Director discovers what’s in store for premium passengers on board the Qatar Airways QR016, from Heathrow to Doha
The story of the all-business class flight is a chequered one. Remember the collapse of both Silverjet and Maxjet? But with the launch of its 40-seat Airbus A319 Business One service in May (daily from Heathrow to Doha), Qatar Airways is confident. As chief executive Akbar Al Baker told Director: “I’m not planning to fail. I only need 26 passengers to break even.”
Qatar is enjoying a boom. As the world’s richest country by GDP per head, the emirate is spending £80bn on infrastructure before it holds the 2022 World Cup (although still embroiled in corruption allegations regarding the event). State-owned carrier Qatar Airways mirrors this expansion. With a fleet of only 21 in 2002, it now has 132 planes.
Having become the first Gulf carrier to join the Oneworld alliance, it now serves almost 1,000 airports in more than 150 countries, opening up routes hitherto unserved by British carriers including destinations such as Phnom Penh, Chongqing and Djibouti.
To reach these places, you’d need to change at Doha. But with the launch of Doha’s huge Hamad International airport – with swimming pool, squash courts and mosque – transiting passengers have little to complain about. Can Business One live up to such towering ambition?
Qatar Airways check-in
At Hamad International airport, premium-class check-in involves sitting opposite attendants at an office-style desk. Sadly, Heathrow’s Terminal 4 hasn’t got there yet, but the check-in is friendly and efficient. However, on Director’s visit (admittedly, during peak time at 8pm), the dedicated fast-lane was clogged with families forgetting to remove bottled water from their cabin bags and a fastidious Scandinavian businessman taking aeons to neatly pack away his iPad. Time taken to clear security? Eleven minutes. 7/10
The first sign that Qatar Airways’ Heathrow lounge is a cut above the rest is the absence of a conventional reception desk. Instead, passengers float into the Palm Court to be met by a burgundy-uniformed greeter who jots down requests on an iPad. The lounge itself is a retina-scorching taster of the destination with water fountains, gold mosaics and walls festooned with Arabic calligraphy.
Any fears about Qatar having a draconian stance towards alcohol are allayed when a glass of Krug champagne and some canapés are offered to you within seconds of walking in. At a time when lounges are either dominated by tired gimmicks (swing-chair, anyone?) or beige décor and bland buffets, Qatar Airways has evoked aviation’s jet-set age. There’s a circular cocktail bar with a chandelier made from martini glasses and a deli-counter proffering tins of free caviar.
There’s even a Wonka-esque anteroom boasting huge jars of Lindt chocolates, dried apricots and baklava. Should you need to work, though, there are quiet workstations with PCs and printers. 10/10
A Salvatore Ferragamo washbag with Attimo Pour Homme products (eau de toilette, hand cream and lip balm) was waiting on the seat, as was a bag with non-slip flight socks, eye mask, earplugs plus a Frette linen duvet and large pillow (sleep suits available on request). Qatar Airways’ Oryx entertainment system offers a vast selection of films, TV shows and games. It also offers the chance to watch one thing on the smartphone-simulating touchscreen handset (1) and another on the main screen (2) – by linking your tablet/device, you can also look at photos on the large screen. Director could contact colleagues in London from 35,000ft via the flight’s onboard texting through GSM and GPRS. 9/10
Business One flights provide 40 business class seats arranged in a single-aisle, 2-2 configuration, with the cabin split into two at the over-wing exits, lending the space an ambience akin to a private jet. The comfortable 19in wide seats recline into 180º, 79in-long lie-flat beds by meeting the footrest opposite, while connection ports include audio jack, USB and Apple sockets (remember to take your charger in carry-on luggage).
Despite being at the rear of the plane (10D), I wasn’t disrupted by the footsteps of cabin crew or passengers walking past to visit the two back washrooms. However, the storage tray opposite was somewhat modest and stretching back for the water bottle in the amenity shelf behind involved exercising previously unused back muscles (luckily, the seats also offer good lumbar support). 9/10
Food and drink
The menu has been devised by a pan-cultural panoply of Michelin-starred chefs including Tom Aikens (Tom’s Kitchen), Nobu Matsuhisa (Nobu), Ramzi Choueiri (Middle Eastern specialities) and Vineet Bhatia (Indian dishes), ensuring a truly international selection.
Starting with a Nobu-devised amuse-bouche of spinach ohitashi, Director selected the Arabic mezze for starters, served with flatbreads. Lamb and apricot tagine followed (other choices included seared fillet of cod with ginger butternut purée, kofta aloo Bukhara, and vegetable jalfrezi) while there was also a cheese selection (with Arabic-nuanced dried apricots) and fresh pistachio ice cream – all served on china plates and cotton tablecloths by amiable staff.
The wine menu included two champagnes, three whites and reds, one dessert wine and port). Before landing, a passionfruit smoothie, fresh fruit (with mascarpone and honey) and bakery basket, with a choice of 11 types of tea and six coffees, made us feel perfectly primed for the effortless disembarkation. Yet another Qatar Airways helper was waiting upon arrival to guide us through immigration and off to our meeting. 10/10
Even if you’re not stopping in Qatar on business, the airline’s extensive network of destinations within Asia, Africa and Oceania ensures the first or last seven hours of your journey are experienced in impeccable levels of comfort. 45/50
Qatar Airways’ Business One flies once a day from Heathrow to Doha, departing at 9.55pm and arriving 6.40am, with return fares from £3,729. It operates five other daily flights from Heathrow, two daily flights from Manchester and a five-days-a-week service from Edinburgh. Return fares start at £715 (Heathrow and Manchester) and £712 (Edinburgh).
*Qatar Airways will not be crossing Iraqi airspace until further notice