a warm puff pastry parcel
Sour Cream and Blinis
Potato and Leek Soup
Balik salmon, foie gras with sweet and sour leek salad, classic Arabic Mezze
Warm Tofu rolls with sweet soy sauce
Seared Tenderloin steak of Australian Prime Beef
Sauteed Chanterelles and Horseradish Cream
Lobster and Scallop pasta fold with pommery mustard sauce
Oven-roasted Quail, rice-filled cabbage rolls, pan jus
Japanese Silk tofu on stir-fried noodles
Main dishes are accompanied by your choice of: baby carrots, green asparagus, baby squash and steamed basmati rice or a five leaf salad
An individual plate of kapiti aged cheddar, white diamond brie, and kikorangi blue cheese
Baked cheese cake with roasted figs
Apple Strudel with Vanilla Anglaise
Sliced fresh fruits
Forest berries with haagen-dazs pannacotta ice cream
Sorbet mixed fruit flavors
Tea and coffee with fine chocolates
Coffee: espresso, café latte, macchiato, American, Kenyan estate
Tea: Earl grey, English Breakfast, Green, Roasted Japanese, Moroccan mint, non-caffeinated, herbal
Chinese set menu
Kwai fa chicken, tiger prawn in XO sauce, cuttle fish salad, jelly fish with sesame
Stir-fried beef tenderloin
Wok-tossed lotus roots, black mushrooms
Hot and sour soup
Fresh chillies in soy
Oolong and Jasmine teas
Prawn wonton noodle soup
Stir-fried beef on Cantonese noodles
Chicken Caesar Salad
New York style deli sandwich of turkey bacon and Swiss, served warm
Forest Berries with Haagen-Dazs Macadamia Ice Cream
Sliced Fresh Fruits
Cheese plate of kapiti aged cheddar, white diamond brie, and kikorangi blue cheese
As you can tell, this menu is very extensive and you can have every single item if you wish. I had the soup and the buffet as starters, and both are great. I had the Chinese entrée set next and I was impressed with the high quality Chinese food, especially after sampling the disappointing Chinese set menus by Cathay Pacific. For dessert, I had the apple strudel, which was warmed properly and I should have asked for a scoop of ice cream as well. An hour prior to arrival, I had a bowl of prawn wonton noodle soup, which was excellent, followed by the chicken salad and Macadamia Nut ice cream cup with berries.
With four flight attendants in first, the service was unbeatable. Reena and Ashiwana served the passenger at 1A and myself personally, and nothing was rushed, and nothing was ever too much to ask. Later in the lounge, I got to chat with some of them, and had a great time finding out more about their work schedule – very hectic if you ask, and how was it living at Doha? They are very personable, and even more so than the next segment.
The TV is a bit smaller than the typical giant entertainment systems/personal televisions on these new breed of international first class seats, but I found them sufficient. The “Waves” are all AVOD and there are a wide range of movies, television programs, and games provided. There is no direct link to the sky map functions from the interactive menu, but you can find it at Channel 5 on the video mode. I watched a few episodes of my usual sitcoms and “Simpsons.”
Yes, the first class lounge is still here at AGD, and I have to say that it is wonderful, as you can tell from the pictures. Since my neighbor was asleep after dinner, I had the lounge all to myself and had some nice conversation with various F/As. There are two sets of sofas on each side of the lounge, as well as a stand-up bar and a full magazine stand. All the wines were placed on the bar, as you can tell from the pictures. From what I gathered from the F/As I talked to, the first class cabin has four F/As – one galley “slave,” two F/As and the purser to help out in first. Also the first class lounge will be eliminated, as requested by some frequent passengers. Apparently, passengers always have problems getting first class seats on Qatar flights, and whenever they saw the lounge, they just told Qatar that they can easily sell another row of first class seats here and most passengers just want to rest, and this is a waste of space. I personally like the lounge, which is a nice space to relax and read without disturbing other passengers.
We began our descent at 10:43pm local time at Doha, and landed on R/W34 at 11:05pm, and parked at stand 02 three minutes later. First class passengers disembarked first and two of us got our own personable bus. But here was my minor complaint – there were two stops – first one was for arriving passengers and second one was for Premium terminal, but nobody bothered to tell us, and unfortunately I had to go through security twice. First time at the normal area, and the Doha airport was small indeed, but not too bad – at least better than the crowded scene at Dubai. I went to the normal lounge and the agent told me to go to gate 1 to catch a shuttle over. Other than the stupid requirement by its online website and the extra hassles to get to the premium terminal, the experience is very nice.
It is just nice to have your own terminal and the first class area is very nice. There are sufficient amount of sofas and armchairs and there was another large buffet, which I did not take part of. The Business center is also nice. The terminal is just nicely designed and no doubt a great place to spend time at. I don’t know what else to say.
May 13, 2008; Tuesday
QR 21 DOH-CDG Lv0130 Arr0735 Airbus A330-300 A7-AEC
The agent called on all Paris bound passenger around 12:45am, and we all headed downstair to the small boarding stations – a list of stations. Since all the Asian and European flights departed around the same time, there was some confusion for where to go. They have problem with my boarding pass because of the Internet booking issues and the subsequent new paper tickets. After ten minutes, the leading agent walked over and told them that they needed to do this and that, and I was told to board the plane. A Mercedes Benz was already waiting for me and the very friendly driver drove me to stand 06 and I boarded the Airbus A330-300.
This flight was much fuller – 8 out of 9 seats were taken, and the F/As had to rush a bit to take care of everyone. Many passengers were rushed to the bathrooms to change into their pajamas and could not wait to tuck in for the night. The F/As still maintain their gestures by offering a pre-takeoff beverage shortly after I was seated, and not to mention the passing of the pajamas, as well as the menus and the Arabic coffee round with dates. Meal orders were taken prior to takeoff and stickers were passed out to passengers, so we can decide if we want to sleep or eat. Most passengers chose to go to sleep, except a few of us.
Boarding was completed late, due to late connecting bags and passengers, and door was closed at 1:34am and pushed back a minute later. We had to taxi all the way to R/W34 and took off at 1:54am after a number of Qatar’s Airbus A330s heading to various European and Asian cities.
Flight time was six hours and fifty-seven minutes this evening, and we headed straight North after takeoff, until we reach the coast of Iran and turning West hugging the coast. We started at 36,000feet and after a few hours (I went to sleep sorry) across Middle East and Turkey, we climbed to 40,000feet, and we entered the cities of Bucharest, Brasov (Romania), and Budapest, and then Brno, Nurzburg, Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Mainz, Luxemburg, and Paris.
Seats and entertainment:
This particular A330-300 has been updated with the same first class seats as Airbus A340-600s, as well as the audio-video on demand system featured on the newer planes. You cannot really tell the difference interior wise. I had the bed turn down service and had a decent sleep for a few hours.
Wine List and Menu Transcript:
Same Wine List
Caviar on Baguette with sour cream
Pea and Mint soup, mushroom and chicken quenelle
Balik Salmon, Foie Gras, and Gulf Sushi with crisp salad leaves
Classic Arabic Mezze
Warm Spiced chicken sandwich, mint chutney
Sliced fresh fruit
Pistachio and vanilla ice cream with forest berries
An individual cheese plate of farmhouse aged cheddar, double cream brie and mild blue
Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
Banana and mango smoothie
Fresh fruit and fruit compote with yogurt
Salad plate of gravlax and branade of salted cod
Ricotta pancakes, raspberries with crème fraiche, maple syrup
Lobster Omelette with herb prawn sauce, sautéed mushrooms and asparagus
Breakfast tart with sautéed English spinach
And your choice of: Japanese grilled salmon, chive fritter and veal burger
Classic Arabic Breakfast
Breakfast bakery basket
Croissant, banana muffin, brown and white toast
Tea and Coffee
Coffee: espresso, café latte, macchiato, American, Kenyan estate
Tea: Earl grey, English Breakfast, Green, Roasted Japanese, Moroccan mint, non-caffeinated, herbal
As expected, not many passengers took part of the snack service, and some of them cannot even wait till the seat belt sign was turned off and for the F/As to make their beds. I had the soup and the salmon plate as snacks, which were very nice. I actually could have one more course, but tried to stop myself from stuffing too much food.
Breakfast was served around 6am Paris time, and about an hour and half prior to our estimated landing time. (Yes, we landed much later than estimated due to ATC reasons.) The fresh fruit plate was very good, and the bread basket is nicely presented. It was nice to have toasts in the morning. The ricotta pancakes are also super nice and I highly recommended it.
Four flight attendants in first class make the service efficient, but for a full first class cabin, they really need a full complement of flight attendants. They all try to do their best, but obviously not as personable as the last set of crew due to the late hours of this flight, and shorter flying times.
Descent soon began at 7:12am Paris time over Luxemburg, and we landed on R/W 9L at 7:51am, and parked at a very old Terminal One at 8:04am. Our arrival gate was 42, stand Z1. The old terminal was very unimpressive, but nonetheless the bags came out rather quickly and the priority tags worked. I was on my way to the departure level soon for my onward flight to Copenhagen.
Qatar Airways definitely qualifies as a five-star airline onboard and the ground service is unexpectedly well, but it possibly has to do with the CX ground staff high standard in Hong Kong and the avoidance of problems at Doha. But to be honest, the staffs at the Premium terminal are fine and responded to my inquiries efficiently and politely. Service wise – Qatar Airways certainly matches LX and SQ, and better than CX and EK, but a few areas that they need to work on are first, the seats and how to improve the privacy aspect especially the lounge will be removed soon, second, how to improve the ground staffs training at Doha and to warn premium passengers that they should stay onboard for the Premium terminal if they are transiting for the second stop. Most importantly, I don’t get that credit card security system and don’t understand why Qatar will not accept American Express as a form of payment for purchases on its own website. I know AMEX charges the airlines a bit more, but for a world-class airline like Qatar, it should not be a problem, and AMEX customer service is simply unbeatable.