Good Advice Tried and Tested

Qatar Airways A380 business class

10/10/2014

BACKGROUND

Qatar Airways received its first A380 aircraft from the Airbus factory in Hamburg last month (to read a review of that delivery flight, click here).

This was the Gulf carrier's first scheduled superjumbo service, as flight QR003, departing Doha at 0755 and landing at London Heathrow at 1315.

CHECK-IN

I arrived at Hamad International airport at 0610 and was dropped off at Qatar Airways' first and business class entrance. On walking into the terminal via this entrance, you either head to the right if you're a first class passenger, or left for business.

Hamad International airport

Interior: Hamad International airport

Check-in was swift. The group I was travelling with was then asked to wait in a seating area for a Qatar Airways staff member to escort us to the airline's lounge. After a quarter of an hour, our guide arrived — this was completely unnecessary, of course, and I would rather have spent those 15 minutes in the lounge, but it was a nice touch regardless.

THE LOUNGE

After passing through security, which took about two minutes, I took an escalator down into the departures area of the terminal, before walking straight ahead for 30 seconds and then taking another escalator up again to access the Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Lounge.

This is an impressive facility. It is so vast that, on entering, it is difficult to know which way to turn. Immediately in front is an infinity pool-like water feature, up above is a mezzanine-level restaurant, while to the left are two areas to sit, one with newspapers and the other with some snack food.

As I wanted to eat breakfast on the plane, and only had 20 minutes before boarding, I opted to just sit down. At each seat was a fixed touchscreen tablet showing the departures board.

A wide selection of magazines and newspapers were on offer, the latter of which included faxed versions of The Guardian, Australia's Daily Telegraph and Le Monde, among many others. It was pleasant to be able to read that day's Guardian when it was 0500 in the UK (0700 in Doha).

At 0715, I glanced at the tablet and, to my horror, saw that my flight was showing as 'last call’ for boarding. I hurriedly exited the lounge and swiftly made my way to Gate A3, which took about two or three minutes. Of course, I needn't have panicked as there was plenty of time once I arrived at the gate.

Qatar Airways inaugural A380

Almost ready: The superjumbo is prepared for departure at Hamad International

I was handed a red rose before boarding the A380's upper deck, presumably because this is the aircraft's inaugural flight.

THE SEAT

This 517-seat A380 is in a three-class configuration with first, business and economy seating. First and business are on the upper deck with eight suites in first and 48 seats in business. Also on the upper deck are 56 economy seats. The remaining 405 economy seats are in four cabins on the main (lower) deck.

I was sat in seat 21E (business class seating is A-EF-K). These business seats are very spacious, with plenty of legroom; I’m 6ft 1ins tall, and when sat up straight my legs could only just, at a stretch, touch the ottoman stool below the IFE screen. All seats have aisle access.

There is lots of storage space dotted around. To the left is an armrest, which can be lowered up and down, containing a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a bottle of water. By your right knee is a foot locker, while there is also space under the ottoman stool (just not during take-off and landing).

A shelf next to the headrest offers another place to put things and is large enough to accommodate a laptop, when not in use. I also placed my pillow, blanket, Missoni sleep suit and amenity bag there. There is also a shelf to the right and, lastly, a footlocker is located near the floor and is easy to miss — some of the group travelling with me didn't realise it was there.

Qatar Airways A380 business class seat

The seat

In his review of the delivery flight, my colleague Tom Otley reported having to place a standard wheel-on bag in the overhead bin sideways. My bag did fit in lengthwise, but it was an extremely close fit, with the handle gently brushing the ceiling when closing the bin.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

I was in the penultimate row, with the lounge just behind me. As you'd expect, I could hear some chattering every now and again, although this was far from being a distraction. But I was wearing headphones for the majority of the flight so it made no difference anyway.

The front of the cabin, which starts with row 10, is right behind the galley. There are also toilets at the front and rear of the cabin.

With that in mind, those seeking perfection would perhaps be advised to opt for a mid-cabin window seat around rows 13-18.

THE FLIGHT

Shortly after boarding, the cabin crew member serving my area introduced herself and offered me a drink. It was 0730 so I asked for a freshly-squeezed orange juice. I was also offered a newspaper or magazine, but declined.

Food and wine menus were handed out before push-back occurred at 0754. The aircraft then sat still for a few minutes before we taxied to the runway and took-off at 0808.

Qatar Airways A380 inaugural cake

Celebration: This cake was served to first and business passengers in the aircraft's lounge

The food menu was as follows:

Starters

  • Seasonal fresh fruits with honey crème fraîche
  • Choice of breakfast cereals
  • Bircher muesli
  • Greek yoghurt with raspberry compote and toasted granola
  • Smoked salmon with celeriac remoulade

Main course

  • Arabic breakfast plate
  • Grilled chicken sausage with tomato and herb omelette
  • Mushroom parantha (by chef Vineet Bhatia)

Light options

  • Summer green vegetable and mozzarella salad
  • Artichoke filled past with cherry tomato and basil sauce

Deserts

  • Selection of indulgent individual desserts
  • Cheese selection served with crackers grapes and chutney

I was told that food could be ordered for delivery at any time. As I was extremely hungry, I opted for the smoked salmon starter and then the grilled chicken sausage to arrive as soon as possible. Both were delicious.

It was too early for wine for me, but the wine list was as follows:

  • Lanson – Brut, 1999 (Champagne)
  • Taittinger – Prestige Rose
  • Bouchard Pere & Fils – 1er Cru Beaune du Chateau, 2011 (white)
  • Esk Valley, 2012 (white)
  • Domaine Zind-Humbrecht – Herrenweg de Turckheim, 2010 (white)
  • Reserve de la Comtesse Chateau Pichon Longueville – Pauillac, 2006 (red)
  • Bellingham – The Bernard Series, Basket Press Syrah, 2011 (red)
  • Villa Maria – Cellar Selection, 2010 (red)
  • Oremus – 3 Puttonyos Aszu, 2008 (red)
  • Kopke – Colheita, 1974 (port)

After this breakfast meal, I got out my laptop and worked for most of the rest of the flight. The extendable table was extremely solid.

The IFE touchscreen was high-definition and a wide selection of films was available to watch. I listened to music for most of the flight while I worked.

Wifi is also available and costs US$2 for a 5mb plan; US$5 for a 12mb plan; US$10 for a three-hour connection; and US$22 for the whole flight.

The Giorgio Armani amenity bag for men contained after shave, after shave balm, sleeping socks, ear plugs, lip balm and a sleeping mask. The amenity bag for women, also by Giorgio Armani, contained body lotion, perfume and the same sleeping socks, ear plugs, lip balm and sleeping mask.

Qatar Airways A380 lands at LHR

Above and below: Qatar Airways' inaugural scheduled A380 flight lands at Heathrow

Qatar Airways A380 lands at LHR

This was a day flight, but since I’d been awake since 0500 (0300 UK time), I did attempt to take an hour's nap so reclined the seat fully-flat for that. There was plenty of room to stretch out and the option of lowering the armrests meant there could be even more room, if desired.

Lastly, the lounge area is a comfortable space that can hold at least a dozen people without seeming overcrowded. I popped in briefly for a couple of beers and was offered a slice of the A380 inaugural celebration cake. Sadly, I was forced to decline – after all, chocolate doesn't go well with beer.

ARRIVAL

About an hour before our arrival the pilot announced we would be landing early at 1246. It wasn't to be.

We ended up touching down at 1304 local time and arrived at the gate at 1314. I was though passport control about ten minutes later.

VERDICT

The flight flew by. Working on the quiet A380 while listening to music means you sometimes forget you're on an aircraft at all.

Service was superb – extremely attentive throughout, each member of the cabin crew that I came into contact with was eager to help — while the on-board lounge is a pleasant space to stretch your legs and/or enjoy a drink. A great journey all round.
 

FACT FILE

  • CONFIGURATION 1-2-1
  • SEAT WIDTH 22 inches
  • SEAT LENGTH 80 inches
  • SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
     

Graham Smith