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Flying in economy aboard Qatar’s 787-8 isn’t something I’ll be doing again anytime soon. The Pros: a well-stocked IFE system to help take my mind off things. The Cons: disappointing food, a cramped cabin and uncomfortably tight seats.
When I flew in economy from Bangkok to Madrid, with a stopover in Doha, it was the second time I’d flown Qatar Airways — I did so reluctantly after having a negative experience between Hanoi and Bangkok a few years ago. Plus, I was hoping to use up some American AAdvantage miles pre-devaluation and Qatar Airways seemed the best option. Here’s a review of the second leg of my flight, from Doha (DOH) to Madrid (MAD), aboard Qatar’s 787-8. I must say it wasn’t pretty, especially since it followed my much better experience aboard the carrier’s spacious A380.
Since American Airlines doesn’t show Qatar award availability on its website, I opened an account with Qantas and called AA to book the flights. The agent I spoke to tried to charge me a phone booking fee, but I calmly reminded her that this award simply wasn’t bookable online, so I would not be paying it. Because I booked my flight pre-devaluation in March 2016, I ended up spending a total of $42 ($21 per person) and 70,000 American AAdvantage miles (35,000 per person) for a one-way trip for two. I charged the $42 to my Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard so I’d get 2x points per dollar for the AA purchase. I also got 10% of my redeemed miles back for being a cardholder, so I really only used 63,000 AAdvantage miles for the two award tickets.
Alternatively, you could pay for your flight with a travel card like The Platinum Card from American Express, which gives you 5x points for booking directly with the airline, or the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred, which let you earn 3x or 2x points on travel purchases, respectively.
We landed in Doha at about 11:40pm, walked through Hamad International Airport, and as soon as we arrived at our gate, found that the flight had just started boarding for our 1:05am departure. Perfect timing!
Boarding was a disaster. The gate agents called priority and business class passengers to one side, but, on the other side, they started boarding those seated in economy. Since I have AA elite status, I was able to board with the priority line, but since there was some kind of issue with a person boarding in front of me, the elite passengers were left waiting as the rest of the economy passengers went right on through. If I had paid several thousand dollars for a business-class ticket, I would have been really annoyed.
Both business and economy passengers had to board the same buses. We were packed in like sardines, but for some reason, the doors didn’t open when we got to the aircraft. It was clear the plane was still undergoing maintenance and last-minute adjustments, which is fine, but I’m not sure why the buses were told to leave if the aircraft wasn’t prepared. We stood there waiting, cramped and sweating, for about 20 minutes.
This crazy debacle could have easily been avoided if there had been more communication between the Qatar staff and airport workers. I wasn’t particularly surprised by this treatment of the economy passengers, but I was taken aback that elite passengers had been subjected to the same boarding mess.
Cabin and Seat
Like the A380, this aircraft had pink mood lighting in the cabin as we entered, which relaxed me after the
cattle stampede boarding process was nearing its end. But I cringed when I saw the economy seats because they were so much smaller than the ones on the A380.
The whole cabin felt cramped, as if the airline had shoved one too many seats in. The 787-8 has 22 flat-bed business-class seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. Economy has 232 seats arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration.
Each economy seat has a pitch of 31″ and a width of 17.2″. I felt all the difference after just getting off the A380, where the economy seats have a pitch of 32″ and a width of 18.5″.
The seats were small and cramped, but the worst part of all was the recline. I could barely open my tray table when the person in front of me was in the reclining position, and it was virtually impossible to eat, as the tray was sticking into my ribs. I’m pretty tiny, and I can’t imagine how someone who is tall or overweight might have felt on this aircraft. I’m not sure they’d be able to open their tray table at all.
The plane’s aisles were quite narrow as well. Though the aircraft looked new and modern, it still seemed small and like everything was packed in.
My travel companion and I had 32B and 32C, an aisle seat and a middle seat on the port side of the plane toward the back. Each seat came with a pillow, a blanket, headphones and an amenity kit.
The kit contained an eye mask, earplugs, a toothbrush, toothpaste and socks.
I could also adjust the headrest on the seat.
There were six lavatories in economy and each was quite small. Though it didn’t bother me, someone bulky or tall might find this to be more problematic.
There were touch IFE screens on the back of each seat, as well as touch screen remotes, and while the screens looked more dated than the ones on the A380, they worked fine throughout the flight. The selection of movies and TV was slightly less extensive than it had been on my previous flight, but there were still plenty of options to keep me occupied for the next seven hours.
The screens were active immediately upon boarding so you could start enjoying the in-flight entertainment right away. Additionally, there was a large menu of music and games available, and you could track the flight via the map.
The provided headphones had a double-pronged jack and there was a power port underneath the seat that could fit a European or US plug. There was also a USB port located next to the screen so you could charge your device that way.
The aircraft offered Wi-Fi and was running a promotion where passengers could get 15 minutes or 10MB for free. I took advantage of this around the middle of the flight to check email and send a couple of WhatsApp messages, though 10MB doesn’t allow for much more than that. It was still a nice touch.
Food and Beverage
The food on the flight wasn’t great. Meal service started with a basic snack about an hour after take-off, or in this case, around 2:00am. It consisted of a hot sandwich and a chocolate muffin — the same snack I’d just eaten on my previous flight. The lights were then turned off for a few hours so passengers could get some sleep. During this time, the flight attendants came around with juice and water, not bothering anyone who was asleep.
About two hours before landing, a big breakfast was served and we were given the option of blueberry pancakes, chicken sausage with eggs or a vegetarian omelette. In my exhausted stupor, I asked for the chicken sausage, which was a glorified hot dog with soggy eggs and potatoes — it was pretty awful, but the croissant and melon were pretty good. The breakfast also came with yogurt and orange juice. Flight attendants also made the rounds with tea and coffee.
The flight attendants on this trip were friendly but nothing about the service struck me as being out of the ordinary. It bothered me that they didn’t ask passengers to put their seats up during meal service. It was difficult to eat with the seat in front of me in the reclining position, so I politely asked the person in front of me if he would mind putting his seat up for a bit — he reluctantly did so, but I would have preferred it if the flight attendants had done this while serving us.
The economy seats on this aircraft are uncomfortable and cramped. The food was average and the service was fine, but nothing all that special. The IFE screens worked well and offered many entertainment options to help keep my mind off how squished I felt in these tiny seats in this tiny cabin. I wouldn’t fly on this aircraft for more than seven hours — I think a longer flight in these seats would be torture. In the future, I will only fly economy on this particular plane and route if I get a great deal that makes it worth all the trouble.
Have you ever flown in economy aboard Qatar Airways’ 787-8? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.