Asia’s World City via Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific Business Class
Hong Kong is one of my favourite cities, and so I was excited to return this April for a 6 night break from the UK, staying at a firm favourite of mine, the InterContinental Grand Stanford. I would be sampling two new airlines on this trip - Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific, along with a few sectors on the well-trodden British Airways.
All pictures are unedited, shot using a Canon PowerShot S120.
British Airways Galleries Club South, LHR T5
A fairly leisurely start and a 9am taxi had us arriving at Heathrow Terminal 5 around two hours before our morning BA
flight to Stockholm, from where we would pick up our main itinerary on QR
(booked through CX
) of ARN
. At the time of booking, CX
were operating the DOH
sector, but this route was withdrawn in the interim period between booking and travelling, meaning we got switched to a QR
service. The timing of our itinerary also changed a few times before travelling, finally settling on a two hour later departure from ARN
, and a two hour later departure from DOH
, which actually suited us better giving us longer to get to ARN
to start the trip on the same day.
Terminal 5 was fairly quiet this morning, with no queue in Zone H at Club check-in where our bags were tagged with orange oneworld Priority tags and sent on their way. BA
have recently erected some low level barriers around Zone H and stationed staff members at two entry points into the enclosure which has the happy effect of keeping the area somewhat more orderly than before. It’s still not a patch on the old Zone R at T1 though, that was active for an all too short 4 years from 2004. The newish North Fast Track was virtually empty, and we were entering Galleries Club South a little under 30 minutes after leaving home - pretty impressive, and something of a new record for me!
The lounge was averagely busy for a Monday morning, and I passed the time with a light breakfast of yogurt, fruit, a banana and some coffee. I’ve included here some photos from a visit to the lounge the week before, as well as from this visit, as they showcase the new carpets and furniture in the lounge. The refurbishment has made a significant difference to the ambience and comfort of the lounge, although the continued sorry state of the washrooms and showers, and minimal gloopy catering by BaxterStorey still leaves a fair amount to be desired. The new furniture is arranged in more logical and private groups with many more power and USB points, although people are still packed in fairly tightly.
Looking down into the Concorde Dining area in the Concorde Room (to the left)
Boarding today was conveniently at Gate A19 just below the South lounge complex. Priority Boarding was enforced, with Club Europe and oneworld Emerald members invited first, followed by oneworld Sapphire, and then oneworld Ruby. As my boarding pass was passed under the barcode reader, I complimented the ground staff member who had made the clear boarding announcements, as far more common is a general ‘Fast Track’ boarding announcement with all premium cabin and status passengers bundled together, somewhat defeating the point of priority boarding.
LHR-ARN British Airways Euro Traveller, A321
The positioning flights to get to and from ARN
were booked as Avios redemptions, the outbound in Euro Traveller and the return in Club Europe - always the best way round to do it to end the trip in as much style as CE
will allow, saving some Avios along the way and in our case avoiding the dreaded CE
brunch service on departures between 09:30 and 11:59.
Our flight to Stockholm this morning was aboard G-EUXK
, an A321 delivered new to BA
in 2007, and my third flight on this particular aircraft. I had selected probably the two best seats in ET
for those travelling with someone - 8BC, a pair of seats just ahead of Doors 2. Whilst legroom is the standard 30” and nowhere near the comfort of the exit row behind, the lack of a middle seat means the row is a little more private, particularly on the BC
side of the aircraft where there is no jump seat adjacent to B (unlike across the aisle next to the E seat). I found the B seat to be slightly claustrophobic due to the lack of a window adjacent to Door 2L, but this was a small price to pay for not having to share a group of three seats with a stranger on this completely full aircraft.
The flight crew announced a flight time of 2 hours, cruising at 35,000 feet, and we were soon on our way to Sweden. I declined the packaged sandwich offered on this sector, passing the time reading Business Traveller with a tea. The latest BA
shorthaul Pinnacle seat product is perfectly comfortable for flights of this length, although legroom is a little tight. The overall cabin ambiance is nice, with copious use of brown leather with smart stitching detail, the BA
speedmarque embossed into each headrest, and mood lighting throughout. The high level seatback pocket gives more knee room than in other types of seat, but means the BA
magazines (High Life and Business Life, along with High Life Shop) get torn easily as they are forced in and out of the pocket on their side repeatedly by each set of passengers.
We landed slightly ahead of schedule, and being near the front of the aircraft didn’t have much of a wait at immigration with just a handful of people in front. T2
is an odd terminal to say the least. It has all the ambience of a warehouse, and feels as if it’s been put together on a tight budget with little regard for architectural interest or passenger experience, with copious use of ugly industrial materials and multiple level changes along narrow gantries between the gate and baggage reclaim hall. Our bags appeared on the belt I estimate somewhat towards the middle of the offload, around 10 minutes into proceedings - not exactly priority, but then BA
don’t officially offer priority baggage on shorthaul flights, despite the tags. Out through customs, we opted to walk the ten minutes or so to T5
for our next flight, figuring by the time we got down to the platform, waited for a train and ascended back up into T5
it would be just as quick (and healthier) to walk.
Aviator Stockholm Arlanda Lounge
I hadn’t been able to check in online on the QR
website for the outbound sectors - no surprise given this was a CX
booking. There were two desks open for Business Class passengers in the bank of QR
desks, and no queue. The agent tagged our bags all the way through to HKG
as J priority, and issued slightly ostentatious ‘Business Class’ hand baggage tags, something which I always find unnecessary. On checking our boarding passes I noticed that our seats for the DOH
sector had changed and we were no longer sitting together. On querying this with the agent, we were told they would contact Doha and request a seat move back together - more on that later.
Through a very fast Fast Track security (segregated with two dedicated lanes), we found the Aviator lounge after passport control immediately on the right after ascending to the gate level. We weren’t given the warmest of welcomes at the lounge as our BPs didn’t have a lounge invitation printed on them (something I didn’t know QR
did). After I pointed out the embossed ‘Business Class’ lettering across the BPs, the agent tapped at her computer keyboard for a few seconds before granting us access.
As third party lounges go, the Aviator lounge isn’t bad by any means, but also isn’t the best out there. A fairly small rectangle, the lounge features a magazine rack next to reception, a long bar/buffet against the left hand wall, high level seating with power points running through the centre, followed by a small number of dining tables and easy chairs to the right hand side and sofas at the end of the lounge. A small children’s play area around the corner at the end completes the lounge. Scandinavian in design, the space is fairly attractive in a minimalist way, and features ample natural light thanks to the mezzanine aspect out through the side glass walls of the terminal building. The shared male/female washrooms within the lounge were stark and not particularly clean, in contrast to the rest of the lounge.
The lounge was not busy at all, which made the space quite peaceful to while away the couple of hours to departure catching up on the news on the fast wifi. In fact, I’m not sure where the rest of the premium passengers on our aircraft were, as there were only a handful of QR
J passengers in the lounge. Sadly the buffet offering was fairly unappetising, featuring a small selection of salad, meat, cheese, bread, nuts, crisps and biscuits. I made do with an apple juice and some of the crisps and nuts.
On arrival at our gate there was no queue to get into the gate room, although a priority lane was set up in the event things became busier. Shortly after we entered the gate room boarding was announced with Business Class and oneworld Emerald/Sapphire members called together.
ARN-DOH Qatar Airways Business Class, B787
One airbridge was connected to Door 2L of A7-BCN
, a two year old 787-8. QR
have made the most of the options offered by Boeing, and created a great entrance to their 787, with an expansive ‘hall’ between Doors 2, and impressive detailing of the low level partitions shielding the seating. There are 5 rows of Business Class between Doors 1 and 2, with one row (only featuring centre EF
seats) between the two J washrooms ahead of the two Economy Class cabins. The Business Class cabin feels incredibly spacious, a feeling enhanced by creative use of mood lighting, the lack of overhead bins above the centre seats, the large 787 windows, and the open hall by Doors 2. The cabin exudes sophistication and luxury - first impressions were overwhelmingly favourable.
On my seat on arrival was a blanket and pillow, with a water bottle and QR
-branded headphones in the side arm pocket. Armani amenity kits were pre-placed by the side of each occupied seat, the male/female versions already having been selected based on the passenger manifest - pretty impressive! A menu and wine list were stored in the magazine pocket. Shortly after boarding the CSM stopped by to welcome each of the 13 J passengers individually, which was followed up by the crew introducing themselves to each passenger, jackets being hung, newspapers offered along with a choice of drink. My glass of Billecart-Salmon (Drappier rosé was also available) was delivered along with a hot towel (cold was also available), the latter of which came on a small plate.
Qatar offer an à la carte dining option in Business Class on all longhaul flights, which is a great touch. Orders were taken before pushback (including for a post-takeoff drink), so now would be a good time to share the menu, which was printed on beautifully embossed card. I was slightly disappointed that the selection wasn’t more extensive, but on reflection this is a perfectly adequate menu for a flight of under 6 hours. In fact, just as I was perusing the menu, the captain announced a flight time of 5h25m, cruising at 41,000 feet.
safety video features the Barcelona FC team, and is not the most professional of safety videos I’ve ever seen. I can imagine it becomes quite tiresome for QR
regulars, particularly as the whole thing plays twice - first in English, then Arabic. Shortly after the virtually silent takeoff, my pineapple punch was served with (cold) nuts, and I took some time to look around the B/E Super Diamond seat. Each seat has a large touchscreen TV
(accompanied by a handheld touchscreen controller), large extending table with storage shelf below, more storage to the side of the seat, and a drawer in the back of the seat in front. The armrest raises and lowers to provide more width for sleeping, and features an integral compartment. A higher level shelf adjacent to the seat provides yet more storage, next to the magazine pocket - this seat is not short of storage by any stretch. The seat controller is located in a convenient position and offers ample options including massage functions. I didn’t try the seat in fully flat bed mode, but the seat was for the most part comfortable in a range of relaxing modes, but not quite as adjustable as I would have liked. Towards the end of the flight, the lack of padding (or perhaps just hard padding) to the base of the seat was evident. Overall, however, this is an impressive hard product that offers every passenger aisle access, and reasonable privacy.
The Business Class cabin features two washrooms either side of Row 6 (a place where you definitely don’t want to be seated!), both with windows and attractively fitted out with a grey vanity area featuring Rituals amenities, dental and shaving kits. The washrooms were kept virtually spotlessly clean throughout the flight. Just in front of Row 6 is a magazine rack built into the partition, opposite which the crew laid out a small selection of drinks and snacks later in the flight.
View from the loo
I had opted to dine as soon as possible after takeoff, and around 45 minutes into the flight my table was laid, including with a glass of water and an individual bread basket. In J, QR
don’t use trolleys or trays for the meal service - everything is hand delivered to each seat, and everything is individually laid at the table (including the napkin over the lap) - more akin to first class than business (and much more up my street!). My roasted butternut squash soup, lemon and herb crème fraîche with cheese twist was pretty rich and a little too creamy for my liking, but inoffensive nonetheless.
The soup was followed by a starter of smoked salmon with pea and potato salad, confit tomatoes and lemon dressing - punchy flavours, although a little too much dressing.
My main course of Arabic spiced chicken with machboos sauce, machboos rice with fried onions and raita was creatively presented but blander than I was expecting.
A lime and coconut panna cotta, mango and passion fruit coulis delivered a solid end to the formal meal service, even if it was more mousse than panna cotta.
I rounded off the meal with the refreshing seasonal fresh fruits (beautifully presented on a black plate) and sencha green tea.
As tables were tidied away, the crew distributed Valrhona chocolates along with a hot towel.
I was very impressed with the care and attention to detail with which the meal service was conducted - plates were delivered and cleared promptly with almost military precision, reflecting the overall professionalism of the crew. Some crew members were warmer than others in attitude (indeed one lady in particular was very detached and clinical in her interactions), although I expect this is more a reflection of different cultures than anything else.
I settled down for the remaining few hours of the flight and watched Spectre - underwhelming after the triumph of Skyfall a few years ago, but still enjoyable (particularly accompanied by the gourmet ice cream and a hot chocolate). The IFE was slightly buggy, in that the ‘time to go’ marker was blocked by the video progress bar on screen, the ‘Destination’ didn’t show as Doha, and some interactions required multiple presses to create a response (despite the simple design of the Oryx system). Image quality was good but not HD
, although sound was excellent (despite the slightly restricting headphones), particularly notable when listening to some music towards the end of the flight. A large screen at the front of the cabin displayed the moving map and safety information throughout the flight, which could become annoying if in Row 1. A number of unoccupied seats’ TV
screens remained on during the flight, and I requested the crew turn them off as I found the light distracting as the cabin darkened into the night - I’m not sure why the screens didn’t turn off automatically after a period of inactivity.
don’t offer pyjamas on daytime flights, but amenity kits were available on this sector. Presented in an Armani branded bag, the male kit featured Armani after shave balm, Armani fragrance, Rituals lipsalve, earplugs, socks and eyeshade. The female kit offered Armani body lotion, Armani fragrance, a hairbrush, and the same lipsalve/earplugs/socks/eyeshade as the male kit. The eyeshade was disappointingly low quality, although the Armani products smelled gorgeous.
The seatbelt sign was turned on with around 30 minutes to go to Doha, and soon we were on the ground and disembarking through 2L (with just the single airbridge used for the 787), but not before the cabin crew had come round to each passenger and thanked them for flying with QR
We had parked at a fairly remote gate at the new Hamad International Airport, and with the transit train under testing, we walked the 10 minutes or so to transfers along multiple moving walkways with the train tantalisingly whizzing up and down the concourse adjacent to us (albeit empty with seats still covered in protective plastic). I asked at the Business Class transit desk about our seats for the DOH
sector, but there was nothing the lady could do as the flight had closed for seat assignments and was completely full in J - it didn’t look like Stockholm had contacted Doha. We made our way through the empty transfers security - a complete farce involving a security officer asking me what something was in my carry on bag by pointing at the x-ray image and expecting me to identify it! I said honestly that I couldn’t identify it from that image and that I would have to open the bag, but he seemed disinterested and I ended up just walking away with no search being undertaken. It’s times like these when you are thankful that the DfT mandate that all international passengers are re-screened at UK airports before an onward flight!
Overall I was very impressed with my first Qatar Airways flight. Hard product-wise, the latest B/E Super Diamond J seat from QR
(found on their A380, A350 and 787) is pretty good, but has its flaws - it’s not as spacious as some seats (like the Zodiac Cirrus product on AA
/CX), and does feel rather hard after a while. The Business Class soft product, on the other hand, is excellent - near international first class standards on many airlines. The only things missing from a first class point of view were being shown to my seat, addressed by surname (rather than ‘sir’), and the provision of PJs (on all flights, not just night flights) and slippers. The catering was very good, and the hand-delivered nature of the service excellent. On balance, easily my best business class flight to date.
Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Lounge, DOH
operate four departure lounges at DOH
- fairly ordinary ‘First Class’ and ‘Business Class’ lounges for status passengers travelling in Y, and their flagship ‘Al Mourjan’ and ‘Al Safwa’ lounges for passengers ticketed in J and F respectively. We didn’t bother trying out the generic lounge, and headed straight for the Al Mourjan lounge, the entrance to which is up an impressive escalator in the middle of the terminal’s shopping area, guarded at the bottom by a couple of agents. The welcome at the reception desk at the top of the escalator was less than warm as the agents seemed distracted by a number of other passengers, but that aside the reception area is nice with a couple of seating areas flanking the long desk, with entrances to the lounge at either end.
The Al Mourjan lounge is expansive and impressive, but ultimately lacks the warmth and comfort of other lounges. On walking into the lounge from reception, passengers are greeted by a large water feature, staircase and chandelier, above which the main dining room is located on a mezzanine level. We didn’t get a chance to dine in the lounge this evening as there was limited time until our next flight, but I’d like to try this out on my next visit. I’m not sure whether it offers waiter service, but if so this would be impressive for a business class lounge. At one point the lounge was even serving Krug, although I believe this has sadly stopped with the opening of the Al Safwa lounge.
Under the dining room at the end of the lounge is a long line of seating with blue designer chairs (repeated at intervals throughout the lounge). They don't look particularly comfy - perhaps more design than substance, an observation certainly echoed in the seating I tried later on. Almost every seat in the lounge has a tablet to check flight details etc. Other images of the lounge I’ve seen have shown bottled water placed at each seat, but on my visit this wasn’t the case - I’m not sure whether this has been discontinued (like the Krug) since the Al Safwa lounge opened and F passengers stopped using the Al Mourjan lounge.
Throughout the centre of the lounge runs a slightly raised seating area featuring pockets of different types of seating in groups - either side of the central area are two more flanks of seating. Halfway along the lounge to the side is a quiet seating area, whilst at the opposite end of the lounge to the entrance is a more relaxed cafe-style dining area with staffed bar and buffet. Off to the sides of the lounge are washrooms, showers, sleeping areas, children’s play areas and smoking areas. A number of self-service drinks stations (hot and cold) are dotted around the lounge, which compliment the staffed bars and dining areas at either end of the lounge. There was no proactive service in the lounge, although this is not expected in a business class facility. I think it’s a hallmark of QR
’s generally high levels of service that I even considered it!
I freshened up in a shower room, which bizarrely was located through the cafe area and rather poorly signed. After navigating down a number of narrow but highly specified corridors, I arrived at the reception desk for the showers and sleeping area, and was escorted through to the male side and a large shower room. I was handed a pack of amenities including a dental kit, earbuds and loofah, which joined the Rituals amenities already in the room. Like the rest of the lounge, the shower room was elegantly designed and had everything one needed, although the basin tap was in an awkward position for shaving, and the room was rather hot (even before the shower was on).
Overall, the Al Mourjan Business Lounge is undoubtedly a solid offering. Whilst the design isn’t to my taste, it’s certainly modern and has all the facilities a business class passenger could want. I didn’t explore the lounge to its fullest extent on this visit, but from what I did experience I was left feeling underwhelmed by the apparent focus on design at the expense of comfort. Lower ceilings and more intimate seating areas with comfortable armchairs and sofas would go a long way to improve the space.
Leaving the lounge the way we had entered, it was a five minute walk through the impressive wood-panelled Hamad International Airport to Gate D1. Interestingly the gate had another security area before the airbridge, although the space was unmanned and we just walked straight through - I guess this secondary screening area is used for flights to the US. The pleasant gate agent happily informed us that they had spoken to a passenger who had kindly agreed to move so that we had seats together (1AB), and so with a reissued boarding pass in hand, we made our way into the gate room. This was pretty impressive service recovery from QR
- I’m not sure whether it was a function of Stockholm calling earlier (if indeed they did call at all) or (more likely) the transfers agent contacting the gate, but regardless it was a much appreciated start to the final leg to Hong Kong.
DOH-HKG Qatar Airways Business Class, A330
Boarding was announced with J and status passengers invited first, and two airbridges in operation with Door 1L used for J passengers only. Our aircraft this evening was A7-ACD, an A330-200 delivered new to Qatar Airways in 2003. QR
’s A330s have three types of J seating - B/E Diamond flat beds (the same as AA
in J on their transcontinental A321 fleet), B/E MiniPod flat beds (basically the same as on QR
’s 777 fleet), or B/E MiniPod angled seats (the latter of which are similar to EK
’s J seating on their 777 fleet, and which are being rapidly phased out by QR
). Our aircraft tonight featured two cabins of B/E MiniPod flat beds, arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration with three rows in the first cabin, and one row behind Doors 2 ahead of two Y cabins.
Given the 2-2-2 configuration, not all passengers have aisle access (although the seat pitch is an ample 78”) and the lack of privacy between seats was notable - particularly being seated in 1B as I was, exposed to the middle seats and the galley. Our original seat selections in Row 2 would have been a better choice. At my seat on arrival was a pillow and blanket, with headphones in the side pocket and a water bottle placed precariously next to the tiny manual privacy divider. Our CSD stopped by to welcome each passenger individually, as did the crew (a nice touch, although sometimes this can be a little awkward), shortly followed by jackets being hung and drinks being offered. My water was delivered with a hot towel (as with the first sector, cold was also available). Shortly before pushback the same Armani amenity kits as those on our previous flight were handed out, along with stylish grey QR
-branded pyjamas and tonight’s menu and wine list. Just as the flight crew were announcing a precise flight time to HKG
of 7h6m cruising at 41,000ft, our cabin crew did the rounds with newspapers and the aircraft crawled back from the stand.
Shortly after takeoff I changed into the PJs in one of the two J washrooms (one at the first set of doors, one at the second). Predictably the washrooms were smaller and lacking in windows when compared to the 787, but they were no less clean and featured the same Rituals amenities, dental and shaving kits. I managed around 4.5 hours’ sleep on the ageing seat, which certainly felt more angled than flat (something with which the seat controller icon would agree with me about!). For relaxing these seats are more than comfortable, but for sleeping they no longer match up to more current products either in comfort or privacy. The good quality pillow and blanket and comfortable PJs could not make up for the poor seat.
I had asked to be woken by the crew around one hour before landing for breakfast. The crew on this sector were much warmer and friendlier than on the previous sector, delivering a polished service with care and professionalism. Perusing the menu, I was pleased to find a decent selection of not just breakfast items, but all-day options too - reflective of the à la carte service offered by QR
. Given the flight had departed DOH
at 03:00 local time, most people had chosen to sleep straight after takeoff as I had done, but despite a busy breakfast service the meal was perfectly paced, commencing with a hot towel.