**** Please see bottom for update on flight from Helsinki to Doha
In May I took a trip to Thailand and Moscow. I was on ten flights in seven days and was looking forward to reviewing several of these flights. Well, two months later I am finally reviewing one. I was especially anxious to review this Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Moscow because it was the one flight I actually did research on before deciding to purchase my ticket, and I could not find many reviews on this product. I did read that Qatar was upgrading their A320 & A321’s Business Class seats to be more in line with their long-haul Business Class product. Qatar has 31 A320s and 10 A321s, so it is a significant segment of their business. They are using these narrow-body planes not just on routes within the Middle East, but also on longer routes like this Moscow flight. Other destinations being served with these aircraft are Geneva, Belgrade, Male (Maldives), Helsinki, Warsaw, Vienna, just to name a few.
To show the power of frequent flier programs I originally was going to fly Aeroflot non-stop from BKK to SVO. However, right before I purchased my ticket, I checked to see how many bonus Delta SkyMile’s I would receive for purchasing a Business Class ticket. To my surprise, the fare I was going to pay was not eligible for mileage accrual. No way will I ever fly an airline and not earn miles, unless I am flying on an award ticket. So Aeroflot lost business because they do not allow miles to be earned in that fare class (I believe it was a Z fare). My other two options were Emirates or Qatar. Emirates had more flight choices and flew either an A380 or a B777 into DME (much more convenient airport for me than SVO), while Qatar only flew a A320 into DME. From what little I read about Qatar’s A320, was they did not have an International Business Class seat on this route. Rather, one that was as wide as a US Domestic First Class Seat with a few more inches of leg room (I believe 45″). The seats do have AVOD, but not to the same standard as their long haul fleet. Despite this, I knew that Qatar is one of only a few 5-Star airlines (I also flew Cathay on this trip), so I wasn’t that turned off by the seat, and the BKK to Doha was the longer of the two flights. But ultimately my decision to fly Qatar Airways was Emirates not being a member of an Alliance (and the flight I wanted was not on the A380) and Qatar’s being a member of One World (I’m platinum on American).
After arriving on time into Doha from BKK (a very pleasant flight, review to follow), connecting First and Business Class passengers are bused to a separate Premium Terminal. A new airport has since opened and therefore any info on this terminal is outdated. The only thing I will say about it is that I wished I had a longer layover. I had less than 2 hours and with the bus times I only had enough time to shower, use the computer for a few minutes, and buy my in-laws some candy. This terminal was a great idea!
One of the great things about this terminal was that you were bused to your aircraft by a Luxury Bus (as opposed to the normal buses were you are packed-in standing and waiting). The bus was very spacious and there were only a few passengers aboard. I took this as a good sign that the Business Class cabin would not be full. We departed to our aircraft less than 25 minuted before departure. giving me a few extra minutes to buy the candy and call my wife. While I generally dislike being bused to the plane, it is nice when you are on the last bus, as you know that no one else will be boarding (and maybe sitting in that empty seat next to you 🙂 ). The downside to being bused is that weather can be an issue. Luckily, this was a morning departure so the heat was not so intense. Upon boarding the aircraft, I had forgotten about Qatar refurbishing their A320 Business Class seats, so I wasn’t expecting the new configuration. I was warmly greeted by the flight attendant and much to my delight, this plane had the new seats!! You could smell that the cabin was brand new. To add to my good fortune, the seat next to me was free. There were ten passengers in Business Class. On both the old and refurbished version of Qatar’s A320, there are three rows in Business Class in a 2×2 configuration. There was plenty of room for my bags in the overhead.
After getting settled in and switching my seat (2B) to the window seat (2A), both the purser and the flight attendant assigned to Business Class came by to welcome me and introduce themselves. Asked if I had any question, offered me a newspaper (had both English and Arabic speaking papers), menu, and wine list, and took my pre-departure drink order. I had the orange juice which was fresh squeezed and very good. Champagne (I believe Krug) was also available. A nice hot towel was also distributed as we waited to taxi. Pillows and blankets were on each seat as we arrived. The amenity kits were handed out as we taxied, along with a small pouch containing eye-shades and socks. The amenity kits were a small zipped bag containing Ferragamo lip balm and creams. The flight attendants were from several backgrounds (as were the passengers). The purser was from Qatar and the other four from different nations. None of the flight attendants were from Russia (nor I think, even Russian speaking). All announcements were in Arabic and English. We pushed on-time for our five hour flight.
After take off and getting a spectacular view of Doha I turned my attention to the In-flight Entertainment (IFE) system. Qatar’s system is called Oryx and the IFE on the refurbished A320’s was similar to what was on the 777 I flew from BKK to Doha, with two exceptions. The hand-set was like a smart phone and I had a very difficult time figuring out how to operate it (much like a smart phone 😉 ). The purser also had a hard time, but eventually got it to work and showed me what to do. Also there was not the same volume of content that the 777 had. Maybe 30% less programming. But that still leaves plenty of movies and TV programs. The movies were from all genres including Arabic movies. Same with the TV programming. Comedies, dramas, sports, and documentaries. There is also an extensive audio catalog as well as games and an awesome moving map. Besides being disappointed in the difficulty of operating the hand-set, the movies were also edited (pet peeve of mine). Fortunately, I watched “Saving Mr. Banks” and a few sit-coms so it didn’t effect the enjoyment of the film. The TV monitor was very good size (15.4 inches) and was touch screen only for volume and to pause, fast forward, or rewind. All programming was on-demand (AVOD). The headphones were at each seat in a storage area over your shoulder. They were noise canceling and good enough quality for me to use in lieu of my own.
By the time I started to watch the movie, breakfast service had already begun. Shortly after take-off the flight attendant brought out raspberry and lime smoothies along with freshly squeezed orange juice. Both were very good and the smoothie was a nice way to start the meal service. About twenty minutes later (they waited a few minutes more for mine while my IFE was getting worked out) the trays were brought out with yoghurt, a small bowl of fruit, and a salad of smoke trout, cucumber and dill (I passed on the salad). They also served breads, croissants, and muffins from the bakery basket. The fruit was fresh and tasty, and the bakery items were also good and plentiful. There were three options for breakfast. Cheddar cheese omelette with chicken sausage, roasted tomato, and grilled mushrooms (what I opted for), pepper and cashew scrambled eggs, or an Arabic breakfast plate consisting of; feta, shanklish cheese and labneh with za’atar served with foul medames, cheese manakish and Arabic bread. Not sure what that is (I wrote from menu 🙂 ), and I do not believe any of the other passengers ordered it. The omelette was very good and sausage and potatoes ok. The service lasted a good hour (partly because of my IFE issue) and I had more than enough to eat. A refreshing hot towel was a welcome site afterwards.
About an hour after breakfast I finished watching the movie and was hoping to get some sleep. I only slept a few hours on the overnight flight from Bangkok and we were landing in Moscow at 2pm, so I had a full day ahead of me. But first, I wanted to see if there was any additional service on this route for this review. Just as the movie was ending the flight attendant asked if I wanted anything to drink. I asked if they had any nuts or salty snacks. She brought me a dish with a heaping of cashews and almonds and twenty minutes later replenished it. This was exactly what I was craving. Unfortunately, this also woke me up a little and postponed me trying to sleep for another 40 minutes as I watched two sit-coms.
As I said, there are only 12 seats in Business Class. The seats are in a slight herringbone position. Unlike the non-refurbished seats which only have 10″ of recline. These seats recline to a full flat 180 degrees. Unfortunately, I can not find the specs on these new seats. Qatar’s site only shows their old Business Class on their seat map section and only provides this limited info on this new lay-out; http://www.qatarairways.com/global/en/airbus-320-330-business-class.page They are however, the exact same seat concept I recently reviewed of United’s ps Premier service from JFK to LAX/SFO (http://patstravelreviews.com/united-airlines-757-premium-service-review-between-jfk-and-lax-sfo/). Everything about these seats are the same (except for the hand-set for IFE), and United also has them on a narrow-body aircraft. So my best guess is the seats are 21″ wide and have between 65″-76″ of leg room. The screen is probably 45″ away. The cabin is very cozy, but maybe a little too cozy for a five hour flight. The color scheme is very smart (and masculine) looking. Mainly charcoal with burgundy accents and wood paneling on the center armrest. Under the center armrest is a power socket for all plug types. It came in handy as I charged my phone (US plug). There is also a USB port over your shoulder where the headphone (three prong) connection is. This is also a small storage area, which, if the seat next to me was occupied would have been needed. My one complaint with a lot of the new Business Class seats is a lack of storage. Outside of this area, the only other place to store your personal objects, is a small compartment under the screen (holds newspapers or a book, but not on take-off) and under the ottoman (or overhead, of course). By the time I had finished my nuts and used the lavatory (very clean, and had some supplies for grooming), I decided to sleep. The seats are cloth and have a good-sized headrest. The blanket and pillow were nice, but not the same quality as my earlier long-haul sector. The 21″ seat width is very comfortable while sitting, but when at the lie-flat setting, I found it to be a little narrow (the magazine holder intrudes a little). I personally do not like to sleep in the lie-flat position on airplanes and I was able to find a comfortable cradle position. The seat controls are in the back of the center armrest and you can adjust your seat to just about any setting. There is also a small center divide to allow for more privacy. Besides the overhead light there is also a reading light over your shoulder that is only visible when the seat is reclined. Next to the overhead light is an air-vent. As luck would have it, after just 15 minutes of sleep, the pilot made the announcement we would be landing soon (in 45 minutes, not so soon). I decided it wasn’t worth going back to sleep and enjoyed the view out my window. Both flight attendants (the purser assisted with the Business Class service) came by and personally thanked each person in Business Class for their business and wished us a pleasant stay before landing.
We landed ten minutes early and just beat a 777 that was also pulling up to a gate near us. This was great because there was no line at passport control. Domodedovo (DME) is always easier and faster to navigate than SVO. I only had carry-on luggage and was through passport and customs in under fifteen minutes. Of course my sister-in-law was caught in traffic, and I had to wait one hour, which took a little of the joy out of getting though so fast.
I was very happy with my decision to fly Qatar Airways over both Aeroflot and Emirates. Not only because I accrued AAdvantage miles and arrived into Moscow an hour or two earlier than with the other airlines. But also, I truly saw how Qatar earned their 5-star rating. From the Ferragamo amenity kit to the outstanding service, everything is top-notch. Outside the kinks with the Oryx IFE system on this flight, it was a genuinely pleasant experience from take-off in Bangkok to arriving in Moscow. I look forward to having the good fortune of flying Business Class on Qatar Airways again.
*****As a quick update, a few months ago (May 2017) I once again flew on a Qatar Airways A320 in Business Class. This time from Helsinki to Doha (continued on to Phuket on a B787 Dreamliner which I hope to review). The check-in desk was in a different area then the Finnair desks. Check-in was easy and I was happy I was able to check-in 3 hours before the flight time. In addition, the cabin only had 2 empty seats and the agent was able to move me to 1A and block the seat next to me (providing they didn’t need to use it) which I appreciated. As a oneworld Emerald member I was able to use either the Finnair Lounge or their Premium Lounge. As I had plenty of time, I visited both. I actually preferred the Finnair Lounge as they had a great assortment of food and I over indulged on their meatballs 😉 We were bused to the aircraft and I was received with a warm welcome. I had a glass of fresh orange juice (champagne was available) and was offered either a hot or cold towel before take-off (it is little things like this that makes Qatar superior to most other airlines).
For the most part everything that I experienced on my flight from Doha to Moscow was the same on this flight (this amenity kit featured Monte Vibiano products). The seat was the same and the IFE was again difficult to navigate (and content was edited). There was Wi-Fi available on this flight. Fifteen minutes of free access (10 MB’s) was offered to I assume all passengers. I was not offered any additional courtesy access as a Business Class passenger. The 15 minutes only lasted 10 minutes at the most and was very slow. The cost to purchase Wi-Fi was $5/30MB, $10/100MB, $20/200MB.
As this was a dinner flight the meal service was a little more elaborate. Your order was taken on the ground and there were three choices for the entrée. Chicken, Gnocchi, or fish. The service started with a bowl of premium nuts and a beverage. This was followed by a salmon starter then a bowl of very tasty Tomato & Pepper soup and a choice of three different types of bread. A large salad preceded the entrée. To my disappointment, the flight attendant sheepishly informed me that there was some mistake and they ran out of chicken. Now, as someone that travels a lot I am understanding that from time to time things happen. But the one thing that would really upset me is if my meal choice is not available. Partly because I am a picky eater and partly because if you pay for Business Class, you should be able to have your preferred choice. I am not sure why they singled me out. I noticed I was the last to be served, so it may simply be because of that. Maybe because of her frightened look or maybe because I ate too many meatballs in the lounge, I took it in stride and ordered the Gnocchi in a Mushroom sauce. I am not a huge fan of mushroom sauce in a pasta and this dish did not change my opinion of that. I ate maybe half of the meal. Because I ate so little I told myself I could get two desserts 🙂 Cheesecake and some Ice Cream. While the meal service was spread out almost two hours it was the only food served on this six hour flight. The flight attendant did ask if I wanted anything later, but that was just for a beverage. As usual a small box of Godiva was handed after the meal service had finished. It wasn’t until a day later, after I happened to tweet a photo of my meal and Qatar responded with a reply, that I became a little more annoyed about the entrée not being available. I mentioned that the meal I tweeted wasn’t my first choice and they encouraged me to contact Qatar customer service. A few days later I did and that only got me more annoyed as their reply fell way short of what you would expect from an airline like Qatar.
Outside of that mix-up (If I was thinking, I should have asked them to bring me an Economy Class meal, which I would have been fine with) the flight arrived on time, the two flight attendants that serviced Business Class were friendly, and I enjoyed spending the night in the Al Mourjan Lounge. The Al Mourjan Lounge is for Business Class passengers only. Emerald or Sapphire members use the “Business Class” Lounge at DOH. Lastly, the announcements were only in English and Arabic.