Singapore via Qsuite and the World’s Most Audacious First Class Lounge
A little over a year since my last trip to Singapore in February 2018, I was back to visit a few new locations in the garden city, to stay at one of my favourite InterContinental properties, and to experience the world’s best business class once again.
Highlights ahead in this report:
• Three sectors in Qatar Airways Qsuite, all on the A350
• The Club InterContinental experience at InterContinental Singapore
• Full reviews of The Qantas Singapore Lounge and the Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Lounge in Doha
During this report I will reference last year's Singapore trip report (which can be found at viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1392775
) and my Japan trip report (which can be found at viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1406143
Qatar Airways regularly offer competitive pricing from Scandinavian countries to Asia. Thus, it was with little surprise that I found myself waking up at the Radisson Blu Airport Hotel at Oslo Gardermoen on a cold mid-February morning to a view of the snowy airport train station, having arrived from London the night before courtesy of British Airways.
A 5-minute partly-covered walk from the arrivals hall (and definitely not completely covered as the hotel’s website would have you believe), this property is modern, with sleek but corporate Scandinavian design.
My fourth-floor Standard room was unremarkable – a comfortable pre-flight option with the minimum of fuss. Ample power sockets (but not USB sockets) were scattered around in all the right places.
I was pleasantly surprised that my ‘special request’ of bananas in the room had been fulfilled, although was disappointed that there was no mineral water, slippers, bathrobes or coffee machine. Upon further research, it appears as though coffee machines are available in Superior rooms, with bathrobes and slippers only making it into the Junior Suite category and above. I usually pack my own hotel slippers for just such an occasion and can live without robes or a coffee machine for one night. Thankfully, the minibar had a couple of bottles of (chargeable) water tucked away in the door – incidentally, I don’t appear to have ever been charged for them.
As is so often the case with refurbished properties, the bathroom had only had minor cosmetic changes applied, leaving the original and somewhat utilitarian white tiling intact. Amenities were unbranded, but not unpleasant. The mirror was not anti-steam – this is one of my pet hotel hates, and always results in a spare face cloth or hand towel being requisitioned for morning de-misting duties. Whilst on a roll with minor annoyances, and to give me the opportunity of throwing an American phrase into proceedings, the toilet brush in the bathroom grossed me out slightly.
My rate included breakfast; given my flight wasn’t until later in the afternoon, I didn’t get down to the restaurant until just before service finished, not forgetting to lock my bedroom door with the keycard behind me (something I’ve never had to do before). Despite this, the buffets looked in reasonably good condition and although waiting staff soon started packing things up, there was no issue in ordering an omelette from the made-to-order egg menu. Everything was of reasonable quality, and although the interior design and layout of the tables was a little canteen-like, I wasn’t left feeling disappointed. Walking back to the lift core, the bar area adjacent to the restaurant looked like a pleasant space to pass a couple of hours of an evening. OSL-DOH
With hand baggage only and the QR check-in desks not quite open yet, my mobile boarding pass was enough to gain entry airside via swift fast track security. The QR app has always been slightly buggy for me; today was no exception, with the boarding pass reminder showing a 12:30 time for a 16:15 departure.
The OSL lounge is not bad as far as third party lounges go – indeed, it gets bonus points for having a ‘premium’ section dedicated to premium class and status passengers (as opposed to those gaining entry via paid membership schemes and walk-up payments); I reviewed this facility fully in my Singapore trip report last year.
A dedicated premium seating area had been barriered off at the front of Gate F16 where I made myself comfortable for the short wait for boarding to commence. The gate agents had issued me card boarding passes for both my OSL-DOH and DOH-SIN sectors; for reasons unknown, QR regularly seem to shun their own mobile BPs.
Originally scheduled to be operated by an A350-900 with regular Business Class seating (the oft-reviewed Super Diamond product), the seat map for the first sector of this trip happily changed to show the Qsuite product a few days before departure. This particular A350-900, A7-ALY, first delivered to QR just last year, was looking in tip-top condition as I was welcomed and directed to my suite. The single airbridge had been docked at Door 1L, meaning the entire aircraft’s worth of passengers trundled slowly through the forward Business Class cabin, slightly hindering my planned cabin photography and the crew’s attempts to deliver the well-worn pre-departure ritual of personal welcome, hanging of jackets, offer of a choice of drink, choice of hot or cold towel, menu, wine list and newspaper delivery. Note that the wine list remained the same throughout all four sectors of this trip.
Qsuite-equipped A350-900 aircraft feature six rows of 1-2-1 suites in the forward cabin and a three-row mini-cabin behind Doors 2 ahead of two Economy Class cabins of predominately 3-3-3 seating. Each Qsuite row features either forward- or rearward-facing suites to maximise the use of space; the configuration is surprisingly dense (and therefore commercially sound), not that you realise once cocooned in your suite. For the window suites, odd-numbered rows have the seat itself closest to the window (and are therefore my preferred choice), whilst even-numbered suites have the seat closest to the aisle.
For middle suites, odd-numbered rows have seats adjacent to one another and are therefore best suited to couples, whilst even-numbered rows have seats furthest apart and may also be suited to couples depending on strength of relationship. Each block of four middle suites can be configured as an open group if there is a family travelling together; I can’t see this configuration getting much use in practice.
Suite 3A was pre-set with a pillow and blanket on the seat, headphones and Aqua D’Or mineral water in the height-adjustable side compartment that doubles as the aisle-side armrest, and a smaller pillow and Nappa Dori amenity kit on the marble-effect side console. The smaller pillow (exclusive to Qsuite) is somewhat pointless, and the quote on the pillowcase (love, work, travel, repeat) definitely more than something of a gimmick and not very in keeping with the QR brand.
Despite the amenity kit bag being a welcome variant on the usual Bric’s, the contents were identical to what you’d usually find onboard a QR flight – I find the Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio products distinctly ‘meh’, although appreciate the varying colours that the internal items come in – usually colour-matched to the accompanying bag when provided by Bric’s.
The suite itself felt remarkably spacious for a business class product, and I enjoyed the ‘straight’ alignment of the seat when compared to the more usual angled reverse herringbone configuration favoured these days. Although legroom is slightly limited if not using the footrest, I didn’t feel too constrained; the footrest itself is generously proportioned when compared to products such as the (non-Super) Diamond seat found on QR’s outgoing A330s and recently retired A340s.
The seat controls, contactless payment point, sockets (including USB) and touchscreen handheld IFE controller are all conveniently located below the side console, although in odd-numbered suites, the position of the console closest to the aisle means that any cables plugged in tend to trail across the access point to the aisle. A small storage ledge is located below the console and is a handy place to store the menu and wine list during the flight. The IFE screen was good quality, with an additional USB socket located below it; I found I tended to use this more than the console socket, as it was less intrusive on the seat area.
An adjustable reading light and coat hook are located to the side of the seat within the smart leather trim, with additional reading lights in the overhead panel alongside individual air vents. Confusingly, the light button in the seat control panel only controls accent lighting within the suite below the console and in the foot area; the overhead lights are controlled by a button below the fixed IFE touchscreen, whilst the seat-side reading light has a button next to it for operation. It would be far easier if everything could be controlled from the seat control panel.
As well as containing the headphones and water bottle, the aisle-side armrest (window-side in even-numbered suites) contains the usual literature and a couple of handy storage spaces, one sized for a (small) phone or reading glasses.
The seat’s headrest can be manually adjusted up and down, although there is no sideways support. I found the window-side armrest (aisle-side in even-numbered suites) to be pretty wobbly; on more than one occasion it refused to adjust properly, something I’ve found on several different aircraft. The seat itself is perfectly comfortable without being terribly squishy – note that when reclined, the side console is quite far away.
If all of this sounds complicated, don’t worry – the crew will usually offer to explain the suite features to you upon boarding, and you can always ask in the unlikely event that they don’t proactively offer.
Qatar’s signature mint and lime welcome drink is always a nice way to start a flight, this afternoon accompanied by a hot towel. The Captain announced a flight time of 6 hours cruising at an altitude of 41,000ft, before the crew came around taking orders for dinner. Whilst I was addressed by name (always a good sign), I found the crew slightly nervous and unsure of themselves which doesn’t immediately put passengers at ease; this is perhaps sadly symptomatic of QR’s alleged poor treatment of their cabin crew.
After a trip to the de-icing pad and a rapid ascent through a grey Norwegian sky, the crew came around to close the doors on each Qsuite. Locked open for taxi, takeoff and landing, inflight these doors can be manually opened and closed by passengers and crew to provide an added level of privacy to each suite. The doors themselves are higher than you might initially expect, but not to the extent that I found the suite to be claustrophobic, a criticism I know some have levelled at the product.
Interestingly, each Qsuite has a supplementary safety card detailing specific instructions on how to detach the main door panel in an emergency (presumably if the door became jammed and couldn’t be fully opened).
During meal service, crew variably either close and open the door between courses or leave it open throughout. On several occasions I saw crew struggling to open the door one handed whilst balancing plates in the other, so it seems prudent to help the crew out and just keep the door open for them; the door is really only required when sleeping.
I had opted to dine straight after takeoff; my glass of pre-ordered and perfectly chilled Lallier Grande Réserve was poured seat-side very promptly and offered alongside a dish of warm nuts.
This was swiftly followed by my table being laid for the first course – a tasty amuse-bouche of smoked salmon – with a choice of still or sparkling water. The small forks provided for this dish are really elegant, and I appreciate how QR are still offering this mini-course despite recent cutbacks in the catering department.
The sweet corn soup with crème fraîche was notably spicy, served initially somewhat theatrically with a lid on.
As the sun set through the A350’s expansive windows and I continued with the incredibly watchable Crazy Rich Asians, my next course of cold smoked salmon with horseradish and chive crushed potato salad, lemon and red radish arrived. This was unremarkable.
The nicely flavoured lamb loin with herb butter, dauphinoise potato, ratatouille and lamb jus sauce came next – although the thicker piece of meat was a little tough, I enjoyed this dish accompanied by the Argentinian Zuccardi Zeta Malbec 2012. This was noted as being QR’s ‘discovery’ red wine of the month – I also tasted the discovery white but favoured the red.
The molten chocolate cake with blueberry compote and crème anglaise was simply divine, smartly presented on a black plate and accompanied by the German Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Beerenauslese 2005 dessert wine.
A mint tea, Godiva chocolates and hot towel completed the dinner service.
The three Business Class washrooms are all located in the forward Doors 1 galley area – one on each side of the aircraft ahead of the doors, and a further washroom adjacent to the cockpit entrance. The two main washrooms each feature windows, whilst all have the usual array of Rituals handwash, moisturiser and facial spray. The crew place dental and shaving kits in the washrooms after takeoff and almost always do an excellent job of keeping them in near-perfect condition, even down to changing the toilet seat cover between users.
The amusing if slightly childish Johnny English Strikes Again was my second film of choice on this sector; the IFE system performed well throughout the flight with no lag or bugs evident.
A little under two hours before arrival I ordered a pre-landing snack of the fragrant vegetable Thai green curry served with jasmine rice, red chilli and kaffir lime. I was impressed that the crew fully laid my table, not something that is usually done for the second meal service.
I concluded the not-so-snacky meal with the fresh berries and orange syrup – I can’t recommend the syrup as a suitable accompaniment to an otherwise impossible to get wrong dish. A hot towel was provided at the end of the second meal service (the third towel on this sector), and the crew happily obliged in providing me with a second water bottle.
The crew on this sector were something of a mixed bag – absent between meal services (to the point of having to use the call bell twice), but efficient when present, addressing passengers by name and following the usual QR script to the nth degree. This robotic but well-meant QR script can sometimes be to the detriment of truly personal service, not allowing crew to fully read customers.
We landed into Doha accompanied by the Hamilton soundtrack on the IFE (via my own Bose headphones as always), parking at a dual-airbridge stand and disembarking from Door 2L (the first to open). Pier-served stands are something of a rarity at Doha, in my experience. As always, the QR crew did a good job of holding Economy Class passengers back through a combination of closing the aisle curtains and physically standing in the aisle. Premium transfer security was quiet and required no use of the provided soft seating, and so it was in good time that I arrived at the foot of the Al Mourjan Business lounge. DOH-SIN
The Al Mourjan Business lounge has grown on me over the years and I now rate it as one of the best oneworld business class lounges out there (albeit it is not technically a oneworld facility given its restricted access criteria to selected QR passengers only). I reviewed this lounge fully in my Japan trip report of last year.
The foot of the escalator up to the lounge was quite busy with people jostling to show their boarding passes to the lone lounge agent, so I skirted round the back to the lift up to reception. These lifts provide access to the lounge not only from the gate level, but also from the transfers security level, which is a useful time-saving tip for those on a short connection.
A brief stop to use the facilities and a glass of water later on this short 1h10 connection, I headed over to the transit train and Gate C26, one of the many coaching gates to one of the many remote stands at DOH. After a brief wait, I joined the Business Class boarding pass and passport check queue, before being directed to the dedicated Business Class bus. It took around five minutes for the bus to move off as we waited for the final J passenger to join us; this is one of the minor annoyances of using the coaching gates at an airport the never seems to have enough pier-served stands.
A7-ANF was our ride to Singapore tonight, a less than one-year-old A350-1000. This was to be my first time flying on the -1000 variant of the A350, the physically longer but very slightly shorter-range version of the (currently) more common -900. All of QR’s A350-100 aircraft come fitted with Qsuite in Business Class, the configuration being the same as that on Qsuite-equipped A350-900s, albeit with four more rows in the forward cabin and one less row in the rear cabin. The only other notable difference is standard window blinds on the -1000 as opposed to the dual-layer (and somewhat temperamental) electronic blinds of the -900. As with the -900, QR have thankfully opted to specify individual air vents on the -1000, although note that none are provided in the centre seats (presumably due to the much higher ceiling caused by the lack of overhead lockers in the middle part of the cabin).
After boarding via stairs to Door 2L, I was directed to Suite 3K, where I found the usual accoutrements, the only notable differences from the previous sector being the brand of bottled water (Evian this time around) and slightly different amenity kit bag design (albeit still from Nappa Dori). A choice of welcome drink and hot or cold towel was offered as the Captain announced a flight time of 7h10, travelling at up to 39,000ft. Accompanying the menu, wine list and newspapers on this night flight was a pack of pyjamas and slippers from The White Company, with mattress pads available on request.
The crew fitted my seat with the mattress pad whilst I went to change into the rather low-neck PJs in the closest washroom; two are located either side of the aircraft ahead of Doors 1 in the front galley, whilst a further washroom is available by Door 2L; internally all three are the same as those on the A350-900, and all feature windows to the outside world.
Menu orders were taken promptly after takeoff to the unwelcome loud sound of the charity video being broadcast throughout the cabin; I opted to be woken if necessary around five hours into the flight. My nightcap of a mint tea arrived swiftly on an oval plate alongside some unrequested packaged biscuits.
As it turned out, I only managed around three hours of sleep, but this was more due to my body clock than anything to do with the Qsuite or the flight in general. The Qsuite seat is slightly on the bumpy side when fully flat, but enjoys good width throughout its length. My main concerns were with the pillowcase (which was sized to fit the old-style pillow and flapped around somewhat) and, more pressingly, the significant gap between the dividing wall of the suite and the side wall of the aircraft cabin – this results in a fair chunk of light flooding the suite from the window from the suite behind or in front if those occupants don’t follow convention and close their blinds on a night flight. This gap meant I did, however, find a practical use for the silly small pillow (you remember the one with the poetic words?) – rolled into the gap, it was sufficient in blocking at least some of the light.
The Equalizer 2 was my thoroughly entertaining movie of choice to accompany the breakfast service; there was a bit of a wait for hot drinks during an extended seatbelt sign ‘on’ period, although my post-wakeup cardamom karak chai (and hot towel) was worth the wait.
Breakfast commenced with some fresh orange juice and the platter of seasonal cut fruits; much of the melon was on the overly watery side, although the non-melon elements were refreshing.
Next up was the Greek yogurt, orange compote and toasted granola with nuts, a much more basic option compared to the Bircher muesli offered in yesteryear, although improved with the addition of honey.
Concluding breakfast was the plain omelette with grilled chicken patty, oven roasted tomato and potato wedges; this was pretty decent, although I doubt chicken patty will ever be added to my go-to breakfast list). This course was offered with tabasco sauce, mustard and tomato ketchup for those desiring a little more zing.
Given we would be landing in Singapore in the mid-afternoon local time, I had been tempted to round this flight off with the lava cake dessert from the ‘late night dining’ menu, although the reality of a full (and by now rather rotund) stomach meant I sadly wasn’t able to actualise this fantasy.
As always, the crew were happy to oblige with a second bottle of Evian water at the same time as delivering a latte and final hot towel.
This was another consistent Qatar Airways experience, with a slightly more proactive crew than the previous sector. I’m not sure whether landing cards are no longer carried on board QR flights, but I wasn’t offered one which meant there was quite a queue for immigration by the time I’d finished completing one in the hall. This aside, once past the desks, the remainder of the arrivals experience at Changi was as slick as I’ve come to expect from one of the world’s top-rated airports, and I was soon barrelling down the well-planted Airport Boulevard in a taxi on my way to the InterContinental.InterContinental Singapore
For my third stay at this property I’d opted to book a Club Deluxe room in the hotel’s modern tower, one category higher than the base Club Heritage room in the ‘traditional’ low-rise wing. The usual one-category Ambassador upgrade from a Club Deluxe room would be to a Club Grand Deluxe room, although on this occasion I was pleasantly surprised to be further upgraded to a Premier Suite. I reviewed this property fully in my Singapore trip report last year and so won’t go into any great detail about my experience this time around, other than to reflect on the different room category and offer some updated imagery of what was another excellent InterContinental experience.
There was a short wait to check-in as housekeeping were still making my suite ready; I was invited to take a seat in the attractive floral-scented lobby, although could’ve opted to visit the Club lounge had I not been in quite such pressing need of a shower. Check-in was conducted on a tablet in a nod to the environment, although I query the true sustainability of a property where orange juice at breakfast in the Club lounge comes in small plastic bottles from a fridge. The same principle applied on checkout with the traditional printed invoice replaced by an email.
I was offered a fairly weak welcome gift of IC Singapore-branded collar stiffeners and handed a non-personalised welcome letter detailing Club InterContinental benefits.
One of the four main hotel lifts had been refurbished since my previous stay, although it remained the case that the two lift banks operate independently from one another, which often resulted in an impatient push of the button on both sides of the lobby.
Whilst it didn’t have the views of the city my 13th-floor Club Deluxe room had last year, this year’s 6th-floor Premier Suite was very spacious, with two good-sized rooms and a large bathroom. The interior design exuded sophistication in a classic yet modern way with traditional Peranakan touches such as the design of the minibar console and living room table lamp bases.
The suite featured a number of thoughtful design features such as hallway lighting that remained on for a short period after the master switch was turned off, USB charging ports by the bed (albeit on one side only) and by the desk, TVs with intuitive menus and channels that stayed put when turned off, and that holy grail of an anti-steam mirror in the bathroom.
Both TVs in the living room and bedroom featured AirPlay connectivity, although this required a separate wifi network to work which meant streaming from the internet wasn’t possible, somewhat defeating the point.
At the time of reservation, I’d requested some bananas in the room on arrival; this request wasn’t fulfilled, and my attempt to request one in the Club lounge (to take away for later in the day) backfired significantly when said banana promptly arrived pre-chopped on a plate! This attention to detail is quite typical of the excellent Singaporean service culture.
As I was unpacking, the Ambassador mineral water and fruit plate was delivered to the room; the fruit plate (and the welcome gift) has since been enhanced from the list of Ambassador benefits, although many properties will still offer it in my experience.
After a brief evening stroll down to Raffles City shopping centre, I returned to the InterContinental for evening canapés and a well-deserved rest. Turndown service was offered, although the customary slippers and mat placed by the bed never made an appearance, and there was no sign of any chocolates (which let’s face it is the only true reason that turndown service exists). Housekeeping on the whole was excellent, with many items that are often overlooked (such as water glasses) refreshed daily, and the room refreshed on the day of checkout.
The elegant first-floor Club InterContinental lounge, comprehensively reviewed last year, was my first stop for breakfast the next morning. Service, as I’ve come to expect, was top-notch, notwithstanding a slight dip during a busy Sunday afternoon tea service where empty plates took a little longer to be cleared away than perhaps is usual.
A classic Eggs Royale on English muffin can’t be beaten, accompanied by crispy bacon and some notably divine mushrooms in creamy sauce. In addition to the made-to-order menu (that remained the same throughout my stay), there is of course a sumptuous buffet available.
My first full day in the Garden City started rather aptly with an early morning stroll through the Botanic Gardens, including the Keppel Discovery Wetlands. I didn’t pop into the National Orchid Garden this time around, but first-time visitors should definitely ensure this is on their itinerary.
After lunch with friends in Toa Payoh (one of Singapore’s predominately residential districts) and afternoon tea back in the Club lounge, I headed out past the nearly reopened Raffles hotel to the downtown core and the National Gallery, home to the Southeast Asian Art Museum. I was lucky enough to be visiting on a day when entry to the Gallery was free of charge, and was impressed with the variety and quality of the exhibitions.
Canapés in the Club lounge, accompanied by the de rigueur Singapore Sling, followed by a light in-room dining snack of satay concluded the evening.
The dawn of day two held a more traditional breakfast experience than I usually opt for; the so-called ‘oriental’ breakfast of chicken congee and dim sum platter was surprisingly filling.
A stroll through the downtown core took me to the ferry terminal for the trip across to the Southern Islands; I can’t recommend either Kusu Island or St John’s Island as offering any notably interesting scenery, although I can imagine for locals the islands provide a welcome respite from the bustle of the city. The view of the Singapore skyline from the ferry is, however, quite impressive.
Before heading back to the IC, I took a detour through the Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay complex to visit the Cloud Forest. This spectacular indoor rainforest was closed for maintenance on my visit to the Gardens the previous year, so I was thankful for the opportunity to spend a good hour or so wandering through the huge greenhouse, a much more impressive structure than the larger adjacent Flower Dome. Annoyingly, tickets for individual attractions aren’t available, so I had to purchase one to access both greenhouses despite having no desire to revisit the Flower Dome.
That evening, post-afternoon tea and canapés, I headed to the downtown core once again to enjoy the annual i Light Festival, where many of Singapore’s most famous landmarks are creatively lit as art installations. The light show set to music on the Singapore River was particularly impressive.
I started day three – the day of my departure – with a tomato omelette, accompanied by crispy bacon and those delicious mushrooms in creamy sauce once again.
With lunch with a friend planned downtown, I only had a few hours free in the morning and had opted to – rather ambitiously – tour around the entirety of Singapore Zoo in under three hours. Early Monday morning meant a short queue for taxis at the hotel as a number of businesspeople started their day to doubtless far less interesting destinations. The taxi driver was quite surprised at my particular destination, but I’m sure was glad of the fare over what is not that short of a distance.
I’d visited the Zoo once before ten years previously and was keen to see whether it still lived up to my memories. I normally shun zoos, but Singapore’s is one of the few exceptions where I’m generally satisfied with the management ethos. The relatively open enclosures and rainforest lakeside setting make for a unique visitor experience, although I did feel slightly uncomfortable watching the Elephant Presentation; those magnificent animals should not be paraded around and made to perform tricks in front of tourists. I hope Singapore Zoo reconsiders this particular ‘attraction’.
After lunch, I headed back to freshen up at the hotel (making full use of the excellent 4pm checkout afforded to Ambassador members) and enjoy a final afternoon tea (minus the sandwiches) in the Club lounge, before taking a taxi to the airport.
The InterContinental has come to be my home whenever I’m in Singapore, and I look forward to returning next year. SIN-DOH
For unknown reasons, Qatar Airways still do not offer mobile boarding passes for departures from Singapore. Thus, timing of entry to airside is somewhat constrained by the check-in desk opening time of three hours before departure. I usually like to arrive a little earlier than three hours prior in airports where there are decent oneworld lounges (as is the case at Changi), so this restriction is somewhat primitive.
The check-in agents were still setting up the main bank of desks in T1 (a recent switch for QR from T3) when I arrived around ten minutes prior to advertised opening time. ‘Early check-in’ was in full swing at a dedicated desk (this is not an advertised service), although the Business Class desks were not yet open. I checked with an agent and after an initial unnecessary show of reluctance was eventually checked-in, but not before I’d had to show proof of my onward flight from Oslo to London – I have no idea why this was the case given I am (for now) an EU citizen and the OSL-LHR sector was on a separate booking.
After a quick x-ray of my cabin baggage (but no full security as this is completed at the gate at SIN), I was through immigration swiftly after being asked to use the automated gates (despite these being signed for Singapore residents only).
I popped my head into the third party SATS Premier lounge Qatar Airways use at Changi; it was pretty busy and distinctly underwhelming, so I made a hasty retreat (not even stopping for a photo) to the adjacent British Airways lounge. This tends to be the quieter of the Singapore lounges (at least, outside of BA departure times); this was certainly the case this evening with only a solitary man FaceTiming (sans headphones) for company, no doubt conducting Very Important Business. I reviewed the BA lounge fully in my Singapore trip report of last year.
With a number of Qantas departures imminent, I soon left the quiet BA lounge to enter the now much quieter Qantas Singapore lounge. This combined business and first class lounge has recently been slightly expanded (since I visited in February) and is soon to be rebranded as a Qantas Business lounge with the opening of a brand new and much anticipated Qantas First lounge towards the end of the year.
I wasn’t particularly kind to this lounge in my review of last year, but this visit proved notably better than the first. Although this facility can be unpleasantly crowded, once a few QF departures take place and the space has emptied I now rate it as the better of the two oneworld lounges in T1. I have yet to visit the Cathay Pacific lounge in T4, principally because it can only be accessed on T4-departing oneworld flights.
Once past the friendly receptionist (who not only gave me permission to take a photo of the reception area, but promptly posed for a photo), the lounge opens up into two sections. The first features a tended bar on the right with a large dining area beyond (with two self-serve buffets and a tended open kitchen) and showers at the very end.
The baristas at the bar produce some of the very best coffee I’ve ever tasted – I’d definitely recommend this over the self-serve machine in the main seating area. The open kitchen serves a couple of made-to-order dishes; I sampled the pork sang choi bao with rice cashews and water chestnuts, which was excellent.
In the absence of a First lounge, a number of tables are reserved for Qantas First passengers, Platinum One and Chairman’s Lounge members. These passengers enjoy the services of a First Host and enhanced beverages, although there is no separate menu or full waiter service.
The second main lounge area, to the left of the entryway, features a large self-serve bar (somewhat of an impromptu use of a high-top table) opposite a newsstand integrated into the wall, washrooms and two main areas of lounge seating, the second of which features a small self-serve bar/coffee station. Each seating area has its own TV, whilst a compact children’s play area is available in the right-hand corner of the first seating area adjacent to the TV.
One run of seating by the internal window overlooking check-in is currently reserved for the same passengers who enjoy reserved seating in the dining area.
Whilst the design is a little industrial and the seating a little regimented, service throughout the lounge is excellent and I enjoy the more youthful atmosphere when compared to the BA lounge. This is not to say that the BA lounge is a bad lounge – it’s very far from this – but rather that Qantas offers a better dining experience in more contemporary surroundings.
A dedicated Business Class lane was available at security for Gate D34, although as is so often the case, this merged with the two general security search lanes. Security processing was mercifully quick, however, with no need to remove liquids from bags; the quicker this screening technology comes to Heathrow, the better.
A further Business Class lane was set up for the final boarding pass check at the boarding gate door, with dual airbridges docked to Doors 1L and 2L; unsurprisingly, J was called first and boarded through 1L. This sector was originally scheduled to be operated by an A350-1000, but it was most certainly the -900 variant A7-ALY that greeted me as I stepped onboard and was directed to Suite 3K – the same aircraft I’d flown on from Oslo to Doha a few days previously. QR are notorious for their last minute aircraft changes, but I was thankful that today’s swap was at least to another Qsuite-equipped aircraft.
Pre-placed on my seat was a pillow, with the smaller phrase-infested pillow on the side ledge adjacent to the rolled blanket and Nappa Dori amenity kit. Headphones and a bottle of Evian water were located within the armrest.
As the cabin crew member serving my aisle came to provide a personal welcome, jackets and pre-departure drinks orders were taken along with the offer of a hot or cold towel. The Captain announced a flight time of precisely 8 hours as PJ and slipper packs, the menu and wine list and newspapers were handed out in the cabin. The CSD also stopped by to welcome passengers individually, including on this occasion to point out the location of the washrooms.
After takeoff, orders for dinner were taken and service commenced with my chosen glass of Ataïr Etoile Rosé and warm nuts accompanied by Red Sparrow on the IFE. Pacing of the dinner service was a little slow, with drinks not served until around 40 minutes after departure.
The relatively slow service continued as each course was brought out, starting with an indiscernible and bland (but nicely presented) amuse-bouche. Drinks were never proactively topped up, a service failing I’ve rarely experienced on QR.
In many flights with Qatar Airways I had yet to try their signature Arabic mezze appetiser, comprised on this flight of hummus, tabbouleh and baba ghanoush and served with Arabic bread. I’m not a huge fan of mezze, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that I found this course distinctly ‘meh’.
The stir-fried king prawns with Singapore style chilli sauce, served with egg noodles, julienne vegetables and chye sim was quite spicy but pleasant nonetheless. The prawns themselves were a little on the rubbery side, but perfectly edible. This dish was offered alongside a range of condiments, although was already flavoured perfectly adequately for my taste.
Concluding this evening’s dinner was the comforting but unremarkable apple tarte tatin, with vanilla sauce and mixed berry compote, served alongside an oolong tea. The black plates QR use for dessert service do add a certain flair to the presentation, although on the whole I find the different types of tableware to be slightly uncoordinated between courses.
After dinner had concluded I requested the mattress pad be fitted to my seat. Although QR don’t offer full turndown service in Business Class, the fitting of the mattress pad does add a significant layer of comfort to an otherwise quite bumpy seat. Pillowcases are also fitted to the pillow by the cabin crew, with the passenger left to recline the seat fully flat and lay out the blanket themselves. Given crew are already fitting the mattress pad and pillowcase, it seems a little odd that the rest of turndown isn’t completed by the crew as well.
Three hours of rest later, I woke up to the offer of a drink, opting also for the fresh berries with rosewater syrup to accompany my cardamom karak chai tea. Learning my lesson from a previous flight, I didn’t add the syrup to the berries which were all the better for it.
With not enough flight time remaining to watch a movie, I browsed the fairly limited TV selection and ended up settling on a documentary about Longleat, the stately home in Wiltshire, UK. Presented by property expert Phil Spencer, this was a relaxing accompaniment as we prepared to land into Doha at 00:20 local time.
The CSD wished passengers goodbye before we entered a brief holding pattern prior to landing at Doha. Two dedicated Business Class buses were waiting for us at our remote stand; the one I travelled in for the fairly long journey over to the terminal had either been recently refurbished or was brand new as it was sporting smart red leather seats. Premium transfer security was once again pretty quiet, with a couple of dedicated lanes past soft seating partially hidden behind low walls. DOH-OSL
With a 8h40 overnight layover (the shortest available connection time for the lowest Business Class fare), I had two realistic options; overnight at the Oryx Airport Hotel where rates can regularly be over GBP200 per night, or pay QAR250 (approximately GBP55) to access Qatar Airways’ flagship lounge; the Al Safwa First lounge, which offers private ensuite bedrooms for a maximum time limit of 6 hours.
With the ongoing Qatar diplomatic crisis (since June 2017), many Muslim countries no longer permit Qatar-registered aircraft to fly into their airspace. QR traditionally sell their Business Class cabins as First Class on regional routes and afford passengers travelling in this cabin access to the Al Safwa First lounge. With a vastly reduced number of regional routes operating with a First Class cabin during the so-called ‘blockade’, the Al Safwa First lounge became quiet to the extent it was likely no longer economical for the airline to continue operating it. In an attempt to ensure continued operation (at least for the few A380 First Class passengers still entitled to use it based on their class of travel), QR started selling access to their most exclusive lounge to their own revenue Business Class passengers. Since I travelled in February, QR have increased the cost of admission dramatically from QAR250 to QAR600 (roughly GBP130) which makes the proposition somewhat less attractive, although still places the lounge below the cost of a hotel room.
Although the time limit for paid access is set at 6 hours and passengers are reminded of this at the reception desk with boarding passes stamped to show entry time, at no time was I approached to leave the lounge. On an 8h40 connection, factoring in walk time to/from the lounge and early QR boarding times, the realistic lounge use time was not much more than 7 hours in my case in any event.
The Al Safwa First lounge occupies the same footprint as the Al Mourjan Business lounge, albeit on the opposite side of the terminal. The space is vast and undoubtedly impressive, with something of a museum gallery atmosphere such is the resounding silence of the space, interrupted only by the fall of water from the centrepiece fountain and the occasional chink of glass from one of the dining areas. This silence starts to feel quite disorientating, even disconcerting after any extended period.
For passengers originating their journey in Doha, the lounge features its own entrance direct from a private security area which itself is adjoined directly to first class check-in.
Past a rather colourful art piece and one of two water features, the main lounge corridor (to call it a corridor is almost an insult) extends down to a sort of crossroads, flanked by cabinets showcasing Qatari artefacts.
A side entrance off this corridor leads to the family area, featuring its own self-serve snack station and semi-private ‘living rooms’ beyond an unstaffed reception podium, as well as a nursing room and play area – naturally including replica F1 car – to the right. This area, as with much of the lounge, was totally deserted throughout my stay. The living rooms in particular are a nicely designed feature, being as they are almost mini apartments in their own right. Given how quiet the lounge is, I don’t see the logic for them being reserved for families.
Further along the corridor is the reception to the spa and quiet area. Separate men’s and women’s spas are available (at a fee), whilst the quiet area offers the aforementioned ensuite bedrooms (no separate fee) available on a first-come first-served basis. Note that there are no separate showers (other than those within the spa and bedrooms) in this lounge, which does seem an oddity.
The quiet area was where I headed first; my boarding pass was taken and held for the duration of my stay in the room and I was advised of the 6-hour time limit; the same limit applies for use of the rooms regardless of whether you’ve paid to access the lounge or are a First Class passenger.
I was escorted to Room 7 towards the end of the well-designed corridor, where I found a small but smart space waiting for me, featuring a single bed, desk and open wardrobe. The door to the room doesn’t lock from the inside (a keycard is required for access from the outside) which is a little disconcerting, at least initially. The bedroom features a TV, small bottle of Evian water and tissues, with a bathrobe hanging in the wardrobe. There are no USB charging points although there are plentiful power sockets.
The smart bathroom (behind a super heavy self-closing door) is significantly brighter than the shower rooms within the Al Mourjan Business lounge, and includes individual Rituals amenities, towels, face cloths, bath mat, slippers, hairdryer, dental and shaving kits and various other essentials, which is good as there is no obvious way of summoning someone if you’ve forgotten anything.
Despite being unable to switch off all of the lights in the room from the baffling control panel above the bed (I also couldn’t switch on the desk lamp or either of the reading lamps), I managed a solid five hours’ sleep in the comfy bed.
Back at the crossroads of the lounge, to the left is a small seating area close to the secondary entrance to the lounge from the main departure lounge, with a dedicated duty free store to one side and a business centre to the other. Whilst walking through the duty free store, I was unsurprisingly accosted and encouraged to purchase many exciting and ‘good value’ items, most of which looked like they’d easily consume an entire month’s salary. The same attempts at upselling were also in evidence near the spa.
To the right is the customer service desk, baggage storage room and a larger block of seating beyond which is the smaller of the two dining areas, which I believe is self-service.
Adjacent to this dining area is the entrance to one of the A380 gates including dedicated secondary security screening for flights to the US; direct boarding for First Class passengers is offered here.
Once again at the crossroads, and this time we’re heading straight on to the lounge’s fountain centrepiece. This is the most austere part of the lounge, and where you’ll find the largest seating area with sofas. As is the case throughout the lounge, a number of practical clothes hangers are dotted between the seats, with some tables featuring individual iPad-like flight information displays.
A cinema room and marble-clad washrooms are located on opposite sides of the central space.
Towards the back of the lounge, the main dining area, laid out in a T shape, features full waiter service and a tended bar. Heading here for breakfast, I was escorted to a table and offered a menu; this was disappointingly limited and my eggs royale with sautéed mushrooms and hash brown pretty basic quality. I have no idea why my chosen sides weren’t plated on the same plate as the main course, as is common for breakfast dishes. There was no yogurt listed on the menu, although a small pot was brought on request.
Although the dining area is better presented than that in the Al Mourjan lounge and I appreciate the waiter service that Al Safwa offers, the catering was if anything lower quality and the selection more limited. My breakfast experience wasn’t helped by the lack of Krug champagne; I was told they’d run out and Veuve Clicquot was the substitute available.
A funnel of individual semi-private seating pods takes passengers out to a terrace area where the sounds of the terminal are once again audible; this area features access to the secondary reception and its own coffee station, along with one of several newsstands.
For the remainder of my time in the lounge I took a seat near the fountain; I wasn’t once offered anything to drink or checked upon. There is no excuse for this in a lounge with limited self-serve options, plentiful staff and virtually no other guests.
Qatar Airways’ Al Safwa First lounge is an architectural and interior design marvel, but one that falls short in providing any form of true comfort. The vast empty spaces, deafening quietness and more limited food options combine to make me favour the Al Mourjan Business lounge in almost all areas. The ensuite bedrooms and therefore easy access to showers is the only true reason for me to choose Al Safwa in the future, although if I was only interested in a shower (and not sleep) I’d be heading to the lesser-known (and far less grand) First Class lounge, designed principally for oneworld Emerald members and other oneworld airlines’ first class passengers; I reviewed this lounge in my Japan trip report of last year.
Before heading to the gate, I stopped off at the Qatar Airways Travel Boutique to try out the replica A380 First Class seat. Comfy with good width, leg and foot room but lacking in privacy is my unscientific verdict of less than 60 seconds sampling the product.
Whilst Economy Class boarding was in full swing, boarding for Business Class passengers hadn’t yet begun as I arrived at Gate D21 (not D22 as on the app) – you guessed it, another coaching gate! It wasn’t long before I was invited to board, with the dedicated Business Class bus not taking too long on this occasion to move away from the terminal and deposit us at the stairs to Door 2L of A7-ALD, a four-year-old A350-900.
I was welcomed at the door and escorted to Seat 4A by one of the cabin crew who had served me on the outbound OSL-DOH sector; he recognised me and asked how my trip to Singapore had been. Jackets were taken and the Captain announced a flight time of 6h45 cruising at 40,000ft as I settled into my Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seat. I reviewed this excellent non-suite seat fully in my Singapore trip report of last year. This seat is more than adequate for a day flight such as today’s; I even prefer it to the Qsuite for easier access to ports and the side console, and like the more open feeling the non-Qsuite cabin provides, particularly in the Doors 2 area with the wide entryway on the A350.
The usual amenities were scattered around the seat, although the quote-splattered small pillow was mercifully nowhere to be found, unique as it is to the Qsuite product.
I opted for my usual QR signature pre-departure drink of mint and lime, although for some unknown reason was brought a hot mint tea (which vanished before takeoff much quicker than it needed to).
The usual explanation of the seat features and cabin layout, including the location of the washrooms, was provided as menus and wine lists were handed out; I find it strange that this explanation is provided regardless of how many times a passenger has flown with QR before. Whilst a personal welcome from the cabin crew is always welcome, there’s little point if there’s no consistency of that person serving you during the flight.
After takeoff, my apple cooler (apple juice, soda water, lemon juice, sugar, mint leaves and slice of lemon) was quick to arrive as I started to watch the quick to forget Mile 22.
The platter of seasonal cut fruits was first up for breakfast, swiftly followed by the bland Greek yogurt, strawberry compote and toasted granola with nuts. Both Bircher muesli and smoothies have been enhanced from the breakfast menu on all QR flights in the last year; cutbacks are always disappointing to see.
My pre-ordered main course of steel-cut oats served with berries and cream was next; this was tasty with added jam.
How towels and mints did the rounds at the end of the breakfast service, alongside duty free shopping via magazine impressively placed on a tray before being offered to each passenger.
A little over an hour after breakfast I was feeling peckish again and requested a hot chocolate. Offered biscuits, I instead asked for some of the Godiva chocolates that are usually reserved for lunch and dinner services. I watched as an identical order was delivered to Seat 3J much to the surprise of the passenger in that seat; correctly deducing an incorrect delivery address I resolved the issue via the call button, but not before Mr 3J had started to drink his surprise hot chocolate, meaning a fresh one had to be made for me.
I managed to watch the entirety of The 15:17 to Paris without realising that a) the movie is based on a true story and b) the lead actors are not actors at all (which goes some way to explain the questionable performances) and are in fact the actual individuals involved in the situation in 2015. Whilst I can’t recommend a watch as a movie, it does hold together well if you view it from the point of view of a dramatised version of actual events.
Around 2h40 out of Oslo, I ordered lunch starting with the fresh garden salad with chicory, mixed leaves, tomato and cucumber. This was served with a choice of four dressings and was beautifully presented.
Next up was the very pleasant and fragrant chicken tikka masala, pulao rice and baked papadums, accompanied by a glass of the Mantas Creek Winery Alexander Valley 2016.
To conclude, I opted for the always-delicious afternoon tea (minus the fresh finger sandwiches), comprised of warm scones, clotted cream and delicate pastries, served with an oolong tea. A further box of Godiva chocolates was probably unnecessary, but was gladly received nonetheless.
As we approached a snowy Norway, I ended the flight with a few episodes of the US sitcom Superstore before switching to the A350’s tail camera for the scenic landing into Oslo Gardermoen.
Thanks for following along with this report; comments and questions are, as always, welcomed and encouraged.