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Qatar Airways
by Christopher J Varady


small-Qatar-A330-A7
       
Airbus A330-302        PHOTO: ED PASCUZZI
 
 
Airline:     Qatar Airways
Flights:    QR423; QR612
Routes:    Beirut [Bayrūt], Lebanon (IATA: BEY/ICAO: OLBA)–Doha [Ad Dawhah], Qatar (DOH/OTBD)–Bangkok, Thailand (BKK/VTBD)
Aircraft:    Airbus A321-200; A340-300


BEY–DOH

Check-in

At Qatar Airways’s desk at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport there were only about five passengers waiting for check-in. Although the handling is done by contracted, non-QR staff, the process was quick and efficient. A question about QR’s acceptance of Lufthansa Miles & More credit was quickly resolved.

Boarding

These days, BEY is crowded with homeward-bound UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) soldiers, not least in the entire duty free and boarding areas. Boarding the A321 was a bit slow because this was a full flight—also with a large complement of Southeast Asian UNIFIL troops—but QR staff members were quite pleasant and helpful. Headsets were waiting on the new and comfortable slimline-type seats.

In-Flight

The nationalities of the cabin crewmembers were a mixture of Middle Eastern and Asian. Within a few minutes of takeoff, flight attendants (FAs) passed out menus, which is unusual for coach passengers on a 2½-hour flight. Meal options included fish  Just as quickly as menus were distributed, the FAs offered hot towelettes and started the movie, Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie, on the overhead screens.
With four FAs covering the coach cabin, all passengers were served their food within 15-20 minutes of meal service beginning. When my turn came to be served, only the fish was available, but I was quite pleased with it. Food quality was excellent, with everything tasting quite fresh, and spices giving an Arabic feel to the meal. I chose a Chilean wine to accompany lunch, which was a rare treat in the Middle East where such wines are not easily found. Meal service was rounded off with coffee and tea, served as the trays were collected.

Transit

Although the flight was full, we deplaned quickly at Doha Airport, via the front and rear doors simultaneously. The DOH terminal is small but comfortable, and transit is easy, with passengers moving from airplane to the building by bus, then passing through security before continuing through the terminal. Although the airport is small, its duty free shopping and other amenities are adequate. But as QR expands into longer-haul flights to the USA and China, these airport services will have to be expanded.

*****

DOH-BKK
Boarding

Boarding proceeded rapidly after passengers disembarked from buses stopping at front and rear of the aircraft. We boarded through the rear door.
Most passengers were European, which suggests that QR is becoming successful at capturing some of the European holidaymakers’ transit market. The (former Singapore Airlines) A340 cabin was upholstered in deep reds and grays, which gave an elegant feeling. However, legroom was much worse than on the preceding flight, although seats were thicker and plusher. Head rests were large with wings to cradle the head, and each seat had its individual screen for the 'Oryx' entertainment system.
This flight, like the previous one, was completely full. We pushed back exactly on time and took off to the east.

In-Flight

QR is one of the few airlines which still distributes amenity kits in the coach cabin. These consisted of socks, eyeshades, and a toothbrush kit, plus earphones and earplugs. Despite a 2030 departure, most passengers who appeared to have been in transit were dozing only a few minutes after takeoff. The recline angle of the coach seats is so severe that if the person in front of you reclines their seat, you have no choice but to recline yours—as I was forced to do—and cease any activities. Even holding up a book to read becomes difficult.
There was a long lapse between the aperitif and meal service. For the former I chose an Australian shiraz. After the aperitif, the person in front of me reclined again, boxing me in.
Following a hot towelette service, the meal finally appeared. However, passengers did not receive their dinners until 2½ hours after takeoff. This delay cut into sleeping time on the 6hr flight. Catering on this sector was not as good as the first, which is surprising given that it originated from the airline’s home base. I chose the curry chicken, which was a bit tasteless and reminiscent of a TV dinner. The salad was pleasant but small. Most passengers quickly fell asleep after trays were collected, again severely constricted by the recline angle of the seats in front of them. I chose to forgo the coffee or Cognac service and tried to sleep instead.
About 1½ hours before landing, FAs served a breakfast comprising two small pastries, a bowl containing about five pieces of fruit, and a cup of pure orange juice. As soon as the aircraft reached its parking stand at BKK, passengers appeared to race off, probably because of an uncomfortable night.
Overall, the DOH–BKK leg did not live up to the vaunted five-star qualities promoted by QR. Although all the elements were certainly there, the slow service, tasteless catering, and poor seat comfort made for an average flight, at best.

*****

Airline:     Qatar Airways
Flights:     QR613; QR422
Routes:     BKK–DOH–BEY
Aircraft:     Airbus A340-300; A330-300

BKK-DOH

Check-in

QR uses staff of the local airport handling company at BKK. Arriving two hours before the flight, I found about 20 people already in line. The check-in process took no more than 15 minutes, and they accepted my 25kg (55lb) of luggage even though it was slightly above the limit. Unfortunately, the immigration line this Saturday morning was the longest I had experienced at BKK, so long in fact that passengers couldn’t even enter the waiting hall. Although BKK has adequate space, on this day the immigration counters were only half-staffed.

Boarding

QR kept passengers in the waiting area until only ten minutes before the scheduled departure time. Perhaps to increase efficiency, QR boarded coach passengers first. After a quick taxi to the runway, we lifted off at about 0810. Even before takeoff, passengers were visibly uncomfortable in the cramped seating, squirming in their seats and trying to writhe into a more comfortable position.

In-Flight

Like the outbound flight, it took FAs over one hour to start serving breakfast. Indeed, service seemed disorganized and awkward, with three FAs serving the right aisle but only one working the left aisle. This meant that passengers on the left side of the airplane had to wait twice as long to receive their breakfast.
Of the three options—omelet; scrambled eggs; chicken with vegetables and noodle—I chose the latter. The meal was of only average quality with a small cup of yogurt, orange juice, and five pieces of fruit in a small bowl. Because of the cramped seating I had to turn sideways in order to eat, and even then it was nearly impossible. Furthermore, I was not offered an additional beverage and had to specifically request a glass of water. Other than the pre-packaged orange juice already on the tray, FAs had only tea, coffee, or water on offer.
After the meal service, I noticed a higher than usual amount of passengers loitering in the aisles and near the lavatories. No doubt they were escaping the discomfort of their seats. I tried to get some work done on my laptop, but the reclined seat in front of me made this impossible; in fact, I couldn’t even take out the tray table from my armrest as the reclined seat blocked it completely. So I resigned myself to forced sleep.
Two hours before landing, FAs distributed a snack which consisted of a small sandwich and a brownie. Passengers were offered a choice of beverage, but it was the same limited selection of tea, coffee, and water. I was also disappointed that the rear lavatory was broken, with a toilet that would not flush.

DOH-BEY

Boarding

Boarding occurred via bus to a remote parking stand, but as the flight was only 30% full, this was accomplished swiftly, and taxiing began soon afterward. Onboard, I immediately noticed the increased legroom, which was at least 3in (7.5cm) more than on the lone 'oddball' A340-300 in the QR fleet.

In-Flight

FAs distributed headsets, sweets, hot towelettes, and menus with a friendliness that was missing on the previous flight. Meal options were lamb bazella (Middle Eastern-style casserole) and  chicken. I chose the fowl, which was quite tasty and accompanied by vegetables and mashed potatoes. FAs offered a wide variety of drinks to accompany the meal.
As the flight was nearly empty, cabin crewmembers passed through the aisles even before collecting the trays, offering a second meal. For a 2½-hour flight, this is almost unheard of. So I decided to take advantage and try the lamb dish. The spices and rice accompaniment made for a savory meal. This second lunch was completed with a Chilean Los Riscos red wine.
Following a northwesterly path, we flew directly over Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria, straight into Beirut. Upon landing, a dance troupe obviously happy to be home broke into song and clapping. As most flights arrive and depart BEY at night, the airport was nearly empty when we arrived, so we passed through immigration and customs within 20 minutes of reaching the parking stand.

Overall impression

The shorter flights were considerably better on QR, in terms of seat comfort, FA service, and meal quality. It must be asked why QR provides such an inconsistent product, with better service geared toward shorter flights—a serious issue that should be addressed as the airline seeks to expand its network to both East and West. Because of the great discomfort experienced with seating, and other factors, I would certainly never consider another long-haul flight with Qatar Airways.



qr-lunch-bey-doh
qr-dinne-doh-bkk

PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER VARADY



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