A few weeks ago, I had the chance to fly Qatar Airways on their (current) longest flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Qatar’s home hub in Doha – about 16 hours. Given all the talk about them being named a “Five Star Airline” by Skytrax, and our previous coverage of flying Qatar, I was really excited for this flight. It would be my first experience on Qatar, and it would be in business class. Unfortunately, I was let down by my experience, at least on the flight to Doha (my flight home to the states was much better at least).
I arrived at LAX via a quick domestic hop from Denver on United. Getting from one side of the airport (T7) to the other (T2) was a mess. I walked outside, on foot, as I had a long layover and it was a decent day out. While the south side of LAX is now fully connected post-security, the north side is still old-school separated.
Surprisingly, Qatar flies out of the newly-renovated T2, which seems to be the terminal of bastard airlines at LAX. Hawaiian, Air Canada, Virgin Atlantic, and other low-frequency carriers are based there, as opposed to the excellent Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). Although the actual terminal is updated, getting there did not seem equipped for prime time. Even with a business class ticket, I was held at the lower level of the terminal. Once enough room cleared on the next level at the packed security checkpoint, I was allowed to take the escalator up to join the queue.
Security was an absolute mess. The older facility just wasn’t designed for modern-day TSA security. The floor was sloped towards the gates as my bag was constantly rolling off — it was pretty comical.
Once clearing the mess at the security checkpoint, I wandered in to T2. It looked shiny and new, the result of the upgraded terminal project, but I was looking for my lounge. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be using the excellent oneworld lounge (in TBIT), but rather the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge… eh.
Despite its shortcomings (not much of a food or booze selection for a Qatar lounge), the views of the airfield were amazing. I picked a seat that gave me a front-row view of the north-side runways and I could have sat there for days. My flight was running late, but once I saw the Boeing 777-200LR land and taxi, I started packing up to head to the gate.
Boarding was delayed a few times. They didn’t really make announcements, but a group of about 15 flight crew were sitting near me (with a few preparing diligently for the flight and taking notes about the passengers – kudos!). At one point, someone came up to the gaggle of flight crew, said a few words, and then half of them headed off towards the Starbucks. I figured we’d be there a while.
Once I finally boarded, I was led to my seat in a cabin that had a pretty light load. I settled in to 2F (a middle aisle seat, as the 777 on Qatar is 2-2-2 across). As time went on, and the whole first row was open, I asked to move to a window seat up front. Another guy had the same idea on the other side of the plane, but we were the only occupants in row one.
Up to this point, a majority of my issues were with the airport versus the airline, but do not worry — I experienced a bit more disappointment. The flight attendant working my section asked if I would like a drink. I asked for champagne – I mean, I’m about to embark on a 16-hour flight, in business class, on one of the world’s best airlines. Yeah – they were out of champagne… before we even took off. It was pretty obvious that they were not taking on any booze in LAX, probably to avoid paying taxes on it. That said, they did have all of the other drinks available, including a tasty rose champagne. Pink drink for me, I guess.
Next up, for the double whammy, the flight attendant came by to offer pajamas – a very important feature for a flight that lasts two workdays. Unfortunately, they only had size XXL available (and, remember, I was in the first row). I’m a normal sized guy, so they were just baggy on me, but I felt bad for the poor woman behind me, who was like 110 pounds and 5’2”. Is no pre-flight champagne or no PJs the worst thing in the world? No. But when people choose an airline for premium service, these smaller details can really add up.
Once we were airborne (and, man, does a lightly-loaded 777-200LR feel like a rocket, even with a ton of fuel on board), menus were distributed. I was impressed with Qatar’s “dine at any time” concept, which gives you the freedom to eat based upon what time zone your body is in. It’s especially important, given the amount of ultra-long-haul flying that Qatar does.
As it was evening back home in Denver, I decided to order a multi-course dinner. It was hit and miss. The toasted sweet corn soup was by far the best thing on the menu – it was amazing. Then I moved on to the “anti pasti salads” appetizer (that’s really how it was spelled on the menu), which was not good. It was supposed to be a medley of three sides, but was missing one of them. Instead, they just “doubled-up” on one of the other items. There was no explanation from the cabin crew. The other parts of the meal were all decent, but not memorable (good or bad).
That lack of acknowledgement on the appetizer was indicative of the generally mediocre service I received throughout the flight, and my biggest disappointment with the experience. Not having champagne or pajamas on board wasn’t the crew’s fault. The poor service was, however. To give you an example, I don’t think there was a single time that my drink was refilled, or that I was even asked about a refill, without me having to specifically ask for something. I’m being serious when I tell you that I’ve had better premium cabin service on United.
While the business class product on Qatar’s 777 fleet isn’t industry-leading (with its 2-2-2 setup, it doesn’t offer direct aisle access for each seat, nor the privacy of the newest products), the lie-flat bed itself was great. I was still able to get a full night of sleep — literally a full eight hours. On a 16-hour flight without WiFi, what else are you going to do? I did find the pillow, duvet, and blanket to be very comfortable as well. I can say that I’ve flown a number of long-haul flights on 787s, and with this super long-haul flight, I really noticed the lack of humidity as we landed. The cabin environmental experience on the 787 (and the Airbus A350 that have the humidity option) is truly superior.
Despite our very late departure from Los Angeles, we landed in Doha just a few minutes after schedule. My overall impression was that the flight was just “ok” – I had managed to get a lot of sleep, the IFE system had a wide selection, and food was decent. I guess my expectations were just so high with Qatar Airways that it left me feeling disappointed. Luckily, my flight to Boston on the new Airbus A350 lived up to my expectations. Stay tuned!
Note: I was a guest of Qatar Airways for the purpose of experiencing their inaugural service to Boston. All opinions are my own.