The more that I fly the Airbus A380, the more I like the aircraft — as a passenger, but I am not so sure as an AvGeek. It is so smooth during take-off and landing, one might not even realize that they happened. Turbulence is mostly absorbed by the jumbo jet, making the flight smooth. The windows and walls are so thick, the aircraft stays quiet and passengers are removed from the flying experience.
As an AvGeek, these are some of the reasons why I am not a huge fan of the A380. I want to feel the take-off, I enjoy a little turbulence, and I want to stay connected to the entire flight experience. But this doesn’t mean I cannot enjoy an A380 flight, especially when it is on a Qatar Airways aircraft with an impressive on-board product.
Recently, I was invited to participate in the inaugural Qatar A380 flight from Bangkok to Doha, and who am I to refuse? Overall, it was an amazing flight, but I wished it was a bit longer — it was only about six hours.
One of the biggest disappointments I had regarding the flight was not being able to get an exterior shot of the A380. And believe it or not, that was partially due to both Bangkok and Doha airports being designed where photos are hard to get, and also because of the King of Thailand.
Now, I want to be respectful of the King, even while being in America. In Thailand they have something called lèse majesté, where one cannot talk bad about the King. If you do, you get to go to jail. It sort of puts a damper on your travel experience.
You see, the day of the inaugural, December 5th, also happened to be the King’s birthday. It was cool to see all the decorations around Thailand, but one of the rules is that no one can try and upstage the King’s celebration. Included in this was not being able to celebrate an inaugural flight. This meant no balloons, no cupcakes, nothing more than a few signs around the airport that let anyone know that this was a special flight.
Originally, I was set to get tarmac access to get photos of the A380, but that also was considered too much “celebrating” and was cancelled. So, indirectly because of the King of Thailand, I have no exterior photos of the A380 I flew on. At least there was enough eye-candy on the inside to keep me entertained.
When I first boarded the aircraft, I made sure to run around and get as many photos as I could before passengers got in the way. My initial stop: First Class. Qatar’s high-end product is located at the front of the upper deck in an exclusive-feeling cabin.
QATAR AIRWAYS’ A380 FIRST CLASS
The First Class product really gives passengers the feeling of space and exclusivity. There are only eight seats configured in a 1-2-1 layout. Even though that is the same as the Business Class, this product just feels wider and gives the passenger a much greater a sense of privacy.
Each seat boasts a 26″ LED HDTV screen, with touchscreen remote. The seats have 83″ of pitch and are lie-flat. There are multiple plugs to keep your stuff charged, and connect to the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.
In the middle of the suite, there is a large tray table that pulls out, providing plenty of room to work, eat, or both at the same time. There is even a seat on the other side of the table, where two passengers can dine together, if they wish.
Sitting in the middle section, passengers have a seat right next to them which is a great choice if you are flying with someone that you know. But if it is a stranger and you do not feel like chatting, with a touch of a button a large security screen can be raised.
If a First Class passenger wants to get a quick drink or snack while stretching their legs, there are two refreshment bars located in the front of the cabin. Also in the front are two huge (and I mean huge) lavatories to freshen up in.
QATAR AIRWAYS’ A380 BUSINESS CLASS FLIGHT REVIEW
Business Class… this is where I spent the majority of my trip. Just like the First Class cabin, the section is set up in a 1-2-1 layout. Not to say that the seats seemed skinny, but the Business Class area just didn’t seem as roomy as the First Class — but that is kind of the point right?
There are 48 seats in the single upper deck section. The cabin felt a bit big when walking down the aisle, but once seated, the there was a nice sense of privacy.
Each seat has a 17″ screen, also with touchscreen remote control. Out of my whole flight experience, the biggest gripe that I had was the inability to use the touchscreen on the monitor. When you tapped the monitor to engage with it, a message and image would come up directing you to use the remote.
With the remote, it was easy to navigate and get what I wanted, but what I really wanted was to be able to use the screen. Why even have it be a touchscreen if you cannot use it to access your IFE?
I would say that the entertainment selection was about average. By the time I was done with my 20,000 miles of flying in Qatar business (IAD-DOH-BKK-DOH-IAD, mostly on the 777), I was having a hard time finding anything on the IFE that I hadn’t already watched.
Being in the middle, you are easily able to connect and talk to the person next to you, but as with the front cabin, if you do not feel like chatting, there is a divider that will go up and give you additional privacy.
Another amenity that some might find minor, but I get excited when I see them: air vents. I am normally hotter than the average passenger on flights and without air vents, I can only suffer. I have found that the vast majority of international business class products that I fly do not have air vents. Even with all the shiny objects to distract me on Qatar’s A380, I couldn’t help but get a little giddy over the air vents.
Shortly after take-off, the flight attendant went around to see if we would like to eat sooner or later in the flight. Qatar Airways offers à la carte eating, where you can chose when you want to eat. This is handy when your eating-clock might be off from the local time on the aircraft.
I decided to eat right away and started out my five-course meal with some chicken satay which was quite delicious. Then I was served some Asian vegetable broth with carrot, baby corn, and Bok Choy. Not my favorite, but I ate most of it.
Then for the appetizer I couldn’t choose between the classic Arabic mezze (hummus, tabouleh, and baba ghanoush served with Arabic bread) and the sesame-crusted prawn (noodle salad, pickled cucumber, and sour plum sauce), so I had both. I really enjoyed most of it, but the bread was unfortunately dry and stale.
For the main meal, I had the choice between mascarpone ravioli (the vegetarian choice), nasi lemak (the chicken choice), or the grilled filet of beef. I went with the beef, which also came with thyme jus, parsley potato rosti, roasted carrots, and onion wedges. I was very pleased.
I finished off the meal with a cheese plate and some port. I was full and a little buzzed by the time I was done. That is a good place to be.
After my meal, I put on my Qatar PJs (which you get to keep after the flight) and it was time to head back to the First and Business Class lounge, located directly behind the Business cabin. I will talk more about the Sky Lounge in the next section.
Once I was done partying in the lounge, I was ready to take a little nap. I had my seat turned into a bed, a nice padding put down, and got my pillow and duvet ready for some good Zs. The seat lies flat and has an electric arm rest (on the aisle side of your seat) that you can put down for some additional room.
I slept well and before I knew it, the cabin became light and it was time to land in Doha. I wouldn’t have minded a few hours more sleep (or really just any additional time in the A380), but it was time for the flight to end.
THE SKY LOUNGE ON THE QATAR AIRWAYS A380
Now this is what really makes the A380 an awesome product – having a lounge on the upper deck. Who says that the golden age of flying is over? It surely is not (and heck, I would easily argue it is better) in Qatar’s A380 product.
Located near the rear of the upper deck, this lounge lets passengers stretch their legs, mingle, and get something to drink or snack on. With our group of seven media/marketing folks, we knew we were going to have a great time.
Maybe it was because this was the inaugural or it was later at night, but really no one but our group hung out in the bar. Not going to lie, we had a good time. Popped open some Krug, enjoyed our PJs, and rocked our aviator glasses.
For most passengers on a similar flight (not with a group of seven), this is a great place to mingle, meet new people, and network with other passengers. I am willing to bet that more than one business deal will end up going down in that lounge.
QATAR AIRWAYS’ A380 ECONOMY CLASS
Although no one would choose to fly in economy versus a premium product (actually, maybe some of you would), if you are “stuck” in the main cabin, at least Qatar makes it a bit more livable.
One of the cool parts of flying Qatar economy on the A380 is you can still fly on the upper deck. It seems a bit out of place, but behind the Sky Lounge are seven and a half rows of economy. On most airliners, the upper deck is reserved for premium passengers, but this gives you a chance to fly on the upper deck on the A380, without having to pay premium prices. Plus the configuration on the upper deck is 2-4-2, while the lower deck is set up as 3-4-3.
No matter if you are on the upper or lower deck, your Economy seat will give you a 10.6″ screen and a touchscreen remote control. You also get access to in-seat power, 32″ pitch, and a respectable 18.5″ width. All together, Qatar’s A380 has 461 Economy Class seats.
Qatar’s product on other (non A380/787/A350) aircraft is nothing too bad, but the A380 is quite the improvement. After flying from Washington, DC to Doha to Bangkok on Qatar’s 777, I was happy, but after experiencing the A380, it was hard going back to the 777 from Doha to the states.
On top of everything else, the A380 also offers the benefit of Wi-Fi (via OnAir) for passengers. The cost was a reasonable $10 for three hours of usage during my flight on my phone, but it worked for about 30 minutes and I couldn’t get it back online again. Even when it did work, the speeds were miserably low; 0.13 Mbps for download and 0.13 Mbps for upload. Might not have gotten the internet service to work well, but the customer service was top-notch.
I have to applaud one flight attendant, Christina, who went well above the call of duty and really helped to make the flight even better.
I know many of you readers will choose your routing based on the aircraft type you will be flying on. I can tell you that it is worth going the long way around the world (like I did) to experience Qatar’s A380.
Qatar Airways provided flights and accommodations during my trip. All opinions are my own.