The A350 flight deck being shown off by its joyful flight crew. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The A350 flight deck being shown off by its joyful flight crew – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

For press, the delivery ceremony completion usually means it is either time to drive back home, or return to the hotel and pack for the flight.

Not this day.

Airbus and Qatar Airways decided that it would be a great way to enhance the press experience if everyone was given a demonstration flight aboard the Airbus A350.

This was a great idea, so there had to be some kind of drawback! For a demonstration flight that would last an hour with pre-selected passengers, all 200 of us present had to go through security screening. A process that felt like it took longer than the flight itself. What a surprise, no one had any contraband or ill intent!

Rant aside, after what felt like an eternity, I finally made it onto the jet bridge to a crowd that was more akin to being in the last row of economy on a domestic narrowbody. I realized then and there that taking any kind of photographic imagery was going to be a challenge.

Door L1 on Qatar Airways' first A350 XWB, long after the crowd had dispersed for lunch. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Door L1 on Qatar Airways’ first A350 XWB, long after the crowd had dispersed for lunch Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

We boarded via a choice of either L1 or L2, I chose L2 as I wanted to see the lovely dome light and the in-flight bar. The doors themselves do not create any temporary feelings of claustrophobia. In the case of L2, you immediately walk into a spacious and open atrium. The ceiling is higher than one has come to expect on regular passenger aircraft, the walls more vertical.

The A350 features a new style of overhead bin designed for greater rollaboard capacity. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The A350 features a new style of overhead bin designed for greater roll-aboard capacity – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The overhead bins are recessed, but massive. Airbus has put a lot of effort into improving the passenger experience and with more passengers than ever going carry-on only, these larger bins are going to make everyone have a better flight.

BONUS: Flight Review: Taking Qatar Airways’ Airbus A350 Delivery Flight to Doha

Thankfully, this economy class flight would be less than an hour, as business class was reserved for the VVIPs. To further confound this; my seat, 33F, was not a window or anywhere near them. As luck would have it, it seemed as though the window seats were assigned for those without any sort of photographic equipment. Such the luck.

The front economy cabin on Qatar Airways' first A350-900. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The front economy cabin on Qatar Airways’ first A350-900 – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

But at least the windows were huge. It’s not just marketing — they really make the cabin feel more spacious and open. Better yet, there’s no silly electronic window translucency controllers that you would find on the 787. When you want to block light from hitting you, or darken the cabin for passengers to sleep, one relies on this ingenious device called a plastic window shade. The future is now!

The 10.6", HD, IFE screen also features a built-in USB port. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The 10.6″ HD IFE screen also features a built-in USB port – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Anyway, let’s focus on the good things about Qatar’s A350 economy. It’s 32″ seat pitch. With the way the seats are designed it feels more like 34″. The IFE screen is huge, larger than first class on some airlines at 10.6″. They’ve even gone all out and added a hand-held screen as well that allows further interactivity with the system. For example, you can have a movie going on the mainscreen, and a map going on the hand-held.

Qatar Airways offers a generous 32" seat pitch in Economy on board their A350s. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Qatar Airways offers a generous 32″ seat pitch in Economy on board their A350s – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The flat floor of the A350, when combined with the vertical sidewalls, allows the A350 to achieve its design of an 18″-wide economy seat at nine-abreast. You can really feel the difference. The design also does give you noticeably more shoulder room. Given the luxuriousness of the product, most airlines would probably try to upsell it as premium economy. It is clear, from even a short interaction, that it offers a lot more value compared to the competitors.

His Excellency, Akbar Al Baker walking through the cabin whilst Airways News Founder Chris Sloan tweets the very same photo. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

His Excellency, Akbar Al Baker walking through the cabin whilst Airways News Founder Chris Sloan tweets the very same photo. Photo – Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Suddenly, Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al Baker appeared. I’m still not sure why. It’s always awe-inspiring to see him, so I was thrilled.

After the surprise scrum of His Excellency (HE) Al Baker walking past everyone, it was time to once again sit down, and pushback.

BONUS: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of the First Airbus A350

Startup was extremely quiet. Yes, there was a signature Rolls Royce growl, but it was muffled. It was terrifying how quiet the aircraft was. Even in the aft economy section, it was quieter than the APU on most current-generation aircraft. I am sure there are some people out there rejoicing in this, but I don’t consider it real flying unless I have a headache afterwards.

Qatar Airways’ recently-delivered A350 XWB and A380 jetliners taxi out before departing on their ferry flights from Toulouse, France to the carrier’s hub in Doha, Qatar - Photo: Airbus

Qatar Airways’ recently-delivered A350 XWB and A380 jetliners taxi out before departing on their ferry flights from Toulouse, France to the carrier’s hub in Doha, Qatar – Photo: Airbus

I am sure the views on taxi were great, but I couldn’t see anything. Same for take-off. I longed to watch the wings flex gracefully skyward. Instead, I had a nice view of the runway courtesy of the three cameras that can feed the “A350” section of the IFE. The takeoff roll lasted 22 seconds. Nothing even close to a high-thrust setting was used, but in either case the noise was more of a faint rushing of air than a traditional jetliner.

Once we were at cruise, it was time for everyone to try and take the exact same two pictures. Either a shot of HE Al Baker sitting in his business class seat, or the man right next to him, Airbus President & CEO Fabrice Brégier. Clearly, everyone had to do airborne video interviews with them as well.

I’ve never seen a more gridlocked cabin. Remember, we were only given 45 minutes of air time. It’s a testament to the A350 that it could stay so perfectly stable with the entirety of the economy cabin rushing forth to the nose. I just wanted to go up and see business class. Big mistake. What I should have done was use the opportunity to look out the window.

Being stuck in the aisle gives you a lot of time to snack. The smoked-duck canapés were the best. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Being stuck in the aisle gives you a lot of time to snack. The smoked-duck canapés were the best. Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Instead, stuck in the aisle with all the other people who wanted to get the CEO shots, and the poor flight attendants trying to distribute champagne.

It felt like I was waiting to see a celebrity after a concert on land! The longer I waited in line, however, the more I began to think “Hey, maybe taking a shot of the CEOs enjoying the aircraft would be a great idea after all — It would be a great shot to lead the story!”

By the time I had reached all but three rows away from Fabrice, a flight attendant instructed me it was time to return to my seat. Fifteen minutes later, I had actually made it back. Oh well.

His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive with Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Brégier - Photo: Airbus

His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive with Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Brégier – Photo: Airbus

We flew over the Pyrenees Mountains to, inadvertently, show off the A350’s advanced gust protection system. In terms of flying at a relatively low level over the mountains, I’ve never felt anything so smooth. The system works.

The thing that I only realized in hindsight was that it barely even felt like we were flying. There was no dryness in the air, only a faint sound of rushing air, and very little sensation of flight. It’s astounding how utterly unobtrusive the aircraft is. I’m torn on whether I actually like that or not.

Landing was, however, unremarkable. I think that’s a good thing. Long after everyone else had left. I managed to work my way up to the flight deck.

The B/E Aerospace Produced seat for Qatar Airways' A350 Business Class product. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The B/E Aerospace-produced seat for Qatar Airways’ A350 Business Class product – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

After that, I was finally able to check out business class. It looks fantastic!

BONUS: Flight Review of Qatar Airways’ Airbus A380 Business Class

Overall, the A350 feels like it is a game-changer in terms of passenger comfort. I can’t wait to actually try it on a long-haul flight and put my assumptions to the test.

CONTRIBUTOR - SEATTLE, WA. Bernie has traveled around the world to learn about, experience, and photograph different types of planes. He will go anywhere to fly on anything. He spent four years in Australia learning about how to run an airline, while putting his learning into practice by mileage running around the world. You can usually find Bernie in his natural habitat: an airport. Email: [email protected].

http://www.airlinereporter.com
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6 Comments

A nice report, mostly.
Even if Bernie did not get a window seat, I’m happy to see a report about Coach Class facilities, where most folks fly. Notes about the seats, pitch, IFE system are welcome additions to the norm. Since this was a demo flight, I’d discount the service notes as both firms were out to impress everyone; that’s not Qatar’s coach standard my any means.
One must wonder if the Dig about Window Shades is necessary. (IMHO it is first about weight and then cost. The electronic system now used by the “Other Brand” likely weighs less-per window, but that is only a guess.)
Is some disclosure statement missing?
On the whole, an excellent report; one that confirms the new A350 as a “SLC-Friendly” airplane. As a direct competitor to the B787, A350 operators will be watching operating costs, dispatch reliability and other measures with microscopes, so it will take a few years to collect data and and make meaningful comparisons. Again, the window shade snipe was unnecessary in an otherwise great review. I cannot wait to read a review by a SLCer who spends ten hours in Qatar’s Coach class. And lastly, one must always consider Qatar’s personnel practices. Some write it off as a “Cultural Thing,” but it goes far deeper than that. Al Baker and Qatar are not obligated to conform to Western employment standards – and I’m not obligated to patronize an airline that abuses its employees.
-C.

I flew Qatar Dreamliner from SIN to CDG last November and
Would have to say it was the most wonderful flying experience
I have had in 38 years in the Travrl Industry.
The service was exceptional from the ground staff in SIN to the cabin crew.
I flew EK on the reverse journey. Bitterly disssapointed, all round.

Will defiantly be looking at more future travel on QR. I have raved with the reviews to
My colleagues, who have not flown nor considered previously.

Keep up the great job QR.

nevon katerson

I enjoyed the review but like Cook I am totally surprised by the electric window a la Dreamliner snipe. The window, although not perfect, is an innovation.Kudos to Boeing for having the testicular fortitude to try something new. Maybe the author is biased towards towards Airbus. Each company offers something new and maybe one day these airliners will make stops where I reside.

plastic window shade..and the future is now…just doesnt go together.

Roy Pacarat

A350 is the best aircraft in the world of course A380 is also included.

john russell

Despite all the silly talk about the windows, I would have thought that just ignoring it was the best thing to do. Obviously put there to wind up people and it succeeded. The A350 is a beautiful aircraft and a clever one,the down side is the delivery problem, only 46 delivered in two years. Not a good advertisement whatever the pr guys say. Aircraft are picked for their use to an airline, not whether its American or European. I also understand the American pride in their products but please understand that both Boeing and Airbus are not made in the USA or France. The components come from companies world wide -so the aircraft are only assembled in the USA and FRANCE

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