We had been planning a trip to Cape Town for some time, and once we knew the overall plan, we got to the airline decision. I’d wanted to fly Qatar for ages – they’ve built up a great reputation, won many awards and call themselves “The five star” airline.
Qatar are relatively new to the international scene, but they have a super modern fleet and they use the incredible new airport at Doha as a hub – you fly there, and then on to around 170 other destinations. Choosing them for Cape Town also meant two new aircraft types for me, which I was particularly excited about.
We elected to fly economy, although in retrospect I would consider upgrading to Business for the two overnight sectors. The economy seats are fine, but the thought of a fold flat bed on the second leg of each trip made me wish I’d been less stingy!
If you just want the short story now – “Should you book to fly with them?” – the answer from me is a resounding yes! Read on if you want the detail.
London Heathrow to Doha – Boeing 777 Lunchtime departure, late night arrival
Qatar flies from T4 at Heathrow, which is my favourite terminal there. We boarded early and then suffered a typical “No departure slots” delay, although we caught the time back up in flight.
We were seated at the front of economy with a window and the one next to it. There wasn’t another passenger in the third seat (the aircraft is configured as three rows of three) so we had plenty of room. The seats are comfortable and recline a long way, and there’s plenty of legroom. On each seat we found a blanket and pillow, and a set of complimentary headphones, and this was common on all four flights. On the overnighters, there was also a little pack containing toothbrush and paste, eye shades, flight socks and ear plugs.
Qatar’s entertainment system is just amazing. Every seat has a large screen, and there are hundreds of films, TV Shows and games to play, as well as the usual route maps and aircraft information displays. It all worked flawlessly throughout the flights, and I passed the time watching movies and TV Shows and playing virtual golf. There is in flight Wifi available, but I chose to switch off and not use it.
On this flight we were served with a full meal about an hour into the flight. There are plenty of staff on Qatar flights, so food service is prompt and you don’t ever see people waiting ages to be served as they are in the wrong place. The food is quite simply the best I’ve had in years of flying. One dish, a chicken curry stands out as something any top class Asian restaurant would be proud to serve. We had our choice of drinks with the meal and opted for wine, and then coffee and tea was offered. I also went for a whisky to enjoy with my coffee, and it was obviously a top brand, although I didn’t see the bottle.
About 2 hours before landing, we were served another small snack and coffee. At regular intervals, the cabin crew came round with juices and water, and of course you could order anything else with the press of a bell.
On all the aircraft, the toilets were spacious and spotless, and had eau de cologne dispensers to help with freshening up.
Hamad International Airport
Qatar’s hub is just amazing. Transit passengers and taken straight through to the terminal, and obviously our cases were just transferred on to the next aircraft. The airport has glistening marble floors, dozens and dozens of top quality shops and moving walkways as well as a monorail service to get from one end to the other. There is free Wifi, which doesn’t require a log in, plenty of sockets to charge devices, and hundred of lie down beds where you can relax. There´s also a pool, gymnasium and showers.
Doha to Cape Town – Boeing 787 Dreamliner Late night to mid morning and then back lunchtime to late night
The Dreamliner is the world’s most advanced airliner, made largely of composite materials, which means it can pressurise more than most aircraft (reducing jet lag) and has bigger windows. It feels smaller inside than the 777, but the seats are slightly more comfortable as the base moves when you recline. Again we had a window seat and one next to it, and again the third seat wasn’t occupied. I did have the unit for the TV system in my footwell, which felt slightly in the way. It robs a small amount of space for your feet, so if you have big ones, maybe opt for a non window seat.
One of the big selling points of the Dreamliner is that its supposed to be very quiet. I didn’t think it was inside and wondered if the data is talking about outside noise.It sounded similar to the 777 to me. One feature I loved was the tinting windows. Instead of blinds you can control how much to tint the windows, through several steps from clear to blackout. There is always sunshine at over 30,000 feet, so I usually end up pulling the blind down, but with these windows, I could tint them so I could still see the view out, but it didn’t roast me or dazzle my screen with reflections.
Again we followed the meal pattern on both flights, with a full meal early in the flight and breakfast as we got near to Cape Town. And again, the food was really exceptional, with a choice at each meal.
Both 787 flights departed and arrived on time.
Doha to London Heathrow – Airbus A380 Late night to early morning
We realised in the departure lounge that this flight was going to be full and it proved so. But boarding is done by “zones¨ printed on your boarding pass, so there was very little standing around and plant of time to relax in the comfortable departure lounge seats.
The 380 is the world’s largest passenger jet and has two complete levels of cabins with first and business upstairs, as well as small economy section, and a full length of economy downstairs.
In total the Qatar version carries 517 passengers. I just find it incredible to have that many people on aircraft – that’s over 40 tonnes of people alone!
I didn’t expect to like the 380, but in fact I loved it. Its the quietest aircraft I have ever flown in, in flight it was incredibly smooth, the cabin feels massively spacious and it has a fantastic addition to the entertainment system – there are cameras on the tail, the nose and pointing directly down, so you can scroll through and see the ground and the aircraft from loads of different perspectives, and even overlay a head up display showing heading, airspeed and altitude. Heaven for a plane fanatic!
Once again the service was top quality and the two meals were excellent. Even though the aircraft was full, it didn’t feel claustrophobic, and considering by the end of the flight we had been travelling for 19 hours, we both felt in good shape.
Qatar lived up to my expectations and they certainly meet their billing as a five star airline. So much so, that they have already become our preferred choice for future long haul travel. I like bouncing into Doha first, it breaks up the monotony, and next time we’re going to do a night in Doha to learn more about the country.