MIAMI — Qatar Airways is highly regarded as one of the best full-service airlines in the world, so when I was given the invite to fly round trip from New York to Doha to attend the airline’s oneworld joining ceremony, I jumped at the chance. At over 12 hours there and 14 hours home, this would be one of my longest ever flights, and provided me with the opportunity to compare Qatar with one of their biggest competitors, Emirates Airline.
Qatar flies once daily from New York JFK to Doha International Airport in Qatar on a fleet of Boeing 777-300ERs. Qatar uses American Airlines owned Terminal 8 at JFK, which enables Qatar business class passengers to use the American Airlines Flagship Lounge since they do not operate their own lounge. The Flagship Lounge is not the most exclusive experience in aviation, but it gets the job done. There are a few hot food choices and an open bar, as well as functional WiFi and televisions. It gets the job done, but does not do so in a memorable way.
On the New York route, business class has 42 lie-flat bed seats in a 2-2-2 configuration split into two cabins. In economy, Qatar has thankfully stuck with a 9 abreast configuration, while many others are opting to cram in 10. This leaves Qatar with 293 seats in a 3-3-3 configuration.
Because my flight to Doha was quite full, my standby upgrade to business class was denied and I ended up in economy. Qatar does not have any sort of economy plus option, but I ended up in an exit row with basically unlimited legroom. Before departing JFK, flight attendants walked through the cabin, handing out SpongeBob SquarePants backpacks filled with coloring books and crayons to children. I’m sure this small gesture scores some major points with parents about to depart on a 12 hour flight.
On the way to Doha, economy passengers received two meals, dinner and breakfast, with the choice of a few wines. The meals were pretty standard fare, nothing quite memorable. My meal of chicken, rice, and corn came with a dinner roll, small side dish, piece of cake, and a few candy bars. For breakfast, I opted for a omelet with sausage, which came with a muffin, choice of bread, yogurt, and some fresh fruit. Again, not the most memorable meal, but perfectly acceptable.
My seat in economy was quite comfortable, thanks in part to the infinite legroom in the exit row. The seats, however, may have reclined too much. I did not realize how far back my seat had actually gone until the breakfast meal service, where the passenger behind me asked me to move the seat up so she could eat. Either my seat was broken, or it simply encroached into the the next row to an unreasonable extent. The seat features a massive in-flight entertainment screen, USB charging port, and in most seats (not in exit rows), an AC power port.
The economy experience on Qatar was quite a pleasure compared to some other flights I had been on recently. While the gap between economy and business class passengers has never been wider, Qatar is still looking out for the passengers in back more so than most other airlines.
On the return trip, I was relieved to have my upgrade to business class confirmed. The upgrade is of particular important at Doha, as business and first class customers report to an entirely different terminal building than economy passengers. The differences start immediately. As I approached the check-in counter, I was greeted and asked if I would like to have a seat. I had never checked-in for a flight in such a relaxed manner – there would be no standing at a podium while a man punches the keyboard for five minutes.
Once clear of passport control and security, passengers end up in a rather small duty free shop, but are quickly whisked away up an escalator to the heart of the premium terminal. The Business Class Lounge is quite a large space, but was also bustling by the time I got there at 6am. The lounge features rest areas, a smoking lounge, video game center for children, full shower facilities, as well as the usual buffet. Unfortunately, I did not realize that there were several “stations,” and passed up on eating a larger breakfast. Service in the lounge was quite attentive, but I found the space to be a bit cramped. Although they were doing the best with the limited space available, the restroom facilities were inadequate for the amount of passengers. The boarding gates are also very cramped, with virtually no seating at all. Not a big deal, and certainly won’t matter once the new airport opens in just a few months (hopefully).
Once on board, the high level of service which Qatar is known for became im
mediately present. Upon reaching my seat, the last row in the business class section, a very friendly flight attendant greeted me by name and asked it she could get me anything. I asked if she could notify me if any window seats were available once boarding was completed, and after I had forgotten about my request, she gave me the good news that I was free to move. Most often, this request goes by the wayside, but not on Qatar.
The seats on business class are one of the best I have experienced in business class, with the only negative being a lack of privacy. There is a small “privacy screen” that can be extended between the two seats, but that is about it. The seat features a massage function and has many fine controls for seat position, assuring that even the most picky of passengers can get comfortable.
The in-flight entertainment system on Qatar Airways, dubbed Oryx Entertainment, is quite a robust system. The system (Panasonic eX2) holds a massive library of movies, television shows, and audio options. During the month of October, Oryx featured a special selection of every single Star Trek movie ever, something that would please any Shatner fan. Although the system performed well for the most part, my screen rebooted once when I was seated in economy, and I saw another do the same in business class. It is not the end of the world, but the system takes about fifteen minutes to fully boot. The system also featured a digital version of the map and live text news and destination info, but these features did not work on either flight.
The meal service in business class shined during the flight. Contained in a leather bound folder at each seat was an extensive meals menu, along with drink menu containing signature cocktail suggestions, and a wine list. The menu features several meal choices from world renowned chefs, ranging from Nobu Matsuhisa to Tom Aikens. The main meal started with salmon rillettes (a Tom Aikens dish), continued with a seafood dish (a Ramzi Choueiri dish), with a main dish of hammour roasted with cumin and coriander. Throughout the 14 hour flight, a separate menu was available on demand which turned out to be quite popular with passengers. Every selection I made turned out to be a delicious choice, and I was not disappointed in any way.
Throughout the flight in business class, the crew was hyper-attentive and lived up the luxury brand that Qatar Airways is known to be. There is little about the flight which I would have had the airline do differently. While the ride in economy was a bit above average, little things like the large entertainment screen and toys for kids made it even more pleasurable.
Disclaimer: Both flights were paid for in full by Qatar Airways as a part of their oneworld event media invitation.