Published: April 10th 2011April 10th 2011
Aspiring to 5-star status
One of my rules is to be critical in accordance with the claims that someone makes; if you are a humble 2-Star then I don't think I'm entitled to criticise you on the basis of 5-Star standards. But by the same token if you claim, as Qatar Airways
very stylishly does in its TV adverts, to be "The World's 5-Star Airline" then watch out for the 5-Star criticism. Only fair.
I just made a somewhat arduous journey from Bangkok to London and back via Doha on Qatar Airways. Not really
THE World's 5-Star, maybe soon, but not quite yet.
Now the aeroplane and the cabin crew are indeed pretty good. Compared with many airlines QA runs new 'planes (a Boeing 777 on the BKK-DOH leg and an A330-200 on the DOH-LHR leg - I prefer the Boeing, but that's another story) and the cabin staff in Premium (business) Class was kindness itself. The seating is standard but with plenty of leg room for my 6 foot 4 inches and heavy frame and the seat reclines to a full length bed. So in terms of the actual flight, I'll award a 5-Star. The movie selection was OK, not outstanding, I watched "True Grit" (Jeff Bridges) on the way out and "The American" (George Clooney) on the return.
The food, something the advertising campaign emphasizes as being extra special, was pretentious and the lamb dish I tasted was distinctly tough. Why is the mid-flight snack called an "Indulgence"? Real class is always genuine, call a snack a snack. The cappuccino tasted pre-packaged. On balance the in-flight service was good but not really better than any of the competition.
My real complaint is about the changeover in Doha. Now it was my fault not to get a direct flight, and a split flight with a transfer at Doha was cheaper than the available direct flights. But it gave me a chance to check out the Premium Lounge facility. OK, but not brilliant. Here's why: you get taken by bus from the 'plane. For some bizarre reason Qatar opted for terminals that are miles apart, there are no gantry connections to the aircraft, you de-plane and get in a bus for every flight and you bus between terminals.
On the outward flight I was given a "guaranteed" (according to the Qatar flight agent in Bangkok) 30 minutes to change planes. Inevitably I missed the connecting flight in Doha and had wait 15 minutes for a bus and go through security twice to change terminals. Irritating, especially as the additional wait was 4 hours. The counter staff at the Premium terminal mixed up tickets and bumbled around during the boarding procedure.
The individual terminals are marked different colours, burgundy for Premium, yellow for Transfer etc. , and on the way back to BKK after de-planing from LHR there was no one to meet the bus and being tired I missed the stop. Another wait and bus ride back. Sure, it was my fault for not paying attention but 5-Star service needs to make 100% sure
that passengers (especially in so-called Premium Class) get to where they should be with the minimum of hassle.
The Premium Class lounge in Doha is a separate terminal and actually pretty good; large, un-crowded, nice fresh food, especially the Arab mezza, good wireless connection and an excellent choice of leaf teas. However I was rather abruptly told that, No, I couldn't take a plate of food to my more comfortable chair in the lounge; like a good boy I must sit at table and eat up. But in my book 5-Star service means that the customer is always right, always!
Now these are small points, and I'm fully aware that readers will think I'm a real miserable old grouch to complain when I'm travelling business class, after all it's a LOT better than what we used to call "cow" class - crammed in the back like cattle. But that's the entire point: if I was on a budget airline on the cheap I wouldn't even comment. But when I'm paying a premium price for a claimed world-class 5-star service I want it to be absolutely
Hopefully it will improve when they complete the new international terminal for the World Cup. In the meantime I congratulate QA for trying to become "The World's 5-Star Airline"; I'm sure it will get there soon and I'll be glad to fly it again when it does.
P.S: Qatar Airways responded very fully to this post... check out their comment. I will fly them again!
Photo thanks to On-line Magazine
that has its own review of QA.