Qatar Business Class Amsterdam to Melbourne via Doha

In the past week I decided to spend a few days in Australia, travelling from Holland. It’s a long way and I’ll a lot of this week on a plane so comfort is important. I had been keeping a few options open after I flew up here in Emirates first class from Sydney a month ago. My short list wasn’t exactly short with Qantas and BA first class, Cathay Pacific and Malaysian business class plus others were all possibilities. I ended up finding last minute availability on Qatar Airways, Amsterdam to Melbourne via Doha. The first flight would be on their new B787 Dreamliner product with the very long sector to Melbourne on their older B777 business class. Although they’re not perfect and I still have strong ethical reservations regarding their labour practices, in my opinion they remain on of the best business class products.

It is little secret I have been having huge difficulties with moving in with Utrecht University. The city is lovely but the university staff I’ve dealt with in the past month have proven the most useless, psychological unhinged morons I’ve ever met. Leaving that aside I decided the best thing to do would be to leave for a few days. It would be a nice break from being treated like dirt by travelling in business or first class down to Australia.

I booked last minute using the American Airlines loyalty program. It’s only 80 thousand points in first class currently between Europe and Australia and 60 in business. So given they charge so little extra between the two was quite intent on finding first class flights. The best bit with their program is not charge fuel surcharge for these awards as long as one avoids British Airways. This means the overall cash cost for me would be nearly negligible. The only downside to booking Qatar was its arrival into Melbourne is very late, well after any possible domestic connections. I would be booking through to Adelaide with a domestic business class flight on Qantas that departed the following day. Luckily with the right friend, being stuck in Melbourne overnight would not be a problem.

Sadly my iPhone was taking rubbish photos this trip, I latter suspect there was some buildup on the lens causing streaking and halo affects. Not sure why or how.

Departing Amsterdam Schiphol

With a very comfortable late afternoon departure I was in no rush today. I arrived into Schiphol from Utrecht very quickly on the train and went up to the departure area. Check-in for Qatar airways occurs where most oneworld carriers operate from, behind British Airways and close to Finnair, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia etc. With the priority queue there was no wait.

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Security here can be slow. There’s a lot of reconstruction going on and you now have to go upstairs and loop back around. In theory there’s a whole separate section for priority passengers, although you simply loop in the other direction and still join up with everyone else. When the terminal is busy it all works exceptionally well. The bigger advantage in my opinion however is there’s one priority immigration lane if you cannot use the automated gates. This saves significantly more time if anything, as security lanes seem to distribute the capacity better. Through to air side there is still a lot of construction work occurring here. The lounges of old are gone and as I found out recently there is a new British Airways lounge and third party one available but only accessible via an odd external catwalk currently.

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Last time I was departing BA but today I would have access to the third party Aspire lounge that Qatar pays for. I initially visited the Aspire lounge but found it average at best and the internet access poor or malfunctioning. Since I was departing a oneworld carrier in a premium cabin I could elect to use the British Airways lounge instead, which indeed I did. Walking from one lounge to the other is a bit odd but it worked out well. I walked into the BA lounge with my Qatar business class boarding passes with Qantas oneworld emerald status on them – both providing eligibility. The person gave me a look that I’m still unsure of, so I smiled and offered my British Airways number with Sapphire status, also eligible to get it.

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It’s completely ridiculous to hold earned status on both airlines, but I do incidentally with good reason. They took the BA number so I guess that means nobody gets charged for my stay. Had a couple hours to waste before heading off to the boarding gate. It’s quite a long walk to the G-H gates, they still have a bit of work to do to make the airport less complicated. By the time I arrived, boarding had got underway. It was straight onboard to the spacious cabin.

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Amsterdam to Doha, 787 Dreamliner

The Dreamliner design has the open entrance which thankfully Qatar uses as intended. Surrounded by the business class cabin, it provides a good first impression of the openness of the interior and becomes a small bar in flight.

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The seating is reverse-herringbone, as is now quite common on the latest airlines and planes. This compares to the earliest 787s produced going to the Japanese carriers. My initial experience of Japan Airlines on Europe – Japan – West Coast US was great service but not great on the seating.

Qatar B787 Business Class Cabin

Not so pretty from a low angle but you get the reverse-herringbone layout

On Qatar you get a good private space. The middle seats provide some openness for couples. Pre-departure drinks are pretty much mandatory right?

Qatar 787 Dreamliner Business Class Seat

The personal screen is nicely sized and it comes with a touch screen controller. As always avionic entertainment units are trying to keep pace with general consumer electronics. Hopefully this won’t feel outdated by next year.

Qatar 787 Dreamliner Business Class Screen

It always seems like a long taxi to take off from Schiphol but we were eventually in the air towards Doha. Within an hour the initial meal service began. More champagne of course to start. Qatar offer an a la carte menu i.e. you can order what you like when you want, like many first class services. In reality they still operate a normal meal service that most people go along with. I’ve summarised the menu below with asterisk for what I ordered.

Soup
Roasted butternut squash soup *

Appetisers
Classic Arabic mezze
Smoked salmon with pea and potato salad *

Mains
Paneer tikka masala with makhani sauce
Arabic spiced chicken with machboos sauce *
Grilled fillet of beef with horseradish jus

Cheese plate
Plate with cheese on it, obviously. *

Desserts
Fruits
Lime and coconut panna cotta *
Ice cream

Light meals
Savoury pastries
Beef and brioche roll

Since this was an afternoon flight I didn’t really get a chance to snooze. I briefly put the seat down and obviously fully flat is flat. It would be good to try on a longer overnight flight. Supposedly as the launch customer for the Airbus A350 they are using the same seat type (although one would expect dimensions to differ slightly). These aren’t the absolute best but combined with the service and particularly ground product it makes for a fantastic airline to fly over and over. Their sales keep coming thick and fast too, making it hard to avoid flying them.

A quick shot of the bathrooms. It’s business class so you expect functional rather than luxury. The amenity kits on these day flights are also rather poor.

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The onboard bar is a marketing piece more than anything on these planes. I still enjoy using them, maybe in part because they’re there. Yet besides the largest airframes where you can still have a dedicated area to relax and talk to fellow passengers, I seem to be one of the few to utilise them. Bars are more commonly on the largest of long haul fleets starting with Virgin Atlantic. Emirates A380 is by far the largest.

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The Qatar bar feels mostly for show, just the bottle of champagne out with glasses, fruit and chocolates. Personally I prefer to see a few small snacks and other drinks available. My only comparison on the 787 is still Japan Airlines whom had an amazing combination of Japanese + Finnish snacks on the Helsinki flight.

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As you can tell, maybe I’m just becoming a bit too high in my expectations. Flying from Sydney to Amsterdam a few weeks back in Emirates first class is quite a benchmark to compare against. Honestly I didn’t feel let down at all by this and actually quite enjoy the service and seat. I decided against first class this time so I can only blame myself. Compared to other top business class products… Singapore, Cathay Pacific, the new Qantas A330 suites etc. this really is a solid product overall. There’s nothing significantly missing.

Finally Qatar offers wifi across their ‘new’ fleet i.e. B787s and A359s. They might retrofit their older aircraft at a future stage. Unlike Emirates, it is quite price prohibitive however. Obviously if you’re travelling for business and others are paying for it… sure, that’s great. Ideally they should have a small, free option for basic email checking that is maybe time limited. Otherwise it is a shame to have something that really is amazing offered but priced out of reasonable use. Given I’d be into Doha in a few hours with plenty of wifi, I didn’t bother onboard.

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We arrived into Doha only to get stuck with a remote stand. This really shouldn’t happen, although it did on Emirates too last time. The new Doha airport still remains incomplete after they rushed to get it together. Unlike Emirates, the bus here just plain sucks. Way to ruin a perfectly good flight. At least they still separate business and economy class, so there was seating available and you weren’t just crammed in as they do to everyone else. My phone lens was still awful making for some spectacularly blurry-eyed photos. I promise this is not how I felt at the time.

A super short Doha transit

It is important to keep the boarding pass sheath/cover they provide when transiting through Doha. The colour relates to the cabin class and gets you ushered through priority lines. If you are in economy but can pick up a business class coloured cover then it might save you some good time. Even with priority I was left with little under an hour to get to the Al Mourjan Business business lounge, have a shower and try to eat something. This is still the best business class lounge out there, better than some of the first class lounges really. Unfortunately I really had no time to enjoy it this evening, let alone eat. I barely got to sit down a get snack, which I quickly scoffed down.

I ended up rushing to make at midnight to reach the Melbourne flight. Fortunately unlike Sydney, Melbourne doesn’t have a curfew so the pressure on Middle Eastern carriers to get the flight out on time isn’t as high pressure – they won’t be facing a half million dollar fine on the other end. Doha Airport still isn’t finished like I said but something that should have come up in their testing was the signage for the ‘lower’ gates, a floor below the main concourse are incredibly poorly signed. I missed it initially but fortunately realised pretty quickly I had either missed it or something else was wrong. I turned around and in seconds ran into a few people in the same situation but highly anxious they would miss their flights. At this time there really is simply no adquate signage, you just realise you’ve walked past your gate… or maybe it’s further and the order is wrong 😧

Finally made it. Onboard. Okay, that whole transit was not good. Ideally I’d like 2-3 hours in the lounge, enough time to eat dinner and relax, shower if necessary.

Doha to Melbourne, Boeing 777-300ER

Thankfully it was not going to be full in business class onboard. The older seating configuration on Qatar B777-300ER is 2x2x2, so all seats are in pairs. I had the front row, seat 1A and there was an older Australian couple on the far side of the row, so relative peace. Unlike many other airlines with this type of seat, they are fully flat and not angled. This flight traverses a day. You depart at 1 am and arrive after sunset the next evening. At 13.5 hours it is a decent length longhaul, plenty of time to rest – something I’d be doing a lot of with the intent to stay up all night in Melbourne before my early morning flight to Adelaide. If you’re only in the country for a few days you have to make the most of it!

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The seats on here are actually super comfortable. Obviously the seat pairs configuration are considered older compared today but really they’re fully flat and comfortable particularly with the blanket. They have quite a large centre console that extends well forward of the seat providing very distinct division between the two seats. It contains the entertainment screens, tray tables and cocktail table with a push button that opens up a compartment for storage. This type of seating usually lacks storage, which has become a major improvement in seating in the past decade. Seats today often have ample spots for store electronics, personal goods, shoes etc. with many first class cabins abandoning overhead locker space. On Qatar’s product there’s a little bit of storage. Of course if you get the seat adjacent empty it’s all good. Being a lightly loaded flight there would be no complaints today.

Unlike previous Qatar flights the amenity kit here was more ‘normal’ in that it was what you’d expected. However they still are fairly limited in what they offer, this is not the airline’s strong point. There seem today fewer and fewer airlines providing high quality bags and goods in their amenities kits, particularly in business class cabins.

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It was late so every was taking it slow. I could have snoozed off but had already taken it easy on the first flight and had regained energy after moving about the terminal swiftly. We took off toward the north and being seated on the port side I had a great view over the city, although it’s near impossible for a good photo you’ll just have to imagine.

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The a la carte menu served on demand makes a lot of sense on a flight like this. With a local departure in the early morning many will want to just sleep, but those transiting through are coming from a variety of time zones. Some passengers will want dinner then breakfast later, others breakfast then dinner.

Soup
Asparagus soup with morel mushroom cream

Appetisers
Classic Arabic mezze
Grill prawns with saffron crushed potato and spring onion salad

Mains
Butternut squash and pesto tart
Hammour baked herbs in a banana leaf

Desserts
Seasonal fresh fruits
Sorbet
Soyeux (Laduree)

Light Options
Grill chicken breast with romaine salad
Hot Arabic mezze
Grilled Mediterranean vegetable and mozzarella panini
Pumpkin and mascarpone ravioli
Cheese selection w/ crackers, grapes and chutney
Individual desserts selection (Laduree)

“Revivals”
Freshly squeezed orange juice
Mango and lime smoothie
Carrot, apple and ginger juice “Healthy energizer”

All day breakfast
Choice of breakfast cereals
Bircher muesli
Greek yoghurt with strawberry compote and toasted granola
Smoked salmon with horseradish, chive and potato salad
Traditional Arabic breakfast (labneh with za’atar, feta cheese, cucumber, tomato, mixed olives, with foul medames and breads)
South Indian style baked eggs with tomato chutney sambhar
Fillet of beef with scrambled eggs
Chive scrambled eggs with slow roasted plum tomatoes

[All dishes served with choice of condiments & bakery items]

Although I often drink more on flights than off, it is good to see airlines that invest in their non-alcoholic beverage selection. Doha being a Muslim country, Qatar provides alcohol-free version of champagne and beer in addition to four mocktails. The usual soft drinks, juices and waters accompany 10+ teas and a half-dozen coffees.

I would only be in Australia for literally a few days so had decided to remain in European time. My body is honestly quite insensitive now to time zones, seasons, weather but I didn’t want to push it. I would be sticking to European time and meals which meant dinner now and breakfast after the sunset in Australia. I was one of the few, maybe the only, to eat after departing. As such I tried to keep my noise and lights to a minimal, so mostly sad in the dark. The service was quick

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I avoided the sweets and sugar where possible so I could next sleep. I mentioned the seats were comfortable so switched to their flat bed mode I slept well although broken into several periods.

Although we were fast-forwarding through the day with the sun rising and setting during the flight, we would spend most of it in darkness. It wasn’t until we were over Australia I sheepishly opened the window blind and watched the sun go down over the west.

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By this stage everyone was up and most were eating dinner meals. For me I would order breakfast, which again made total sense to my thinking and potentially also survive better half-prepared and stored for so long.

We drifted back into the second night as we closed in on Melbourne. About an hour before landing we crossed directly over Adelaide, my final destination. Another long-haul flight was coming to an end and although I do enjoy them the feeling was subdued, somewhat overpowered by the problems of Utrecht.

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