Emirates V Qatar – Adelaide to Europe and return. Out in economy, back in business. We usually use Emirates but due to a family emergency and ridiculous last minute rates from Emirates chose Qatar. Here is a special Fiona McIntosh report:

Adelaide to Doha: Well, it’s been splendid. I’m writing  from 39,000 feet and it seems Qatar’s 39 min free wifi works and is easy to connect to.  Actually everything is good.  I just found the courage to get up and go to the loo.  I am 12 hours into my 14 hour flight and I was expecting horror.  It looked like no one had been using it.  Clean, bright, dry floor, clean sink, no queue. I was in seat 21F and got lucky with a nice Aussie older couple on their way to Croatia for a walking holiday.  Lovely.  Doors closed, plane began to taxi when I realised Row 18 had no one in it so I made a dash.  Got all three seats to myself so I’m thrilled.  I have slept.

Quiet plane.  Quiet, nice crew.  I have a lovely little Indian man looking after me, which brings me to the food.  Excellent!  I think Emirates food has taken a real downturn.  But I wanted to eat everything on my tray and only just resisted the chocolate mousse cake.  The salad was a sort of coleslaw….a red cabbage and apple affair that was delicious, fresh, not ice cold thank goodness and tasty. The bread roll tasted like bread.  It too was fresh, delicious and get this…genuinely warmed through. Not just tepid but warm enough to melt butter.  They made us wait an hour to get our dinner but it was so worth it.  The meal I had was small but extremely tasty with vegetables that still tasted like they should and the potato bake cooked through beautifully.  There were two pieces of Dairy Milk and that did me for dessert.  Oh yes and a block of cheese.  I was very happy and full. Got breakfast coming shortly and I’m sure it will be as good.   They didn’t come around with anything or disturb passengers while sleeping but I gather there was what they called a movie snack available.

All in all, most impressed with my flight and I’m comfy.  I was one of the last to board because they boarded us from the back to front and I’m two seats from Business so Business was all loaded and sipping drinks by the time I stepped on. I must say if I was a business passenger I would feel very exposed to staring Economy passengers.  I know that sounds like an odd comment but there’s something about the configuration that looks very open or perhaps they have extra bright lights in there?  I’ll work it out on the way home.  I prefer the ‘look’ of Emirates Business but we shall see.  Comfort is what counts.  First and Business were chockers. Here comes brekkie. Croissant a bit sad and not as warm as I would like.  But I do like that they serve their drinks in takeaway cups. I prefer to those horrible little teacups but maybe ecologically that isn’t good.  I’ve ordered a vegetarian frittata and I’ve got fresh fruit salad, yoghurt and orange juice.  Small but more than enough. Headsets.  Absolute rubbish…back to the dark days of horrid little plastic things that do not fit the head.  You can’t close them down…either I have a pinhead or they’re simply huge.  And you can make them bigger still.  So they continuously slide off your head because they have nothing to grip.  The sound is dreadful. I couldn’t be bothered to watch movies because I can’t hear properly, so that’s a big problem up given that their entertainment system is easy to navigate – much faster and more responsive than Emirates.  The movie line up is good.  The TV line up however is rubbish with few offerings and none that interested.  On Emirates they have really good TV drama series you can binge and they have excellent docos.  Qatar’s line up is inferior in this regard.The seat pockets are minimalist and you can’t really fit anything into them. They are filled with two whopping magazines.  Duty free and Qatar’s mag called Oryx.  They’re thick and by the time you add in the safety card, sick bag, blah blah, it’s full.  So not only can you not add to that with anything useful – even my flat iPad struggled, I found that the tray table can’t fold down easily because it hits the magazines if you have not shoved them down a certain way.  It’s quite frustrating.  Duty free offerings are entirely uninspiring and I didn’t see anyone buying anything.

LONDON TO DOHA IN BUSINESS: I arrived at just past 6am and while Economy Line was building, we had our separate lane and I was served immediately by a lovely young woman who checked me in swiftly and politely. I was able to use a fast track lane for Security and I was through in moments while everyone else was queuing. Impressive. Qatar Lounge is opposite Gate 6 in Terminal 4.  A charming, beautifully dressed woman meets you as you arrive and registers you, hands you the wifi password on a card and assured me that they would announce the gate for my flight as it hadn’t been confirmed yet.  She also pointed out showers/bathroom and where to head for breakfast.  This is a lovely touch rather than the massive marble desk of other airlines. Space is at a premium no doubt. The lounge is not as salubrious as Emirates around the world and the food is very ordinary offerings as far as I’m concerned. Toast is awful. Coffee is a tragedy. They do have a full menu actually cooked to order so I think the offerings on show look small and uninspiring. You have to order your eggs or whatever.  But for those who don’t want to do that there’s not very much to choose from and so that makes it a lacklustre experience. Some ordinary looking fruity yoghurts in jars, some sad looking croissants – just a couple of them – some odd things like gherkins, or little cakes.

The service is good though. There are plenty of staff and they’re eager and treat their guests with a courtesy and will bring food to wherever you’re seated, etc. Check-in began with an oddity in London.  Called for our flight – a lady very kindly comes around and finds passengers.  Sent us to Gate 5B at Terminal 4. Huge queue for Economy boarding.  All the signs said boarding now.  I walked to the Business Class area to board with all the other J class and we were told to wait.  They wanted to board Economy.  So they made us stand there for about 10 mins while they called through Economy passengers.  Everyone got narky and asked why we weren’t allowed to board and they said ‘we are not boarding Business yet’.  No reason. People became narkier. Began talking to each other about how strange it is. They called all Economy through and finally let us go.  Weird and vexing…surely the only airline in the world that gets its Business class passengers to wait in line while Economy goes ahead.

I think it might make more sense once we got on board. I am wondering whether they wanted us to board in peace and it has been a quiet, arrival moment into my seat. If we’d boarded first then the whole of Economy would have bustled and bashed their way through us so I’m thinking this is the reason because I did make a mental note out of Adelaide that I found it unnerving to see all the Business Class people trying to get organised and Economy were pushing past, staring, queueing alongside so potentially that’s the reason but there’s no doubt they should have delayed sending us down for another 10 mins and then it would have been impressive rather than irritating.  Some staff need some training in how to speak to passengers with courtesy. Eastern Euro and Arabic I’m noticing are quite rude to people despite them being in a service industry.  The Asian staff are lovely….gentle, polite, etc.  I’ve been on board for 10 mins and no one has asked me whether I’d like a drink.  Business is comfortably populated but not crowded. All the seats are angled so you do feel like you’re alone, which is good, especially for single travellers.  I am in in Seat 16K and it’s perfect, just over the wing.  Shalini is trying to check why my iPad won’t charge.  It pretends to but then won’t. I wouldn’t charge using the plane’s system on the forward journey either and we tried it in several usb ports in Economy. Same thing happening now in Business.  She says she’s going to re-set but I don’t think anything will occur.  Oh okay, now another stewardess has assured me it is charging even though my ipad is displaying a message that says it isn’t charging. So 15 mins in and I’ve been offered a drink.  Two Asian girls looking after me – both lovely.  A wealth of cupboards and storage space. Took me a while to focus and see it but it’s all around the seat with old fashioned but modernised window boxes. The Business Class Lounge at Doha was a long walk from where we pulled in but it is far quieter than Emirates.  Where Emirates is all hustle and bustle and darkness, Qatar’s is mostly silent. You are checked in at the bottom of the escalators…so staff scan your boarding pass and that’s it – no need to go to the desk unless you have a question as I did about the gate that I was still waiting to hear on.  There are no announcements so I just dialled up 45 minutes on my iwatch to alarm me to leave and head to C2.  I think Qatar does get us moving too quickly.  I arrived at the gate exactly as told but we sat around for another half hour.  This happened on both flights.  I would have preferred to stay in the Lounge. I was not the only Business class passenger with the same expression.  The Lounge is pale grey, light, airy, lots of stone and light wood.  There is a huge shallow pond that adds an incredible calm and I was struck by how quiet it was in there.  They seem to have closed off the food in sections behind glass doors so it maintains that peace.  Around the vast area are coffee stations so you just help yourself to coffee and soft drinks/water.  Seats are not huge leather buckets but almost spacey little clams with loads of space around them.  Nothing clubby here about the design or atmosphere.  Wifi is swift – no passwords required.

Bathrooms are not crowded like emirates that feels like Clapham Junction most of the time.

Every seat had a monitor that looks like an iPad. I didn’t use mine, I didn’t have time but presumably it offers internet access and the clock is on there so each guest can keep track of local time, which is handy. I will admit that I do love the Costa bar at Emirates but the coffee was more than adequate from the machine here and I think I like the quiet of this place more.  Emirates is showy and blingy. This is all about hi-tech and calm.

Once on the flight I felt very well looked after. The laying of the table is lovely.  Battery candlelight is a nice touch. The crockery is not plain white but lovely porcelain that is interesting – the sort you want in your home. Lovely glassware.

Business is more crowded on this flight to Adelaide.  Actually looking around every seat is taken.  They loaded us traditionally i.e. Business/First can board whenever they wanted so I’m at a loss for that oddity out of London. Large A4 menus – one for food and another for colour plates of the wines on board. Impressive.

The seat is configured neatly on an angle. And everything’s at your fingertips. I really like the table that pulls out from beneath the large screen – no old fashioned opened of seat’s arm and then complicated telescopic tables.  This is a simple sliding mechanism with lots of space for work, drinks, food, etc.  But you don’t feel nearly as private or contained as you do on Emirates. Staff are super attentive. always bending down to check everyone is fine and quick to clear things or make you comfy. We were all given pyjamas – a nice touch.

I am sipping my mocktail of a pineapple margherita, chewing on warmed nuts. Emirates nuts are better.We can have our dinner to order when we want. I think most people will feel like me – have it soon and get to sleep fast.  I slept.  Lovely blankets.  Easy bed prep – like a sleeve.  Chair moves into position in a blink. Doesn’t feel as private as I’d like but then who is really looking? Breakfast two hours out or one hour out – it’s all about the individual.  I like that.  No lights up either.  Presentation is excellent.

Who has the edge?  Hmmm…I think Qatar.

– Ian McIntosh