We’re always looking to introduce new voices on The Milelion, and we’ve got an aspiring guestwriter in Sam. Over the next few days and weeks, we’ll be publishing Sam’s flight reviews and adventures bit by bit. Please let us know what you think in the comments, especially if you’d like to read more!
Circuitous Curry Routings: Introduction
Sri Lankan A320 Business Class CMB-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DOH-NBO-DOH
Sri Lankan A330 Business Class DOH-CMB
Galle Face Hotel Colombo
Emirates 777-300ER First Class CMB-SIN
Many an article lumps Emirates, Qatar and Etihad together as the “ME3” (thew Middle East’s 3 main carriers) and in a lot of ways, it makes sense. They all full service carriers who operate ‘hub and spoke’ models, and try to entice passengers to make 1 stop connections through their main hub airport.
However, Qatar and Emirates have slightly differing strategies. Emirates’ fleet exists entirely of 777s and A380s so (bar a few configurations) most of their aircraft have capacity for somewhere between 300 and 550+ passengers. This works well for shuttling large numbers of people on routes with a lot of demand.
But what about routes where the demand is lower, say 100 daily passengers? Emirates can’t have a 777 profitably serve the route at ~30% capacity, so bar some exceptions, they likely won’t serve that market.
Qatar on the other hand has a mixed fleet with a few A380s, many 787s and A350s and some A320s. They compete with Emirates in many major markets, with higher capacity aircraft (A380s, A350s 777s) but they also have the ability to serve those smaller markets that Emirates can’t by flying narrow-bodies there. Qatar can (probably) profitably serve our fictitious route with daily demand of a 100 passengers with an A320.
Note that Emirates is trying to rectify this by tying in more closely with its LCC subsidiary FlyDubai which only operates 737s, but we risk getting in too deep for a TR once we go down that route.
To give you an example of what that looks like, take a look at Kenya and Tanzania (because what could be more relevant to a Singaporean audience?)
Emirates flies 1x daily 777 between DAR and DXB and 2-3 Daily 777s between NBO and DXB.
Qatar flies A320s between DAR, ZNZ, JRO, MBA and DOH and a mix of 787s and A320s between NBO and DOH.
What does this mean for you? Well, Qatar has more variation is the type of product it offers in Business Class from narrowbody A320 recliners, to Qsuites, so while you will hear endless PR about their Qsuites, it’s worth knowing what else is in the fleet, especially if you’re flying to a ‘second tier’ airport. To that end, I offer a contrasting view of the best and worst of Qatar’s narrowbodies.
Let’s start with the worst- the recliners. It’s worth noting that Qatar actually has 3 kinds of recliner, 2 which are newer and have AVOD (which I won’t review), and one absolute dinosaur of a product with no AVOD (which you’ll have the pleasure of reading about below). I took the dinosaur on the DOH-NBO leg of my circuitous curry tour.
The product is is in a 2-2 configuration spread over 4 rows of the cabin. It looks very 1980s tacky and has ancient seat controls, no AVOD and despite being very wide, has extremely limited foot space. I often find the footrest broken.
When I checked the seatmap close to departure there was one empty seat in Business, and it was next to me, so I figured there was a reasonable chance it would stay that way and was surprised when someone pointed out that they were in the window seat next to me. It turned out to be a Qatar 787 captain en-route for some leave, so I was thrilled to have the chance to nerd out about aviation.
I was offered the usual PDB, and offered a newspaper. I asked if they had The Economist and the FA said she’d check. She emerged later with the Financial Times and said, “we don’t have the Economist, but we have this Financial Blah Blah which is probably the same” which I thought was quite entertaining.
Unfortunately, this FA took quite a shining to the 787 Captain next to me. He proceeded to tell me “I get out of my seat a lot during flights, so you’d better take the window”. More telling me than asking to swap seats which felt a bit odd. I intended to sleep most of the flight, so I didn’t mind, but still, as an employee of Qatar deadheading, I’d hoped he’d be a bit more polite about moving paying passengers around.
There was also a mediocre looking amenity kit which I left sealed.
The crew offered iPads preloaded with some movies and TV shows, but I still think the IFE situation is weak. There were also fold down monitors which looked washed out and gave the impression that their best days are far behind them. I didn’t really mind as I planned to sleep for as much of the flight as possible. However that proved to be difficult.
I was woken up 4 or 5 times by loud, flirtatious conversations between the FA and off duty 787 captain. I was tired enough to drift off to sleep quite soon after each disturbance, but still, two employees of the airline having a loud conversation next to someone trying to sleep (the eye mask is the hint), at frequent intervals throughout the flight isn’t really on. At the end of the flight the FA feigned surprise that I’d slept the whole way and said she’d ‘tried to wake me for dinner’ (she hadn’t), and ironically, she’d succeeded in waking me a number of times.
Overall, not a bad flight, but the staff didn’t handle it well and had I been less tired I might have made a bit of a fuss. I mainly wanted to sleep and I mostly got that so I suppose ‘no harm no foul’.
On the return leg from NBO-DOH (after some intra-African frolicking), I had Qatar’s best narrowbody product – the one with lie flats.
If you are scheduled on an A320 here’s how you can tell which product you’re going to get:
- Go on to flightradar24.com and seach for the flight number for your inbound flight (usually your flight number minus or plus one)
- Check the registration of the inbound aircraft
- Have a look at this Flyertalk thread which tells you which product is on which aircraft.
The seat is a modified B/E Aerospace diamond with 4 rows in a 2-2 configuration. Aaron reviewed this seat a while back, and not much has changed. It remains a very good product for the length of flight , especially when contrasted against the recliner I had on the inbound. You’ll find a version of this seat on a few Star Alliance carriers long haul configurations (Air China, Ethiopian, United and Lufthansa come to mind).
The service on this flight were pleasant, but forgettable. It began with a PDB (I went with the ‘signature’ lime and mint drink which was very sugary) and choice of hot or cold towel (neither because I don’t like rubbing a fetid germ rag over my face).
A short while later, I was handed a menu for the flight, which read like this:
Boarding went on for about another 30 minutes and we pushed back on time with an estimated flying time of 6 hours. Business Class was about 70% full and I had a free seat next to me.
While we were taxiing the FA came around to take meal orders. I always appreciate Qatar’s dine on demand service and opted to have my lunch at, well, lunch time (instead of immediately after take-off). My meal (amuse bouche, soup, tortellini, cheese, dessert) looked great and tasted…of something…which is a compliment.
There is no escaping that fact that Qatar, by in large, has a very strong offering. The meal was well presented and tasty, service was polite and courteous and efficient. Really, the only issue I have with QR is personal, and that’s that I find it a bit dull. There is little to fault about it otherwise.
I had a long layover at Qatar Airway’s Al-Mourjan lounge in Doha (which I’ve reviewed here) before my onward flight to CMB on Sri Lankan’s A330 in Business Class. Stay tuned for that review.