Review: A quick & sober return from Doha to Dubai

Review: A quick & sober return from Doha to Dubai

Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER First Class Doha-Dubai and Dubai-Doha

Al Safwa First Class Lounge and Qatar Airways’ Premium Lounge in Dubai

A few days before a political crisis in the Gulf led to the suspension of flights from Qatar to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, I flew from Doha to Dubai. On the schedule for Dubai was dinner with a friend then some quality lounge time before starting a new ticket to Tokyo Haneda on Qatar Airways via Doha.

Prior to the suspension, Qatar Airways operated somewhere between 10 and 15 flights a day to Dubai (DXB) and Dubai World Central (DWC), which were notorious for last-minute aircraft swaps. In the past I’d flown everything Qatar has between these two cities (aside from the A380, which never operated the route) . This trip was to be no exception: leading up to the flights the equipment was meant to be an Airbus A320. However, when I reached check-in, they informed me of an aircraft swap, to a Boeing 777-300ER (77W) in a “high J” configuration – meaning two Premium cabins (“J” is airline code for Business Class). On regional routes, Qatar markets and sells the premium cabin on their aircraft as First Class. In this case, it’s a business class seat sold as First (the airline only has true First Class on their A380s).

Qatar just launched a new business class product called the “Qsuite,” which they’re marketing as a mix of Business and First. Their classic 777 Business Class seat, however, is a very comfortable one arranged in a 2/2/2 layout. Its 777-200LRs and most 77Ws feature two cabins of Business for a total of 42 seats (24+18), but they do have a handful of planes with just the forward cabin. These are used on routes to Southeast Asia and parts of Asia – as well as some European cities like Amsterdam (AMS) – where the demand for Economy is much higher. Its also worth noting that the carrier has been retrofitting its 77Ws from 9-across to 10-across in Economy.

I had booked my outbound flight to Dubai in First because I wanted to check out the Al Safwa First Lounge. Access is reserved for Qatar passengers in ticketed First Class only – your status won’t grant you access unfortunately.

Al Safwa is clean, quiet and spacious, to the extent that you feel like you’re in a high-end museum rather than an airport lounge (and there are plenty of original art pieces and artefacts on display to boot!). I appreciated that the dining room area had views of the tarmac, which you don’t get in Qatar’s other lounges in Doha – including the Al Mourjan lounge, which is reserved for passengers ticketed in Business Class. Qatar runs two other lounges – the “First Class Lounge” and the “Business Class Lounge” for its Privilege Club frequent fliers and Oneworld elites (Emerald and Sapphires, respectively).

About one hour prior to departure, I left the lounge for the gate.

Qatar Airways First Class 777-300ER, Doha – Dubai DXB

D: 16.00
A: 18.10
First, 1A
Boeing 777-300ER

The gate opened well over an hour before departure, but I knew boarding wouldn’t start until about 30 minutes before. Sure enough, the jetbridge door was opened at 15.35, with First Class passengers and Oneworld Emeralds being called first.

Forward premium cabin on Qatar’s 777-300ER 

Dynesh, the Sri Lankan Cabin Services Director, came to welcome me onboard and offer me a beverage. On the off-chance policy had changed, I asked him if they had any champagne or whisky – he was sincerely sad to report that no, this was a dry flight. During Ramadan, the whole airport – including the lounges – is dry, and there is no alcohol on offer for Qatar flights between Muslim-majority/regional countries.

Dynesh informed me of the flight time and noted that there were only 4 First Class and 128 Economy Class passengers on the flight over. He handed me a Nappa Dori amenity kit and a menu card, which outlined the afternoon tea-type tray they would serve.

Nappa Dori Amenity Kit (London Theme)

A few minutes before departure, the Captain came on to inform us that it’d be a 55-minute, bumpy flight. We pushed back at 16.00 exactly, spooled-up at 16.12 and were airborne just 38 seconds later.

The crew immediately brought out the tray, which was tasty and refreshing. The chicken was cooked perfectly. I had a glass of sparkling water with it.

First Class Afternoon Lunch Plate DOH-DXB

The service was high-quality and efficient, with glasses being continually refilled without delay. The crew also brought around take-away lunch bags for those who were fasting.

The UAE is one hour ahead of Qatar, and about half an hour into our flight, at 17.30 local, the Captain advised us that we were starting our descent but that it was quite windy in Dubai. We had a very smooth touchdown at 17.58, and I was off the plane at DXB’s Terminal 1 within fifteen minutes.

The Cheatline

Seat: 8.5/10
Service: 9/10
Food: 9/10
Spirits: 0/10
Overall rating: 8.5/10

The immediate turn-around

When we landed in Dubai, I received a text message saying that my dinner had been cancelled. That was bittersweet: on one hand, I didn’t have to deal with immigration, on the other, 3.5 hours in the Qatar Airways Premium Lounge in Dubai seemed excessive. I don’t typically mind long layovers in airport lounges at all – I read, watch Netflix, eat, and indulge in the whiskies and champagnes on offer. In this case, however, I was eager to get back to Doha because of the 07.00 wheels-up for Tokyo Haneda the next morning.

I walked past the trains for the Arrivals area and quickly went through the security screening process for transfer passengers. I then made a beeline for the Qatar Airways transfer desk, where the lady informed me that there was plenty of space on the earlier flights back to Doha – I just had to choose which. As I had just arrived on a 77W and the next flights were all A320s, I was keen to fly it back. The lady confirmed I had time to make the flight, re-booked me, and sent me on my way. At this point, it was about 18.25, and boarding was due to start in 20 minutes.

I can get two or three glasses of champagne in in twenty minutes.

I went to the Qatar Airways Premium Lounge at Dubai DXB, which I am thrilled to report was serving alcohol – and was completely empty. Sunshine, one of the staff members there, was very happy to see me again, and the staff had champagne and sparkling water poured in a matter of seconds.

This was my fourth or fifth visit to the lounge and I really like it. It’s a smaller version of their lounge at London Heathrow’s Terminal 4, which features an a la carte dining room and a large buffet with a full bar (as well as the usuals: showers, ample seating, etc.). The drawback of the Dubai lounge is that it does not have exterior-facing windows, so the air can get a bit close in there. Still, it’s better than the chaos of the terminal.

At 18.45 I left the lounge for the far end of the terminal, where boarding had already begun.

Qatar Airways First Class 777-300ER, Dubai DXB – Doha

D: 19.30
A: 19.40
First, 1A
Boeing 777-300ER

I stepped onboard and Dynesh and his team looked at me like I was a madman.

I explained the situation and they said they were happy to have me back onboard. He escorted me to my seat and informed me that this flight is even more empty than the last, with only 2 people in First.

Row 1 on the Qatar Airways 777-300ER

The Captain came on at 19.04, advising us that we’d be pushing back well ahead of departure time. As usual on this route, we’d only be ascending to 20K feet, and would be in Doha in about 45 minutes.

Now that it was after sundown, the crew brought around dates and Arabic coffee as well as an amenity kit and the menu. This amenity kit differed from the outbound flight in that it was smaller and featured a zipper. The contents were exactly the same.

Nappa Dori Amenity Kit (Doha Theme)

We pushed back at about 19.20, but sat on the tarmac for a full 30 minutes before we began our slow crawl towards Runway 30R. In typical Qatar Airways fashion, no announcement was made about the hold. I saw two pairs of SUVs driving down the runway, and realized immediately what the delay was for: routine checks of the runways where Airbus A380s operate. We took-off at 19.58, and again were airborne 38 seconds later.

It was a bit odd being one of 2 in a cabin of 24 seats. This was the lowest load in First or Business I’ve ever been a party of on Qatar.

I decided to spice things up with a glass of non-alcoholic So Jennie Premium Rosé. Qatar Airways has long served this beverage (for lack of a better word) on-board and in their lounges, and it can be found in certain grocery stores in Doha as well. I had never tried it before.

And for good reason: it tasted overly sweet and flat (without actually being so). In a word, it was disgusting, and I didn’t finish it.

The crew brought another tray about 20 minutes into the flight – I was still a bit full from the last one so requested its presentation be delayed a bit. It was not as good as the outbound. Honorable mentions go to the shrimp skewers (though the ‘dip’ that came with it could have been left off the plate), and the crudité with hummus. The chicken terrine was good, but the rye bread was – how should I put it – dry as hell. The dessert this time was a large green macaron with a gold leaf on top (I’m not a fan of sweets so I didn’t touch it).

Just before our descent, the Captain advised that we’d be on stand at 19.50. Again, he gave no reason for the delay. Despite the crosswinds, we had a smooth landing at 19.38, and luckily arrived at a contact gate (which is no guarantee in Doha!).

Qatar’s regional First Class service can’t be beat – despite the time crunch the crews are thorough and efficient and there is plenty of food (and usually booze) to go around. I can’t recommend it enough!

The Cheatline

Seat: 8/10
Service: 9/10
Food: 8/10
Spirits: Non-Alcoholic So Jennie Rosé, 2/10
Rating: 7/10

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