A Week in the Gulf: QR J, EK J, Qatar, Oman, and the UAE
- Introduction, Planning, and Booking
- Qatar Airways JFK Terminal 7 Check-in and British Airways Galleries Lounge
- Qatar Airways A350 Business Class JFK-DOH
- 24 Hours in Doha
- DOH oneworld Business Class Lounge and Qatar Airways Economy Class DOH-MCT
I arrived at the gate about 15 minutes before scheduled boarding, as passengers had just begun to line up. Within a couple minutes boarding commenced, with an announcement for passengers needing extra time, followed by business class. The boarding process was a bit disordered — both the economy line and the business line fed into the same counter with a single agent checking boarding passes, and both lines were opened to allow boarding at the same time, despite the announcement.
It seemed that the call for boarding was a bit premature, as we were stopped near the end of the jetbridge. For roughly ten minutes we were held there, as several ground crew came on and off the plane. Once we were finally allowed to board, I was greeted at the door of the aircraft by a friendly flight attendant who pointed me to my seat.
- Qatar Airways QR 704 JFK-DOH
- May 31, 2017
- Airbus A350-900
- Dep: 11:50 AM Eastern Daylight Time
- Arr: 7:00 AM Gulf Standard Time (+1)
- Duration: 12 hours, 10 minutes
- Seat: 5A
The business class cabin on Qatar’s A350 is, as others have noted, quite stunning. The lack of overhead bins above the middle seats combined with the white finishes on the seats results in a very open and airy feel. The wood grain paneling, grey/maroon/white color scheme, and rounded edges of the seats gives the cabin a distinctive and clean look. As an additional unique aesthetic feature, the seatback cushions and headrests of the aisle seats (A/K) are maroon-colored with grey accents, while those of the middle seats (E/F) are grey with maroon accents.
The business class cabin on the Qatar Airways 359 has 36 seats divided into nine rows, six forward of the second door, and three behind the door. The doors and open-space “bar” area split the cabin in two.
I had selected seat 5A, the second-to-last seat in the larger, forward cabin. At my seat, I found menus, headphones, a plastic-wrapped duvet, and a pillow. There is ample storage at the seat, including a compartment in the armrest on the aisle, a larger compartment near the other armrest, and a drawer at the foot of the back of the seat in front.
The seat controls are pretty extensive and located near the tray table. In addition, a remote for the TV screen is located above the inner armrest. Power/USB outlets are somewhat hidden but well-positioned near the inner armrest and seat controls.
A friendly flight attendant came over to welcome me onboard and offer me a pre-departure beverage of regular champagne, rose champagne, orange juice, or water as I settled into my seat — I of course chose the champagne. A few minutes later, another flight attendant came by with a warm towel, while the service manager came by to welcome me as well and drop off pajamas and an amenity kit.
Qatar Airways is ahead of the game here, being one of the few carriers to offer pajamas in business class, but unfortunately on my flight they only had size L/XL pajamas and no S/M size. While the pajamas were comfortable, I felt like I was swimming in fabric and found it a little surprising that they hadn’t stocked ½ of the two sizes that they offer; I overheard several other passengers expressing disappointment at this as well. The amenity kit is produced by the Italian brand Brics, and contained the standard cosmetic items, along with earplugs and an eyemask. Finally, slippers, which I think just might be among the nicest airline slippers offered in any first or business class, were tucked away in the drawer at the back of the seat in front of me.
As I sipped my champagne, I tried playing around a bit with the IFE system. Unfortunately the screen seemed to be having some issues and was not responsive to touch, so I had to use the remote attached to my seat to navigate around the IFE. The response time of the remote wasn’t particularly good, and after a few minutes I found it to be more trouble than it was worth and decided to just put on the tailcam. The external cameras on the A350 are the best out there, and the picture quality is fantastic.
The flight attendant working my aisle came around several minutes later to explain Qatar’s dine-on-demand menu, which allows passengers to eat whatever they want on the menu, whenever they want. While dine-on-demand is common in first class these days, it’s a great touch that Qatar has it in business class as well.
The flight attendant then asked if I knew what I wanted to order, emphasizing that if I wasn’t sure yet, she could always come back later. Having perused the menu earlier, I knew what I wanted and asked to start with the lamb burger off the “Light Options” menu after takeoff.
As boarding was finishing up, the captain came on the PA to welcome everyone aboard and to apologize for an anticipated delay. It seemed that I wasn’t the only one having issues with the IFE, as he mentioned that it needed to be tinkered with before we would push back. He also noted that “20 passengers became nauseous” and there would be a delay as their luggage was offloaded. While I didn’t get an exact number, I counted about half of the business class seats being occupied on this flight as the door closed.
We finally pushed back from the gate at 11:30 AM. Others have commented on the smell of fuel that permeates the cabin on the A350 as the engines spool up and I noticed this as well. Interestingly, I was looking out for this smell when I flew Cathay Pacific’s A350 in January of this year and did not notice it. Far from being a nuisance (though admittedly I enjoy the smell of gas), it didn’t bother me at all and the smell dissipated within a minute or two.
As we taxied out of the apron, I played around with the IFE system a bit more — after they restarted it several times at the gate, my screen became responsive to touch, but only at random times. While I typically use my Bose QuietComfort 20i headphones in flight, I accidentally left my adapter at home and had to use the provided noise cancelling headphones. While certainly not up to the standard of the Bose QuietComforts that a number of carriers use, the Qatar Airways headphones did a decent job blocking out noise.
Once off the taxiway, we were quickly cleared for takeoff, and we were wheels up by 11:50 AM. The A350 really does have a phenomenal tailcam, and I got some great views of condensation coming off the wings with New York City in the background.
Roughly 10 minutes after takeoff, the seatbelt light was turned off and the flight attendants jumped into action. As my tablecloth was set, a ramekin of warmed nuts was brought out and I was poured another glass of the Billecart-Salmon.
The meal service started with a tasty but small pineapple panna cotta appetizer, which I did not get a photo of. A basket with various kinds of bread was then brought out, along with a selection of several different olive oils.
My burger came out a few minutes later, accompanied by arugula, olives, and a harissa sauce. Ketchup came in a mini Heinz glass bottle, along with a small spoon to dig it out, which I appreciated. The bread was fine, and the burger tasted pretty good but was a bit overcooked. Before clearing the table, the flight attendant came around to drop off a small box of Godiva chocolates.
It was about 8-9 PM in Qatar by the time the meal service concluded, and the cabin lights were dimmed. They remained dimmed for the rest of the flight. While most passengers went to sleep, I decided to try to work for a few hours before sleeping. For in-flight internet, Qatar uses OnAir, which most of us generally agree to be consistently terrible across carriers. Indeed, it was barely usable on this flight, with even a simple refresh of my Gmail inbox taking 3-5 minutes. There were several tiered pricing options:
- A free 15 minute session capped at 10 MB
- A one-hour pass capped at 30 MB for $5
- A three-hour pass with an 100 MB cap for $10
- A plan with no time limit but a 200 MB cap, for $20
I purchased the $20 plan thinking I’d be able to get a considerable amount of work done. The internet for my plan could be turned on and off as needed to conserve data usage, but I ended up using only about 75 MB throughout the entire flight, given the slow speeds.
I was able to work offline for a while offline before I decided to watch a few sitcoms on the IFE system. QR’s IFE selection is large and fairly decent with a good number of Western, Arabic, and Indian TV shows and movies. Several recent film releases were available, but I decided to watch a few episodes of New Girl. Unfortunately I continued to have issues with the touchscreen throughout the flight, but it seemed to be an isolated issue at my seat only.
About three and a half hours into the flight, I decided to try to sleep to adjust as best I could to the time in Qatar. Given the relatively light load in business class, I asked my flight attendant if it would be possible to have my bed made in the empty seat behind me, which she agreed to do. I went to the lavatory and came back to find 6A in a reclined position (rather than in full, lie-flat bed mode) with the mattress pad, pillow, and duvet laid out. After putting the bed fully flat, I laid down and tried to sleep.
I’m able to sleep well on planes and as I’ve mentioned in other posts am not overly picky about beds on planes. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the bed on Qatar’s A350 and found it to be a pretty tight squeeze. Having flown numerous other reverse herringbone business class products including Cathay Pacific on the 777 and the A350, EVA Royal Laurel on the 777, and American on the 787, I found Qatar’s seat to be the most tight-feeling I’ve ever slept in, despite the actual measured width of the seat being larger than some of those other products. Not only is the footwell cramped, the tray table is positioned under the TV instead of folding into the side of the seat, as it is on the Cathay and Finnair A350. With the tray table positioned so low and in the way, my legs kept hitting it while sleeping on my side. The duvet and mattress pad were perfectly fine, but I was unable to sleep well.
After about three hours of tossing and turning, I decided to give up on sleep and ordered a smoked chicken salad from the light bites menu. It wasn’t great, as the chicken tasted past its prime and the lettuce wasn’t particularly fresh. After doing a bit more work on my laptop, I decided to pass the time watching Split, which was okay.
Presumably because this flight operates as a nighttime flight, I found that the FAs didn’t pass through the cabin much during the flight. In addition, there was not much of a set up at the bar; from what I saw the few times I passed through, there was only a vase of flowers and a bowl with a couple of bananas and oranges. While Qatar is so far the only carrier to offer a social, “bar”-type space on their A350, it didn’t serve much purpose on this particular flight.
I spent the next few hours alternating between working on my computer and listening to music/podcasts, until the cabin lights gradually turned back on.
Not long after the lights came back on, the flight attendants came around to begin the final meal service. I was pretty hungry at this point, having eaten only about half of the chicken salad I had ordered earlier. Rather than ordering off the breakfast menu (I’m not much of a breakfast person anyways), I opted instead to order two entrees off the a la carte menu: the seared snapper filet and the chicken biryani.
Neither of them, unfortunately, was anything spectacular: the fish was okay but slathered with a very heavy sauce, while the biryani was disappointing — this is coming from someone who loves biryani. About fifteen minutes after the meal service was completed, the captain came on the PA system to inform us that we would be starting our descent into Doha.
There were some great views of The Pearl and Doha as we descended from the north, and as we lined up for final approach I switched from the flight map to the tail cam.
After a smooth landing and a short taxi, we were parked at the gate at 7 AM local time, a little over 12 hours after we left New York.
Within a couple of minutes, the door was opened and I bid adieu to the crew and left the plane. I grabbed one more photo of the gorgeous A350 as I made my way off the jetbridge and to immigration.
DOH ARRIVALS LOUNGE
Qatar Airways has two arrivals lounges for premium passengers at DOH, one before immigration with its own dedicated immigration counters, and one post-immigration. While I didn’t stop in the nicer post-immigration lounge, I did go to the lounge before immigration to use the immigration counter. In the general immigration area, the first arrivals lounge is clearly labeled with a large sign and is located at the far end of the hall, on the left side if you’re walking towards the immigration counters.
At the front desk inside the lounge, my boarding pass was checked and I was welcomed in. The lounge is one large room and was more or less empty when I was there. There was a small selection of food in the corner, plenty of seating throughout, and a number of TVs. Given that this lounge is pre-immigration and the other lounge has shower facilities and a larger food selection, it’s not really a surprise that this lounge was empty. It’s certainly nice to have a dedicated immigration area for premium passengers, but as there is a better lounge immediately after immigration, I’m not quite sure what this lounge offers that dedicated premium passenger immigration lines couldn’t.
After snapping a few quick pictures, I cleared immigration with no wait and grabbed my bag from the luggage carousel.
On the whole, the flight was enjoyable. While the cabin and seats are gorgeous, I found the seat to be less comfortable than similar reverse herringbone seats, and I had trouble sleeping due to the narrow footwell and positioning of the tray table directly under the TV.
Service was decent-to-good on this flight. As this was treated as a nighttime flight and the cabin lights were dimmed for the majority of the flight, the flight attendants did not pass through the cabin much. Service when they were around, however, was fine, and I appreciated that my flight attendant obliged both my gluttonous request for two entrees for breakfast and my request to have my bed made in a separate seat (which I’ve only asked for before in first class). As others have noted, Qatar Airways crews are generally polished and pleasant, but lack the character that crews on, say, Emirates or Singapore Airlines might have — I found this to be the case on my flight as well, and felt that some interactions with the crew seemed to be a bit overly rehearsed.
The amenities in Qatar Airways busines class are industry-leading, with pajamas, slippers, and an amenity kit that I would actually use again. Catering was decent, and while I was pleased with the alcohol selection and lamb burger from the light bites menu, I found the entrees to be a bit lackluster.
My biggest complaints were with the unusably slow speeds of the in-flight internet and the buggy IFE system. While I was ultimately able to work offline and could navigate the IFE using a mix of the touchscreen function and the remote, it’s pretty disappointing for an airline that bills itself one of the best in the world to have issues like these.
From a ground handling perspective, the experience at DOH is good, while the JFK experience leaves a bit to be desired. The latter is a moot point for the evening JFK departure, however, as that flight leaves out of Terminal 8 and its passengers have access to the newly renovated AA Flagship lounge. That said, I’d still take the AM flight, given the newer reverse herringbone seat on the morning A350 flight versus the 2x2x2 configuration on the evening flight’s 777 — this of course will change once Qatar Airways launches its QSuite-equipped 777s to New York.
Overall, Qatar Airways offers a strong business class product on their A350, and I would put it up there with the best in the world. I do disagree, however, with those who call it the absolute best business product in the world, given that 1) the hard product leaves a bit to be desired, and 2) the service and catering were not that exceptional. Given the opportunity, I’d certainly fly QR business on the A350 again, but would take Singapore Air, Etihad’s Business Studio, or EVA Royal Laurel over the Qatar A350 any day.