The Cathay Dragon check-in area at Noi Bai International Airport is jointly branded with Cathay Pacific, despite CX not serving the airport directly. Two desks were open for Business passengers and oneworld status members that afternoon, and before long our bags were checked in and tagged with smart Cathay Pacific First tags, presumably courtesy of my oneworld Emerald status.
The priority boarding pass check, immigration and security were all virtually devoid of other passengers; understandably, there was only one lane open for priority security.
Cathay Dragon (KA) passengers have access to two third party lounges in Hanoi; both the NIA Business Class lounge and the Song Hong Business Class lounge. Lounge invitations are issued at check-in with both lounges printed on, although the NIA lounge receptionist took our invitation on entry which presumably means visiting both lounges isn’t an option. Despite this, I was reasonably happy with our choice of lounge and saw no reason to attempt entry to the Song Hong lounge.
The NIA lounge is located one floor above gate level and commands sweeping views of one of the airport’s two runways. Whilst the design of the space is fairly basic, the high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows give the lounge an almost theatrical air. The fairly large space offers multiple seating options with a mix of armchair types, interspersed with occasional tables and indoor plants; the overall effect is airy and relaxing.
The main seating area is slightly elevated from the rest of the lounge and represents something of an obstacle course for passengers with cabin baggage, such is the tight and regimented arrangement of the seating. Immediately adjacent to the windows, the elevated floor falls away to the base level, which seems to be a flawed and somewhat hazardous design.
A business centre is offered halfway along the lounge, adjacent to the washrooms which were kept reasonably clean throughout our stay.
Massage chairs are available to the right of reception, alongside lockers for storing personal belongings whilst within the lounge. A separate lounge room behind reception appeared to be reserved for members of the military.
At the far-left hand end of the lounge, a buffet area offered a pretty decent selection of both hot and cold dishes (although I didn’t sample anything on this occasion), with table seating (bizarrely also featuring armchairs) set out in a square adjacent to a tended bar.
Our 90 minutes in the lounge passed quickly, although the lounge’s wifi was pretty much unusable; I resorted to using the airport authority’s free wifi which was much quicker.
Gate 28 was our departure point from Hanoi that evening, where a separate lane was available for Business passengers and oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members. CX Silver passengers had their own boarding lane, but this did not appear to extend to other oneworld Ruby members, priority boarding not being an advertised benefit of this status level. Boarding commenced on time, and we were soon being welcomed on board B-HTD, an A321 delivered new to Dragonair (as Cathay Dragon then was) in 1999, before transitioning officially to KA in 2016.
Cathay Dragon’s A321s are configured in a two-class configuration, with 6 rows of 2-2 Business seating and Economy arranged in the usual 3-3 configuration in a single cabin. The cabin quickly filled as passengers boarded, which meant I unfortunately couldn’t get any overall cabin photos on this flight.
The Business seats on this A321 are the same as those across the Cathay Dragon fleet, also featuring on Cathay Pacific’s regional A330s and 777s. For shorthaul, regional flying, these seats are very comfortable. With fixed back shells, passengers reclining in front don’t bother those behind, and there is ample seat pitch and width. Whilst the seats are not flat beds or even angled lie-flat seats, recline is fairly generous for a shorthaul product.
The seats feature a literature pocket (incorporating headphone socket) within the centre armrest, with basic electronic seat controls above, just below a shared drinks console. A handheld IFE controller, of the retro variety, is located within the armrest.
In front, the seat features a decently sized IFE touchscreen, sandwiched between a coat hook and a USB socket. Power sockets are available between the leg rests. A pouch adjacent to the IFE screen is seemingly intended to hold a phone, but sadly doesn’t fit an iPhone 7 or larger, the seat having been designed before the trend for larger phones really took off.
A cushion and blanket were resting on my seat in the second row of the cabin (11A), with headphones provided in the literature pocket. Naturally, I opted to use my own Bose to enjoy an episode or two of Fawlty Towers on the bug-free and easy-to-use system.
Our Australian captain welcomed us on board as cabin service commenced with a pre-departure drink of either still water or orange juice from a tray – no champagne was offered. This was accompanied by a packaged wet towel, which felt a little cheap. Newspapers followed, along with an announcement by our senior purser of this evening’s 1h30 flight time.
Once in the air, we were welcomed by name and offered menus, following which a very rapid service commenced, with our female cabin crew member taking quite a brusque approach, even going so far as to offend the gentleman in 10A (the first row ahead of us), although I didn’t quite catch the crux of the thorny issue.
Dinner service rolled down the aisle on a trolley, with trays handed out to each passenger containing the sole starter (a bland grilled seafood salad) and various accoutrements. The dressing for the salad was contained within a very cheap-looking plastic pot; I’m not sure whether this was a catering error or the usual service standard, but it certainly wasn’t what I would expect from Cathay.
Alongside the passing of the tray, drinks were offered together with the choice of warm bread from a basket; a couple of slices of garlic bread were my carbs of choice.
The two main course options were offered from a trolley, with examples of each visible to passengers to aid choice. The steamed snapper, mashed potatoes, broccoli, capsicum, and mustard gherkin sauce was full of flavour, although presentation left a little to be desired.
Once meal trays had been collected, a choice of Haagen-Dazs ice cream flavours were offered from a hand-held tray; I would definitely prefer to see Cathay Dragon offering a ‘proper’ dessert to conclude an otherwise acceptable meal service. Hot drinks were offered, and although at no time during the flight were drinks top-ups proactively offered, the cabin crew did oblige upon request.
Landing into Hong Kong on time, we parked at the North Satellite Concourse, home to ten airbridge-equipped gates for narrowbody aircraft. This facility opened in 2009, and although currently its design necessitates a bus transfer to the Terminal 1 main building, it is due to be connected by a bridge later this year. No landing cards had been issued on the flight, so we weren’t through immigration as quickly as we could otherwise have been, but once forms had been completed there was only a short queue and our bags were amongst the first onto the belt in the baggage reclaim hall, enabling a swift transfer to a waiting taxi and on to the InterContinental Grand Stanford.InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong and Scenes from Hong Kong
I have stayed at the Grand Stanford on two previous occasions; the first in 2011, and the second post-refurbishment in 2016. As in Hanoi, this is one of two ICs in Hong Kong, the ‘main’ InterContinental being located a little further along the Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) promenade, closer to the Star Ferry pier. The Grand Stanford is around a 15-minute walk to the ferry (a little too long for comfort), compared to the ‘main’ IC’s much more attractive 5-minute distance, with the latter commanding an unobstructed view of Victoria Harbour, unimpeded by the Salisbury Road unlike the lower floors of the Grand Stanford. I found the location of the Salisbury Road to be more visually and audibly intrusive on this occasion than both previous stays; it was particularly noticeable from the Club InterContinental lounge.
Despite our late hour of arrival approaching midnight, we were welcomed at the door with our bags taken and promptly delivered to our room. With the Club lounge closing at 11pm, check-in had to be performed at the main reception in the lobby; the Ambassador desk was unstaffed, which meant a short queue to complete formalities. I was handed the usual Club InterContinental welcome letter, although there was no Ambassador welcome letter or personalised welcome card as is the norm in many other properties.
The lobby of the Grand Stanford, as with many of the public areas, has not been refurbished to the same standard as the Club lounge or the guest rooms, and is starting to show its age; the lift cars in particular are very dated.
Our Premier Full Harbour View room on the 8th floor was the anticipated one category upgrade from our booked Premier Side Harbour View room. At just 28 square metres, this is a small room by any standards, but was all the more noticeable when coming directly from a 305 square metre Presidential Suite! Despite its small size, the recently refurbished room was smart, in a design much more to my taste than the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake’s rooms. I particularly appreciated the mood lighting, marble-topped tables and Eames replica office chair; naturally, there were ample power sockets, including adjacent to the bed. The in-room safe didn’t want to work properly that first evening, but after requesting maintenance take a look the following day, all was fine for the remainder of our stay.
Due to its size, the room lacks space to comfortably sit and relax, with just a small chaise-lounge positioned by the expansive picture window, from which there were spectacular views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island beyond.
In-room Ambassador amenities included a fruit plate and a bottle of Fiji water, both of which were replenished daily. Additional complimentary InterContinental-branded mineral water was available in the minibar, adjacent to a Nespresso machine.
The marble-clad bathroom was nicely appointed, featuring a walk-in shower (incorporating handy bench) and Agraria amenities, although again was rather on the small side. I’ve previously stayed in rooms at this property which feature a bath with shower over, in lieu of a walk-in shower, but had requested a walk-in shower on this occasion.
After a much-needed comfortable night’s sleep, we headed down to breakfast the next morning in the first-floor Club InterContinental lounge. I should declare at this point that access to the lounge was provided free of charge by the hotel as compensation for inconvenience experienced during an evacuation of the property on our previous stay in 2016; this will in no way alter the following review of the lounge.
I’ve often thought that this lounge would be better located on a higher floor, away from the distraction of the Salisbury Road, but despite this intrusion the space still manages to retain a sense of calm luxury.
From reception, the lounge opens up into a fairly narrow rectangle, split down the middle by wooden screens to create two distinct areas; on the right, adjacent to the picture windows, is the main lounge area, whilst on the left is the buffet, consisting of three blue-lit chilled stations and one ambient station, with a hot station a little further along. The buffet side of the lounge also includes a small seating area with wall-mounted televisions.
A high-top table, small business centre and library is located at the far-right hand end, adjacent to a door to a private outside terrace, seemingly mainly used by smokers.
The opposite end of the lounge, adjacent to the hot buffet station and a meeting room, offers additional dining table seating, as well as several rather retro armchairs; this part of the lounge is partly screened from the main seating area and as such is a little more private.
There are no washrooms within the lounge, the closest available being those along the lobby balcony on the same level as the Club lounge; the balcony is accessible through the lounge’s rear exit door adjacent to the meeting room.
The overall design of the lounge is classic but with a modern twist, and despite having a deficit of armchairs, the Grand Stanford’s is certainly one of the better Club lounges in the InterContinental network.
Breakfast in the lounge is an extensive affair, with both an excellent buffet and à la carte menu available; the latter can be customised on request. Eggs Benedict (with smoked salmon) was my dish of choice to start that first morning, served with sautéed potato, grilled mushrooms, roasted cherry tomato and spinach.
On a couple of occasions at breakfast, cutlery was attempted to be re-used between courses by the otherwise friendly, attentive and professional waiting staff; this is a big no-no for me, and always results in a polite request for a clean set.
One of the beauties of visiting a city multiple times is that there’s no compelling force to see all of the ‘touristy’ sights on subsequent trips; this was certainly the case on this visit to Hong Kong, with our first day taken at a relaxed pace. A walk along the TST promenade, a trip across the harbour on the Star Ferry and a stroll through Central and TST was all that made the agenda.
Afternoon tea in the Grand Stanford’s Club lounge is a slightly reduced affair compared to that on offer at the Hanoi Westlake; waiter service is limited to drinks only, with a small but perfectly formed buffet being the favoured method of allowing guests to enjoy their sandwiches, pastries and scones.
Evening canapés is a similarly buffet-centred approach, with an expansive selection of both hot and cold options available and a wide variety of waiter-served (and regularly topped up) drinks, including champagne. Chocolates are available on request.
Day two in Hong Kong heralded more fair weather, and started with a perfectly cooked tomato omelette, this morning served with pork bacon in addition to the usual accompaniments.
After hearing about our plans to hike the Dragon’s Back ridge, the Club lounge manager kindly offered us a selection of snacks to take with us, following up on our return that afternoon to see how the hike had gone. It’s this type of engaging service that sets apart an experience and makes it memorable.
Memorable is exactly what the Dragon’s Back hike was; despite some fast-moving cloud cover, views in all directions were astonishing, most notably from the hike’s highest point, Shek O Peak.
Taxi is by far the easiest and most comfortable way to get to the hike’s starting point on Shek O Road, although we opted for the equally straightforward and probably slightly more scenic bus to take us back to Wan Chai once our hike had concluded. Spending some time exploring the Wan Chai wet market, we returned to the hotel in good time to catch the end of the afternoon tea service.
The next morning started on a sweet note with French toast with cinnamon, before heading up to the top floor to scope out the attractive gym and rather less attractive rooftop swimming pool.
Our third day in the city was spent mainly in the Central district once again, including a trip on the always pleasing Central-Mid-Levels escalator, a walk around the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens and an almost starring role in a movie being shot near the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
That evening we dined at Bombay Dreams, a favourite spot in the city for Indian cuisine.
A customised order of scrambled eggs on toast kick-started our final day in Asia’s World City, which was spent strolling through Kowloon Park and a mini excursion to the charming Tang Dynasty-style Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Nian Garden.
That afternoon, an offer of waiter-served strudel made an appearance at afternoon tea, which seemed a little out of kilter with the usual offering, but was sampled nonetheless. Returning to our room later that afternoon, we found a letter outlining the details of some emergency maintenance to the air conditioning system planned for the early hours of the following morning; no disruption was experienced.
The morning of our departure from Hong Kong was spent relaxing around the hotel, with checkout being conducted in the Club lounge. On examining the bill, I couldn’t see any mention of the Ambassador dining credit having been applied, so requested that this was deducted. This was done promptly, but as we were preparing to leave the lounge, the manager returned to advise the credit had in fact already been applied within one of the in-room dining charges, and she would have to re-charge the additionally deducted amount. Whilst I understand the logic behind this, it did seem slightly odd that this mistake couldn’t have simply been waived given the relatively low value of the credit.
The lounge manager accompanied us down to the lobby (where our luggage had been stored) to see us safely into a taxi to Kowloon Station, concluding another solid stay at the InterContinental Grand Stanford. Whilst the property has its flaws and has perhaps fallen a few notches in my personal InterContinental league, it still remains a very comfortable base from which to explore the city.
I sincerely hope the ongoing situation in Hong Kong is resolved in the near future to both Mainland China’s and the people of Hong Kong’s satisfaction as far as practicable, enabling Asia’s World City to be fully open for business once more. HKG-DOH
In-town check in at Kowloon Station was quick and easy, with no queue at the single desk for use by all Qatar Airways, Scoot and Hainan Airlines passengers. There was no separate premium check-in desk, unlike for Cathay Pacific passengers for which there were dedicated First and Business desks. Our bags were tagged as oneworld First Class priority, with the agent changing the boarding pass card stock in order to issue Qatar Airways Business Class-branded BPs; it’s this sort of detail that sets QR apart from its competitors. A lounge invitation to use any of the Cathay Pacific lounges was also issued. It should be noted that Qatar Airways passengers are only able to check-in in-town from 13:35 on the day of departure; I would like to see QR moving to all-day check-in as is common with most other airlines departing from HKG.
The 24-minute Airport Express ride passed by in a flash. HKG doesn’t offer priority immigration or security, but queues were light at both, and before long we were airside in one of the most architecturally and geographically pleasing airports in the world.
Designed by Foster + Partners and opened in 1998 along with the airport, The Wing and The Pier were for many years Cathay Pacific’s only lounges at Hong Kong International Airport. Both featured separate First and Business sections, and both followed the same interior design palette that remained until 2013 (in the case of The Wing) and until 2016 (in the case of The Pier). Whilst other lounges have opened (and closed) in the intervening years, The Wing and The Pier remain Cathay’s flagship facilities at their home hub.
The Wing was our first stop that afternoon. Refurbished between 2010 and 2013, The Wing lounges are still a Foster + Partners concept. The First lounge is located on the same level as check-in, with a dedicated entrance immediately to the left after security. The Business lounge is accessed from gate level, although the lounge extends to the same level as the First lounge.
We were welcomed at reception and immediately emerged into ‘The Champagne Bar’, as Cathay Pacific refer to it. The lounge’s colour scheme of black, red and white is immediately made clear here, with polished black marble floors and red leather Chesterfield armchairs and sofas.
The IT Zone is actually two small nooks either side of a services core, offering newspapers, magazines and bespoke Solus chairs on one side, and iMac computers and laptop desks on the other. In a traditional design nod, the desks feature Eames office chairs, which I believe are originals. Four further desks are available adjacent to The Haven Bar.
Beyond the first IT Zone, the lounge opens up to the main seating area, featuring three clusters of armchairs separated by low dividing walls and smart occasional tables with integrated lamps. Solus chairs, upholstered in red leather, are dotted around this space too.
The lounge is starting to show its age, with only sporadic floor sockets available for power; there are none integrated into the tables as you might expect, and no USB sockets anywhere that I could find. Five cabanas, twelve shower suites and the (rather dark) washrooms are located off this space.
At the end of the main seating area, adjacent to the tended bar, The Haven offers a hybrid of waiter-service and buffet dining, all in a smart but windowless space. Both table and banquette seating options are available.
Beyond The Haven, an additional self-serve dining area is available, offering an extensive buffet, tended coffee station and variety of high-top and traditional table seating. Differing slightly in design from the rest of the First lounge, it’s my understanding that this space was originally designed to be part of the Business lounge but was more recently incorporated into the First lounge to provide additional dining capacity. This space is the last in the First lounge, which ends with a customer service desk that doubles as the bridge between the First and Business sections of The Wing.
Whilst the overall design effect of The Wing First lounge is undoubtedly impressive, the ambience does feel slightly clinical, not helped by the lounge’s open aspect to gate level below. Natural light and views, on the other hand, are in abundance. We didn’t spend much time visiting on this occasion; despite this, we were offered a drink almost as soon as we sat down, and service seemed attentive for the short time we spent in what remains a quiet and calming space. The Wing is holding up well after six years of use and abuse, but the design is starting to feel a little dated, particularly in contrast to Cathay’s latest design concept we were about to experience at The Pier.
Located at apron level near Gate 63 (for the First lounge) and near Gate 65 (for the Business lounge), both some walk (or transit train ride) from the central part of the terminal, The Pier was refurbished between 2013 and 2016 by Studioilse, the design firm responsible for Cathay’s current lounge concept also seen at Heathrow amongst other global airports. This is, in my view, one of the world’s smartest airline lounge concepts; it is at once elegant, homely, comfortable and luxurious – indeed, the designers had a contemporary apartment in mind when they put pen to paper.
Descending to apron level via the lift due to some maintenance being undertaken to the escalator, we were greeted at the walnut wood-panelled entrance and emerged into the elegant green onyx-clad lobby. This lobby runs the length of the lounge, connecting The Dining Room at one end to The Bar at the other, and features several occasional tables, leafy green plants and a variety of artwork, as well as a wavy sofa in the centre. Two driftwood-inspired tables at either end offer additional focal points.
Turning left from reception, a few steps along the lobby brings you to The Bar, a beautifully styled space continuing the green onyx-clad walls from the lobby, featuring a horseshoe-shaped tended bar and multiple seating options ranging from bar stools through to comfortable extra-wide armchairs. Most seating clusters feature tables with lamps and integrated power and USB sockets in a pull-out drawer. Mirrors inlaid into the interior wall cleverly reflect the apron view from the other side of the lounge.
The general tranquillity of the space was at fairly regular intervals shattered by the rather loud bartender who seemed more intent on making it known that this was his space rather than that of the passengers. I ordered a Hong Kong style milk tea and was rather brusquely informed he’d have to check at the dining room as they were ‘short staffed’; as it turned out, my beverage of choice was available, but the way the bartender dealt with the request was not becoming of a flagship first class facility (or any facility, for that matter). The slight service issues continued with the waiting staff having to be regularly prompted to clear empties; this really let down what is an otherwise excellent lounge.
The Pantry, located to the left immediately before the entrance to The Bar, is a small self-serve buffet room, offering decent cold and ambient snack options, along with hot and cold drinks. As with the clearing of empties, the replenishment and refreshment of The Pantry left a little to be desired.
Adjacent to The Bar, partially separated by a screen, a walnut wood-panelled lounge area is probably the most comfortable of the spaces on offer, and features five clusters of armchairs and sofas, including stylish wingback leather-clad options with ottomans, lit by Jules Wabbes-designed brass pendants. A self-serve drinks station is located here, although it wasn’t set up for use during our visit that afternoon.
The Library connects the main lounge area back with the lobby and features a comprehensive selection of newspapers, magazines and a handful of books from custom-designed racks, along with an integrated sectional sofa which didn’t appear to be a very comfortable option for long-term reading given the plethora of alternative options a few paces away. That said, this is a smart and thoughtful addition to the lounge.
Moving along the lobby, The Bureau contains six semi-private workstations, all of which feature iMacs, smart telephone handsets and table lamps which echo the brass accents throughout the lounge.
Washrooms featuring pleasant Aesop products (but also rather hard paper towels) are located a little further along the lobby, opposite the entrance to The Retreat, where showers, a foot massage service and eight day suites are available. Unfortunately, on this trip there wasn’t time (or really any need) to fully utilise these services, but the addition of day suites during the refurbishment of The Pier is very welcome. The Retreat reception was happy to provide dental kits on request.
At the end of the lobby, The Dining Room provides full waiter service à la carte dining in three horseshoes of green leather banquette seating; the space exudes 1930s art deco style, with the walnut wood panelling extending for the first time to include the ceiling in this part of the lounge.
The octopus and potato salad was nicely presented but lacking in flavour, although both main courses of pan seared Atlantic salmon and the braised ceps, shiitake and black fungus mushrooms were enjoyable, despite the small portion sizes.
The steamed coconut milk and walnut custard wasn’t to my taste, but the mixed berry clafoutis didn’t disappoint.
Service was a little rushed, with courses being presented as they were ready rather than together. On balance, this ground dining product is solid but not particularly memorable, unlike the pleasing overall design and comfort levels offered by the lounge more broadly.
There was quite a wait to board at Gate 32, but this gave me a good opportunity to photograph our ride to Doha that evening, A7-BEL, a 777-300ER delivered new to Qatar Airways in 2017.
Two airbridges were in use when boarding finally got underway almost 15 minutes behind schedule, with Business Class passengers boarding to Door 1L via a dedicated lane.
I was welcomed and escorted to Suite 4J, a forward-facing Qsuite. QR currently fly four different configurations of the 77W; two offer old-style 2-2-2 seating in Business Class (either one cabin of four rows, or two cabins of four and three rows), all in the process of being refurbished with Qsuite. The two Qsuite configurations offer either one cabin of six rows, or two cabins of six and five rows, all in a 1-2-1 configuration. Our aircraft that evening was sporting the more premium-heavy configuration of two Qsuite cabins. I reviewed the excellent Qsuite product in detail in my Singapore 2019 trip report so don’t intend to do so again here.
At my seat was the usual generous pillow, whilst on the side ledge was a luxurious blanket, blue Bric’s amenity kit and the small ‘unique to Qsuite’ pillow which serves no purpose at all and offends me with its ridiculous quote.
A bottle of Evian water and QR-branded noise-cancelling headphones were located within the seat’s aisle-side armrest.
I was pleased to note that QR have retained the individual overhead air vents in Business Class during the refurbishment of their 77W fleet, although found it strange that there was no mood lighting during boarding and that the airbag in this seat felt more bulky than it had on the A350.
The cabin crew did the rounds welcoming passengers by name, offering a choice of pre-departure drink along with a hot or cold towel.
Newspapers followed, along with a fabric pouch containing slippers and PJs by The White Company.
Menus, including a snack platter menu only available on selected flights, were also handed out before pushback. The wine list was the same as previous sectors of this trip, with the exception of the dessert wine shown here.
Our captain announced a flight time of 8h30 and an initial cruising altitude of 32,000ft, just before the safety video played. Interestingly, menu orders were taken whilst the Arabic version of the safety video was still in train.
Pushback came around ten minutes behind schedule, but as soon as the seatbelt sign was off the CSD came around to offer a further welcome to passengers; I requested the mattress pad be fitted to my seat straight away, which provides an added layer of comfort and avoids the need to wait after the meal service has concluded before going to sleep. The crew also place an additional pillowcase over the pillow as part of the partial turndown service that’s offered in Business Class. I took this opportunity to change into the comfortable PJs in washrooms designed similarly to those on Qsuite-equipped A350s. This configuration of the 77W offers three Business Class washrooms – one in the forward galley on the port side, and one either side of the Doors 2 galley. As you would expect from any QR-operated service, they were all kept spotlessly clean throughout the flight, and the crew were happy to hang my clothes for the duration of my time ensconced in PJs.
Wifi was available onboard, with a stonking one hour’s unlimited complimentary service available to all passengers. Unlike most in-air wifi products, this actually worked consistently at a pace faster than a tortoise.
Dinner service commenced with a glass of the Bordeaux (the suggested wine pairing to my main course), accompanied by a ramekin of warm mixed nuts. The wine was poured in the galley rather than at the seat due to Ramadan.
The crew offered a variety of oils to accompany the bread basket as they laid my table, before presenting an amuse-bouche of nondescript salmon to commence the meal.
This was swiftly followed by the roasted red pepper soup with basil oil dressing; ‘fairly spicy but pleasant’ advise my notes.
My chosen appetiser of grilled chicken breast with soba noodles, quail egg, sesame seed and hoisin sauce was ‘different’ to put it politely; I’ve never had great catering out of HKG, and this was one of those dishes that certainly lived up to low expectations – a rare outright ‘no’ for Qatar Airways catering.
Next up was the lamb loin with lentil ragout, cherry tomato(es), asparagus and jus (gravy). Sadly, the lamb was over-done, although the dish overall was well flavoured.
To conclude, the warm pistachio crumble green tea cake with raspberry filling and vanilla sauce was pretty decent paired with a mint tea, although I had to request a spoon as only a knife and fork were initially offered which was a little odd for dessert. At no point, other than water with dessert, were drinks refills proactively offered during the course of the dinner service; this is quite unusual for a QR crew.
I was clearly still feeling a little peckish, as shortly after the green tea cake was demolished, I requested the gourmet ice cream selection, which turned out to be ‘just’ vanilla and strawberry. This was nicely presented, albeit a little bland at 32,000ft. Godiva chocolates and a hot towel concluded dinner.
During dinner I watched Mary Poppins Returns, an enjoyable sequel to the 1964 original.
Despite the 777’s noticeably louder interior when compared to next generation aircraft, I managed a solid three hours’ sleep, waking around 90 minutes out of Doha to an offer of a drink (cappuccino please) and a couple of episodes of Fawlty Towers. As detailed in my Singapore 2019 trip report, the Qsuite seat in bed mode is reasonably comfortable (all the more so with the mattress pad) but is somewhat restricted in the footwell. At this particular seat, I couldn’t get the aisle-side armrest cover to close properly, a worrying sign of maintenance issues cropping up early on a relatively new product.
A third and final hot towel was offered as the captain announced our descent into Qatar’s capital city, with both the crew and CSD offering personal goodbyes to each passenger. As is par for the course at DOH, we had been assigned a remote stand which entailed the usual single-door (2L) exit via stairs to the second of two dedicated Business Class buses, the driver of which opted to take the wrong route around several stands before depositing us at the entrance to transfers. DOH-ARN
Quite a small queue was starting to build at the priority security lane, but a proactive agent swiftly guided the newly joining passengers to an adjacent lane to ensure waiting times were minimal.
Given an eight-hour layover, as with my previous most recent trip through Doha, I’d opted to pay for access to the Qatar Airways Al Safwa First lounge. At the time of travelling in May 2019, the fee (per passenger) for access for Business Class passengers was a relatively modest QAR250, but this has since been increased to the somewhat steeper QAR600. At the lower price, this represented very good value to utilise the bedrooms that Al Safwa offers, but at the higher price the gap narrows versus use of the airside transit hotel. For shorter layovers where sleep wouldn’t be possible, or layovers during the day, I’m very happy with the Al Mourjan Business lounge, the limited number of showers aside.
The transaction to enter the Al Safwa lounge took a little time, during which it was quite amusing to see the number of failed access attempts by other passengers looking for one of the many other lounges DOH offers. The lounge receptionist escorted us inside to the ‘crossroads’ of the lounge and offered a lounge tour, although I had to politely cut him short as tiredness was setting in at that point. I reviewed the Al Safwa lounge fully in my Singapore 2019 trip report, so head over there for the full details and photo tour.
At the Quiet Area reception, our boarding passes were taken, and we were informed of the 6-hour limit for use of each bedroom (which wouldn’t be a problem since access to the wider lounge for paid passengers is also limited to 6 hours). I got a decent sleep of around 4.5 hours before waking for a shower; no slippers are offered in the bedrooms, although there are robes. Four other niggles persisted from my previous visit; the lighting within the room is impossible to adjust to a completely blackout setting (the hall light being the culprit), the desk and over-bed reading lights are impossible to turn on (not that I needed them on this visit), there are no USB charging ports (only power sockets), and there is no full-length mirror either in the bathroom or in the bedroom itself. Despite this, the ensuite bedrooms offer a private and comfortable resting space that can’t be rivalled by any other lounge at the airport.
Emerging from the Quiet Area, given the super early hour, breakfast was skipped, and we relaxed on the terrace area for a short while, despite the lack of functioning coffee machine in that area. As detailed in my full review of this lounge, I find the space to be eerily soundproofed and quiet; I only observed three other passengers using the facilities in the time we were there.
Leaving the lounge just before our six hours was officially up, we headed over to the opposite side of the terminal for the more life-like Al Mourjan lounge. I was delighted to see Bircher muesli on offer from the café’s buffet (it having been removed from Business Class breakfast menus some time ago), and so despite previously declaring my lack of appetite I hastily availed myself of a bowl, to be enjoyed along with a waiter-assisted coffee in the quiet zone with a partial view through the terminal’s brise soleil of an elegant QR A350.
Boarding at (remote) Gate D23 was in progress as we arrived and were escorted through a short queue and directed to the dedicated Business Class bus, sporting new red leather seats. There was a short wait for the bus to depart, and again as we arrived at the aircraft and waited for an Economy Class bus to unload. I’ve yet to fully work out QR’s remote stand boarding process, but Y almost always seems to board before J, with the J bus often waiting at the gate for some time; this is distinctly sub-optimal.
A7-BDC, a three-year-old 787-8, was to be our chariot that morning to Stockholm. Welcomed at the top of the stairs at Door 2L, I was escorted to Seat 3A in the forward cabin. At the Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seat was a pillow and blanket, with a green faux leather amenity kit on the ledge, a bottle of Evian water in the side console holder and headphones within the armrest.
The cabin crew passed through offering the usual Qatar Airways welcome, choice of hot or cold towel and choice of pre-departure drink – as (almost) always, I went with their signature soft drink of mint and lime; whilst the quality of this drink differs depending on who mixes it (presumably at the caterers before it arrives on the aircraft), it’s always a refreshing choice.
The CSD offered a personal welcome along with menus and wine lists, whilst the Captain announced a flight time of six hours on the nose, cruising at up to 40,000ft. Despite pushback commencing on time or thereabouts, I was offered a refill of my mint and lime, along with a choice of newspaper and the taking of orders for breakfast well before we reached the runway. I noted with sadness that QR have seemingly removed both smoothies and Bircher muesli from their Business Class breakfast menu completely.
After takeoff, in tandem with my Americano arriving, I fired up the 787’s reliably buggy IFE to watch Can You Ever Forgive Me?, an excellent biographical film that kept me both interested and entertained to its conclusion.
My table was set for breakfast with a low-quality bread and pastry basket, jam and butter along with a choice of still or sparkling water and my chosen fresh orange juice.
The Greek yogurt, mixed berry compote and toasted granola with nuts is a staple of the Business Class breakfast menu and is reliably edible, although the dish is somewhat bland and the compote pretty cheap.
Next up was my chosen main course of steel-cut oats served with berries and cream; this was very hearty and pleasant as is always the case.
The platter of seasonal cut fruits offered a refreshing conclusion to the breakfast service (although whatever the orange fruit is, it’s exceedingly foul), supplemented by a not-so-hot hot towel, an espresso and the offer of a mint from a basket.
Throughout the flight, the excellent cabin crew (including the CSD on numerous occasions) stopped by to offer drinks refills and snacks, later suggesting I’d maybe like to try a dish from the light options selection. The answer to this was yes, naturally, with the second meal service getting off to a lukewarm start with the disappointingly bland but fresh mixed garden salad (including hidden mushrooms), served with a choice of dressings that made the dish a little more flavoursome.
Tiring of the film Widows, I switched at this point to some further episodes of Fawlty Towers, guaranteed to make you smile.
Next up was the Hungarian goulash and mashed potatoes with herbs, served with garlic bread. This was super flavoursome with tender beef, although the garlic bread was hard as nails.
To conclude, the afternoon tea (minus the fresh finger sandwiches), accompanied by an English breakfast tea, made a sweet end to another very good Qatar Airways flight. Returning from the washroom prior to descent, a hot towel was waiting for me at my seat.
The CSD wished all passengers farewell individually, ahead of a landing into Stockholm 15 minutes ahead of schedule. This early arrival was promptly negated by a ludicrously lengthy taxi to a remote stand (presumably due to the ongoing taxiway works). Whilst the cabin crew held back Economy Class passengers for Business Class passengers to disembark from Door 2L first, there was no dedicated bus. Once we’d eventually arrived at Terminal 5, there was only a short wait to collect checked luggage and we were soon on our way back to Terminal 2 for our connecting flight home to London with British Airways.
Thank you for reading along through this journey to Hanoi and Hong Kong. Your questions, comments and feedback are all welcomed and much appreciated.