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The aircraft felt super new, and the cabin was spacious, clean and fresh. The service was some of the best I have ever experienced in the air.
The food was pretty nasty. There was too much salt, it was too rubbery and overall was a letdown.
For many travelers, flying to much of Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Africa includes at least one connection. The Middle East, thanks to its advantageous geographical location, is an ideal place for airlines to connect people flying from North America and Europe to the rest of the world. Three of the world’s most high-profile airlines, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, are doing exactly that, and providing excellent onboard experiences in the process.
While Emirates and Etihad are renowned for their A380s, thanks to the ridiculously luxurious first-class products on both (and, of course Etihad’s Residence), Qatar has a small fleet of A380s, and none of those fly to the US. They do, however, fly to London. So, we at TPG UK decided to compare the economy-class experience on each of these three carriers on flights between their home hubs and London. First up is Qatar, on a flight from Doha.
Qatar Airways is a member of the Oneworld alliance, meaning the best bets for booking a flight like this on miles are American Airlines’ AAdvantage program or British Airways’ Avios. Going through AA, you can expect to pay a reasonable 20,000 AAdvantage miles plus about $25 in taxes and fees. With BA, a one-way economy flight will run you the same 20,000 miles, but the taxes and fees are higher, at about $90. With cash prices hovering at around $1,100 to $1,500 for a round-trip ticket on this route, you could get some great value for your miles by using them on a flight like this. Keep in mind, too, that while you’d be paying more out of pocket to book this flight with BA Avios, they’re pretty easy to earn, since you can transfer from both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Making things even better is that currently Chase and British Airways are offering a 30% bonus when transferring points now through June 16, 2019.
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My flight originated in Muscat, Oman, so I was connecting through Doha on my way home to London and was staying overnight in the Oryx Airport Hotel (review coming soon), so I can’t comment on the check-in experience in Doha. However, I did mistakenly clear Qatari immigration and headed landside while I was looking for the hotel, so I had to return through security and head back inside the airport. There weren’t really any lines to speak of, and the whole thing took no longer than around five minutes.
The morning of the flight, it took only a matter of minutes to get from my hotel to the gate. Considering the size of the bird I was about to get on and how empty the huge boarding area was, it appeared it would be flying half empty. There was nobody crowding around the entrance to the jet bridge, which meant that when my boarding group was called, I was actually the first person to board the plane.
I was greeted by a friendly cabin crew member who actually escorted me to my seat. I thought this might just be because I was the first on the plane, but I noticed that each cabin crew member was showing every economy-class passenger to his or her seat, something I’d never seen before in economy. Nice touch, Qatar!
Cabin and Seat
The cabin definitely was superior to your average economy-class cabin. What I loved was that the economy cabin stretched right into the nose of the ginormous A380 and you boarded right at the front by the staircase that led up to the upper deck. The feeling of space was like nothing I’d experienced in an economy cabin before.
The seating configuration was 3-4-3, which could have been perceived as cramped — but not here, as there was a decent gap between each of the seats, which all have a comfortable width of 18.5 inches.
The attention to detail was impressive, from the white stitching in the seats to the purple throughout. Even on the back wall of the cabin, where other airlines might use their logo or some kind of advertising, Qatar had placed a beautiful photo of Australia’s famous 12 Apostles. It’s the simple things that make all the difference, sometimes.
As you can see, even at 7:30am after not enough sleep, I was excited about my first-ever Qatar Airways experience!
I always pick the window seat because a) I spend most of my time in flight gazing out of the window watching passing traffic or trying to guess which country we’re flying over and b) it’s usually great for resting my head against the side of the plane or window to get some sleep. In this case, the curvature of the gigantic A380 meant that the wall was too far from the seat for me to be able to comfortably rest my head. If you’re not on a day flight, as I was, it might be worth making sure you snag one of the few economy seats on the upper deck.
I have a rather oversized laptop but it still fit comfortably on the tray.
I visited one of the nine lavatories available on the completely economy-class lower deck. It was clean and smelled great, considering it was a lav. That could have been due to the fact there was a little air freshener — also something I can’t recall having seen before in an economy cabin. There were also little paper cups, I would presume for mouth rinsing, but there was no mouthwash to be seen.
Amenities and IFE
Waiting on my seat and in a clear plastic bag were a thin blanket, a small pillow and a set of over-the-head headphones, which weren’t great but far better than flimsy and cheap earbuds.
There were various packages available for connecting to the aircraft’s Wi-Fi. The free option only included 30 minutes of connection, the $5 option included up to 30 MB of data, the $10 option had up to 10 MB, and the most expensive option, at $20, would get me up to 100 MB of data. I chose the most data, as the flight was long, but I could not connect to the Wi-Fi at all throughout the flight. Even speed tests fired blanks.
The TV screen was 10.6 inches, and the display was crystal clear. Film fanatics would not have been disappointed: There were literally hundreds of films — Hollywood, Bollywood, classics, Arabic, South Asian, you name it, they had it! The IFE system was fast and the touchscreen really responsive.
The USB and power socket were both accessible and worked well throughout the flight.
I’d never been on a flight with a tailcam before, as far I could remember, and the one on Qatar’s A380 gave a better view than I’d imagined.
No tailcam could ever be anywhere near as good as the view from the window, though. If you’re flying economy on a Qatar Airways A380, make sure you’re ahead of the game when selecting your seat so you can make sure you snag the views of the huge Engine Alliance GP7000 engines. I was seated in 49K, which SeatGuru points out for having limited recline and potentially bothersome proximity to the galley, but I found the seat reclined adequately for what I needed and being so close to the galley meant I had the best response time to the call button.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
About 10 minutes after takeoff, we were given with a short menu for breakfast. I love it when airlines provide this in the economy cabins, as it’s a little gesture that goes a long way rather than just being asked, “Chicken or beef?” when the trolley comes down the aisle.
The service started about an hour into the flight, but because I was in the back row of the forward economy cabin, it was a full 30 minutes before I got my food, by which time I was absolutely starving. It was so long that another member of the cabin crew had already started clearing away the trays from the first few rows before I even got my food!
I was let down by what I was served. The potato cubes were soggy, and the tiny little sausage was average at best. When I asked for a substitute for the yoghurt and apples, the flight attendant said there was nothing I could have instead until the prelanding snack.
The egg was probably the worst bit of the breakfast, as it was completely tasteless and rubbery.
About an hour before landing in London, the light snack was served. It was even more of a letdown than the main meal. I managed to wolf down the coconut-chicken pastry down even though it was so salty it was almost sickening. The flight attendant gave me two, as she knew how hungry I was, but I could only muster about two bites of the second one out of politeness.
The service on this flight was, in a word, exceptional.
Other than the food, I was really impressed with Qatar Airways economy class. The cherry on the cake for me was the exceptional, and I mean exceptional, service from the cabin crew. I was served by the same member of crew pretty much the entire flight, and she really went out of her way to build up a rapport with me and was happy to help whenever I needed it. She was at my seat within seconds after pushing the call button and even offered me the crew snack bars between meals, as she knew how hungry I was. I really valued the smallest of gestures, and this really did go a long way with me.
One slight downside, though, is that there was only one member of cabin crew working on my side of the aircraft for breakfast, which is probably why I had to wait so long. The second snack service saw two members of the crew on duty, which made it so much quicker. This should have probably been the other way around. It’s really the only negative thing I can say regarding the service.
I actually didn’t want to get off the plane. I loved the space and feel of the A380 and the incredible service I received from the Qatar Airways crew. Flying long-haul in economy is not something people often look forward to, but I am already looking forward to my next economy flight with Qatar Airways — though I’m not sure I’d feel the same on the airline’s 16-hour-long jaunt from Doha to Auckland, New Zealand (AKL).
I think other major airlines should take a page from Qatar’s book: Passengers should receive the same standard of service whether they are traveling with the cheapest economy ticket or the most expensive first-class ticket.
The food really could have been a lot better. To be fair, that’s partly due to my specific dietary requirements — but mainly due to oversalted pastries and rubbery eggs.
Very good effort, Qatar. I’m fairly confident that it will clinch first place in the battle of the Middle East’s Big Three!
All photos by the author.
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