Qatar Airways has made a name for itself in recent years by combining a very good level of service with frequent business class fare sales that have meant many, especially those traveling between the US/Europe and Asia, have been tempted to try the via-Doha option. And many of those that have flown on Qatar’s latest business class product, dubbed QSuite, have come back proclaiming it to be the best business class in the world. So when an incredible fare of around $1,800 roundtrip between Stockholm and Hong Kong came available recently, I decided I wanted to see for myself.
The verdict? Qatar Airways is really very good. Is it the best in the world though? I think it depends on what you value most.
The QSuite is a “suite” with a sliding door that offers lots of privacy and comfort. It’s a very good seat and there’s little to complain about here. Along the sides are solo seats that alternate between rear- and forward-facing, while in the center of the plane are seats that can be converted into double beds or even four-person “meeting rooms”. A novel design like this with plenty of options for all types of travelers is a definite advantage over many other business class configurations which usually either offer plenty of privacy but with no way to sit together when traveling as a couple, or force you into having a seat-mate even when you’re traveling alone.
There’s plenty of space for your feet in the footwell, and though the side table is a bit high and can make the space feel a bit tighter as a result, you still have plenty of room. If traveling solo the rear-facing seats are clearly superior: not only are they closer to the window and further from the aisle for better views and better privacy, they also feel more spacious.
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Overall: yes, this is very likely the best business class seat out there.
The service & food
On all four of my Qatar Airways flights I felt that the service was friendly and well-meaning but a little bit disorganized. That was especially true on two of the flights where I was asked the same thing multiple times by different flight attendants, and I was surprised that they didn’t have their act together, if only to make things more efficient in terms of their workload.
I did appreciate how friendly everyone was though, and the crews are very diverse. Flight attendants on my flights were from Costa Rica, Lithuania and the Philippines among others. I also really like that they offer a hot or cold towel before departure – the latter a nice option after a quick run through the airport or on a very hot day in Southeast Asia.
The highlight of Qatar’s service is the fact that food is served when you want it, in any order. In this way it resembles international first class and beats most business class offerings out there. I always felt I could ask for whatever I needed whenever, and it was never too much trouble for the flight attendants.
Which brings us to the food: it’s delicious. I’m sure there are some dishes that don’t quite work now and then, but everything I ate onboard was really good. From Asian-style shrimp and rice bowls to the Middle Eastern breakfast, everything was packed with flavor and nicely presented. The wine list tended to be quite good as well with a diverse offering that most flight attendants knew something about if you were to ask them for recommendations. Champagnes came in brut and rosé offerings – and though the Lanson champagne they were serving on my flights wasn’t the finest I’ve had in the sky, it certainly wasn’t bad either.
Non-alcoholic options are pretty great too. Two particular highlights are the delicious lemon-mint drink which is perfect for pre-departure, and cardamom and saffron teas which are very nice to have multiple cups of while getting work done mid-flight.
Overall: dine on demand puts it toward the head of the pack and the food and drink is very good, but the service isn’t quite polished enough to declare Qatar Airways the winner. Other airlines do this part better.
The connection in Doha
This is where Qatar Airways maybe struggles the most. Doha’s relatively new Hamad International Airport is shiny and sparkly, but at peak times when it’s busy it can feel like a madhouse. When I connected from Stockholm our flight was late getting in and I was in danger of missing my connection to Hong Kong. I was very surprised that we parked at a remote stand (because apparently even this brand new airport doesn’t have enough gates to handle all of the flights at busy times) – and that ended up costing me my connection, meaning I had an unplanned 24 hours in Doha. Not the worst thing in the world, but it was frustrating. The airport itself felt like a zoo, and even the large business class lounge was packed. The WiFi was broken. It didn’t feel very premium at all.
Business class passengers have special queues to go through as usual, and that’s especially notable when entering or exiting Doha, where a dedicated, always serene immigration and security area (along with a little extra lounge where you could stop off to have a coffee if you wanted) is a very welcome perk. On my second time through the airport, heading back to Europe, the place was deserted – and the experience was a complete reversal of the earlier one. The airport felt clean, bright, airy and relaxing. Everything worked in the lounge. There was a special set of curries available for lunch to celebrate the Tamil New Year. Both flights were on time and I didn’t have to rush. It was a great connection in this case and I didn’t mind the stop at all.
Overall: Clearly, the airport experience very much depends on how the crowds are when you pass through, and this connection can turn out to be a drag.
Some might find the stop in the middle disruptive, and there are areas where Qatar could improve. But at these low fares, and considering the rest of the offering, I’d say it’s a compromise well worth making. I should also mention that many Qatar flights are now operated by the A350 and it is a fantastic airplane to fly – comfortable, spacious and super quiet. Note that QSuites aren’t available on every flight yet, but the older business class seats are perfectly comfortable as well.
Finally there’s the intangible aspect of Qatar Airways – I’ve spoken to a number of people who just can’t wait to take another Qatar flight, even while acknowledging that they aren’t perfect. And I have to say I have the same feeling. Whatever it is that combines to create that, I’m definitely looking forward to my next flight with them.