Qatar – FRA-DOH
After boarding, a pre-departure drink was offered – grabbed a champagne, Billecart-Salmon, which was perfectly tasty. My coat was taken, and shortly before pushback we were asked for our dinner orders. Qatar takes orders front to back, with a separate sheet per aisle, and from our combined experience, they’ve loaded enough veggie meals less than half of the time. In the second row of a full business class – halfway through the cabin – and I didn’t get my first choice! Hmph!
The menus were printed in little booklets, and presented inside a leather folder, which was the sort of effortlessly classy feature I like. The wine list had 3 red and 3 white choices, along with a dessert wine (all of which differed on the second flight), and two champagnes and a port (which were the same). On both flights the wines were varied, and I had a Riesling Spatlese with my starters, a St Emilion Grand Cru Classe 2007 with my main and cheese, and the 1974 Kopke Colheita for pudding.
The wines were served from the bottle at my seat, and although I found the Bordeaux perhaps a little young still, the Riesling and port went down very well.
For my meal, I had the full whack – amuse bouche:
After ordering I’d expected a sarcastic comment about the amount I’d chosen, but none came, and I think this is the one area where the difference with BA showed – there was never that personal touch. The service was immaculate in its way, the presentation perfect and the crew attentive, but one of the things that I love about flying is the wit and humour that you get from a good crew, with some personality showing, and I never really felt that on this flight.
Other things about the flight – the seat was fine, big enough and comfortable, although not especially private. The IFE had a decent enough selection although the system was a little slow and cumbersome to use at times (but that seems to be fairly normal for IFE systems everywhere). I wasn’t sure if there was any other food offered, so I didn’t ask. I could’ve used some popcorn (though I did have a slightly weak hot chocolate).
We landed shortly before midnight, somewhere halfway between Doha and the Saudi border, and taxied to a remote stand. Business class bus back to the airport, but it had to wait for the poor lady on crutches to hobble down the stairs, and then another couple who seemed not to share my sense of urgency, so we were standing there for at least five minutes (which of course meant the whole of economy was delayed too). To the terminal, up the escalators and to the zoo that was Doha transit security at midnight.
Qatar – DOH-BKK-HAN
Doha claims to be a “five star airport”, but first impressions are not good! Transit security (which I didn’t think ex-EU flights had to go through) only had a couple of lines open, and a crowd outside the business class security line meant I had to fight my way into it (everyone was being turned away, I wasn’t jumping the queue – at least not without permission!). Security control itself was swift however, which was entirely because the scans were cursory at best. Maybe there’s some trust because we’ve all been through security already? I wasn’t exactly reassured though.
The airport was busy, and it took a little while to find the lounge. Unlike the approach taken by BA at T5, or Cathay at Hong Kong, there is a single Premium lounge for all business class travellers, and of course there was a queue at the bottom of the escalator to get in.
The lounge itself was underwhelming. The water feature was lovely, the place was well designed, but it was a single huge space over the main floor, with a single slightly-less-huge space on the upper floor. At least that’s all I saw. And it was busy. Maybe I mentioned that already, but it was my overwhelming impression of Doha – people, everywhere.
I only had ten minutes in the lounge, but I did nip upstairs to the bar and grab a glass of Krug, before popping down to A7 for the flight to Hanoi. No photos because I was in a bit of a rush.
Doha preboards through the gate into a holding pen, so there’s no need to rush there – even though boarding was halfway through when I arrived, I still just got to go and stand in a different place. Shrug. Five minutes later though and on the plane, where I grabbed a glass of Qatar’s non-alcoholic grape juice – So Jennie – and waited for my coat to be hung (it wasn’t).
Taxied back to Saudi Arabia for takeoff about half an hour late, before the glass of Glenfiddich I’d ordered pre-takeoff as a nightcap was brought to me with a disappointing amount of coke in it – i.e. more than none. So back it went, with apologies, but why anyone would ruin a single malt that way is beyond me!
Hot nuts in a bowl, and then about 4 hours sleep.
I woke up just before they woke me to start serving breakfast, and my smoothie was brought just before a turbulence warning and the cabin crew got a couple of bongs, telling them to sit down too. In the end it was a non-event, but better to be safe. I’d pre-ordered the dinner starter + main for my breakfast as none of the normal brekkie options really appealed, and I appreciated the flexibility of on-demand dining.
Arrived into Bangkok about on time, and the crew member serving me and the cabin service director said goodbye to those of us staying on the plane before heading off.
A smaller crew boarded at Bangkok, and they seemed a little more relaxed. They also seemed to recognise the chap in 1K ahead of me (he also got a 3-man escort at Hanoi, so he must have been a Very Important Person indeed!)
Another pre-takeoff drink – why can’t European airlines manage a decent soft drink selection like this lime and mint? It was refreshing and exactly what I needed (although Mr. 1K was not a fan)
The lighter option here still puts European airlines to shame:
I’m not sure why the crew here seemed so much better. Perhaps it was the quieter cabin, or perhaps that they’re further from HQ and a bit happier, but I preferred it in any case. They were relaxed, and it showed.
Quick photo of the very empty cabin on this sector – only 6 of us out of 24 (I think on the DOH-BKK flight there were about 22 people):
Landed pretty much spot on time in Hanoi, and a five minute delay at passports waiting for some staff to turn up meant that my bags almost beat me to the carousel. Priority tag success (*cough* *cough* BA and Dragonair)
I’m glad I flew with Qatar, although several days later the geek in me is still mostly disappointed because of the lack of the A350. I think I’d have preferred the service if I’d not been on my own – the larger and significantly better meals and, on the 777 at least, side by side seating make it better than BA in those ways. However, the routing via Doha makes it impossible to get a solid night’s sleep, and the service, whilst perfect, lacked for want of a better word, a human touch. I’d prefer a seat with more privacy for sleeping too, and I felt that the lounges at Hong Kong were calmer.
I’d still like to fly an A350 some day, but with the launch of Vietnam’s services to Paris and Frankfurt soon I’ll have another option from here too – and Air France and Vietnam sometimes have some good prices to try and tempt me away from Oneworld!