Qatar Airways. An airline that is widely regarded as one of the best in the business. However are they entirely deserving of this reputation? Having flown them fourteen times now in one form or other, I felt like I was in a good position to judge.
My first flights with the airline were in 2014, between Barcelona and Singapore, on a mixture of their soon to be retired A330, 777-300ER and 787 aircraft. My only recent experience in Business Class at that point was with American Airlines on their 777-200 that was straight out of 1999. So hardly much of a comparison there! I remember first impressions being good on that occasion, although with their A330’s and 777 being configured in a 2-2-2 layout, it still meant jumping over my neighbour to get out from my window seat. Even at the time or writing in mid-2019, there are still a few of their 777’s flying around in the same config. Whilst their Airbus aircraft have been refurbished since then, they remain in the 2-2-2 layout. Doha Airport itself was due to close a few weeks after that visit, so I was able to make use of the Premium Terminal. Although that was more a case of a mid-sized lounge in a separate building to the rest of the airport.
Fast forward to 2016, and I flew the airline once more. This was on a pair of 787 aircraft between Stockholm and Doha and continuing on to Singapore once more on one of their new A350’s. The flight between Stockholm and Doha was mostly forgettable to be honest. Arrival at the new Doha Hamad airport was chaos, with the security staff seemingly being more focused on getting as many people through in the least amount of time possible rather than any thorough checks. Once through, it was up to the Al Mourjan lounge. Whilst it features on my top 10 list, I remember being somewhat underwhelmed with it at the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from a bad lounge, I just expected a little more after all the great things I heard about it. On to the flight itself, and the sector between Doha and Singapore on that occasion was probably the best flight I’d had on Qatar. The aircraft itself had the wow factor, the food was tasty and the crew attentive. This was followed by what was probably one of my worst flights – not just with Qatar, but with any airline. The expected A350 back from Singapore was subbed for an A330 a few days before departure. As mentioned earlier, their A330’s still fly with a 2-2-2 config, and whilst the new seats look pretty good, they offer less personal space than the seats they replaced. My own personal opinion was that width wise at least, they offered no more room than your standard economy seat. This was tied in with a somewhat lacklustre crew, who didn’t bother to bring me a boarding drink, despite them asking me and then when one finally did turn up, it wasn’t what I asked for anyway! Following on from this was the flight back to Stockholm from Doha, onboard the 787 once more. Whilst the seat comfort was infinitely better than what was on the A330, once more, the crew let things down a little. They served up the meal more or less straight after departure, put the automatic windows into fully dark mode (despite it being an afternoon flight) and more or less vanished for the duration. Once more, a drink I asked for didn’t turn up.
That left me wondering if the airline really were that great. My next experience came in the summer of 2017 when ten of their A320’s operated for British Airways during the cabin crew strikes. By contrast, the crew on these flights were great, although the cynical side of me can’t help but wonder if they were trying extra hard to impress BA’s customers.
Come 2019, and it was time to try them again. Since flying with them previously, they had introduced their QSuite Business Class product. I was curious to see if it lived up to the hype. The first flight I took was on one of their A350-900’s, without the Qsuite. Departing from Oslo, the ground experience wasn’t anything particularly special, which was to be expected at an outstation. Fast track security was provided as well as lounge access, although the lounge was a third party one. Again, completely expected as the only airline lounge in Oslo is the SAS lounge, who are a member of rival Star Alliance. Once it came to boarding, the gate team seemed to get this right – there were completely separate areas for each group, so when boarding started it was simply a case of inviting each area to board in order. Once I was on board, I was welcomed by a very friendly crew – almost overly friendly actually, although this was probably more to do with their Thai background. Sure, this first flight of the trip was with the now older business class product, but it’s still absolutely fine and probably still better than what a lot of other airlines offer. Despite the older seat, where the flight really stood out was the meal service. I don’t normally go for all the courses when flying, however on this occasion I made an exception. And all the courses were very tasty, to the point where even despite three years between flights with the airline, the difference was almost immediately noticeable. I even got a cup of coffee without having to ask more than once too!
Fast forward to the next day and I would be trying out the airlines Qsuite for the first time. Initial impressions of the flight were not that great. As is seemingly so often the case in Doha, the flight departed from a bus gate, which meant a whole load of flights departing from a stuffy basement area. Hardly a five star experience there. I guess it’s a little unfair to blame Qatar Airways for that though. It’s more an airport issue, but I can’t help but think that with an airport that only opened a few years ago, this shouldn’t really be an issue.
So anyway, on to a bus it was. Again, in fairness to the airline, whenever there is a bus gate, they do provide a premium bus for Business Class passengers, which features upgraded seating and isn’t as busy. In theory. In reality, the bus wasn’t big enough for all the premium customers so I ended up standing. Not that it was a big issue, as the plane wasn’t parked too far from the terminal.
Once on board, again, my first impressions of the Qsuite were not overly brilliant. It didn’t seem any more spacious than any other business class product I had flown before – in fact, compared to Singapore Airlines, it was actually pretty small.
As this was a morning flight, breakfast was served. It was much the same food as I had when I had taken this very flight back in 2016, however the presentation had been vastly improved.
Once I had finished eating, I decided to get some rest, and this was where the Qsuite really started to flex it’s muscles. In seat mode, it was essentially a business class seat with a door. However, recline it into bed mode, close the door and theres a level of privacy and space that is unrivalled. To top it all off, I was handed some very comfortable pyjamas, which are now provided by The White Company – an improvement over the generic ones that were distributed previously. The seat was topped with a mattress, the pillow was wrapped in a soft white pillow case and the blanket was again upgraded from what was offered previously to a very soft burgundy/grey microfibre affair. This wasn’t exclusive to the Qsuites flights I took either, as it was also present on the A350 I flew between Oslo and Doha.
Across the four flights I took with the airline on the trip, three were operated by Qsuites fitted aircraft which made for a comfortable flight. Although even the non Qsuite A350 was pefectly fine. The crew across all the flights were generally ok. One was a little colder than the rest, but I guess one out of the number I interacted with wasn’t too bad. There were a couple of minus points with these flights however. The amenity kit is so basic now, they might as well not bother. Previously you got more or less full sized Georgio Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo products. These days all you get is a couple of trial sized bits.
Also, where the pyjamas were pro actively offered on all flights before, now they only appeared to be on request for longer day flights, and not available at all on the flight from Oslo – despite being offered on my flight from Stockholm previously. Although what they do offer is better quality than before, so swings and roundabouts really. The dinner service I had out of Oslo was probably one of the best meals I’ve had on a plane, although the breakfast service out of Doha was more or less identical to three years previously, and not particularly good in my opinion. The Oryx One IFE system didn’t have too much that took my fancy. There were quite a lot of movies on it although it had very few recent releases – in fact once more, many were the same as when I flew with them in 2016. With something like IFE though, I’m willing to admit that a lot of it is down to personal preference. Whilst there wasn’t too much for me personally, someone else could potentially keep themselves entertained for hours with the same selection.
So, to answer the original question of are Qatar Airways worth their reputation? Well, I’d say yes. Just. But they will need to keep on top of things with the soft product and not just focus on the flashy seats and dinner table set up otherwise the others will catch them pretty quickly.