The Philly Pho Fare: Trip Planning
Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge Terminal 4 SIN
Vietnam Airlines A321 Economy SIN-HAN
Qatar Airways B77W Business Class HAN-DOH
Qatar Airways A350 Business Class DOH-PHL
Aloft Philadelphia Downtown
British Airways Business Class Lounge PHL
Qatar Airways A350 Business Class PHL-DOH
Qatar Airways Arrivals Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways Complimentary Doha Stopover Package (Westin Doha)
Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge DOH
Vietnam Airlines Business Class Lounge HAN
Silk Air B737 Business Class HAN-SIN
After escaping Alex Cruz’s house of horrors aka The British Airways Lounge PHL, it was time to hop on another Qatar A350 flight to Doha. I’ve done a detailed review of the business class experience on Qatar’s A350 here, so I’m going to use this post to mainly talk about some of the differences in catering and service I observed on this return leg.
Cabin-wise, you’re looking at exactly the same seat as what’s been previously reviewed, but what struck me as interesting is that the privacy dividers on this flight that separated the middle seats were down by default (they were up on the flight to PHL).
Why this is interesting is because I was under the impression that aircraft seats are rated (that is, get their safety certification) in a particular default configuration for takeoff and landing. That’s to say, if an airline submitted their cabin for safety vetting with the privacy dividers by default up, then by right on every flight the privacy dividers must be up for taxi takeoff and landing (and vice versa- don’t ask me how privacy dividers up or down has any impact whatsoever on safety).
Qatar’s crew, I’ve found, are generally quite inconsistent on enforcing safety standards during takeoff and landing. For example, the A350 business class seat has armrests that can be raised or lowered. The default position is down, and I think that’s to facilitate easy exit from the seat in case of emergency during takeoff/landing. However on the flight to Philly the crew didn’t mind me having the armrests up (and it wasn’t like they didn’t notice, they checked everything else like seatbelts etc), and on this flight the crew insisted they be down. Same goes for using the wooden table on your side for storage during TTL- one set of crew didn’t mind, the other insisted it had to be clear. Come to think of it- it was pretty similar on my 77W experience- some crews were ok with a bag on the floor during takeoff, others insisted it had to be in the overhead bin. Ah, vagaries.
Speaking of crew, this set was perfectly competent but not as personable as the amazing set I had on DOH-PHL. That said, the crew in charge of my aisle was a pleasant Thai lady named Pattaporn (the American guy behind me cracked up when he saw her nametag. Dude.) who didn’t have the best English but you could tell she was trying really hard.
She introduced herself and asked what drinks I’d like before takeoff. I had still water, orange juice and champagne because why not. Also USA Today, because that’s the kind of tabloid you read when you’re buzzed.
The captain informed us of the flight time to Doha- surprisingly only 11h 45 mins (vs 14h 30 mins on the reverse flight) thanks to a difference in winds.
It was a lovely clear (and freezing) day in Philly with only a few whispers of clouds in the sky as we pushed back, a lone Qatar jet in a sea of AA planes. I’m sure there’s an allegory somewhere in there but I was too lazy to flesh it out.
After much fiddling through the IFE I finally found the A350s camera system, which provides a sort of visceral thrill especially during TTL.
I got big boy feelings when the engines spooled and we took to the air.
A few minutes after takeoff, all seats lost power for a few minutes. The IFE screens and controllers went blank.
Even the control panel was inoperable. The normally backlit buttons were now inert.
What happened apparently was that some passengers were complaining they could only access two movies on the entire IFE selection, and the crew reset the entire cabin’s electronics. Or something along those lines. Once the system rebooted it just showed this welcome screen for a further 20 minutes or so before the IFE started working again as per normal. During this period the cabin crew went to each seat to apologise and explain what was going on, which I appreciated.
I haven’t really enjoyed most of what I’ve eaten on Qatar Airways flights so I was hoping this flight catered from PHL could break the duck. Our flight took off at 9.45am but the first meal would be lunch, not breakfast.
I was famished after the great Alex Cruz breakfast bonanza (I really should stop with the Alex Cruz jokes) so requested to have breakfast immediately after takeoff. The crew dutifully dressed my table with the usual tablecloth, salt and pepper shakers, bread basket, butter and olive oil…
… but alas, I noted that the ground crew in PHL had not been very diligent with the washing of table cloths. Gross.
Lunch started with a strange little amuse bouche. I’m still not entirely sure what it was, I think it was cheese mixed with tomato. My best guess is that it was supposed to be bruschetta. The baguette slice they served it with was rock hard and ice cold.
The pea soup that started the meal was good enough, albeit slightly thick and lumpy.
A very colorful roasted butternut squash and feta cheese salad followed. I gotta be honest, I ordered it more to take a photo than anything else (and before anyone accuses me of wastage, remember that whatever doesn’t get eaten on the plane is thrown away anyway).
For the main I went with the snapper with roasted sweet pepper sauce. It was alright, but again I’m still waiting for a Qatar meal service to knock the socks off my feet (ala Japan Airlines)
For dessert I opted for the chocolate torte.
A crew member came to pass around the usual boxes of Godiva chocolates after the meal.
I’d watched most of the moves I wanted to watch on the journey to Philly, but realised that La La Land was on the playlist too. Am I the only one who feels bad for Greg in La La Land? Seemed like a perfect decent guy whose only crime was being not as exciting as Ryan Gossling.
Also, Emma Stone uses Office 2007. Ha!
All that melodrama gave me an appetite, so I took a look at the snack menu.
I opted for the chicken shawarma, which didn’t set my world on fire. Even after I added an entire bottle of Tabasco.
I saw one of the crew members snacking on a Haagen Dazs tub in the galley and realised I really wanted vanilla ice cream. I requested some, but it came together with coffee ice cream on top. Ick. I appreciate the care they took to plate it, but I’d have been much happier with just the tub.
I mentioned in my previous review that Qatar uses the centre of the business class cabin as a lounge area, and the setup was largely the same on this flight as well. A bottle of champagne, a fruit basket, a snack basket.
The snack basket was emptied at an alarming rate. Chocolate and chips were the first to go. (Un)surprisingly, the granola bars and freeze dried fruit were the only items remaining at the end of the flight.
I might be imagining things, but I swear the previous flight didn’t have this rose vase.
I took a long nap after this and before I knew it we were soaring over Europe and it was time to order breakfast
Qatar really likes offering cold cuts with its breakfast service and I don’t really understand why. It’s always struck me as a bit of a cheap offering, the kind you might find with a school lunch.
There were no fewer than four options for the main, and I settled for sweet corn pancakes with smoked salmon. The eggs were a strange confluence of rubber and powder, not as good as the eggs I had out of Doha.
I mentioned on my previous flight that bathroom cleanliness was an issue, a situation that wasn’t exactly helped by the long flight time. On this flight I had fewer issues, although I think Qatar’s policing of the bathrooms isn’t as frequent as, say, SQ’s. Still, I paid more attention to the matter this time round and noticed that the crew would sometimes slip into the bathroom inbetween passengers to give the place a once over.
I’m not sure if I can call Qatar’s A350 business class the “best business class in the world”, but it certainly sets a high standard. I’d be even more intrigued to see what Qatar can do with the QSuite, which on first glance appears to offer a hard product unlike any other airline. Hopefully I’ll figure out a way to review that soon.