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It’s been my goal for quite a while to fly the three Middle Eastern carriers — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. I’ve already had the opportunity to fly Emirates’ first-class product a couple times, so it was time for me to finish the trio with Qatar and Etihad. As much as I love Emirates, I find that it can be a bit gaudy at times and the “suite” is pretty narrow with not much storage (though food and service is beyond expectation), so Qatar and Etihad’s much more modern and much less flashy experience was a welcome change. Nonetheless, these airlines have a reputation for luxury, and I was excited to see if Qatar in particular would live up to the hype.
Booking First Class on Qatar
Following my short trip to Paris earlier this month, I had a decision to make: My first choice was to take an AA flight from Paris to the US on a 767 for 135,000 AAdvantage miles (my plane was switched to an older aircraft the last time I flew this route) — a relatively boring option that I’ve flown countless times before.
I had a couple free days, so I figured for 40,000 AAdvantage miles I’d take Qatar’s Paris-CDG to Doha (DOH) flight, connect to Abu Dhabi (AUH) and then shell out 90,000 more miles for Etihad’s Abu Dhabi to New York-JFK. Yes, flying through the Middle East isn’t the most direct routing to get home from Europe, but it’s a lot more luxurious! Plus, at 130,000 miles total for the two awards, it was cheaper to do this than to book a mid-tier AA award on the airline’s lackluster 767.
Unfortunately you can’t book Qatar awards on AA’s website. You’ll need to call American Airlines in order to book your award. You can save some time by searching for availability online, however, using the British Airways website. After logging into BA (you can create a free account for this purpose), click on “book a reward flight” on this page, enter your origin and destination and you should see a page with results similar to the screenshot above.
I’m still amazed that you can fly in such a gorgeous product for less than the sign-up bonus from a single credit card, plus just $107 in taxes. With the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard‘s 75,000-mile bonus, you can even fly this round-trip, since you’ll have at least 82,500 miles after reaching the $7,500 minimum spend.
Getting to Paris-CDG via Uber
After booking my flight, I was disappointed to realize that Qatar does not in fact have its own chauffeur service for premium passengers; Etihad and Emirates both have this service, and it’s a wonderful perk. Instead, I Ubered from the Mandarin Oriental Paris to CDG, which I was initially worried about because of all the crazy anti-Uber riots in Paris. However, I had no issues, despite hearing crazy stories, like Courtney Love getting attacked by rocks on her way to CDG!
At CDG, there was a single check-in line for first class and several for business, so I ended up waiting longer than most business class passengers, but it was still only a few minutes. Random thought: Why don’t airlines take the next first-class passenger before the following business-class passenger?
Qatar uses a shared Air France Salon Premiere lounge which is before security and immigration. I’ve heard that La Premiere (the actual Air France first-class product) is absolutely wonderful and I was excited to see if the lounge was any similar, but unfortunately the flagship Air France La Premiere Lounge, which serves first class, is in Terminal 2 and I was in Terminal 1. Even though Air France doesn’t fly out of the same terminal, I was surprised that the airline branded the lounge, when it ended up being so off-brand.
The center display was for Cup Noodles — which have no place in a first-class experience. Cup Noodles are for college freshmen — even sophomores should scoff at them. If you want to serve noodles to your first-class passengers, go ahead and make the real thing! My other choices were prepackaged food and some awful-looking, unhealthy sandwiches, so I didn’t eat or drink anything here, and instead opted for some sparkling water before I got on the plane.
With my extra time, I went over to the gate early and found myself a bit confused. There are actually two different gates (not just boarding doors) — one for economy and one for business and first. After waiting in the economy line by accident, I was ushered over to the proper area for first-class passengers. On this flight, there are actually two entrances to the plane; my gate led to the upper deck where business and first class are located.
The First-Class Cabin and Seats
Upon boarding, I had a pleasant surprise waiting for me: I was the only first-class passenger on the plane. With the whole cabin to myself, I had plenty of time to take pictures of the cabin and the big seats — very reminiscent of my Lufthansa flight from earlier in the week.
There are big dividers between the seats like in Korean Air’s first-class cabin. While the first-class cabin isn’t as private as what you’ll find on, say, Singapore’s A380, I really liked the design and decor of the cabin. The A380 has eight of these seats (configured in two rows of 1 x 2 x 1) in the first-class cabin, each 23 inches wide with an 83-inch pitch.
It’s tough to find much to complain about, though. The seats are very spacious and comfortable — and I did have the entire cabin to myself for the flight. The flight crew, as is the case on most Middle Eastern carriers, was very diverse and pleasant.
One of the best parts of the flight were the bathrooms; they have a big, long bench and are very spacious. Unfortunately Qatar doesn’t have showers on its A380. It would’ve been a nice addition, but Qatar seems to be operating this aircraft on shorter routes right now. Seven hours isn’t terribly long, so an on-board shower isn’t absolutely necessary for the journey.
One of the least impressive things I found on the flight were the headphones, which leave a lot to be desired. They felt pretty junky and uncomfortable — and I’m almost shocked to say that American beats Qatar in this regard. It’s hard to do better than Bose headphones, though, so I’ll concede that flying a domestic carrier can have some benefits.
Food and Amenities
For our pre-departure refreshment, I was served some nuts, dates and coffee. I asked if I could have a glass of Champagne, but the flight attendant told me that she could not offer me one because it was against French regulations. I’ve flown from Paris many times in the past, and have never had any issues with getting Champagne or sparking wine on a flight. I ended up tweeting about this, and Air France cheekily responded that they serve free Champagne on all flights leaving Paris, so I don’t know what the real deal is here.
However, once we were up in the air, I was able to get some Champagne. Qatar primarily serves Krug and Rosé on the flights. I’m a Dom guy myself, but I don’t mind Krug if it’s my only option. In addition, there was also a pretty good selection of other drinks such as wines and port.
Here’s a list of some of the drink options:
Krug Grand Cuvée Brut, France
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, France
Kangarilla Road, McLaren Vale, Australia, 2010
Errazuriz, Don Maximiano, Founders Reserve 2009, Aconagua Valley, Chile
Joseph Drouhin – Clos del a Garenee, 1er Cru, Puligny-Montrachet 2010, Burgundy France
Wither Hills – Rarangi Vineyard 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand
Gustave Lorentz Riesling Altenberg de Bergheim, Alsace Grand Cru, France
Château Léoville Poyferré – Saint Julien, 2nd Grand Cru Classé 2008, Bordeaux, France
Château d’Yquem – Sauternes 1er Grand Cru Supérieur 2008, Bordeaux France
Tawny Port Kopke Colheita 1974, Douro Valley, Portugal
The menu looked pretty nice. I was most excited for the caviar course (and being the only person in first class, I was hoping to get a second helping — sadly that didn’t happen). I ultimately went with the delivous green pea shorba soup with roasted paneer and green pea crème fraiche for my starter.
For my appetizer, I of course chose the Oscietra caviar which included some blinis or melba toast. As many readers know, I absolutely love caviar, and Qatar’s didn’t let me down.
For my main course, I ate the crispy prawn shimiji and oyster mushroom salad. I finished the meal with a lovely vanilla panna cotta with mango coulis. I really enjoyed my meal on Qatar, and thought the food was excellent.
In addition to these menu options, Qatar also had a bunch of other choices. Here are just a few that caught my eye:
Signature Arabic mezze
Smoked salmon with citrus fruit
Beetroot and pearly barley risotto
Honey-glazed duck breast with cherry and star anise sauce
Orange and almond semolina cake
The amenity kit with Acqua di Gio toiletries was decent, but not really my jam. It’s a popular fragrance — just not for me. This flight also doesn’t include pajamas, which would’ve been a nice touch.
Ultimately the service and amenities were pretty good. I was expecting a first-class cocktail before departing and didn’t receive one, but of course, that’s not the end of the world. It was really cool flying in this cabin all by myself and I absolutely loved the Middle Eastern decor elements like the ornate lamps on the ceiling.
The Bar and Business Class
Wandering away from my empty cabin, I proceeded to the bar, which is located behind business class on this flight. The experience back here was so awesome — they serve Krug to both business and first-class passengers (and in the lounge in Doha), and the bartender even let me get behind the bar myself.
This part of the flight was pretty darn nice, especially for business passengers — a big plus for Qatar. Like the bar options, Qatar’s business class seems like an absolutely wonderful product — plus, you can get that Krug at the bar!
The seats are pretty spacious and include a decent-size TV. Overall, the cabin is really attractive and has a relaxing vibe.
While I was very happy with my first-class seat, Qatar’s business class doesn’t seem like a bad option for the future.
After my excursion to the back of the plane, it was time for a nap. I ended up sleeping on the comfortable mattress pad for several hours, and then I woke up to some cold and warm mezze, as well as a kebab trio. I was also given some chocolate at the very end of my flight. Like the other food, these were delicious.
One of the best parts of the first-class experience is the unloading of the plane. Qatar actually blocked out business class until I was off the plane. I was then promptly met by a porter waiting for me to direct me to my destination.
Overall, the flight was wonderful. There were a couple things that bothered me, like the dated, junk-food-focused lounge — they really should be embarrassed by it, even though it’s not their own lounge. I’d rather them give me a $20 voucher to hang out in the much nicer main area of Paris-CDG to eat or drink at one of the restaurants.
On the other hand, I loved the Doha lounge, so stay tuned for an upcoming review of my experience there. Overall, Qatar’s A380 is leagues ahead of most other carriers and I can see why the US carriers are shaking in their boots about the competition. They don’t even come close!