Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, May 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
An occasional series
There can”t be many airlines where the chief executive can be seen inspecting the cabin before take-off, is known to personally ensure that both check-in and security are thorough but quick, and is always more than happy to talk to any passenger when he is about at the airport or on an aircraft. Qatar Airways Akbar Al Baker is a truly hands on airline boss held in awe by his staff. How he finds the time to be seen about the airline, mastermind Doha”s new international airport, and get very involved with the Gulf States tourism development is something only he can explain. Asked he shrugs his shoulders and says he just gets on with it.
As with any business the chief executive”s approach is reflected in the attitude of the staff. Just like Al Baker they are sharp and very enthusiastic.
Qatar Airways is a smart and friendly customer focussed carrier, smaller than some of its contemporaries around the Gulf area but lacking nothing in what it offers in all three classes. Al Bakers attention to detail shows. In first class you are really treated like Royalty (and sometimes find them accompanying you on to the aircraft ” the rulers of Qatar like jetting off to London) with a buggy on call at Heathrow to whisk you from the Executive Lounge to the gate and at the other end an executive BMW 7 series from aircraft to terminal. Here Doha Airport”s Al Maha personal handling service takes over (also available at a small cost to all passengers) to ensure your smooth passage landside or on to a connecting flight. You don”t have to think. It is all done for you. You just sit and wait in a special section of the arrivals lounge with refreshments provided. Terrific.
Turn left into first upon boarding and the cabin staff are quickly on hand to place your jacket in a wardrobe and offer Champagne and nibbles. Hot or cold towels too, of course. Somehow the cabin seems bigger than on other similar Airbus A330”s. And then the penny drops. There are no central overhead lockers. It is amazing how much space they take up. Twelve seats laid out one + two + one, a sort of cross between the highly individual BA concept and the now outdated traditional cabin. The seats don”t actually go flat and there is not quite the privacy some carriers offer, but you get an impression of a cabin crew who really want to help. The large washrooms are kept spotless. Linen napkins on large tables. The catering services on board are equal to the best. Sevruga Caviar, a superb hors-d”oeuvre tray selection and of course traditional Arabic hot and cold meeze. Soup is followed by a main course which might include grilled king prawns, chicken or lamb beautifully presented in what is a true restaurant in the sky. In this day and age there is a lighter offering too, plus a cheese course, dessert, ice cream and fresh fruit. Airline cuisine up front is reaching new levels. Qatar is not a dry airline, Don Perigon vintage 1996 Champagne for first class customers and J class treated very well with only a slightly lesser product, Cordon Rouge Brut. Two white wines are offered the Poulilly Fuise 2002 superb with the red offering currently an Australian Sauvignon 2001 or a blended Bordeaux. Spirits on board include Glenfiddich, Bombay Sapphire Gin and Baily”s Irish Cream for those who enjoy that style of liquor. Flight time to London is 7.5 hours and if you still have some room after devouring up to seven courses the cabin staff are more than pleased to offer open sandwiches and mini French pastries at anytime. Tea has been at the heart of Arabian hospitality for generations. At the 35,000 feet you get the choice of six flavours, all served from a tea pot and served on fine bone china, the whole thing very nicely presented with doilies. Upon landing at Heathrow the buggy is once again around to whisk you to immigration. Business class is just a lesser version of the first class product, whilst economy gains rave reviews from those who travel down the back. Plenty of legroom, individual TV monitors with both BBC World News service and Al Jazeera, plus a good meal selection
Qatar has not gone on-board Internet yet but you can be sure that once the airline”s Airbus 340s are introduced (and probably later A330s) Al Baker will have addressed that problem and upgraded the cabins even further. The airline currently has 33 Airbus aircraft plus a further 22 on firm order including a pair of A380 super jumbos and two Airbus A340s for long over water sectors. It now flies to 50 destinations. Qatar Airways has to be sharp and very forward -looking. There is much competition around the Gulf.
PLUS POINT: Doha International Airport is much smaller than some others around the Gulf. Getting in an out of the terminal is a doddle and there is very little walking. If you are connecting it could not be easier.
NEGATIVE POINT: The current airport does not have air bridges which will be rectified when the brand new terminal opens in 2008. However the BMW service from the first class lounge adds something that no other airline has. One feels like somebody special, which is exactly the way the airline wants you to feel.