Qatar Airways : Hong Kong - Doha

Pre-Christmas Europe Extravaganza
7 December 2017

Europe has become a very affordable trip these days. As I had reported in September on my trip to Switzerland, the Middle East 3 were fighting amongst themselves for customers. Since then, the low season came and even traditional carriers such as Finnair and Cathay have launched their own specials, pricing a flight at below HKD 4000 roundtrip. After all, who would want to go with sunset before 4pm, gray skies, and cold bundle-up weather?

Qatar Airways has been the victim of the Gulf region's blockade. My last trip with them many years ago was absolutely painful with a transit in the dingy 3rd world terminal. Since then, they have opened a new international airport, relaxed visa entry requirements, and even offered free stopover hotels to make Doha a destination of its own. All that for HKD 4770 including tax to London. The incredible UK charges alone made this a steal. Return fares before Christmas shot up over the roof though so I had to leave from either Brussels or Vienna. Since my friend wanted to see the Christmas markets in Salzburg, Vienna would be my final stop.

Check-in counters close an hour before departure. I left more wiggle room today, arriving 1.5 hours earlier, only to find nobody at check-in. The agent asked a few questions on my itinerary, how to get to Vienna from London, in a strange sense of heightened awareness. Was it because I booked this flight 2 days before departure?

The agent told me while many seats were blocked, there were plenty of empty seats on board, and to move up front once I'm on board. My row would be just for me tonight.

Wow. On my last flights with Emirates and Etihad in 2017 to the UAE, the Hong Kong legs were all full. No wonder fares were so cheap. This would make the long flight to Doha far more bearable.

Here is the Emirates flight waiting a few gates away.

Another attraction of flying Qatar was the chance to fly both the A350 and 787. Tonight's flight would be my first on the A350, and I have fallen in love with the 787 thanks to its higher humidity and comfort.

Boarding was timely and it wasn't long before all the passengers were on board. There were empty rows everywhere. Flight deck came on to note they were ready to leave but due to ATC, we would be delayed 30 minutes for departure. A few gates down, my friend flying to Adelaide half hour after me pushed back first and on time. Talk about luck. But I was very comfortable in my row of 3 seats.

Pillows and blankets were already on every seat when we boarded. I normally hate these 3-3-3 seating configurations. They will be a torture for the window seat passenger on a full flight.

We roared into the night sky for the 8.5 hour flight to Doha. I got some nice views of the skyline upon departure.

Wetnaps were first distributed followed by drinks. There were no peanuts or pretzels though. Presumably due to low loading, the crew came to take dinner and drink orders one by one and brought out the trays individually. Our meals were not served from carts. Talk about premium service for cattle class! The meal was well-presented but I thought the main looked awfully small, albeit very tasty.

Satisfied with my dinner, I explored the IFE, which was a responsive touch-screen complemented by a nice remote control. The A350's interior looked very new and the seat was upholstered in a good type of fabric that could be easily cleaned but soft enough. The red colours and mood lighting was soothing as well. However, I had noticed it was quite dry at cruise of 40,000 feet, a marked difference from the 787.

We had bouts of turbulence throughout the flight. The seat belt sign was on during a long section over India. By then, I was happily dozing across my row, and being laid down, it insulated me a bit from the discomfort. As we neared the Gulf, a second full meal was served, again with trays carried individually and not from carts. I would have been satisfied with a simple sandwich but I suppose they were adjusting us to a second dinner in the Qatar time zone.

Each passenger received 10 MB / 15 minutes of free wifi for the flight. Just enable wifi on your mobile and connect to the OnAir service, then log in. However, this service was not available for much of the flight due to certain country restrictions. Nevertheless, it was a great service enhancement ... attempt.

As a sign of regional tensions, the lights along the UAE coast were always in a distance and we flew over Iran before making a sharp turn south towards Qatar.

We looped around for landing, which gave me a nice overview of the bright city even in the late night. We landed not too far behind schedule at around 11:30pm, which would mean I would miss the last bus into the city.

The Business Class seat is a comfortable lie-flat product and not too far from the window to still enjoy views.

The new international airport looked very sleek and clean, which was quite a refreshing change from overcrowded Dubai and the old Abu Dhabi facility. It was also quite empty as well. After a very long walk to immigration, I found the biggest crowd in the building, and it took almost an hour to get processed. Similar to the UAE, the agents were slow and inefficient and many counters were not open despite the long line. I exited landside well past 12:30am.

I didn't want to tough it out to continue flying to London after a long flight from Hong Kong. Doha's hotels are not expensive and I wanted to sleep well and do some sightseeing the next morning before continuing to Europe. The Qatar free stopover program only works for long transits so I wouldn't get a night free on this leg, but a decent 4-star in the city only costed me QAR 160 or so. The taxi ride would cost almost QAR 50 for the 10-minute ride because flagfall from the airport was an expensive QAR 25.

Qatar Airways has improved its product and the new Hamad International Airport is a great facility to use. While Emirates has better IFE and food, Qatar excelled in the smaller service points and I got a rare chance to have a row all to myself.

The next morning, I went for a walk around the Corniche and local market. It was a comfortable and breezy morning, which was perfect for a stroll despite the haze. There aren't that many attractions in Doha, but construction is under way to help make it worth a few days' stop like Dubai. Well ... they have a long way to go.

Next Flight : QR 1 Doha - London Heathrow

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