Surviving the World's Longest Flight in Coach: Qatar's 777 From Doha to Auckland
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If you're going to take the longest flight in the world, you want to be in the front of the aircraft. After all, if you're going to be stuck on a plane for more than 15 hours, the only possible way to tolerate it is to be in a premium cabin, right?
Believe it or not, no. On a recent trip on the world's longest flight, I discovered a world of comfort in the rear of the aircraft. Like way, way back, in the depths of the economy cabin, where passengers pack themselves in like handbags in an overhead bin. For 9,074 miles from Doha, Qatar, to Auckland, New Zealand, I was one of those people, and I lived to tell the tale.
Needing to get back to the US from Muscat, Oman, I opted for the long way home — and I mean the looong way home. I booked an economy ticket on Qatar's nonstop flight from Doha (DOH) to Auckland (AKL), currently the longest flight in the world. (It will be overthrown by Singapore's soon-to-be-launched nonstop between New York (EWR) and Singapore (SIN), which is set to begin in October 2018.)
I booked this one-way flight from Doha to Auckland with the Platinum Card® from American Express, for $1,314. Thanks to the 5x bonus category on airfare, I earned 6,570 Membership Rewards points, worth $125 based on TPG's most recent valuations.
If I had used miles, I could have booked via various partners of Qatar Airways in the Oneworld alliance, like Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, American Airlines AAdvantage, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Qantas Points, British Airways Avios and Malaysia Airlines Enrich.
My journey began in Muscat, Oman, which meant that I had to take a short connecting flight from there to Doha. At the check-in counter in Muscat (MCT), I was questioned by the agent for about 10 minutes about why I had just booked a one-way ticket to New Zealand. I had to show proof of my ticket out of the country. Once I got to Doha, I had to check out the famed Lamp Bear, of course.
In Doha, there was one Priority Pass lounge available to economy passengers — the Al Maha Transit Lounge. (Priority Pass membership is one of the benefits of the Amex Platinum, granting access to more than 1,200 lounges around the world.) As the name suggested, this transit lounge was very bare-bones.
Aside from being just about at capacity — if not already over capacity — the lounge had next to no offerings. I was traveling alone and found one of the only seats open, but I was lucky: Over the next hour, I saw countless passengers wandering, looking in vain for somewhere to sit.
With a seat already claimed, I headed to the buffet. If I was going to survive the longest flight in the world, I would need a little help from a friend — wine. But when I got to the food area, I saw nothing more than a few cold options and a beverage cart.
On the cart was water and some soft drinks. No booze in sight. I asked the lounge staff for alcohol, and they delivered a glass of white wine to my seat.
This was one of the worst Priority Pass lounges I'd ever visited, but it was still better than sitting in the terminal.
About one hour before departure and 20 minutes before boarding, I left the lounge to look for my gate information, but there was still no gate assignment. 10 minutes later, still no information. So I took to checking online, where I found two different gates listed, both in the same concourse. Without knowing exactly which gate I was supposed to go to, I headed for the concourse and hoped for the best. Sure enough, I came across other confused passengers trying to find out where to go. Finally, with some help from airport staff, we were able to find the correct gate, where boarding was already underway.
This wasn't an average boarding process. Nope, it was a remote boarding. (Because why would the world's longest flight board from the terminal?!) After a scan of the boarding pass and flash of the passport, we were herded onto buses and transported to our awaiting bird.
But the doors to the bus didn't open once the airplane was in sight. Instead, we stayed in place for about 15 minutes in front of the aircraft, waiting. Buses carrying passengers queued up, all waiting in place. But no one knew what for. Passengers grew impatient and began moaning about what a hassle the delay was — especially before spending 16 hours on a flight.
The worst part wasn't our delay, but that the driver never let us know what was going on. Finally, after about 15 minutes, the bus jolted forward, sending several passengers tumbling. Eventually, we were let off the bus and onto the aircraft.
Cabin and Seat
The Boeing 777-200LR, registration A7-BBA, was nearly 10 years old and featured two cabins: business and economy. Its entire career had been with Qatar, and compared to some of the younger aircraft in the fleet, it was starting to show its age — especially in its premium cabin.
While walking back to my economy seat, I walked through the smaller business-class minicabin of the 772, which featured 18 seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. (There were an additional 24 business-class seats in the forward minicabin.) To put it lightly, this business-class product was no Qsuite, though Qatar is installing Qsuites on some of its 772s — as well as transitioning to 3-4-3 in economy, compared to the 3-3-3 layout it uses now.
I continued making my way to the rear of the aircraft — the very rear of the aircraft. The economy cabin featured 217 seats. The 3-3-3 configuration is becoming a rare thing on 777s these days, with most airlines opting to squeeze in one more seat per row.
Each of the economy seats featured 33 inches of pitch, which, when compared to the legroom on many other 777 economy products, was pretty generous. Each of the seats also offered a considerable amount of width: 18.9 inches. (That's what happens when you leave 777s at nine abreast instead of 10. *Cough* Qatar, please don't change the spacious product on this ultra-long-haul route *cough*.)
Qatar did a good job putting a comfortable product on the world's longest route.
My seat, 32K, was a window seat near the rear of the aircraft. (There were 35 rows. Row 35 was in a 2-3-2 configuration but had reduced recline.)
Each seat came with a firm pillow, blanket and miniature amenity kit.
Overall, I found the legroom to be generous, especially given the length of the flight. The recline was sufficient, coupled with the wide seat and decent legroom, to make for a great sleep on board,
While I was waiting in line for the lav at one point, I asked one member of the crew if this flight, which was completely full, was unusually crowded. Much to my surprise, she said that it's completely full on most legs. It made sense: The route is a great way for New Zealanders to get from their isolated island to the rest of the world via Doha and Qatar's extensive route network.
Food and Beverage
I had high expectations going into this flight. Having already flown — and being a big fan of — Emirates, I was excited to find out what the food was like on another of the big three Middle Eastern carriers. But the food and beverage turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the flight.
For the longest flight in the world, there were three meal services, plus a snack box. Meal service started about 20 minutes after takeoff from Doha, when flight attendants distributed menus. Because I was seated so far back in the cabin and the flight crew worked their way from the front of economy, it took an hour for my dinner order to be taken.
Choices for dinner included: beef stroganoff with spätzle, carrots and green beans; chicken biryani; and green-pea rice with dal makhani and vegetable jalfrezi. Each came with a seasonal salad and caramel cheesecake. When it was (finally) my turn to order, though, nothing was left but the vegetarian option. The flight attendant offered to check to see if any of the other sections had a spare chicken dish, but a 15-minute search proved fruitless, and I had the pea rice, which was flavorless.
About 10 minutes after I'd been served, though, the flight attendant returned with a chicken dish she'd discovered and heated up in the galley. I politely declined — something seemed off about a chicken dish appearing out of nowhere.
Though the meal wasn't great, the FA was extremely apologetic and offered me first choice for breakfast. It was a great way to make good on a bad situation.
Just after dinner service, flight attendants passed through the cabin once more, distributing stuffed snack boxes and bottled water. Though I didn't eat much (only the Kit Kat), I found it comforting to know that I had so many goodies to munch on over the next 14 or so hours.
About eight hours into the flight and with the lights dimmed, flight attendants passed through the cabin with snacks and another beverage service. There was only one option for the snack, which made the service much quicker: a tomato, cumin and mint pastry, which was accompanied by a coconut sponge cake and chocolate ice cream. While the pastry wasn't the tastiest, I enjoyed both the sponge cake and ice cream.
About two hours before landing, FAs came around the cabin one final time to distribute the last meal of the flight, breakfast. I had a choice of scrambled egg with lamb sausage and rösti; vanilla waffles with apple compote and whipped cream; and white kiribath with coconut sambal, served with jeera aloo. All came with fresh fruit and yogurt.
As I haven't had much luck with eggs in economy cabins, I opted for the waffle dish, which I ordered ahead of time with the flight attendant following the dinner mishap. The waffles were overly sweet and a little bit on the soggy side, given the near-liquid "whipped cream" and apple compote. The supposedly fresh fruit was just a bagged sliced apple. The best part of the breakfast service was the yogurt.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
The world's longest flight demands a certain level of comfort for obvious reasons. As previously mentioned, each economy seat was outfitted with a pillow, small amenity kit and blanket. Economy pillows tend to be flimsy and paper-like, but this one was plenty adequate and offered enough head and neck support for the duration of the flight.
The blanket was also a nice addition — not too warm, which I find often happens, while also keeping me sufficiently comfortable.
The amenity kit in the photo above was the furthest thing from the nicest amenity kit I've ever had. But when it comes to kits distributed to economy passengers, it was one of the more complete ones I've gotten. Inside were a pair of socks, an eye mask, dental kit, lip balm and earplugs.
Each of the economy seats offered a seatback in-flight entertainment screen. (Bulkhead seats had screens extending from the armrests.) The display measured 9 inches and was both touchscreen and could be controlled by the small remote control, which was right below the screen. The reverse side of the remote was a phone, though it wasn't functional on this aircraft, which also wasn't equipped with Wi-Fi.
In addition, each passenger got their own set of headphones. I found this particularly useful, as airplane IFEs don't come with a Bluetooth connection that allows me to use my usual AirPods.
The IFE system itself was equipped with both old and new releases, though Qatar's collection of new movies wasn't nearly as extensive as that offered by its Middle East rival Emirates.
Each passenger in the economy cabin had his or her own power outlet.
Overall, I found the service on this flight to be good but not great. Flight attendants seemed to be rushed for most of the meal services, which made it hard to interact with them for anything more than an order, a please and a thank you.
That said, I was impressed with how the one flight attendant managed my dinner-service mishap. While it entirely wasn't her fault they ran out of the chicken dish or that the vegetarian dish wasn't all that flavorful, I appreciated the way she handled it by making sure I had first choice for breakfast. That experience left me with a good taste in my mouth, despite the actual food being lousy.
How did I survive the world's longest flight?
No, really. I slept a lot, around nine hours of the nearly 16-hour flight.
I did, however, have a tiny bit of help: QR920 operates with an average flight time of 16 hours and one minute, according to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24. With a bit of push from the jet stream, my flight clocked in at 15 hours and 57 minutes.
So, what did I do when I wasn't asleep? Well, I made sure to get up and move around the cabin every few hours. (Hey, Lindsey, thanks for the lesson learned on the dangers of DVT!)
I also made sure to bring a fair share of goodies with me to keep me occupied during times that I wasn't using the IFE. For example, I spent a lot of time coloring. Coloring books can be small, as can colored pencils. Completing a detailed coloring-book page was a great way to pass time and to relieve stress while at 40,000 feet.
Other ways I stayed occupied: playing the Settlers of Catan mobile app, catching up on back issues of New Yorker magazine, reading the 777-200 safety card, talking to my neighbors, counting sheep to fall asleep, walking laps around the cabin, listening to the Beyonce and Jay-Z album until it was memorized. You get the idea.
The world's longest flight was... long! As you might expect, there was a lot of time spent wondering how much longer until we landed in Auckland. And while there were a few kinks with this flight — from meals to the awful boarding process — it was overall a comfortable journey. The seats themselves offered decent legroom and recline, allowing me to sleep quite a bit.
At the end of the day, would I fly this route again? If I absolutely needed to, yes. But, I'd still prefer to do so at the front of the aircraft. Oh, the power of points and miles.