Airlines of the Middle East: Qatar Airways
The past decade has heralded a transformation in air travel – the rise of Middle Eastern airlines has been an extraordinary story of rapid growth and expansion. Many of these airlines have revolutionised in-flight service and defined “best in class” product offerings. By raising the bar in service and quality on the ground and in the sky, travellers are reaping the benefits.
In this series we review each of the major airlines from the region and dish the goss on what they have to offer the flying traveller.
Hub: Doha International Airport, Qatar
Fleet size: 109
Qatar is a newish addition in the flotilla of Middle Eastern airlines taking the world by storm. Founded in 1993, the award-winning airline will next year celebrate its 20th anniversary. The airline has certainly challenged its competitors by providing a top shelf experience particularly in its premium cabins – quality on the ground and in the sky really sets this airline apart.
Qatar is touted as one of the worlds best airlines if its dominance in Skytrax airline awards is anything to go by – it won ‘Airline of the Year’ in 2011 and 2012 (read about it here).
Like most of the other Middle East airlines, Qatar is not aligned to an alliance like Star Alliance or One World. This places limitations on its ability to provide seamless feeder traffic yet the airline has countered the impact of this by having codeshare agreements with airlines such as US Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Asiana and ANA. The Qatar fleet has one of the youngest fleets in the world averaging out at 4.9 years and sporting an array of Airbus aircraft alongside 28 Boeing 777 aircraft which serves the longer routes.
On the ground
Passengers flying in first or business and departing from Doha are lucky to enjoy Qatar’s award-winning ‘Premium Terminal’. Guests are greeted by a bell boy who will whisk their luggage to the check-in desks which looks more like a modern lounge than a check-in hall. Once passengers pass through security they are welcomed by a swarm of luxury duty free shops and well-appointed First and Business class lounges.
The First class lounge sports a spa which features a jacuzzi and sauna – is there any other way to wait for your flight? Guests can also enjoy cocktails or high tea depending on their preference (this writer would head straight to the martinis). Privacy rooms allow guests in transit or those who want to sleep off excess martinis to get some rest. Showers are available for passengers and the airline provides luxurious L’Occitane amenities. The food and beverage offerings in the lounges are as you would expect: extraordinary.
First class passengers departing from Doha are also treated to the royal treatment when it comes to boarding their flight. These lucky passengers are whisked away from the boarding gate in a private BMW and deposited (in a royal-like fashion) at the aircraft on the apron. Now that is fancy. Note: business class and economy class passengers must catch a bus to the aircraft when departing from Doha.
I really get excited checking out high-end first class products. Qatar really does raise the bar in its overall proposition, though its hard in-flight first class product does underwhelm from face value (it’s worth mentioning here that I haven’t actually flown in first class with Qatar so my thoughts here are blatant assumptions). Unfortunately the cabin reeks of hot pink, or fuchsia, to reflect the airlines branding but honestly it looks quite tacky. The seats don’t look that fabulous but do provide space to stretch out.
The airline provides a wine list and menu that would certainly keep anyone occupied for a flight for any length of time. Guests can enjoy the traditional arabic coffee and date combo or head straight to the Laurent Perrier champagne to wet the palette. And if caviar is your thing, you will likely find this on your flight also. Prada amenity packs are also provided to first class passengers. For an amazing recount of the Qatar first class product and the lounges in Qatar, check out this trip report.
Qatar is removing the first class cabin from its soon to be received 787 aircraft. For more details, check out our story on Qatar’s new 787′s here. Qatar’s first cabin also appeared in our ’7 Heavenly First Class Cabins’ story which you can read here.
On some aircraft that have first class, business class is often the poor cousin that everyone wants to forget and lock under the stairs. Those travelling in business class on said flights often peer longingly at the curtain at the front of the cabin and wonder “what if?”. This is not the case on Qatar as the airline pulls out all stops in the business class cabin.
Unlike first class, business class passengers in Doha will be required to board the aircraft via the bus – how embarrassing. Your seats are in 2 x 2 x 2 configuration so you will have more space than other airlines that pack in a third seat in the middle section. The seats are forward facing and recline to a fully flat-bed position to aid in sleeping (no sloped 160 degree ‘lie flat’ seats on Qatar!). Of course, business class guests are treated to fine dining and a great wine list. If you want to see a fantastic trip report on the business class product, have a read here.
Qatar is soon to enhance its business class product when it receives its new 787′s. See details here. It looks stunning.
Compared to other airlines, Qatar’s economy product is worlds apart from its peers. Just check out passengers reviews on Skytrax and you will get the picture – passengers just love this airline. Great cabin crew, good food, frequent drinks and great entertainment are common themes in the reviews. Economy passengers are also provided with ‘amenity pouches’ with basic items to keep them fresh during the flight.
Read more reviews from economy passengers here.
Qatar calls its inflight entertainment system ‘Oryx’ and on all of its long haul aircraft passengers are provided with seat back personal entertainment screens. The airlines website quotes that it has over 1000 entertainment options for its guests so you will be bound to find something that keeps you amused. Check out the current movie selection here.
The airline is also rolling out technology on its smaller A320 fleet that will allow passengers to use their own devices to browse the internet and send SMS’s. Power ports are available in all cabins so passengers can charge their laptops and other gear.
There is little left to the imagination when one considers why this airline is ranked as the worlds best. The reviews are glowing from passengers travelling in all cabins. Qatar’s commitment to service in the air and on the ground really sets itself apart from airlines that may excel in one or the other – it is rare to find an airline that pulls off both parts of its offering with such finesse.
Although I haven’t flown Qatar I will certainly give it thought next tie I consider a long haul trip – the only unfortunate issue is that Qatar does not fly to Sydney (only to Melbourne and Perth).
Have you flown on Qatar? How was the experience?