Route: Doha - Hamad International (New Doha) – Chicago - O’Hare International (Orchard Field)
Airline: Qatar Airways
Flight Number: QR725
Aircraft: Boeing 777-3DZ/ER
Seat: 9E (Business Class)
Distance: 7379 miles
Duration: 13hrs 43mins
It was a second consecutive early start with our car booked to depart at 5am, for our 7.45am flight. We arrived at the premium check-in area to be met by a flurry of porters handling both the Al Mourjan (Business) and Al Safwa (First) check-in areas.
Despite it being unlikely I asked if there was any of chance of resurrecting our old window seat assignments, perhaps a vague hope of them being blocked off at online check-in or similar. Only one window was available so we stuck with the double seat leaving the window “pod” experience for next time.
The Al Mourjan check-in feeds directly into exit immigration which only had one person working so despite there only being a couple of people ahead it still took a few minutes to get to the security check on the other side. From there it was down the escalator into the familiar departures area complete with the lamp bear, close to the guarded escalators up to the Al Mourjan lounge.
We seemed to be one of the few Al Mourjan eligible passengers as the half dozen or so people ahead of us that attempted entry were all fobbed off to inferior alternatives. I knew the lounge was to be quite impressive but hadn’t researched it at all. At first I was rather overwhelmed by its size but luckily a map was emblazoned on a glass partition and I sneakily snapped a picture to help us get our bearings. I spotted a couple of different dining options, “Dining Resort” and ”The Restaurant”. Initially we opted for the former at the far end of the lounge which would also help us get our bearings as we headed in that direction.
The lounge has a superb feeling of space given the enormous ceilings and walls and this carried throughout the majority of the lounge. We situated ourselves at one of the free tables perusing the menu options. The options weren’t as exciting as hoped and we both opted for paninis and I grabbed a yoghurt from the bar area that was set up at one side.
Behind the Dining Resort was an empty games room and according to the map a couple of family rooms. With paninis over with we opted to see if The Restaurant options were anymore impressive so walked to the far end, up the elegant staircase to what was one of the busiest airport lounge dining areas I can recall in many years of regular travel.
Eventually we guilted a businessman into moving his duty free bag off one of the stools at the bar so we could sit next to eachother. The Restaurant should have really been renamed The Buffet, a not hugely exciting selection of largely picked over breakfast food options. Knowing what lay ahead onboard I opted for a Buck’s Fizz and got comfortable for the thirty minutes or so that we had before it was time to walk the short distance to Gate C4. I noticed that whilst my boarding pass was emblazoned with TSA PreCheck notation my wife’s wasn’t and instead had the dreaded SSSS. I was fairly sure I had her Known Traveller Number in the booking but suggested she visit the front desk to double check and if not get a new boarding pass. Rather disgruntled with the brusque attitude of the staff she came back defeated. Apparently the staff didn’t know the difference between SSSS and screening at the gate for US flights. However, she was at least able to confirm that her KTN was in there and had just been unlucky with scoring SSSS.
Around 6.45am we headed to the gate where a rather intense screening was taking place, not sure if this was in the wake of the Sri Lanka bombings that had taken place just a few days before or not. Luckily the Priority boarding extended out to the security check too and so within a couple of minutes I was in the gate area down near the doors leading to the appropriately registered A7-BED. My wife arrived a few minutes later thankfully none the worse for wear due to her SSSS. The posted boarding time came and went but around 7.15am the gate agent walked over and opened the doors and a line of Priority passengers formed behind her. An American businessman who was the first to stand up and rush onto the aircraft then undid all his good work by taking the rest of time to put his bags in the overhead locker causing quite a traffic jam behind me as I waited to pass enroute to row 9.
After taking a quick look at my surroundings I was welcomed by the flight attendant who offered a long list of predeparture beverages and a choice of hot or cold towel. The same, nice bedding from the previous day’s flight as well as a different flavour of Brics amenity bag (soft black leatherette and red for my wife) were waiting. I quickly went into my post boarding routine, grabbing my pyjamas from my rollerbag and rushing to the toilet (a very nicely appointed one!) to change and secure my overhead locker space. I ended up walking right up to the one beside the cockpit as all the others were occupied so got to have a good butcher’s at the various configurations of seat enroute. Just after my return the FA brought menus, slippers and White Company pajamas in a handy dandy bag. Oops!
With the help of a video on the IFE I familiarized myself with the QSuite…despite being a middle seat there were lots of useful cubbies for crap. Where my right elbow rested there was a deep, latched box that was perfect for my Bose headphone case as well as a few other smaller items. My initial annoyances about losing my window seat were slipping away slowly…
At 7.50am it was announced that all passengers were onboard and the newspapers were offered right as we started pushback. Now on the move my gripes returned but I was luckily able to get a sliver of a view of things as we taxied over towards runway 34R for our more than half day aloft. One person who wasn’t so keen on the Qatar Airways experience was one of the youngest passengers onboard who showed their displeasure by howling at a volume audible to anyone with within the confines of the aircraft.
Thankfully the IFE system was a lot better than that of the 787 the previous day and during the climb out and initial cruise I spent most of it glued to the moving map. With seatbelt signs off faster than US airlines, but slower than European carriers, the flight attendants were up and about with the first order of business ascertaining what we were to enjoy from the dine on demand menu, and the additional Snack Platters supplement. Sandra, who was working my side, also showed me around the QSuite. Thankfully it wasn’t as befuddling as some premium cabin seats and I’d managed to figure almost all of it with the exception of how to fully drop the partition between the seats of me and my wife. That require some further elbow grease from a male crew member and a special key so I can’t really fault myself for not getting that sorted!
Having not indulged sufficiently the previous day (read my CNX-DOH report for more tedium on this subject) I went in for more of the IFE’s abysmal sports games, although I did have the good sense to at least quickly kill them off in favour of Ocean’s Twelve.
An hour into the flight, over Iran between Shiraz and Tehran, we were cruising at just 30,000ft a surprisingly low altitude but given I don’t normally fly in this kind of airspace all too often, and with what was 16hrs of fuel onboard (plus, given the size of the menus, the extensive wine and food selection!) I wasn’t sure if that was all we could manage for now!
With pangs of hunger starting to hit it was time to get breakfast underway. I started with a fresh orange juice which was brought out with a selection of almonds, not really in the mood for the latter they went untouched but the juice was great!
The table was subsequently laid up for breakfast with similar arrangement to the previous day’s flight, the metal bread basket with selection of options being something typically reserved for an international first class cabin. The Greek yoghurt I opted to start with was as delicious as 24hrs before and the French toast with coconut and almonds very good too even though the presentation doesn’t look quite as enticing!
By the time breakfast was cleared away two of our fourteen hours in the air had been whiled away and we were crossing the Caspian Sea coast at Baku. 1000 miles down 6400 to go…
Mints and hot towels were awaiting me at my seat upon my return from the bathroom as I reclined the seat a little more fully to enjoy the rest of Ocean’s Twelve. The seat, being as comfortable as it was, in part thanks to the excellent pillows and bedding lulled me to sleep a few times causing me to rewind quite a bit of the film but once it was over I relented and requested the mattress pad. The two FAs looking after us worked in tandem to make up our double bed and we took the opportunity to rest. It isn’t too often on my longhaul travels with a bed that I actually get to sleep without any concern for time and it was rather liberating. With the doors to the suite closed and 9hrs 30mins to go we both properly bedded down.
Some turbulence off the Lofoten archipelago of Norway’s coast, just shy of half way through the flight, woke us up and after living with seven plus hours of dry recycled air I was hankering for a little liquid refreshment with the Cuba Libre off the cocktail list winning out. I brought the seat up a little further to the comfortable-relaxing-but-hopefully-not-falling-asleep-again position and flicked through the Oryx system once again for something to watch. A little Top Gear followed…
I also opted for the Stir-fried beef tenderloin in Oriental sauce off the Light Bites menu as something to hold me over until a more substantial order that I’d put aside for later in the flight. However, with my appetite whetted somewhat I asked Sandra for the Marinated chicken panini that came with red onions, minted cream cheese and salad when she came to clear away my first order. Being a touch further peckish I followed this up later with the mixed fruit pudding that came with cranberry sauce and mint. Perfect midflight snack, err snacks…
By this time we were off the coast of Iceland and it was clear that our flightpath would take us across Greenland. This was one of my favourite things about flying between London and California as a child but now living on the US East Coast I don’t get to see much of it anymore, bar some really peculiar winds…
Route: 6600N/05000W EMBOK EMBOK GRIBS 5730N/07000W
Instead I relied upon the Oryx system for entertainment and watched the ever-reliable Jim Gaffigan and some episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. A box of Godiva chocolates were dropped off somewhat randomly too, it was some time after I’d finished eating and whilst Qatar Airways don’t have set meal times in Business Class I’d had the same box dropped off to round off a meal service the previous day.
I set the alarm on my phone and chose to take advantage of my flat bed for a little while longer waking up with around 90minutes to go, around the same time that Sandra peered over the door and asked if I still fancied my lunch choices. She rapidly reappeared and I helped get the table all in position and ready. A nice little canape preceded the delicious Smoked salmon with white and black sesame that came with quinoa salad, grilled tomato, lemon and yuzu dressing. This was probably my favourite dish onboard and of the four main options I chose the Roasted spring chicken with morel cream sauce that came with sweet potato puree, buttered asparagus and tomato confit.
These dishes were not huge, full out meals but worked well given the timing of the flight and what I’d enjoyed so far. More Godiva chocolates were brought around with the hot towel a sign that service was winding down with just over an hour left of the flight.
Enjoying the seat for a little while longer I choose to make a dash for the toilet to change back into my regular clothes. Given that pajamas were handed out it tends to encourage people to change so generally I notice the bathrooms get a little busier in the latter stages of the flight as people change back. I had no such troubles waiting but timed things perfectly and a PA was made that we were to begin our descent in ten minutes, although a glance at the inflight map suggested it was well underway, albeit at a very shallow angle.
The crew prepared the cabin for descent by opening all the doors to each QSuite and as the case for the beginning of the flight I was able to catch glimpses of the ground through 9A’s windows, anticipating our touchdown on 28R at right on 2pm.
We taxied around to Terminal 5 docking up next to a recently arrived BA 747. Door 2L was to be our disembarkation point where we were met by the largest number of wheelchairs I have ever seen on any flight. The entire jetbridge plus the corridor behind was full of greeters awaiting their invalid passengers, if I guess there were 40 wheelchairs I’m probably underestimating things rather.
We followed the crowd to the line for immigration and it was truly enormous, although I heard a member of staff calling out for Global Entry so we ducked under the tensa barrier and followed her directions. Arriving at a US East Coast airport or Chicago is always risky early afternoon because of the large number of European arrivals anyways but I hadn’t expected it to be that huge a line. If I didn’t have Global Entry I’d probably have been downloading the Mobile Passport app from the queue! With no checked baggage though our time to clear immigration and customs was regulated primarily by how fast we could walk and it was not even five minutes from the aircraft door to the refugee tent where buses were leaving from, given the ATS is currently out of service. A few minutes later after a couple of stops we arrived at Terminal 3 for our short American Airlines hop to La Guardia.
Verdict: QSuites is no doubt an outstanding business class product, both the seat itself and the aspects of the soft service. The quality of the food is probably amongst the best I've had in business class on any carrier bar Singapore Airlines. The setup at Doha is also excellent for the most part with the separate formalities for Business Class and First. The Al Mourjan lounge whilst huge and architecturally beautiful was otherwise rather lacking, and after the trip I found out the Al Mourjan eligible passengers can pay a small supplement on the day to upgrade to the Al Safwa lounge, something I'd have certainly done had I known about it. Service onboard was fine, my wife's FA was a little forgetful, on a number of occasions forgetting about her drinks order, and my FA whilst very efficient wasn't the warmest or friendliest of people. That said, I generally don't judge an airline's service based on an interaction with a small numbers of FAs and the previous day's flight had some truly excellent FAs. In short I'd definitely fly QSuites again, probably trying my original window seat preference the next time.