Tag Archives: qr

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: Qatar Airways A330 “First Class” DOH-MCT

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand Park Lane, London
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
Royal Air Maroc Business Class Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Q400 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A330 “First” Class DOH-MCT
Oman Air B737 Business Class MCT-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Vistara A320 Business Class BLR-DEL
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
W Hong Kong
Touring Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


The Al Safwa lounge experienced gave me mixed feelings, but I was hoping that the “First Class” experience from DOH-MCT would be a bit better. I’m calling this “First Class” because Qatar markets inter-Gulf business class as First Class, despite the fact that the hard product is the same as what you’ll find on long haul business. The only true First Class hard product that QR has to offer is on its A380, and that’s another review for another time.

Now that Doha is cut off from Dubai, the “easiest” way of getting to Dubai is to…fly past Dubai to Oman, and then double back via Oman Air. Yeah, try to wrap your head around that. This made what should be a 1 hour flight last about 6 hours, including transit.

map

The boarding gate was a good distance away from the lounge, maybe about a 10 minute walk through an increasingly busy Doha airport.

It was now well past sunrise and the blazing summer desert heat and light was flooding through the windows.

Apparently the crew needed to rebalance the aircraft, because at the gate my boarding pass caused the computer to beep angrily. A new boarding pass was issued that put me on the other side of the aircraft, but it was printed out on economy class cardstock.

That meant that as I exited the terminal to board the bus to the remote stand, the ground staff glanced at my pass and started to direct me towards the economy class bus, but fortunately a second look at the seat number got me on the smaller, more private first class one.

I don’t know if Qatar usually operates a widebody aircraft to Muscat, but with the reroutings that are happening it’s not surprising there was a surge in demand for that route, and maybe that’s why I ended up on a A330 this morning.

This aircraft had Qatar’s newer business class seat. I say “newer” because it’s by no means industry leading, in a 2-2-2 full flat configuration.

Here’s what the old seat used to look like, for comparison’s sake. I believe the old seat was also lie flat, but less private because the smaller privacy divider.

Image result for qatar airways a330 business class
photo credit: airreview.com

I much prefer the darker tones of the newer business class seat, which has noticeably more storage space around the head too.

The downside of the newer seat is that your feet go into a cramped nook infront. It’s equally bad if you have the aisle…

Or the window

Not all the seats are the same, though. You can see that seats in row 1 don’t have any footspace restrictions, and I’d highly recommend these seats if you have big feet.

Where privacy is concerned, each seat has a retractable privacy divider. Here’s the view when it’s pulled back

And when it’s extended.

The seat controls are found in your armrest and are simple enough to figure out.

Also in your armrest is the IFE controller, a USB charging outlet and your headphone jack.

The crew came around with much-needed cold towels and water

And then the safety video was screened. Qatar sponsors Barcelona FC, and they’ve produced a special safety video with the team. Which is more than a little self-indulgent (what, Barcelona, self-indulgent? No way!)

I mean, it is hardly believable that women would need oxygen upon seeing Pique. It is Pique, right?

The menus for the flight were distributed before takeoff. Given that the flight is slightly under 2 hours, as much as possible needs to be done on the ground.

The beverage list was pretty much the same as on my other Qatar flights. The main difference was that they didn’t distribute the menu that had pictures of the wine labels.

For this short flight, a quick breakfast platter would be served.

The platter was delivered shortly after takeoff. It wasn’t fancy by any means, but was still a pretty economical way of serving all the courses at once. You had fruit, bread, some canapes and some cheese with grapes.

The food quality was average (although the warmed Arabic bread, with some liberally applied butter, was always going to be a crowd pleaser) and I’m starting to wonder if it’s just me or whether Qatar’s catering isn’t all that.

For drinks I went with both  champagne and a So Jennie. So Jennie is an interesting one- it’s a non-alcoholic sparkling wine, and no it’s not like that $3.95 Dom Remy crap you buy at NTUC. This is real, proper sparkling grape juice made from good quality grapes and retailing at about $40 a bottle.

I mean it’s even got a fancy website with a hipster photo of the creator infront of the Eiffel Tower. What more could you want?

Well, I wanted orange juice and water, so that’s how I ended up with 4 glasses on my tray table and lots of trips to the loo.

The loos on the A330 are decidedly last gen, with no automatic hand sensor. It was also interesting that Qatar didn’t stock the loo with any fancy amenities as you might expect for First Class.

As I mentioned, the flight is really short so there isn’t much time to explore the IFE or anything. But the selection is the same as what you’d find on any long-haul flight, with a mix of recent movies and classics.

A final word about the service- the flight is marketed as first class, but I think no one in the right mind expects that level of service in a business class cabin which seats many more passengers than what you’d have in regular first class. The crew were completely pleasant, but there was no addressing of passengers by name or any particularly outstanding moments of service. Again, it’s hard to do too much on a short flight, but the level of service is definitely more in line with business than first class.

Before I knew it we were descending into Muscat. I now  along time to kill before heading on to Dubai, so it was off to the Oman Air lounge to see what their flagship lounge had to offer.

And this is where my delightful adventure with Oman Air began.

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha Review

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand Park Lane, London
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
Royal Air Maroc Business Class Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Q400 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-MCT
Oman Air B737 Business Class MCT-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Vistara A320 Business Class BLR-DEL
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
W Hong Kong
Touring Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


In my time doing this hobby, I’ve seen some pretty spectacular lounges- the Lufthansa FCT in Frankfurt, the Virgin Clubhouse in JFK, the Thai Airways Spa, and perhaps the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul. Heck, I’d even include TPR in a pinch, even though it’s probably more high quality than spectacular.

But in spite of all this, I was quite certain the Al Safwa lounge in Doha would be a whole new kind of spectacular. Perhaps it’s the reputation the region has for over-the-top luxury. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never experienced Qatar’s hard or soft product before. Whatever the case, it was finally time to scratch this visit off the travel hacker pilgrimage.

We arrived from DAR at a remote gate and were bused to the terminal. Given that Business Class passengers had a special bus, we reached the terminal ahead of anyone else and were able to re-clear security in no time at all.

Doha airport was deathly quiet, probably a combination of the lateness of the hour plus the reduced travel volumes to and from Qatar due to the blockade.

There are numerous signs around the airport directing people to either Qatar’s First or Business Class lounge. I eventually found myself standing at the bottom of a long escalator leading up to the lounge. I was disappointed said escalator was not gold plated. This is why Qatar will never be the pre-eminent airline in the Middle East, I thought.

The escalator leads you to the reception area of the lounge, high above the main concourse.

At this point, you still have no idea of what awaits you within. You’re still on the outside of the lounge, in the airport with all its hustle and bustle. Here’s your first and only encounter with the lounge dragons.

The staff who checked my boarding pass were warm and cheerful, despite the fact it was past midnight. There’s a whole row of clocks on the wall reminding you what time it is elsewhere.

By the way, you’ll see a lot of “45” signs in the photos. These signs are everywhere- the dining area, the sleeping rooms, the sitting areas, the bar, the reception. They’re reminding you to be at the boarding gate 45 minutes before departure. That’s clearly excessive, and QR is known to really overbudget the time you need for boarding, but I suppose some people are so lost in paradise they don’t want to leave.

I entered the lounge and marveled at how elegantly minimalist the architecture was. I was worried that Qatar might have taken a cue from Emirates and designed its lounges with an amount of bling that would put a prepubescent Arab to shame. Fortunately, they chose to go with something much more subtle, more classy and less in your face.

I loved how understated everything was, from the confidence to have bare walls to the high, unadorned ceilings. No ugly carpets or faux gold here.

I approached the central junction in the lounge and started looking for the sleeping rooms.

My gameplan was all laid out. It was past midnight and I could have the sleeping room for 6 hours max. I would take it from 12-6am, then get up, have breakfast and explore the lounge until my flight departed at 7.40am.

The sleeping rooms are located in the “quiet area”, which coincidentally is right where the spa is. Spa treatments are not free in this lounge, which is a major miss if you ask me. Read Ben’s trip report on the lounge to see the price list, but to give you a flavor of the cost-

  • 50 minute body massage- S$228
  • 60 minute facial- S$254
  • 30 minute foot massage -S$127
  • 80 minute oil massage- S$291
  • 55 minute pedicure- S$138

I mean, holy moley, ain’t nobody got time/money for that. I guess the idea is that if you’re the sort who flies revenue first class, you won’t blink at those prices, but the treatment duration is too long to make sense for a lounge. Most lounges do 10-15 minute treatments (a noticeable exception is the Thai Airways spa where 1 hour massages are de rigueur), and that makes sense for busy business travelers. And they’re also free.

The atmosphere here is soothing- the lighting seems dimmer, the walls seem more padded and you can hear the running water from the lounges many water features quietly in the background.

The access rules to use a sleeping room are quite strict. No reservations are allowed, you have a maximum 6 hour block (a second 6 hour block is payable at QAR 450, ($167, not a small fee by any means) and you can only use it if there is more than 4 hours remaining till your flight departs. Fortunately I met all the conditions. The front desk welcomed me and checked me in effortlessly. I was assigned Room 6 which was some way in from the reception.

The receptionist walked me in, past many other unused sleeping rooms. She told me there was only one other guest in the 15-20 rooms they had.

At the door I got my card and the receptionist asked me if I needed a tour of the room. I declined and she bade me goodnight and disappeared.

The first thing I noticed about the room was how stuffy it was. I was certain the air conditioning was busted, but after switching to a new room realised that they were all the same. Even after turning up the A/C to the max, there was very little movement in the air. I thought it’d get better after a few minutes, but it turned out to be a very stuffy night.

The room had a single bed, but if you’re traveling with a companion you can request a room with two single beds.

No prizes for spotting the 45 sign above.

There’s a TV and a work desk in the room. It really is as close to a hotel room as you’ll find in a lounge. (Well, except for maybe the Swiss lounge in Zurich, which would put the Al Safwa to shame…)

There’s a bottle of water and a full kleenex box at the table. Perhaps 45 is the new 42?

These are the A/C controls I was referring to earlier. They’re digital and easy to use, but for the life of me I could not get more air into that room.

In the corner is a storage closet for clothes and your bag. They provide hangers too.

Having your own private bathroom is definitely a perk of this lounge, and I must say it was when brushing my teeth and showering that it dawned on me that I was going to get a chance to sleep overnight, in a lounge, in a proper bed. I’m not sure how to express that properly to you but it was quite a novel experience, given that previous overnighting experiences in lounges had been nothing short of miserable.

The bathroom comes fully stocked with a toothbrush kit, a shaver, cotton buds, makeup remover, basically everything you need to be comfortable. I liked that they weren’t like other lounges where all this is kept under lock and key, on an “on demand” basis. Seriously, how much does a disposable toothbrush cost?

The shower had great water pressure. A bathtub would be nice but this isn’t the FCT…

The toiletries available were Rituals branded, the same sort as what you’d find in Qatar’s cabins.

I mentioned before that I changed rooms because I was convinced the A/C wasn’t working in the first room. But not before I showered and brushed my teeth in the old room. I then packed up my stuff and did the room change. It was only about an hour later when in bed that the doorbell rang and a staff member returned the toothbrush I left in the old room to me. I certainly appreciated the gesture, but I thought it displayed a bit of a lack of thought. Wouldn’t it make more sense to leave the item at the check-in counter so the guest would get it when he departs instead of waking him up?

In the end my sleep experience wasn’t great. The lounge was quiet, but the non-functioning A/C meant the room was so stuffy I ended up sleeping shirtless (control yourselves, ladies). It was disappointing that there was absolutely no way of getting more ventilation inside, and I wonder if anyone else has experienced this or if I’m just lucky.

After a fitful night’s sleep I checked out and headed for breakfast. The dining area is a huge enclave within the lounge on the far side from where I entered.

I’m ever so slightly disappointed I got a “lite” version of the lounge in that it was Ramadan when I visited and hence there was no Krug (or any alcoholic beverage for that matter) on offer, but they were doing regular food service in any case.

The dining area was virtually empty (emptiness would be a recurring theme throughout my exploration) at this early hour, and you can see they really staffed and outfitted this place for a lot more people.

The breakfast menu was presented to me, along with a tall bottle of Voss water (classy!). I was surprised that the menu selection was rather slim-  the first few items are basically a bread basket, then you have cereal, then a choice of an Arabic or Western breakfast, with pancakes/waffles optional and fruits. It’s not unfair to think that in a top tier lounge they’d give more options like eggs benedict or something.

I had the English breakfast, which as we all know just isn’t the same without pork. At least the hashbrowns were freshly made and crispy. Nothing worse than soggy hashbrowns. Minus marks that they served the eggs with one yolk burst.  I didn’t really care, but the expectation when you run a facility like the Al Safwa is nothing short of perfection.

I also had the most exciting white toast. Note: I did not ask them to remove the crusts but they did so anyway. I am amazed how they pegged me as a non-crust eater, which I am.

The waffles sounded promising so I ordered a batch. Unfortunately they were not crisp at all.

And then, to assuage my guilt, a fruit platter. The fruit wasn’t in season and very sour.

I’m going to peg the food experience as “meh”. Perhaps it’s just the breakfast menu and the lunch/dinner offerings are better, or maybe they do a limited selection during Ramadan. I don’t know, but this dining was definitely not the same quality as what you’d get in The Private Room.

After breakfast I went to explore further. Here’s the famous water feature that seems to characterise so many photos of the lounge. The water flows down from a pillar attached to the ceiling.

Because my photos is slanted and because you guys deserve better, here’s a much nicer shot from BravoTV, whatever that is

There is certainly no shortage of seating in the lounge. Every few meters you go there’s a new enclave of couches and single seats.

For example, you had these individual reclining slash work areas (as best as you could work without a table…)

Each pod is quite private, with the ears of the chair providing additional solace. If you stare at it hard enough it sort of reminds you of SQ’s old First Class Skysuites on the 747…

Each pod also had a tablet which had internet and digital newspapers. You could also check the gate at which your flight was leaving via the Qatar app.

At the centre of the lounge is the Qatar concierge, who are there to serve your every whim. Although they seem to spend most of the time pointing people to the nearest toilet.

There’s a large business centre in the lounge for getting proper work done, with many computer terminals and printing facilities.

They have Mac computers, but for the unpretentious don’t worry, they have Windows computers too.

I think we should have a running challenge to see how many of these 45 signs people can count.

If you wander to a far corner of the lounge there’s actually a separate dining area, albeit for lighter fare like fruits and sandwiches.

The sandwiches aren’t your usual clingwrapped lounge fare. They’re made to order and you can go for whatever fillings you please.

Juices, fruit and cookies were also available.

There were small plates with yogurt, muesli and other hamster food.

There are just endless seating areas to be found around the lounge, and I wonder why they felt the need to build so many. It’s all the more surprising given that QR doesn’t really believe in First Class, what with its CEO constantly spouting off how their Business Class is better than other airline’s First Class (I’ll wait to review the QSuite before passing judgement on that though…). Qatar only has First Class on inter Gulf routes plus routes served by its A380, so I can’t imagine this lounge sees a whole lot of traffic.

At the far end of the lounge they had these really cool chairs with high backs and tablets.

Nested far in a  small corner of the lounge is a movie screening room.

At least I think it was supposed to screen movies. They were showing the news when I stepped in.

People in the Middle East region tend to travel with large families, and the lounge caters to their needs too. In one corner you’ll find a game room plus a parent’s area.

This space has a dedicated play area for young kids.

Complete with educational toys, books and television.

For older kids (and younger adults), the lounge has gaming consoles which didn’t seem to be switched on when I visited. Both Xbox Ones and PS4s were available.

But the highlight had to be the F1 simulator. Qatar is quick to remind anyone who’ll listen that they sponsor an F1 team. The simulator looks really cool but again it didn’t seem to be in operation.

What I like is the family and games areas have their own catering too. Nothing fancy here, mostly light bites and drinks, but it’s thoughtful nonetheless.

    

The lounge has its own duty free area as well, where you can stare at items you can’t afford through impeccably polished glass (I noted the staff wiping the display discretely after I left to remove the marks my unwashed hands left).

The sun was by now in full force and all that was left to do was wait for the boarding call. If I wanted to be nit picky, I’d say that it wouldn’t be too much to expect the lounge to arrange buggies to gates, given how long the walking times can be.

But never mind, I took the scenic route towards my bus gate and saw the famous airport teddy bear. I must say that the airport during the morning did seem a whole lot busier- perhaps the blockade hadn’t hit as hard as I thought.

If you asked me to rank the Al Safwa lounge in my pantheon of lounge experiences, I’m going to be really honest with you and say it won’t be in the top 3. Although the staff were great at every interaction, the issues with the ventilation in the sleeping rooms, lack of free spa services and average food quality kept it from being an amazing die die must try experience (it didn’t help that the F1 simulator wasn’t working either) I guess it also didn’t help that there was no booze, but I’m not going to count that against them because it’s simply a fact of life.

Think about the wow factors the other lounges have-the Luftansa FCT drives you to your car on the tarmac in a Porsche. The Thai Airways lounge gives you an hour long massage in a proper spa. The Virgin Clubhouse gives you haircuts while watching the runway. The Turkish Airlines lounge has a race car track and a golf simulator.

The biggest wow factor I can think of for the Al Safwa is the hotel rooms, but like I mentioned I didn’t have the most comfortable of stays. Look, if you really want to try the lounge then you could book yourself a cheap one-way fare ex-BKK going through Doha to a place like Muscat or Kuwait for as little as S$1.5K. You’d fly Business Class from Bangkok to Doha, then First Class from Doha to Kuwait. Arrange a long layover and you can enjoy the lounge to your heart’s content. Good luck figuring out what to do in Kuwait though (or simply don’t fly that last leg…but this creates problems if you’ve checked luggage and Singaporeans do need a visa for Kuwait, so they may not let you board at Bangkok without one. Oman might be a better choice, but it’s slightly more expensive at S$1.8K)

I definitely think you should visit the Al Safwa at least once, because it truly is a gorgeous place to see, but if you’re ticking items off your travel hacking bucket list, I’d go for some other experiences first.

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH Review

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand Park Lane, London
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
Royal Air Maroc Business Class Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Q400 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-MCT
Oman Air B737 Business Class MCT-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Vistara A320 Business Class BLR-DEL
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
W Hong Kong
Touring Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


You know what? I’m tired of this long drawn out tease. It’s quite clear that the entire purpose of this six week long trip report is to review the amazing Al Safwa First Class lounge in Doha, and although we inch closer to it with every report it’s still not happening fast enough.

Therefore, I’m going to skip writing a full report of the Tanzanite Lounge and just do a five photo observation. Then, I’m going to review Qatar’s very excellent narrow-body business class (I am fascinated by narrow-body business class concepts, because I’m the kind of person who is fascinated by designers having to make the most of limited resources, in this case space), which will ferry me from DAR-DOH and onto the Al Safwa. I’ve not been so excited about a lounge review since the Lufthansa FCT.

But hey, even the Israelites had to wander for 40 years in the desert before they got to the Promised Land. And that wandering for me is the delightful Tanzanite Lounge. It’s a doozy of a place. The entrance looks like that of a nightclub where wayward women with lips that drip honey and speech smoother than oil lead men straight to the grave (yes, I’m studying Proverbs now)

The inside of the lounge is no less fascinating, with tchotchkes of every sort mounted on the wall. Like this collection of pendulum clocks.

Or this water feature outside the entrance to the in-lounge loos. I imagine it’s meant to be a waterfall but someone forgot to switch it on. I once went to a toilet where the urinal trough was a huge rock feature with cascading waterfalls. It was awesome.

The color scheme of the lounge reminds me of Ethiopian Airlines. The lounge was quite crowded as it’s pretty much the only lounge in town, but I was still able to find a place to sit.

Food offerings are lackluster. Heatlamp pizza, samosas and soda are the order of the day. At least they chill their mugs.

Ok, bonus photo. The lounge has the weirdest First Class setup I’ve ever seen (it’s the only lounge in the airport so it has to accommodate both First Class and lowly Business Class denizens). There is a dining table set up at the end of the room. It has four chairs and is the only regular-height table in the lounge. On it is a small standee that says “this area is reserved for First Class passengers only”. If you sit there, the lounge staff give you table service and bring you lackluster heatlamp pizza, samosas and soda. Such opulence was not meant for mortal man.

Enough? Good. Let’s get on to the good stuff.

I’ve written about how I discovered a great way of saving money on a business class fare from DAR-DOH ($2.6K) was to fly from DAR-DOH-DXB instead ($0.8K). And then the whole blockade thing happened. But I really wanted to spend my weekend in Dubai still because I’d made plans and everything. I finally managed to rejig my itinerary to DAR-DOH-MCT-DXB, with MCT-DXB operated by Oman Air (and man, that’s another story you’re gonna wanna stay tuned for), at no additional cost. I first needed to get to DOH, and my seat on Qatar’s A320 awaited.

A word about Qatar’s A320s. Normally, DAR-DOH is operated by an A320 configured with their recliner seats.

Image result for qatar a320 business class

It’s almost silly, because this almost 6 hour flight gets recliner seats, whereas short 1-2 hour hops to GCC nations get A320s configured with full flat business class (sold as First Class).

Well, the blockade meant that Qatar suddenly had a lot more such aircraft lying around idle. And thankfully they decided to deploy them in preference of their recliner-configured A320s on the DAR route. Hey, you need as many people on your side as you can, right? What’s more, the flight is now closer to 7 hours given the detour the aircraft has to take around now forbidden airspace.

Oh, the joy. Oh, the bliss I felt when I stepped onto that aircraft. To see those B/E Aerospace Diamond seats ever so slightly angled away from the aisle like a coy maiden awaiting my arrival.

The seats are 2-2 configured, which means no direct aisle access (I will concede that direct aisle access is asking too much from a narrow body aircraft). However only three seats were occupied in the cabin.

I could not believe I was flying in a narrow body aircraft. I’d always associated narrow body aircraft, even in business class, with general discomfort. Having a proper long haul J seat in an aircraft built for short haul flights felt so naughty and yet so right. I am a man of complex emotions.

I’ll be honest- the design of the seat isn’t the best for privacy. You’re still going to see the top of people’s heads. The seats don’t have the high walls you come to expect when flying SQ’s business class.

And if you had a seatmate, simply turning your head a bit would expose them in all their dehydrated glory. There isn’t an extendable privacy divider between seats.

But, privacy concerns notwithstanding, it was still a heck of a lot better than being stuck at the back. Here’s a shot of the economy cabin, which is in the usual 3-3 configuration you find on narrow body aircraft. These seats don’t have any IFE though.

Each seat had a large, high definition TV screen.

Footspace was cramped, and this may be an issue if you have large feet.

The tray table is nice and large. Moreover, it’s built solid and doesn’t flex under pressure, a far cry from the usual whimpy tray tables you’d expect on a narrowbody aircraft.

The IFE controller is clearly a new breed too. This version didn’t have the annoying hanging issues I frequently encounter with SQ’s touchscreen controllers.

It was also stuck in Italian mode and remained like that for a long time before I managed to sort it out.

Seat controls are, in the words from Ben at OMAAT, “intuitive” (he’s gotten some criticism from commenters (commentators?) for always describing the seatrest controls in the same manner, but seriously you try writing 100 trip reports and thinking of new synonyms all the time)

There are secondary seat controls near your head. They are also intuitive.

I also liked that every seat had not one, not two but three air vents above it. And three lights. Methinks the designers had 3-3 economy seating in mind when they designed the overhead.

Yes, each seat has in-seat power and better still, the plug fits all sorts. I still can’t believe the plugs on SQ’s 2006 J seats don’t accept Singapore plug heads. It boggles the mind.

I’m not sure what brand of noise cancelling headphones QR uses, but they worked well and had very good sound quality.

I was surprised to be given an amenities kit on a daytime flight. This isn’t the premium amenities kit that QR gives out on long haul J, but it was appreciated nonetheless.

Inside there was lip balm, socks and an eye mask. Very simple.

I was also happy to be reunited with liberal rag The New York Times.

The captain came on the PA to welcome us onboard and inform us that we’d take a little longer than usual to get into Doha, on account of having to avoid certain airspace.

The DAR airport offers the opportunity for interesting aircraft spotting

I saw an Emirates plane pushing back just before us. I was so certain the pilot would get out and challenge our pilot to fisticuffs.

Can I emphasize again how awesome it is to have a virtually empty cabin? It’s probably the closest thing to flying private I’ll ever get.

We took off about 20 minutes late, but had a great view of Dar’s urban sprawl as we climbed.

And soon it was just clouds.

The crew came around to hand out bottles of water straight after takeoff. They were excellent, very professional and friendly. I think this crew was from the Philippines.

They also presented us with the menus. I do like the understated tones of Qatar’s menu. In fact, I much prefer Qatar’s choice of color scheme to Emirates. Much more classy, much less bling.

Let’s start with the drinks first. I’m going to keep on harping the point, but I was extremely impressed with the selection for a narrowbody aircraft. I tend to associate narrowbody aircraft with reduced possibilities in terms of seating, entertainment and catering. So to see a wine list as long as what I’d expect on a long haul flight was sweet.

Dinner would be served on this flight to DOH.

The crew came by to take orders for dinner plus pre-dinner drinks. Bilecart-Salmon champagne never tasted so good. It was served with warm mixed nuts.

Before long, my table was set and the first course brought.

I’m going to be honest: I didn’t like the food at all. It’s probably because I’m an unadventurous stick in the mud who thinks that the only acceptable food is Chinese, Thai and certain interpretations of Italian, but the inflight meal was the only blemish on an otherwise lovely experience.

The first course was, well, I’m not quite sure I knew what this was.

The starter of prawns left a lot to be desired. The prawns had an awful texture, the kind they get when the’re over cooked.

The mushroom soup that came afterwards was slightly better. It had cream in it but the mushrooms were a bit gritty.

I went with the briyani for the main. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe I missed rice too much. Look, I’m sure it was a perfectly passable version of a briyani but after living in India for 2 years I concluded that jasmine rice is the only acceptable rice (that and Japanese rice, of course). So I didn’t much enjoy the meal.

Fruit was a good safe choice for desert.

But I decided to go with the less healthy option too. The chocolate tart was rich and creamy.

At least the chocolates served after the meal were good.

Don’t expect any fancy features on an A320 loo (showers, one day?). You’ll even have to press your own flush button like a savage (ah, how I miss the 787’s no touch flush system)

The taps aren’t automatic either.

On the plus side, Qatar had provided an abundant number of toothbrushes on this flight.

Plus their high quality Rituals branded wash products. These are the same ones they use in their lounges, which I’ll get to real soon (I promise)

The seat of course deploys into a full flat bed, and although it’s a bit narrow it’s still a perfectly comfortable napping surface. You can select any angle you want to recline at, and fortunately if you have a seatmate the level at which your head is at makes it difficult to see him/her when fully reclined.

When dressed up with pillow and blanket it’s a good way to spend the night.

I did like the blanket that QR used- at least it wasn’t some scratchy abomination that some airlines have.

This was easily the most comfortable narrowbody flight I ever took, and the 7 hours to Doha flew by. Just before landing, I decided to test out the IFE and finally watched Logan.

I was surprised an airline based out of the Middle East would allow R rated content, but I guess because it was more of the stabby stabby kind and less of the booby booby kind it passed muster.

We landed at a remote gate in Doha,  and it was now close to midnight local time.

Qatar has special buses for its premium cabin passengers, and in this case there were only three of us to share this cabin. The buses they use for premium cabin passengers are also special buses with big seats (versus the standard ones where it’s standing room only)

You do feel pretty special with a seat like this. Again, remember that there were only three of us in the cabin, so the bus remained nice and empty.

And you’ll feel even more special when you’re in the Al Safwa lounge, which is where I was headed to next…