I was pretty excited to get on this ultra long haul flight for two reasons. Firstly, it was a QSUITE. Secondly, it was on a brand new A350-1000 aircraft. Both were my first; so, to fly first time on a A350-1000 with Qsuite would be quite an experience.
Transit and Boarding
We were transiting from another Qatar Airways flight from Colombo. It was a long seven hour transit in Doha Airport, but with the privilege to use the Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge, the transit was relatively painless. I am not reviewing Al Mourjan lounge now, but simply put, it is simply one of the best airline lounges in the world. During the seven hour layover, we had two meals, slept quite comfortably in the rest area and had a refreshing shower. We were fresh and clean by the time we walked to the departure gate.
Gate C7 was assigned to our flight and it was just a short stroll from the Al Mourjan lounge. As this flight was US bound, documents check was more stringent, all bags were X-rayed, passengers went through the metal detector, and a body pat-down was also conducted. This security screening process is only typical for US bound passengers, definitely not to other parts of the world. In my numerous Doha transit experiences, the only inspection performed for flights to other parts of the world was the one immediately after disembarking the arriving aircraft, and then a quick document check at the departure gate.
Just as we cleared the security, we were informed that our aircraft had experienced technical problems (yes, on a brand new aircraft) and it would be a two hour delay from the original schedule (0800 hours). We were allowed to leave the secured area, and we returned to Al Mourjan lounge. After an hour and a half waiting in the lounge, we proceeded back to the gate, just to be sure. The ground staff was not volunteering any information, but we gathered it was a technical problem with a faulty cabin door. After another hour of waiting by the gate, we went through the same security screening and finally boarded the plane at 1120 hours. Priority boarding was enforced with business class passengers allowed in first, followed by elite frequent flyers (One World Emeralds and Sapphires).
The staff on duty by the aircraft’s door were not totally ready for the passengers, but we were allowed in, nonetheless. Inside, I was warmly welcomed by the cabin crew in charge of our section. After receiving a hot towel and welcome drink, I unintendedly nodded off to sleep. The prolonged delays and time differences had got the better of me. I was woken up shortly after by a commotion. The cabin staff were busy removing their luggage from the overhead cabins and dragging the bags and themselves off the aircraft. I then realised that they were being replaced by a brand new set of air and cabin crew! Due to the delays and long duration of the flight, the initial crew would run out of legal hours partway of the journey but it defied logic as to why the management decided to do the crew swap after all the passengers had been loaded.
I was getting very agitated at this point because no information was forthcoming from the captain, and for the first time, I feared that I would miss my connecting flight from New York JFK to Vancouver. The change of crew further aggravated the delay by another hour. In the end, the aircraft left the gate at 1300 hours – five hours late, and it was airborne fifteen minutes later.
The flight path was over Europe and the Atlantic. The published flight time was 14 hours and 25 minutes (presumably with time padding) but our flight managed to complete the trip in under 13.5 hours. It landed at 1835 hours New York time and after a long taxiing which felt like eternity, we reached the gate at 1905 hours. Point to point, we arrived 4 hours and 40 minutes late.
Business Class Qsuite Cabin
The aircraft deployed on this Doha to New York route was a new Airbus A350-1000. The A350-1000 has the longest fuselage in the Airbus’s family of twin engine jets and reputed to be the quietest aircraft out there. It is seven metres longer than the A350-900 (see my Stockholm-Doha flight review here).
The cabin interior was distinctly modern and pleasant with LED ambient lighting setting the mood. The layout in the business cabin was 1-2-1, all enclosed in a suite with a sliding door, more popularly known as Qsuite. Qatar Airways clearly upped the game with its Qsuite and led the way in business class innovation. As it is now, you will almost certainly have to fly first class with other premium airlines in order to get a suite.
The seats were in staggered layout. All odd numbered seats were rear-facing, while even numbers were forward-facing. There were nine rows of the single window suites and ten middle row suites in the main Business cabin. After the galley, the aft cabin had another two rows of window and middle suites.
The middle seats had movable panels that can be transformed into a quad configuration, assuming there were four of you, or in double configuration if there were two of you. They can then be reverted back into a single private suite (if preferred) when you are ready to retire.
There were ample overhead spaces, but somehow, I struggled to find a space just above my seat for my carry-on. They were monopolised and occupied by the cabin crew’s personal luggage. I was in suite 1K, a rear-facing seat by the window. By design, there was no overhead storage compartment above the middle row suites.
All the seats have sliding doors. The doors and compartment panels were stylishly designed and featured prominently in burgundy – Qatar Airways’ corporate colour.
All the seats transformed into fully lie-flat beds. Various pre-programmed seating modes were easily accessible via the control console. The footwell was quite deep but narrow-ish. When the seat was transformed into totally lie flat, I found it quite comfortable to sleep in.
The seat was complemented with two pillows and a soft, plush duvet. The White Company, a British company, supplied the sleepwear and slippers.
There was a specially built storage for the headphone, inflight magazines and water bottle. On depressing the storage cover, the whole storage unit raised up and became an arm rest (which was very comfortable).
The dining tray was just below the screen and can be pulled towards you. It was flexible enough but I find it hard to get into a natural eating position (without bending the body forward when eating).
Inflight Entertainment System
The inflight entertainment was powered by Qatar Airways’ Oryx One. A huge touch screen was permanently affixed above the footwell. As it did not require folding away during take off and landing, you can, in theory, enjoy the entertainment from the point you step in to the point you disembark. The latest spread of Hollywood, along with Arabic, Bollywood and world cinema were available for viewing. Apart from movies, there were audio channels and TV shows. You could also monitor the flight’s progress and view the external cameras.
The media control console was amazing. It had a slew of neat features and new technologies. Apart from the pre-programmed seat modes, it included a “Do Not Disturb” indicator, handheld inflight controller, power plug, two USB chargers and a NFC controller. The latter (Near Field Communication) was the first I had seen in any aircraft, presenting the capability to make wireless data transfer between devices that have NFC capabilities. I am not exactly sure what Qatar Airways has in mind for installing the NFC, but as of now, NFC is primarily used in contactless payments (such as Android Pay and Apple Pay).
Attached to the display was another USB reader and HDMI connector. Once again, I cannot recall any airline providing an HDMI connection. It was not available on other Qatar Airways’ aircrafts, not even on the A350-900 or the Dreamliner. In my case, it was a life saver for me. I was having problems with my laptop’s screen. By connecting my laptop to inflight screen via the HDMI connector, I could replicate my laptop display onto the inflight screen and managed to get some urgent work done. Thankfully, with the inflight wifi connection, I was able to download and send urgent emails.
On this flight, the wifi was free for the first 60 minutes, but for USD10, you could have it for the whole duration of the flight. It did not specify the data size (unlike in my previous flight Stockholm to Doha, the Ultimate Plan costing USD20 had 200MB fair usage policy). Unfortunately, the satellite wifi was poor and sketchy with slow download, and in some areas, there were no satellite coverage.
You can control the window’s shade electronically with a touch of up or down button, located just above the window. The shade can be turned into semi-transparent or fully opaque state.
They were quite spacious and equipped with a generous array of quality amenities. These included dental kit, body mist spray, shaver kit, hand lotion, wet wipes and soft tissues. The washrooms were immaculately clean, and in each of my visit, I noticed that the seat had always been lined by a flushable toilet seat cover, suggesting that the cabin crew did check and clean the washrooms frequently.
Qatar Airways partnered with two Italian manufacturers for the supply of the amenity kit. The travel case was made by BRIC’s – in the form of a premium structured hard case. Mine was a bright blue case. Enclosed in the elegant case were various inflight necessities and skin care products. They included a pair of cabin socks, eye mask, ear plugs, lip balm, anti-aging moisturiser and hydration facial mist spray. The skin care products were furnished by Castello Monte Vibiano.
Before airborne, the Cabin Service Director (CSD) stopped by my suite to introduce herself and thanked me for flying Qatar Airways. I took the opportunity to voice my concern with the prolonged delays and the possibility of missing my onward connection (which I had built in a 6 hour buffer for transfer). She noted my onward flight number and said she would try to coordinate with the arrival ground staff.
On-demand dining was offered on this flight. Prior to take off, I was asked for my meal and drinks preferences. I chose to have my first meal as soon as cruising level was reached, and the next one, two hours before landing. Apart from the main menu, they also offered “Snack Platters” – a variety of light meals/snacks.
For my first meal, I selected a platter of fresh fruits for my starter. Along with it, came a selection of freshly baked breads. This was followed by Malabar Prawn Masala from the Light Options menu. It was served with pulao rice in a white porcelain bowl, accompanied with some pickled vegetables. The masala meal was tasty. My completed dish was promptly cleared, and since I did not want anything else, I was given a hot towel, followed by a box of Godiva chocolate.
Shortly after my meal, the CSD came by to inform me that they had relayed a message to their ground staff in New York, requesting connection assistance for me.
Throughout the flight, there was not a single announcement from the captain except before landing. I was expecting an update at the beginning of the flight, especially after a long delay, but nothing came from him.
Regretfully, during much of the flight, we were bombarded by a child who cried incessantly. The parents were indifferent, the nanny tried her best and failed, and the cabin crew were left helpless. I pumped up the audio volume but could not blank out the noise; so, it was a case of either the noise cancelling headphone was useless or the child cried dozens more decibels that he managed to render the headphone ineffective.
I was quite sure that the airline offered turn down service but by then, I was too tired and agitated to care.
I woke up two hours before landing. Shortly after, the cabin crew set my tray with white cloth and cutlery sets. For dinner, I had soup, followed by chicken kabsa skewers with yellow rice. The soup was nice, but I found the chicken too dry and only mildly tasty.
Before landing, the CSD came around and thanked me again for flying with them.
Overall, the cabin services were good, cordial and polite. But I could not help thinking that they were ill-prepared for this flight. They were a bunch of standby crew who were yanked out from somewhere to do an ultra long haul.
The flight arrived the gate 4 hours and 40 minutes late. Our Cathay Pacific’s connecting flight (on a separate ticket) from New York JFK to Vancouver was at 2035 hours. The minimum time for check-in/bag drop was 70 minutes. That meant we had to be at Cathay’s check-in counter by latest 1925 hours. Essentially, we had only 20 minutes to disembark, clear immigration, get the bags and sprint to the departure floor.
Incidentally, the ground assistance for our connecting flight was non-existent. There was no Qatar Airways’ ground staff waiting to help us. It was just by sheer miracle that we got through JFK immigration and customs in 20 minutes that saved our day, and due to our insistence to the one and only Qatar Airways’ staff on duty by the baggage belt to radio ahead to Cathay Pacific’s check-in supervisor of our imminent arrival, and luckily for us, our departure and arrival were all in the same Terminal 8.
Qatar Airways’ Qsuite is without doubt the best long haul business class available out there today. It is innovative and sets the standard that even premier airlines like Singapore Airlines will find to beat. Qsuite is essentially a premium lie flat seat in an enclosed personal compartment, and it is simply outstanding for privacy. You may argue that it can be quite claustrophobic, but you can always leave the suite door open.
Despite an outstanding hard product and lovely cabin staff, this flight was not as enjoyable as I would have liked it to be. (Read my Stockholm-Doha flight review here). It was marred by extended delays, poor communication, unplanned crew change and a screaming child.
All said, for ultimate privacy and comfort, Qsuite has my vote and I would fly it again in a heartbeat.
Airline Review: QR701 Qatar Airways, Airbus A350-1000 XWB, Doha to New York JFK, QSUITE Business Class
Date Flew: 29-NOV-2018
Duration: 13.5 hours