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Not long ago, I flew Qatar Airways first class from Paris to Doha, Qatar and had the cabin to myself. For my recent journey home from South Africa, I wanted to give the ME3 carrier’s business class a spin. Here’s my review.
The first leg of my trip home from Cape Town (CPT) took me to Doha (DOH) aboard a Qatar 787-8, arriving at 10pm. The connecting flight from DOH to New York-JFK left early the next morning on the airline’s older 777, which features a less desirable 2-2-2 configuration in business class. I would have loved to have flown the Dreamliner all the way home, but at least I was happy to have the opportunity to try both products.
I’d only flown on a Dreamliner once before, on a Star Alliance StarMegaDO a couple of years ago, shortly after United introduced the aircraft to its fleet. That trip took me from San Francisco (SFO) to Houston (IAH) to Chicago (ORD), and although it was fun, it wasn’t the ideal situation in which to test out all of the plane’s bells and whistles.
This time around, I wanted to see if things like mood lighting and cabin pressurization would actually make a difference in the travel experience. Overall, I was very impressed.
Booking the Flight
You’ll need to redeem 45,000 AAdvantage miles to book this one-way segment from Cape Town to Doha. Note that American has a routing exception allowing you to book a flight from the US to Africa connecting in Doha for 75,000 miles each way in business class, but only if you’re flying Qatar all the way.
I’ve been redeeming too many AAdvantage miles this year, so I decided to pay for my flight on Qatar, a Oneworld partner. Unlike Europe, where one-way fares are generally more expensive, my ticket was pretty much half of what a round-trip flight would have cost. I purchased my ticket on Orbitz for $1,779 — paying with Amex Premier Rewards Gold, which earns 3 points per dollar on airfare, would net a total of 5,337 Membership Rewards points.
In addition, I earned 25,463 AAdvantage miles on my entire itinerary:
CPT-DOH: 4,613 mileage + 5,766 bonus = 10,379 total
DOH-JFK: 6,704 mileage + 8,380 bonus = 15,084 total
This mileage haul got me almost 10% of my re-qualification for AAdvantage Executive Platinum status — which I desperately need, since I’m behind.
Qatar Lounge at CPT
At Cape Town International Airport (CPT), Qatar doesn’t use Oneworld partner British Airways’ lounge because it’s not open for morning flights. Instead, it makes a newly relocated Servisair Lounge accessible. (Note that it’s right after you go through immigration; ignore the signs pointing you to the lounges, as they don’t reflect the relocation.) It seems brand new with a decent spread of food and complimentary, reasonably fast Wi-Fi.
Everything went smoothly at the gate — the flight boarded on time, and upon taking my seat in business class, I was offered a glass of Champagne. On the Qatar flight from Paris, Champagne wasn’t served on the ground, even in first class, which was surprising; apparently, it’s not a company-wide thing.
I chose the Tattinger rosé Champagne, which was awesome. However, once we were up in the air, I requested another glass of this bubbly – only to find that the one bottle they had was now empty. Sigh.
Fortunately, in the back of the cabin they have a serve-yourself Champagne bar.
As you can see in the photo above, Qatar’s business class on its 787-8 is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. Each of the 22 lie-flat seats has a a recline of 180 degrees, a pitch of 80 degrees and a width of 22 inches – though both of the armrests are adjustable and can give you up to 30 inches in total width when lowered.
I thought about choosing seat 1A, but seeing it in person, it didn’t seem any roomier, as it does on the Seatguru seat map. I was in 2A and thought it was perfectly fine. The seats are pretty chic, and the cabin was roomy and quiet. There are no curtains and the galley is all the way up front, so you get a full view of the entire cabin when you enter the plane. The ceiling is a bit more vaulted, too, which adds to the open feel.
Oddly, there are two smaller seats in row 6 in the back of the cabin, which are like their own little mini section tucked behind a barrier that separates them from the Champagne bar. It could be cozy to sit in these seats if you were traveling as a couple, but since they’re hemmed in by the bathrooms, I think it could also be a bit annoying. In my opinion, the best seats are the singles, as they have the window views.
On the Plane
I loved the LED mood lighting that mimics the natural light outside, and the perk of being able to dim the window light (with five settings) instead of closing the shades completely. The on-demand entertainment options on my personal TV were really good, keeping me entertained during the flight.
The 17-inch screen is mounted above the tray table so you can use it the whole flight, instead of having to stow it on take-off and landing. There are 2,000 options, including movies, TV box sets, audio and games – plenty for a long-haul flight. There was an AC power port for my phone charger, and OnAir GSM/Wi-Fi service on board — though I didn’t use it, opting instead to catch up on much-needed sleep. Mattress pads are available for resting on the lie-flat seats, and they were comfortable enough that I was able to sleep a solid amount.
We landed at 10pm in Doha and my friend and I felt good enough to go exploring the city for most of our 9.5-hour layover. This level of comfort inspires me to want to try more 787s, especially the new 787-9s. On this particular 787, a more subtle difference — for the better — is the combination of increased cabin humidity, more oxygen in the cabin and its air filtration system. I think they were big factors in our sleeping soundly and feeling refreshed and comfortable when we landed.
Food and Beverage
In addition to the Champagne bar, the wine list had solid choices. I had a 2014 South African white wine with my food, which was especially delicious. Other choices included a 2012 Chartron et Trébuchet Chardonnay, a 2010 Chateau Brane-Cantenac Merlot and Cabnernet blend, a 2012 Jester Shiraz from Australia and a 2012 Chilean Carménère.
I started with a roasted butternut squash soup with pumpkin seeds, crème fraîche and brioche croutons, which was rich and creamy. For an appetizer I had a classic Arabic mezze plate with hummus, tabouleh and baba ghanoush — the other choice was smoked salmon gravlax.
For my main course, I opted for the oven-roasted spiced chicken with makhni sauce, saffron rice and veggies. Other choices included braised leg of lamb and an almond-crusted vegetable patty. There were also lighter dishes, like penne pasta and a chicken sandwich, and of course there was a cheese course. For dessert we had a gorgeous cinnamon chocolate brownie ganache with mascarpone cheese — ice cream and fruit were also available.
Immigration Lounge at DOH
One of the things I loved about transiting through DOH is the fact that they have an immigration lounge for first- and business-class passengers!
When you leave the airport, they have their own agents to check you through so you don’t have to wait in line.
I wish that Qatar airline flew 787s on US-bound routes instead of the old 777s, which don’t have aisle access from the window seats. Fortunately, Qatar will soon launch the Airbus A350 on some of its US routes, and that plane looks at least as nice as the Dreamliner. My Etihad 777 flight to New York was fine and featured similarly delicious food, but it’s not nearly as nice or as private as the Dreamliner, in my opinion.
On the whole, I felt this flight offered solid food and wine, a comfortable seat and a fresh cabin, and it was great to arrive feeling rested and relaxed. I’ll definitely fly Qatar again — especially on the 787.
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