DOHA – During the delivery event in Toulouse on February 20, Airways was granted access to be part of the delivery flight of the world’s first Airbus A350-1000 from Toulouse (TLS) to Doha (DOH), to launch customer Qatar Airways (QR).
The first Airbus A350-1000 comes almost two decades after Qatar Airways took delivery of its first Airbus plane, the A300, and just over there years since Qatar took delivery of the first A350-900.
The Qatari carrier has been a big Airbus customer at every step of the way, and the Airbus A350 is the tool with which the airline will continue its climb to the peak of the world.
And on February 20, Qatar Airways took delivery of the largest variant of the A350 family, the -1000 series, carrying some airline executives—including the airline’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker—and a contingent of press and bloggers.
Flight Number: QTR3351 (Delivery Flight)
Aircraft Type: Airbus A350-1041
Departure Airport: Toulouse Blagnac International Airport (LFBO)
Departure Time: 07:30 am local
Destination Airport: Doha Hamad International Airport (OTHH)
Arrival Time: 16:15 pm local
Flight Time: 6hrs 36mins
The Delivery Flight
We checked in to the Airbus Delivery Centre at around 5:15 am, where we were given Airbus-branded boarding passes for this delivery flight to Doha, which added an extra element of excitement surrounding the special occasion.
At the Delivery Centre, Airbus and Qatar Airways hosts greeted us with tea, coffee as well as a small breakfast.
Rather than having to go to the commercial side of the Toulouse-Blagnac Airport (TLS) to check-in, the Airbus Delivery Centre has its own mini-terminal where passengers on these super exclusive flights can check-in, drop their bags, and collect their boarding passes.
Passengers are then taken through a very simple security screening process, far simpler than going through security in a standard commercial airport.
Once all passengers and airline executives were past the security checkpoint, boarding began at around 6:30 am with it finishing by about 7:20 am.
We left the gate at the Delivery Centre at around 7:30 am. From there on in, it would be six and a half hours of elegance, superb quality and a palpable sense of making history.
The plane, with that new leather scent, pushed back from the gate and bid farewell to the many thousands of engineers that have come together to make this aircraft not just a reality, but also a success.
Taxi time was around ten to fifteen minutes with departure taking place just before 8 am.
Captain Konstantinos, one of Qatar Airways most experienced Airbus A350 pilots, manned the beautiful sunrise departure smoothly yet tremendously powerfully. Alongside him was Captain Hussein, who was in the First Officer’s seat for the flight.
Before departing, Captain Konstantinos announced that upon arriving in Doha, a special surprise was in place for passengers and airplane spotters on the ground.
— Qatar Airways (@qatarairways) February 21, 2018
According to the Captain, our brand-new Airbus A350-1000 was launched down the runway with a massive 97,000 pounds of thrust coming out of the two Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, which roared when the Captain pushed the throttles to maximum thrust on the plane’s delivery journey.
Thanks to the light load on this aircraft, we became airborne within a matter of seconds.
Departing out of Toulouse, watching the fantastic aircraft leave the ground through the IFE screen was a nice plus to the experience.
As the plane rolled down the runway and during initial climb, passengers in the exclusive QSuite (Business Class), noticed a strange vibration emanating from the suites. There have been reported problems with the durability of the new bespoke Zodiac manufactured QSuite product, which made its first debut on a 777-300ER a few months ago. Whether this is part of the design or not is unclear, but perhaps an additional strengthening of the suites to the floor to keep them more still may be needed once it arrives in Doha.
Climb and Cruise
Following a quick 30-minute climb, our brand-new plane reached 39,000 feet, with the final step climb to 41,000 feet a few minutes later. All the passengers on board commented how the aircraft is smoother than others, handling turbulence very well.
In the A350-1000 flight deck, en route to Qatar. pic.twitter.com/UPk3XEiNWW
— Alex Macheras (@AlexInAir) February 22, 2018
Once leveled off, the airline’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker, started moving about the cabin greeting members of the press. His primary goal, however, seemed to have been gathering some comments on the airline’s all-new Business Class product.
The Q-Suite: Details
Making a thorough inspection of the much hyped QSuite, we were able to sample the many different elements that distinguish it from other business class products in the industry.
It features a large, 21.5-inch IFE screen, which can be controlled through a myriad of touchscreen buttons and remote control, proving to be very fast and responsive. The Oryx One IFE system is one of the airline’s most valuable offerings.
There are also headphone jacks for the Oryx One noise-canceling headphones, which are excellent for the sound quality. When playing music, they have just the right amount of bass, and the noise-cancellation is just exceptional.
Oryx One offers a wide variety of movies, radio stations, and music for passengers to choose from in the QSuite.
The system worked very smoothly in my seat throughout the six-hour journey to Qatar and was very responsive to the touchscreen and remote control.
As has become a staple of Qatar’s Airbus long-haul fleet, there are numerous onboard cameras to choose from, if movies and music are not enough for entertaining oneself on long flights.
The suite also features two USB ports on the actual monitor, as well as one additional port by the power charging dock.
The power charging dock is very powerful and was able to charge my depleted phone within an hour.
Aside from it, a wide array of buttons are placed for passengers to adjust the QSuite seat, which can recline into a full-flat bed.
Concerning privacy, QSuite passengers are afforded the exclusivity of a real closed-door suite.
There sliding door separates the suite from other passengers and crew, primarily through the use of a ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature on which lights up a signal at the crew’s panel in the galley.
When a passenger clicks that button, it sends a notification to the cabin crew that the specific seat occupant does not want to be bothered by the attendants, which is ideal for if you are sleeping, working, or just in need of utmost privacy.
Regarding storage space, QSuite passengers get a very generous sized cabinet. I was able to fit all my essential documents and some electronics in this space. Within the storage compartment, came a bottle of water as well.
For a seat that is a small square concerning real estate, passengers will enjoy plenty of private space of legroom.
As far as WiFi connectivity is concerned, this A350-1000 is indeed equipped with a new-generation system. With a WiFi code provided to us by the airline, we were granted 200mb of data to use on this particular flight.
For regular revenue passengers, however, Qatar Airways provides free WiFi but for only 30 minutes. Passengers can download as much as 10mb of data before they are asked to pay for more extended periods of time.
On this delivery flight, however, the connectivity wasn’t stable, and the speed was quite slow. Numerous passengers commented that it was impossible to send out tweets with pictures attached to them, let alone streaming videos or any heavier content.
Other teething problems related to a passenger’s IFE. During the flight, it stopped functioning altogether. Flight attendants and technicians attempts to fix it were unsuccessful.
The Qatar Airways QSuite experiences are enhanced by a top-notch Amenity Kit and extra items that make the experience much more enjoyable.
In this case, being a medium-haul flight, Qatar Airways launched in September 2017 an all-new Amenity Kit furnished by Nappa Dori.
QATAR AIRWAYS: First and Business Class passengers travelling on Qatar Airways’ medium-haul routes will be offered amenity kits from leading fashion brand Nappa Dori featuring a new series of destination images printed on the kits canvas exterior, including Thailand, the Netherlands, China and Doha.
For this delivery flight, however, the Amenity Kit didn’t feature a destination, but the star of the show: the Airbus A350-1000.
The Amenity Kit, albeit quite simple, comes with Qatar Airways-branded socks, an eye cover, toothpaste, and toothbrush—the basic items needed for long-haul travel.
For long-haul flights, instead, the airline has chosen a different, more robust Amenity Kit, furnished by the Italian brand, Bric’s. This Amenity Kit offers more goodies than the medium-haul one that we got on the flight from Toulouse to Doha.
QATAR AIRWAYS: First Class and Business Class long-haul passengers can enjoy a luxury amenity bag created exclusively for Qatar Airways by stylish Italian luggage brand BRIC’S. The miniature versions of the Bellagio and Sintesis suitcase features a hard-shell with a Tuscan leather trim. Each bag contains exclusive products from Italy’s Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio, the environmentally friendly olive oil company. The skin care range includes lip balm, hydrating facial mist, and anti-ageing moisturiser in Business Class, with added Night Recovery Cream for First Class kits. Socks, eyeshades and ear plugs complete the range with the addition of a BRIC’S signature luggage tag for First Class.
One of the most comfortable items is the ‘bed suit’, furnished by The White Company in London. Along with an extra large duvet and a nice set of pillows, they encompass well together for a relaxing experience onboard the A350.
Inside the Business Class lavatories, more amenities can be found, including premium quality soaps, creams, and lip balms.
The ‘smart’ lavatories feature an automatic water tap that is activated by the touch of a cold or hot button, allowing passengers to choose the perfect temperature mix for their use.
The toilet, after use, closes itself automatically and then flushes, reducing the chances of contamination and becoming an extra piece of technology in a place where it’s not customary.
The best part of the toilet, however, is the presence of a large window, which gives an airy feeling to a place where one is often feeling confined.
The Cabin Configurations
The QSuite cabin configuration is very generous in both space and privacy. Qatar Airways has chosen to fit the all-new Business Class in a 1-2-1 configuration, allowing every passenger direct aisle access.
In Economy Class, it features a 3-3-3, nine-abreast configuration with 32″ of leg pitch at each seat—one less abreast seat than what Qatar Airways offers on its Boeing 777.
Each Economy Class seat is fitted with the usual IFE screen, a remote control, as well as a charging station and headphone jacks.
Overall, the A350-1000 is fitted with 327 seats, including the 46 QSuites.
One of the highlights of our experience onboard this state-of-the-art airliner was the service provided by a hand picked team of flight attendants.
There were six cabin crew members in the QSuite area, taking care of the 40 passengers in the cabin. In Economy Class, a dozen passengers got to enjoy the entire cabin for themselves, with three cabin crew members catering their needs.
In total, the A350-1000 soared the skies on its delivery flight with a light load of 60 passengers, making the Flight Attendant’s job slightly easier.
— Alex Macheras (@AlexInAir) February 22, 2018
Each Flight Attendant took the time to diligently show every passenger all of the features of the QSuite. They were well prepared for their presentations and demonstrated to know the product from top to bottom.
Every crew member also showed extra care for small details. Such features included taking one’s suit to be hanged it in their lockers, as well as the setting up the suite’s tray table, and even turning the Suite into an entirely flat, cozy bed with all the amenities in place.
In my case, I tried to recline the seat myself, and I was immediately stopped by a kind Flight Attendant, who gladly did it for me.
On top of this, each Flight Attendant was friendly, engaging, and overall very chatty, trying to get to know each passenger.
In my perspective, this is the best way to deliver a personalized bond with the airline’s staff during your trip, allowing them to offer a better service, no matter who the passenger is.
When I asked some Flight Attendants about the A350-1000, they said that it is a fantastic plane and that regarding training, “there isn’t much to it,” because of Airbus’ commonality programmes.
They also said that once more A350-1000s join the fleet, it will become sought out among fliers, mainly because of its spacious, silent, and soothing cabin.
And with the airline’s notoriously demanding and detail-oriented CEO onboard, we didn’t notice any Flight Attendant breaking a sweat.
When asked about whether they felt any pressure for having the boss onboard, they said, “we just do what we do all of the time, which is to give the best service that Qatar Airways can provide for our fliers.”
In-flight Catering Service
As our flight headed out of European airspace, the first meal service begun.
Out of a wide variety of soft drinks, as well as Champagne, cocktails, and a complete wine list, I chose an Orangeade—a refreshing beverage mixed with Orange Juice, Soda Water, Lemon Juice, Sugar, and a slice of Orange.
On the inaugural flight, in particular, they also offered a range of coffees and teas.
In their regular flight menus, Qatar Airways offers wines, Champagne, as well as an extended number of cocktail and vodka mixers with the traditional international beers.
Altogether, the food and drink categories for the QSuite are very well suited to the needs of the airline’s Business Class customers.
On this particular flight, Qatar Airways also featured its brand-new china and silverware, featuring knives and forks, which have a very nice, sleek, and elegant design to them.
For my meal choice, I picked Chicken Peri Peri Skewers for starters, which were in their Snack Platters menu, as well as Mini Sliders for the main course.
The sliders consist of a Beef Burger with Cheddar Cheese and a Chicken Burger with Mozzarella Cheese.
Before dinner was served, along with the beverage, I was presented a variety of bread and croissants, along with ground salt, pepper, and some butter.
On my second round of Orangeade, one of the Flight Attendants brought a small plate with Walnuts.
For the Chicken Peri Peri Skewers, they were served with two skewers, each having two pieces of Chicken. It came with a lime and chili side with a sweet dip.
The dip and the Chicken worked well together, although I was expecting a little bit of spice, with it being labeled ‘Peri Peri.’ However, the meal was enjoyable and, if a little spice were added to it, it would have been considerably improved.
As far as the Main Course is concerned, the sliders came with a Beef and Chicken Burger, each with lettuce, tomato, and some leaves. It also came with Mozzarella and grated cheese, melted onto the burger, creating a delicious, juicy texture.
One side of chips complemented the two sliders. However, I found them to be slightly dry—a problem that could have been solved with a little ketchup or mayonnaise.
Relaxation Time, Qatar Airways Style
Post-meal, I did what the Captain instructed us to do: “Seat-back, relax, and enjoy the flight.”
A Flight Attendant came and offered to transform my Suite into an uber private bedroom. Not wanting to disturb her, I went to the lavatory to freshen up. When I came back, I found a very cozy, spacious and inviting bed, set up with the duvet and pillows very well positioned for a comfortable break.
As I laid down, I found the overall setup to be incredibly soft and comfortable. I felt as if I had entered a private space of flying paradise.
The A350-1000’s cabin was remarkably silent. It blocked out the sound of the engines and the external sounds of the aircraft. However, the only problem I encountered was other passengers’ sounds were magnified. The cabin is so silent that the smallest noise will be easily noticed.
The quick, six-hour flight from Toulouse was too short for an airplane that’s capable of flying past the 15-hour mark.
Too soon, our descent had commenced towards Doha, where a fly-by of the airport was incorporated into the last portion of this delivery adventure—a fantastic scene to see.
Before our plane caressed the Qatari ground on its delivery journey, we did an exciting fly-by over central Doha at around 1,000 feet, giving members of the press the chance to take pictures of the country’s capital city.
We welcome the first @Airbus A350-1000 into our fleet by doing a fly-by over the Doha Corniche. Thanks to @SamChuiPhotos for capturing this picturesque view of Doha from our #FirstIn1000. #QatarA350 #QatarAirways pic.twitter.com/yDHses6qzR
— Qatar Airways (@qatarairways) February 21, 2018
As other press members took possession of all the windows in the QSuite cabin, I opted for the tail camera on the rear of the airplane.
We then flew straight to Hamad International Airport, where our experienced pilots chose to do not one, but two fly-bys—one over the terminals, and one over the runway.
Following this last maneuver, the A350-1000 rocketed towards the sky on a go-around motion, making a steep turn to join downwind and then come in for a final landing.
At 4:15 pm local time, our plane touched down and vacated the runway, greeted by a water cannon salute. The total flying time was marked at six hours, 36 minutes.
As the airplane came to a full stop, a wave of Qatari media, senior executives, and members of the Royal Family eagerly awaited for the airplane’s doors to be opened.
— Zach Honig (@ZachHonig) February 21, 2018
When the 60 passengers got off the plane, the prevailing commentary was how fresh everyone felt. “My skin isn’t dry, I feel rested and relaxed,” said one journalist.
The overall outcome of this fantastic delivery experience was that of total success. Other than a few needed tweaks on the technology front, the Qatar Airways QSuite product onboard the Airbus A350-100 is a true masterpiece and a fantastic contribution to the aviation industry.
With the mixture of elegance, comfort, and efficiency, Qatar Airways takes its A350 fleet to the next level in capacity, and luxury with the A350-1000 to keep pace with the competitive long-haul arms race
Al-Baker seemed to be very satisfied with his new aircraft, and as the carrier continues to receive more -1000s, the Skytrax 5-star rated airline will strive to keep innovating and disrupting the industry as has become its modus operandi. The hard product, in particular is still facing early quality control problems. But given Al Baker’s penchant for perfection, we expect that to be remedied post haste.
And as for my thoughts on this product, I believe the QSuite is a product that places the airline further atop its claim as “The World’s Best Business Class”. And topping most other long-haul First Class products to boot.
Disclosure: Qatar Airways provided the ticket for this flight at no cost. The opinions and views of the writer are his own.