THE WORLD’S 5-STAR AIRLINE (TAKING YOU MORE PERSONALLY)
Qatar Airways (القطرية) is the national flag carrier of the State of Qatar (دولة قطر) in the Middle East. Founded on the 22nd of November 1993, the airline has gone through a rapid expansion in a short time span to serve 101 destinations using 100 state-of-the-art modern and young aircraft. The airline, which employees a total of around 18,000 people world-wide, is based in the ultra-modern Doha Control Tower at Doha International Airport and serves its destinations across Europe, Middle East, Africa, Australasia, the Indian subcontinent, and East Asia. At the time of writing Qatar Airways has a firm order for 136 aircraft to be delivered within the next 5-7 years. These include 5 Airbus A380-800 (Super Jumbos), 30 Boeing 787-8 (Dreamliner), and 90 orders for the Airbus A350 aircraft (Extra Wide Bodied).
The airline is the proud holder of a number of awards. The latest of these came in 2011, when Qatar Airways was named by Skytrax the "Airline of the Year 2011", at the Paris Air Show in June 2011. At the same time, Qatar Airways placed an order for 6 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The ultimate ranking, this rating is awarded to airlines achieving the highest quality performance. Qatar Airways is one of just seven airlines globally to be awarded the 5-star rating.
As the CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, says: ‘Travel by air has reached the point where it is now taken for granted in most corners of the globe. With a larger number of passengers and more choice available in the skies today, airlines looking to maintain or grow their position in the marketplace must provide high-quality service with ever-increasing efficiency.’
In 2011, some new interesting destinations for Qatar Airways include Chongqing (in Sichuan Province where hot and spicy Chinese cuisine derives from), and Shiraz in Iran. The sixth biggest city in Iran, Shiraz is the site of the country’s first solar power plant and was the birthplace of Shiraz wine hundreds of years B.C. It is not the same grape variety as the French Syrah (as served on this flight) because there is no chance of it having migrated there from Iran (the Iranian grape was a white one, and the French is a deep red).
In the United Kingdom, Qatar Airways flies non-stop between Doha and London Heathrow (28 flights a week), and Manchester (14 flights a week), connecting passengers to over 101 destinations worldwide through its hub at Doha. When the Boeing 787 comes into service, Qatar Airways hopes to use it for the London-Doha route. I was on the flight from London Heathrow to Doha on Qatar Airways’ Airbus A340-642 to check out their Economy Class seats! What a flight it was…check this out:
Route: LONDON HEATHROW (LHR) to DOHA (DOH)
Departure date and time of flight: February 2011
Flight number: QR008 (ICAO callsign: “Qatari 008 heavy”)
Flight duration: 6 Hours 35 minutes
Class: ECONOMY CLASS
Aircraft type: AIRBUS A340-642 (3 in service)
Unit cost of each Airbus A340-642: US$275.4 million (£168.25 million or €190 million) (2011)
Aircraft registration: A7-AGD (First flight 16th February 2007)
Engine Type: 4 x RR Trent 556-61 (ROLLS-ROYCE)
Aircraft Serial Number: 798
Frequent flyer programme: Qatar Airways' Privilege Club- Q Miles
Seat configuration for this aircraft:
First Class: 8 flat bed seats in a 1-2-1 configuration (6.5 Feet legroom)
Business Class: 42 lie-flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration,
Economy Class: 256 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration
Presently the Airbus A340-642 is the only aircraft where Qatar Airways offers First Class cabin. However the CEO of Qatar Airways Mr. Akbar Al-Baker has announced in 2010 that Qatar Airways plans to eliminate First Class cabins from existing A340 aircraft, as well as new aircraft deliveries, except the A380 aircraft (of which Qatar Airways will have 5 aircraft in service). In fact all the Business Class seats on the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft offer the same features that are offered by most airlines in most their First Class cabins (such as in seat massage, extra legroom, and more entertainment channels).
Any baggage issues:
Qatar Airways flies from Terminal 4 at Heathrow Airport, which tends to be quieter and much hassle free than the chaotic Terminal 3 (from where all the major international airlines fly from)! No issues regarding the baggage. For Economy Class Qatar Airways have dedicated a checked baggage allowance of 23 kg total for all routes excluding transatlantic routes. Therefore, for the London to Doha route, they have a 23KG luggage policy. All routes have a carry-on allowance of one piece not exceeding 7 kg (50x37x25 cm).
Comments on the check-in staff and flight route:
At the time of writing, Qatar Airways customers can check-in at Zone A, (from desks 115-122). The check-in staff were very polite and swift in processing the check-in process.
Non-EU citizens, can claim Value Added Tax (VAT) before they check-in, at the VAT desk which is accessed by the lift in Zone G. If you want this service then it is wise to add an extra hour to your check-in time for this process. Therefore overall it is wise to be at the airport at least 3 hours before departure (though you may get away with only 2 hours before your flight, but considering it is Heathrow- I would not risk it for the sake of missing your flight!).
After check-in, proceed straight to security (which can take a long time at Heathrow), and within the departure lounge you will find iconic British brands such as Harrods, as well as other brands such as Cartier and Gucci.
Considering that I departed on a daytime, there was hardly any hustle or bustle that you would normally expect at Heathrow on a busy rush hour period. The check-in process went smoothly (there was NO queue!) and quickly. It must have taken less than 20 minutes to get from the check-in desk to the aircraft gate. Because of the large number of flights between London and Doha, the flights are not that full. On our flight, there were only around 50 passengers on a plane that can carry up to 250 passengers!
When checking in for Qatar Airways, passengers are provided with one of the three types of boarding passes depending on where they are going, and which class they are flying in. So passengers whose final destination is Doha will be given a blue boarding pass wallet. Passengers that are flying Economy Class & transferring at Doha Airport are given a yellow boarding pass wallet, and passengers that are flying either Business or First Class & are transferring at Doha Airport are provided with a burgundy coloured boarding pass wallet along with an invitation card to the exclusive Premier terminal at Doha Airport.
From Terminal 4, we had a short taxi to the active runway (runway 27L), and even there we did not come across the long wait for take-off. It was a straight approach to the threshold piano keys and an immediate take-off. Our flight took us from London Heathrow towards a Dover departure, and then reached cruise level of FL350 (35,000 feet), at around Maastricht control. As this was an evening-night flight, so as we approached the Qatar peninsula, near the border of Iraq, one can easily see the huge oil fields in the desert with flames gushing into the Arabian sky. This land is full of oil...billions of cash just lurking under the ground (and that’s what has made Qatar into a rich state over the past few years).
Qatar Airways Lounge at Heathrow Airport Terminal 4
Qatar Airways Premium customers (those flying First or Business Class, or those who hold the Premier Card for the Privilege club), can enjoy the relaxing facilities at the Skyteam lounge. Turn right after security and the longue can be found opposite gate 10. The lounge is shared by other airlines that are part of the Skyteam program (Delta Airlines, Aeroflot, KLM, Air France, Kenya Airways, CSA, Korean Airlines, and others). It has seating for around 250 people, long tables with built-in AC power supplies, PCs, a self-service bar with a good selection of drinks (beers, wines and soft drinks), a barista service, a hot and cold snack menu, a quiet zone, baby changing facilities, free WiFi, flat screen TVs, meeting rooms, and showers as well.
Punctuality of the flight:
Departed bang on time, and landed 35 minutes ahead of schedule. Time is money when it comes to the aviation industry as fuel costs, combined with landing fees, take-off slot fees, and airport management fees pile on rapidly the longer the aircraft stays on the ground. Qatar Airways, and the ground-handling agents at Heathrow, are very efficient in what they do and how they operate on time. The Captain told me that the plane had plenty of fuel in the tanks in case we had to do a fuel dumping (god forbid!), and everything was well managed for this flight.
Comments regarding the pre-flight service:
Upon embarking the aircraft, passengers in First, Business Class, and Economy Class were offered welcome drinks consisting of fresh orange juice, fresh apple juice, mineral water (champagne, wines, and caviar in First and Business Class only). As opposed to other airlines, Qatar Airlines offers refreshing towels to all passengers in all the classes prior to departure, prior to their meals and prior to landing. This is part of the true 5-star service that sets Qatar Airways apart from the rest. The cabin crew are truly one of the best trained I have met on any other airline. Customer comes first and Qatar Airways truly define the meaning of a 5-star service.
Comments regarding the pre-meal service:
Passengers in economy class were offered a packet of fresh pretzels packed in Qatar Airways branded packets, and a choice of drinks from the trolley service. Wine in economy class is provided by Fortant De France by Syrah. The cabin crew were so nice and friendly. Because the flight was so empty, so they took their time to serve every customer. There was no rush.
Comments regarding the first meal:
Before each meal service in Economy Class, the cabin crew place a coloured mat (paper mat) on the tray table. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the mat is slightly static so it will stop your cup of drink from sliding away if there is turbulence; secondly it will act as a sponge in case you do spill your drink or drop food (keeps everything clean!); and thirdly, it’s to give that extra personal service to passengers even in Economy (if Business Class passengers can get a luxury white cloth, then there is no reason why Economy Class passengers cannot get a similar service).
Now, another reason why Qatar Airways is a 5-star airline is because of the high quality of the food provided to the customers even in economy class. All Economy Class passengers are treated just they are special VIP customers. The main meal tray arrived around 35 minutes after departure from Heathrow. The following were the options for the dinner service:
1. Chicken in mustard curry with banana leaf sauce (non-veg)
2. Special fragrant basmati rice with okra and spinach sabji (vegetarian)
I went for the chicken in mustard curry with banana leaf sauce. You can tell that an airline meal is freshly cooked especially when the tender taste of the meat melts in your mouth. Succulent pieces of chicken thighs and breasts were dancing on the tongue with each mouthful;. This Indian meal was better than most of the Indian restaurants in London (in my opinion, its true!).
Accompanying this meal was a lovely bowl of daal (mixed lentils) and soya beans sprinkled with a dash of fresh lemon and ginger juice. The garnish was complete with a few fresh crushed mint leaves blended into the daal. Impossibly yummy!.
The bowl of raita (fresh Indian yogurt) was not just some ordinary yogurt, but it was Greek yogurt merged with fine sprinkling of salt, pepper, and some Indian spices. Lovely addition to the main meal, and nice to dip in the Indian bread into the raita!
A scrumptious portion of Coxton Manor cheddar cheese with biscuits, and cubes of Lily O Brian’s chocolates as extras.
The most important dish of the tray happened to include a richly made chocolate and orange moose, topped with generous portions of chocolate chips, and a dash of Bacardi rum. Only Qatar Airways would provide food like that!
Comments regarding the after meal drinks and in-flight snacks:
Plenty of fresh water, Lily O Brian’s chocolates, and boiled sweets by ‘Zoom’ were distributed throughout the flight. Passengers could go to the galley and get a free flow of pot noodles, drinks (alcohol and non-alcohol) if they wanted. Coffee and tea are offered in lovely Qatar Airways branded paper cups (that can be recycled), and milk is offered by local Qatari vendor, Rainbow. Bottled water is exclusively offered by Evian.
Comments regarding the second meal:
Qatar Airways is one of the few global airlines that offer a second meal on flights within a 6-hour duration. The second meal was a light one compared to the slightly heavier one offered after take-off from London Heathrow. Offered just an hour prior to landing, passengers were treated to a selection of hot posh wraps by Monty’s bakehouse (tangy tomato, and chickpea and, char grilled chicken with tomato). The hot wraps were accompanied with a choice of non-alcohol drinks (hot and cold), and a chocolate biscuit. All the in-flight meals at Qatar Airways are prepared according to strict Islamic traditions. In Economy Class, Qatar Airways still provides plastic cutlery to the passengers.
Another round of drinks and refreshments were offered after the second meal.
Lounges at Doha Airport
My flight landed at half past midnight, and even though I was travelling on Economy Class, Qatar Airways still have lounge facilities for those members that have Privilege cards. Doha International Airport is the only commercial airport in Qatar, and has two terminals: Terminal A for Qatar Airways flights, and Terminal B for all other airlines. The airport handled more than 15 million passengers in 2010, and will officially be replaced by the New Doha International Airport (NDIA) that is due to be opened in late 2011 (or early 2012) around 5km from the current airport’s location. As opposed to the current airport which has only one runway (runway 16/34 is the 15th longest runway in the world at 15,000 feet), NDIA will have 2 parallel runways to cater for the rapid rise in air travel in the region, and Qatar Airways’ rapid growth plans (including stands for the Airbus A380 aircraft, for which Qatar Airways has ordered 5 aircraft).
For those passengers that don’t have any Qatar Airways Privilege member cards, they can still use complimentary state-of-the-art facilities like showers, and rest areas. There are a myriad of shops serving hot and cold food and drinks. The Economy Class terminal has its own duty free area. Since Qatar Airways operate most of their flights at nighttime, so from around 11pm to 4am, Doha Airport is like a funfair! You’ll see people from all parts of the world waiting to be connected to all corners of the globe. It’s really an interesting place- almost like the United Nations!. If you want to get a real culture shock, then come and experience Doha Airport, perhaps the most cosmopolitan airport in the world. In the background of the Economy Class terminal waiting area, planes can be heard all night roaring off on take-off to faraway lands. Since most of the planes are parked away from the terminal building, therefore buses are used to connect passengers to the aircraft rather than using the usual jetties connected to the terminal buildings.
Doha airport is simply an art of sophistication. It’s located only 5km away from the centre of Doha, but the airport may itself be considered as an oasis city itself. There are FOUR lounges at Doha Airport:
Privilege Club Gold Lounge
Provides a true 5-star service in all the elements that it offers. This lounge is to be used by Privilege Club Gold Card holders (irrespective of the class they travel in). Members will find a warm welcome and world-class facilities in this stylish lounge.
Privilege Club Silver Lounge
The Silver Lounge has all of the facilities as the Gold Members Lounge except baggage storage.
This is 5-star lounge with all of the above mentioned facilities, and can be used by passengers travelling on first or Business Class on any other airline except Qatar Airways.
This is the exclusive Lounge for those travelling on First or Business Class with Qatar Airways. Its looks and feels like a 5-star hotel rather than an airport lounge. Complete with luxurious bedrooms, Jacuzzi, nursery for kids, storage space, office facilities (fax, internet, and telephone), massage facilities, separate mosques for men and women, sauna facilities, and a Mecca for dining with a true 5-star service. You can eat whatever you like. The Premier terminal has its own duty-free shop on the ground floor. Buses whisk passengers to/from their planes.
Comments on the in-flight entertainment system:
Headphones were offered in the Economy Class cabin. The 10.6 inch PTV screen is placed behind every Economy Class seat. Qatar Airways has 3 different IFE systems: Widescreen AVOD, PTV AVOD and Mainscreen. The digital AVOD (Audio Video on Demand) in-cabin entertainment system is known as Oryx entertainment system, is in use on all the routes. Passengers can select their program either from the panel in the arm of the seat or simply by touching the screen. The AVOD system fall into three categories: 'Information', 'Entertainment’, and 'Communications'. Altogether, there are over 120 channels and levels of entertainment to absorb during your flight (providing an overall 700 audio and video options for every passengers on every flight).
Then there is Oryx, the five-star quality in-flight magazine of Qatar Airways to keep you mesmerized with many stories and useful information. PTV AVOD is fitted on board all Airbus A330s and Airbus A340s. It has a PTV and a remote. This was Qatar's first AVOD system. It is the only system that offers live television. The PTV system on the Airbus A340-642 aircraft is not touch screen (as that’s only available on the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft). The good thing is that on the Airbus A340-642 all the seats have AC power plugs for passengers to do their work (or if you want to charge up your phone, camera, laptop etc.).
Comments of professionalism of the cabin crew :
The cabin crew were very hospitable, and proud to work for Qatar Airways. There was a genuine smile on every crew members face and you could tell that they really enjoyed their job. There was a real sense of teamwork in the cabin. As a customer (or passenger) it is easy to tell if the cabin crew are not getting along with each other (it does happen like any other job!), and on this flight I could see that everyone was in a joyous mood. If there was something I wanted or a question I had, then no one objected to it. Instead, they tried their best to help me as much as they could.
It’s no wonder that Qatar Airways cabin crew were voted the ‘Best Cabin Crew’ in the Middle East for the seventh consecutive year at the 2009 Skytrax airline awards. Qatar Airways has over 100 nationalities as cabin crew who offer a consistent 5-star service to its passengers. Some airline companies have all kinds of motivated mottos that they will look after their customers, but sometimes they fail in this miserably. Qatar Airways however really does make sure that everyone enjoys a smooth, and comfortable flight.
Qatar Airways, like most other Middle Eastern carriers, invest a lot in training their staff, which is why their cabin crew and pilots are one of the best in the world. All that money from the passengers’ ticket price revenue is poured back into the high-class training provided to the staff, state-of-the-art aircraft, first-class facilities, and unmatchable tax-free salaries to the correct staff. This all equals to the making of a 5-star airline where you have the best staff that are well trained, and well looked after. An excellent example of this was demonstrated on the 13th October 2010, when a Qatar Airways Captain sadly died while on duty from a heart attack on a flight from Manila to Doha. His First Officer diverted the aircraft to Kuala Lumpur, and landed safely. This tragic event, whilst having a safe outcome for the rest of the crew and the 260 passengers; was a wake-up call for the industry. In other airlines where the training is not as good as that of Qatar Airways, this may have resulted in a negative result (I hope not, god forbid...but I fear it may).
Airlines in the Middle East region (Emirates, Oman Air, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways, and Etihad), tend to employ highly experienced pilots who have had entire careers at airlines in their home countries before embarking on an expat lifestyle. In addition, they spend huge amounts of cash on simulator training at their base hubs. Their first-officers train-for and are examined on their response to ‘pilot incapacitation’.
On our flight, we had cabin crew from Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, United Kingdom, France and, Morocco. The languages spoken were English, Arabic, Hindi, Thai, French, Spanish, and Tamil. The entire staff at Qatar Airways are thoroughly taught and regularly checked on how to deal with all kinds of situations in a metal tube flying at 37,000 feet in the sky, including first aid, very young children, pregnant mothers, terrorism, drunken passengers (it does happen), bad behaviour by passengers, and any other mayday situations.
Comments on the interior of the aircraft (including seat comfort)
The A340-642 aircraft has an on-board lounge near the First and Business class compartments. Priestmangoode, (famous for Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa seating), designed the lounge. Building on traditional Qatari hospitality Priestmangoode has developed the design of the on-board lounge to be an extension of the airline’s airport lounge. The overall aim of the design was to generate the feeling of a integrated VIP corporate jet. The lounge offers cream leather sofa seating for six passengers and standing room at the bar. There is also a small mini-bar with spotlight mood lighting, and some space for magazines to be placed. In the 2009 and 2010 Skytrax Awards, Qatar Airways Economy Class was named best in the world.
There are 256 Economy Seats on the Airbus A340-642 aircraft with a 2-4-2 configuration. Each seat has a generous pitch of a 34-inch recline and is 18.9 inches wide. This is far better than most other airlines around the world. All the seats have a PTV displayed at the back of each seat, and a reading light. The one thing that Qatar Airways can perhaps improve is to have the hand rests to be reclined 90 degrees instead of the 45 degrees. The hand rests for the seats don’t go backwards completely. Nevertheless, the seat itself is very comfortable, and for a flight of 7 hours, it’s hard to complain about anything!
Even in Economy Class, the toilets are equipped with refreshing towels (various coloured packaging), eau de toilette, and a hand cream (Molton Brown of London). Another sign of why it’s the world’s 5-star airline.
Qatar Airways logo and livery :
Qatar Airways logo consist of the head of the national animal of the State of Qatar, the Oryx gazelle, as a motif, stuck on a round background of zigzags which resembles the background of the national flag of the State of Qatar. In line with the colors of the national flag of Qatar, the identity uses maroon as its primary color for all logos and branding.
The airline advertises heavily internationally including on international television channels like CNN, and BBC World. The airline’s motto is ‘The World’s 5-star airline that takes you more personally’, and this is certainly true when it comes to everything they do for their customers and passengers.
The word ‘’QATAR’ occupies the front of the fuselage, using a quite bland font, in huge letters on the livery. The whole logo on the airline portrays the perfect flair and distinctiveness that it deserves. There is a sense of luxury among that design. The grey and maroon colors are adopted from the national flag, and it essentially looks like a large Qatar flag on a plane (with those huge ‘QATAR’ letters on the front of the fuselage).
The Arabic name of the airline ‘Al Qatariyah’ is rendered in a much smaller, light grey font is barely noticeable on the plane. All the Boeing 777-300ER, and Airbus A340-642 aircraft have the world ‘QATAR’ painted on the belly of the fuselage (it is easily visible from the ground when a plane is flying). In addition there is the Qatar Airways’ Oryx logo on the winglets of the Airbus A340-600 (as shown in the photos), and on the engine pods of all aircraft. Even the wheels have their interior painted in grey to resemble the brand identity. It looks cool!
The Oryx on the plane’s tail is itself a work of art, and suits the airline’s tailfins splendidly. It portrays the authentic culture and heritage of the Qatar people and country. Like most airlines around the world, Qatar Airways have adopted to a more modern and simple livery that portrays elegance, sophistication, and a smooth blend of comfort and imaginativeness. The airline logo stands out like a strong brand, and is proudly displayed on all tableware, cloths, in-flight seat covers, tissue paper, cups, airport buses, and on all the uniforms.
Overall rating 1-10 (worst-best) : 10
About Airline PR
This is a special section on Airline Branding, and Airline Public Relations written by me on all the flights I have been fortunate enough to have been on. These are not records taken from somewhere else, but are actual flights I have been on. Most of the flight trips are officially sponsored by the airline companies in order to promote their certain routes, and aircraft. Airline promotion and PR related work in the aviation industry is one of my expertise.
Watch exclusive videos below taken in the cockpit of a Boeing 777-300ER in-flight over Chinese Airspace.
Special thanks goes to
B777-300ER Cockpit Video 1
B777-300ER Cockpit Video 2
Proud media partner of QATAR AIRWAYS