A little more than two weeks after my short trip to Frankfurt with Singapore Airlines, it was time to fly back to Germany once again. This time around, I decided to give Qatar Airways a try instead of the usual non-stop airlines like Lufthansa, Thai International, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines. To start my journey, I flew with Malaysia Airlines from PEN to KUL. However, as I have covered this sector before in my trip report with Emirates to Oman, this short journey will be omitted this time around. In case you have not read the report yet, it can be found here.
This is the second part of this two part trip report. The first part can be found here.
Over the years, there has been a great deal of hype about the ‘elite’ group of so called ‘Five Star Airlines’. These include all the big names such as Cathay Pacific and Thai International, but also some less publicized carriers like Qatar Airways. That is not to say that Qatar Airways is unknown, but it is not as synonymous with excellence as Singapore Airlines for example. Although I think one should take ratings such as Skytrax with a pinch of salt, I was nonetheless curious what the fuss was all about.
So there you have it: my choice of airline this time around was primarily based on curiosity - even though flying with Qatar Airways would take me four more hours than a direct flight and I would only depart KUL at three in the morning. Does that make me crazy…? Wait… don’t answer that…!
Welcome to yet another one of my segmented, long trip reports. Two flights, over 6729 miles and three airports. This report features my flights with Qatar Airways from Kuala Lumpur to Frankfurt.
General Flight Overview
Airline: Qatar Airways (QR)
Flight number: QR 25
Origin: Doha International Airport (DOH)
Destination: Frankfurt am Main International Airport (FRA)
Distance: 2853 miles
Scheduled departure time: 08:25
Scheduled flight time: 6 hours 35 minutes
Class of Travel: Economy Class
Having just arrived in Doha on QR 625, I now had a little more than two hours to burn until my onward flight to Frankfurt. Doha International Airport is, in my opinion, not an ideal airport for a layover. The main problem is that there is not much to do – apart from one duty free area and one or two restaurants, there is not much in the terminal building. Now if I was in Europe, this would be an average terminal, but this was the Middle East after all.
The main passenger concourse at DOH.
The only duty free area in the terminal.
The stylish curved ceiling above the duty free area at Doha International Airport.
Another problem I had with the terminal building was that it felt rather cold and clinical. In fact, I sometimes felt like I was walking around Frankfurt Airport instead; this is not meant to be a compliment. The waiting areas were bare, the seats reminded me of a hospital and there was barely anywhere one could find something proper to eat. To be honest, I was a little disappointed.
The rather bare and clinical concourse at DOH.
Hmmm… Airport terminal or hospital…? Could be either.
“So why is Globetraveller being so critical about the terminal building?” some of you may now be asking yourself. The answer to this question is simple: Dubai International Airport (DXB). Qatar Airways and the Qatari government want passengers to use this airport as their Middle Eastern hub instead of Dubai, the same way Etihad wants its passengers to use Abu Dhabi. The thing is, Dubai International Airport is, as we all know, not exactly a shack in the middle of the desert. This is even more so now with the opening of the new Terminal 3 at DXB. In my opinion, the simple fact is that DOH just cannot compete with its Emirati neighbor. Let me illustrate my point with a few new pictures of Dubai for comparison.
The massive atrium at the far end of the terminal building at night.
The same atrium during the day. Notice the vast amount of natural light.
This is part of the largest terminal building in the world. It feels like it too.
The large water feature in the middle of the atrium.
The stylish opening in the middle of Terminal 3 at DXB.
Shopping Dubai style – and lots of it!
The stunning central shopping concourse.
The beautiful architecture of the terminal building.
I am aware that Doha is a much smaller airport, but I have been to some very nice small airports which were amazing in their own right. So if I had a choice of where I would like to transit in the Middle East, I would unconditionally say Dubai. Of course, this may all change when the new Doha Airport is completed in 2010, but as of now DXB is clearly the king of the hill.
After strolling around the Doha terminal building for about 15 minutes, I did manage to find something I liked. Since the building has no jetways, the aircraft taxi straight past the terminal building. This made for some amazing close encounters with the numerous widebodies arriving in the morning.
The massive windows facing the runway and taxiway.
A beautiful QR A340-600 taxiing past the terminal building.
The A340-600 as it taxied towards the remote stand.
Thankfully there was still a lot of free seating available, so I decided to reach for my laptop and make use of the free wireless internet. All I had to do now and again was look up as another widebody taxied by. My only complaint: after a while, all the Qatar Airways liveries did get a little repetitive. Still, very few airports offer such amazing apron views.
A QR A330, this time in the sleek red version of the 2006 Doha Games livery.
Another QR A330. This one was in the old version of the standard QR livery.
A bus driving next to an Airbus.
Time passed relatively quickly while I sat and watched one Qatar Airways aircraft after another land on runway 34. Slowly, but surely, the airport began to fill up with more and more transit passengers. Soon the waiting halls could barely cope. At the same time, the morning departure bank to Europe commenced; this led to yet another problem. For some reason, the airport authorities could not make up their minds about which gates to assign to which flight. The gate for my flight to Frankfurt changed from 5 to 8 and then to 12 just before boarding commenced. This led to an awful lot of confusion and scrambling around. Thankfully, boarding for QR25 began punctually at 7:40am. Naturally, everyone dashed to Gate 12.
The Flight information board showing all the morning departures to Europe.
The queue which quickly developed as boarding for QR25 was announced.
My gate for QR25 from DOH to FRA today: Gate 12.
The queue for boarding at Gate 12 moved relatively quickly and in 5 minutes I was walking down the stairs to the waiting buses below. While boarding through a jetway is obviously far more convenient, it was apparent that the ground staff at DOH were very well versed in the art of bussing hundreds of passengers to their respective aircrafts. There were numerous busses already waiting and they were each filled very efficiently.
One of the numerous Cobuses waiting to take the passengers to the remote stand.
The crowded bus as we left the terminal building.
The exterior of the passenger terminal building at DOH.
As the bus departed the terminal building, it soon became clear that this would not be a five minute hop to an aircraft parked close by. In fact, the bus journey would last more than 25 minutes (!!). I was delighted at this free airport tour, because unlike in Dubai, the windows of the bus were not covered in advertisements. This created some amazing picture taking opportunities and gave a very good overview of the airport. Sadly, my fellow passengers did not share my enthusiasm and many of them started grumbling almost as soon as the ‘tour’ began.
The place we needed to go to at the other side of the runway.
An A330-200 in the red Doha Games livery during boarding.
Yet another A330-200 up close and personal.
Doha International Airports is Qatar Airways territory.
The Middle Eastern landscape during our tour.
A QR A320 taking off from runway 34.
The growing Doha skyline in the distance.
The main passenger terminal building from the other side of the airport.
A blue Doha Games A330-200 being prepared for takeoff.
A small QR A319-100LR with two A330s in the background.
A striking Gulf Air A340-300 registered A9C-LI.
The Gulf Air A340-300 being pushed back for its short hop to Bahrain.
One of my all time favorite liveries.
As the bus finally neared the aircraft it pulled over to the side and waited for another five minutes – presumably because the aircraft was not ready yet. By now, most passengers were understandably pretty annoyed by the long journey. We had now been in the bus for more than half an hour.
The visibly annoyed passengers on the bus while we waited.
Welcome to the Middle East.
After what seemed like an eternity, the bus finally moved on to A7-ACG. Strangely enough, the bus parked directly under the wing of the aircraft, instead of next to the stairs at the front. Another short wait ensued until the doors were finally opened and everyone leaped for the stairs. In all the rush and confusion, the ground staff failed to notice my camera as I started snapping away.
A little more than 35 minutes had now passed between leaving the terminal building to physically boarding the aircraft. That was definitely a new record in my books. Nevertheless, I was onboard QR 25 at 8:18am, seven minutes before the scheduled time of departure.
My aircraft on today’s flight: A7-ACG.
The massive wing towering above our comparatively small bus.
Getting up close and person with the A330’s General Electric powerplant.
Qatar Airways is currently the third largest operator of the Airbus A330 series in the world, at 31 aircraft. 18 of these are A330-200s and the remaining 13 are A330-300s. The A330s are used on more than half of the destinations in the Qatar Airways network and they have been an integral part of the global expansion of the airline. Frankfurt am Main International Airport is served by both A330 variants in high density two class configurations. Today, an A330-200 was used, which could seat 281 passengers, 22 in Business and 259 in Economy.
My aircraft today, A7-ACG, carried the blue variation of the Doha 15th Asian Games special livery. In my opinion, it is about time this aircraft was repainted, because games were all the way back in 2006. Nevertheless, I have to admit that it was a pretty neat looking airframe. The cabin was spotless and the aircraft looked as if had just been delivered today. The Economy Class cabin was configured in the usual 2-4-2 layout with a seat pitch of 32 inches and width of 17.5 inches. While this was nothing to write home about, there was sufficient space for a six and a half hour flight. My only real complaint: the IFE box under the seat in front was very annoying, especially for taller individuals such as myself.
Photo © Glenn Beasley
Photo © Sean Mowatt
This A330-202 had its maiden flight in March 2006. The aircraft is owned by Qatar Airways and the first flight in Qatar Airways colors was in April 2006. A7-ACG has flown in the Asian Games livery since it was commissioned in 2006.
A7-ACG standing at the remote stand in Doha.
My boarding pass for QR 25 from DOH to FRA.
At the door, I was welcomed by a rather stressed looking in-flight supervisor. I guess some passengers must have voiced their dissatisfaction about the overly long bus journey. Once again, I was addressed by my last name as my boarding pass was checked and in-flight supervisor gestured towards the aisle of my seat. As soon as I started walking through the cabin, I could see that the cabin was spotless and immaculately maintained. It was as if the aircraft had only been delivered yesterday.
The forward Economy class cabin during boarding.
My seat on today’s flight to Frankfurt: 15A.
The middle row of this A330-200 in a 2-4-2 configuration.
The cabin filled up very slowly. The remaining passengers arrived in waves – because of the long bus journey – so half the time nobody was boarding at all. By 8:45 most people had finally made it onboard, and to my pleasant surprise, the seat next to me was still unoccupied. However, as these things usually go, one of the last three passengers who boarded was sadly sitting in 15B. I always have rotten luck with empty seats next to me in Economy Class. Funnily enough, the gentleman who was now sitting next to me had just missed his Qatar Airways flight to Manchester. He was now flying via Frankfurt and then onwards with LH instead. He didn’t seem too thrilled.
My legroom on QR25. Once again, the IFE box was quite annoying.
The last two busses of passengers arriving at the remote stand.
Finally, at 9:00 the doors were finally closed and the captain welcomed us on board. QR25 was now 35 minutes late, but the captain assured us that we would make up for the lost time in the air. The safety video was then shown as the A330 began its journey across the airport to runway 34.
The barren Qatari landscape surrounding the airport.
A shot down runway 16/34 as we were about to taxi past the passenger terminal.
A magnificent QR A340-600 being prepared for its flight to London.
Just like my flight from Kuala Lumpur earlier, this flight was definitely another money maker. The aircraft was 98% full in Economy Class and 100% full in Business. From what I could tell, more than half the passengers were of German decent and the remainder was a wonderful mix from every corner of the globe. This surprised me because Germans are usually known for their loyalty to Lufthansa, but I guess ticket prices are more of a selling point than a brand name in these gloomy economic times.
An A320 taxiing to runway 34 in the distance.
The Qatar Airways maintenance ramp at the Southern end of the Airport.
Turning onto runway 34 for takeoff to Germany.
By the time QR25 had reached runway 34 it was already 9:15am. After a short wait on the threshold, the General Electric CF6 engines spooled to full thrust and we were finally on our way to Frankfurt – 50 minutes behind schedule. Even though the aircraft was fully loaded with passengers, the acceleration of the A330-200 was still impressive. QR25 finally lifted off from Doha at 9:17am.
Liftoff in front of the passenger terminal.
A QR 777-300ER and A320.
The outskirts of Doha shortly after takeoff.
Like all of the other big cities in the Gulf States, Doha is trying very hard to reinvent itself as a global cosmopolitan metropolis. Arguably, Dubai is currently winning the race to become a world city like New York for example, but Doha seems to be keen contender. The new Doha waterfront was quite a sight to behold.
One of the very few green areas in Qatar.
The impressive new Doha waterfront. Imagine, 20 years ago, there was nothing there.
Goodbye Qatar as QR25 turned towards the Northwest.
The climb out of Doha was exceptionally smooth and the seatbelt sign was extinguished 10 minutes after takeoff. The crew obviously started preparing the breakfast as soon as possible, because the sweet smell of pancakes filled the cabin a short while later. Having not eaten anything for about five hours due to the rather abysmal food choices at Doha Airport, I was absolutely starving.
Above the Middle Eastern clouds.
The front cover of the menu on QR 25 from DOH to FRA.
A little more than half an hour after takeoff, breakfast was being served. Once again, the crew on this flight was very friendly, polite and efficient. The female stewardess serving my selection of the Economy Class cabin was especially worthy of note, because she treated everyone more like a guest than a passenger. It was good to see that the crew was consistently good, unlike some of the other fast expanding Middle Eastern airlines.
The very welcoming stewardess severing my part of the cabin.
The breakfast selection on this morning’s flight to Frankfurt.
Naturally, after succumbing to the pleasant sweet small, I decided on the second breakfast option: the strawberry filled pancakes. Most other passengers seemed to be making the same decision.
“Would you like to have anything for breakfast sir?”
“Yes please. I would like to have the strawberry pancakes.”
“Certainly. Would you also like a croissant or some bread?”
“The croissant please. And also a Diet Coke if you have any.”
“Of course we do. Here you go. Enjoy your meal.”
The breakfast tray with the strawberry filled pancakes, croissant, muffin, fruits and yogurt.
When I first received the breakfast tray, I was a little disappointed. The presentation of the food was pretty poor: the tray was very small, it was cramped with food, all the containers looked like cheap disposable plastic and the entrée looked more like a ground up mash than anything else. Thankfully, the presentation did not reflect the taste of the food. The pancakes were delicious and soft and there was quite a variety of things to eat. In fact, the pancakes were amongst the best I have ever eaten on an aircraft. I was impressed.
The delicious strawberry filled pancake entrée.
The breakfast trays were promptly collected soon after. Qatar Airways has to be one of the best airlines in terms of the efficiency of their service in Economy. I never had to wait for anything, there was always someone making sure everyone was well and none of the crew ever looked tired or overworked. Dare I say, the crew reminded me a lot of Singapore Airlines.
It was obvious that most passengers, myself included, had transited through DOH from an earlier flight, so by the time the breakfast service had been completed everyone became increasingly tired. After my 3am departure from KUL, sleep was also getting the better of me and I dozed off with about five hours remaining until Frankfurt.
The nice mood lighting just before the cabin was dimmed.
The Middle row of reclined seats.
I was woken up three and a half hours later by a soft tap on my shoulder from the stewardess. In my complete drowsiness, I must have nodded when I was asked if I wanted some more food to eat, because I do not remember saying so. After finally waking up properly, I found yet another little meal on my table. Before I continue, let me remind you that this is a 6 hour flight and I was flying in Economy! Having two food and beverage services on a flight of this length was very impressive.
The aircraft’s position as I woke up from my slumber.
The second, small meal on QR25.
Even thought the cheap plastic containers were still the same, this time the tray was far less cluttered than for the breakfast. In my opinion, the presentation was greatly improved by the fact that it was so simple. In terms of taste, this meal was another success; I especially liked the little piece of crumble cake. Many carriers would have just done away with another snack, let alone something that actually tastes good. I was once again pleasantly surprised and QR25 definitely gets two thumbs up in the food and beverage department.
The great expanse of clouds covering Europe this morning.
Most passengers fell back to sleep soon after the pre-arrival snack, so I took this chance to have a little stroll around the aircraft. As I passed the galley, the in-flight supervisor politely asked me if he should take a picture of me. While I declined the picture, I did continue to chat with him about Qatar Airways and his future with the airline. Sure enough, he also knew Airliners.net.
The sleepy cabin about one hour before arrival in Frankfurt.
The galley between the Business Class and Economy Class cabins.
The forward Economy Class cabin on this two class A330-200.
Sadly, after my very lengthy conversation with the in-flight supervisor, the captain already announced the start of our descent into Frankfurt. This flight was the first time I had not taken a direct routing from Southeast Asia to Europe and I was positively surprised at how much more bearable this experience was in Economy Class. In my opinion, the two shorter flights made the time pass so much more quickly and they were far more comfortable than the 12 hour direct flight. Even though the transit in DOH was a bit of a letdown, the overall experience of taking two flights was very encouraging.
Frankfurt in sight! Well, maybe not literally.
The nice looking seatbelt buckle with the Qatar Airways logo.
The Alps in the distance as QR25 crossed into Germany.
As QR25 continued to descend into Frankfurt, the cabin crew came around to collect all headphones and blankets for arrival. However, this took a very long time since many passengers were still sleeping after the early morning departure from Doha. Below us, the thick layer of clouds began to disappear and slowly but surely the German countryside came into view.
The flexed port side A330 wing with the speedbrakes deployed.
Descending through the clouds over Germany.
The flaps being extended in preparation for landing.
I have found that I usually land on runway 25R when I fly to Frankfurt, but today would be different. Instead, QR25 was approaching Frankfurt from the East to land on one of the 07 runways. As we continued to lose attitude, the landing gear was extended and the flaps were fully deployed.
The city of Mainz near Frankfurt.
The river Main as QR25 was on final approach.
Startbahnwest moments before touchdown at FRA.
After a smooth approach and having spent 5 hours and 50 minutes in the air, QR25 touched down softly on runway 07R at 14:07. With a 4000 meter runway to slow down on, the thrust reversers were barely deployed as the A330-200 slowed down to taxiing speed.
A few seconds before touchdown on runway 07R.
The partially deployed thrust reverser.
The massive Lufthansa Technik building at Frankfurt Airport.
Frankfurt was very busy at this time of the day, with many flights landing and departing on runways 07R and 07L. Therefore, QR25 was told to hold short of the active runway 07L which is between the terminal and the runway we landed on. In the end, this rather long wait turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I could see an LH 747-400 taxi onto runway 07L for takeoff. It was like a round of spotting in the middle of the airport.
The extensive construction projects surrounding FRA.
Notice the crosswind lifting the port wing as the LH 747-400 was about to liftoff.
The magnificent Queen of the Skies clearing runway 07L.
Frankfurt International Airport is literally littered with every possible widebody in service today. During the taxi to the gate I counted no less than 15 Boeing 747s and I wasn’t even trying very hard. Unsurprisingly, our neighbor at the gate of arrival was also a 747-400. However, I was surprised to find that it was 9V-SPP – the Singapore Airlines 747-400 in Star Alliance colors. This flight should have left Frankfurt at 12:35, so it was already more than one and a half hours late. Very unlike Singapore Airlines, don’t you think?
The very busy runway 07L as QR25 was given clearance to continue to taxi.
Frankfurt: widebody heaven.
The heavily delayed SQ25 to Singapore.
QR25 pulled into gate B47 at 14:20, 20 minutes behind schedule. Apparently, some of my fellow passengers saw this as a long enough delay to justify behaving frantically in order to get off the aircraft as quickly as possible. In doing so, a man two rows in front of me landed what appeared to be an overly heavy bag right on his head as he opened the overheads bins. Justice was served.
As the queue in the aisle started moving, I grabbed my belongings and thanked the crew for the great service I had received on this flight. By 14:25 I was in the terminal building.
9V-SPP's distinct Star Alliance livery.
The usual rush to get off the aircraft.
The rather gloomy jetway at gate B47.
Frankfurt am Main International Airport (FRA) is one of the busiest airports in the world. It handles in excess of 50 million passengers every year, making it the eighth busiest airport on earth.
Due to my slightly delayed arrival, I now had a problem. The Intercity Express train that I wanted to take to my final destination was leaving at 13:55, so I only had 30 minutes to clear immigration, collect my luggage and get to the train station. Thankfully, Frankfurt is usually quite efficient when it comes to arrivals; I mean this is Germany after all.
The SQ 747-400 finally being pushed back for Singapore.
One of the slightly better looking corridors in Frankfurt. (At least there was no construction.)
The clearly marked way to the baggage claim area.
Luckily, the terminal building was nowhere near as busy as I had imagined and there were no queues at immigration whatsoever. I even had enough time to have a little look around to see what aircraft I could find at the gates. One thing was for sure, there were plenty of 747s around! Sadly, when I reached the baggage claim hall, none of the bags had arrived yet. Time was slipping away.
Three 747-400s. Two from LH and one from TG.
The very efficient and empty passport control in concourse B.
There were no bags to be seen when I arrived in the baggage hall.[/i]
When the bags did finally arrive, they came in no particular order. Priority bags were mixed up between standard bags and fragile luggage came somewhere in between. After waiting another five minutes or so, I spotted my bag sliding onto the luggage conveyer, but it looked somewhat different. Sure enough, Qatar Airways had managed to spill something onto my luggage and they also gave it quite a few more dents than it had before. I was not impressed at all.
The baggage claim information screen for QR25.
The marks left by the liquid QR managed to spill onto my bag. They did not wash out.
One of the many dents Qatar Airways added to my luggage.
Thinking that the marks on my bag would simply wash out, I decided to rush for my train. In fact, after trying in vain to get rid of the dirt in every way imaginable, I wrote QR an email with pictures about what had happened. They never replied. So much for customer service.
In the end, I did manage to catch my train with two minutes to spare and the remainder of my journey home passed off smoothly. And so my late night Adventure with Qatar Airways had come to a close.
The Deutsche Bahn Office at Frankfurt Airport
My Intercity Express train pulling into the station.
The impressive architecture at the Frankfurt Airport Long Distance Train Station.
So is Qatar Airways a ‘five star’ airline based on flight QR 25? The straightforward answer is again: no. The problem I have with Qatar Airways is that they shine in some areas, such as their wonderful crew and the impressive food, but there is a lot of room for improvement in others. One area which especially concerns me is the on-time performance of QR25 over the past year or so. Over the past few days, for example, there have been delays of more than three hours twice in a row. This is inexcusable in my opinion. Additionally, QR’s complete silence and disregard when I inquired about what had happened to my suitcase was also very poor. As I had found in my previous report on QR625 from KUL to DOH, Qatar Airways seems to lag quite far behind with their ground handling. Therefore, I am once again not able to unconditionally recommend Qatar Airways on this route. The competition from the other Middle Eastern airlines in this market is just too strong to ignore. I really hope that QR will be able to pull their ground services up to the same level as their excellent product in the air in the near future.
(2.0) Booking & Reservation: 4.0
(1.0) Check-in: 1.0
(1.0) Airline Airport Facilities: N/A
(0.5) Boarding: 7.5
(2.0) Seat: 8.0
(1.0) Entertainment System: 8.0
(2.0) Crew: 9.5
(2.0) Food and Beverages: 9.0
(0.5) Amenity kits and other freebies: N/A
(0.5) Arrival: 5.0
(1.0) On-time performance: 7.0
Overall weighted score: 6.94
Thank you for taking the time to read the second part of this trip report. As always, any comments and opinions are welcome and much appreciated.
Upcoming trip reports will feature flights with Air Berlin and FlyGlobespan within Europe and a flight with BMI from EDI to MAN as well as flights with SQ between MAN and SIN. Then, in Easter, I will attempt one of the craziest trips yet to be featured on Airliners.net: Four long haul and ultra long haul flights, including some on the A380, one after the other. Total distance? 36388 miles. Ever wondered how to add a little adventure to the hop across the Atlantic? Find out in Easter!
If you liked this report, you may also be interested in my six part trip report from Penang to Muscat.
PEN to MCT via KUL and DXB with EK and MH:
1. Penang - Kuala Lumpur, 2. Kuala Lumpur - Dubai, 3. Dubai - Muscat.
MCT to PEN via DXB, SIN and KUL with EK and MH:
1. Muscat - Dubai, 2. Dubai - Singapore - Kuala Lumpur, 3. Kuala Lumpur - Penang
Additionally, you may also enjoy reading about my journey from Penang to Frankfurt with Singapore Airlines.
PEN to FRA via SIN with SQ:
1. Penang - Singapore, 2. Singapore - Frankfurt.
FRA to PEN via SIN with SQ:
1. Frankfurt - Singapore, 2. Singapore - Penang.
As always, safe flying.