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What comes to mind when you think of Qatar Airways? Qsuites? World’s best airline? Perhaps both? Qatar Airways has built an enviable reputation in the aviation industry, especially with its Qsuite product, which is herald as the best business class in the world today. Incredible privacy, dine-on-demand catering, and top-notch service, what more could Qatar Airways offer on First Class? Let’s explore this as I continue my adventure a day after finishing the exciting 22-hour Singapore Airlines Suites flight as part of my 8 Days, 7 Countries, 4 First-Class Flights travel adventure.
Before diving into my journey, a brief history lesson about Qatar Airways premium products is needed: Qsuite and First Class. Why do both exist when Qsuite is so good? It’s almost as good as first-class. Its timing: Qsuite was introduced in 2017, and First Class in 2016 exclusively on the A380. The seating and design cues on the A380 are an older generation with the business class cabin offering reverse herringbone seats on the upper deck nestled behind the onboard bar.
First Class is considered the crème de la creme in commercial aviation. However, Qsuites has blurred the lines between first and business by offering an elevated business class experience near first class. This then begs the question: Is first-class even needed?
Qatar Airways CEO, his excellency Al Bakar, stated, “The Airbus A380 was our biggest mistake” and “There is no future for the A380.” And yet, in 2023, the Qatar Airways A380s are flying again. Did Al Bakar lie to us? The outspoken CEO had said, “We grounded the A380s at the beginning of the pandemic, and we never wanted to fly them again.”
So, what happened?
The Airbus-Qatar Airways $2 billion legal feud over surface damage on the A350s has grounded over 27 A350 aircraft resulting in the airline being unable to meet the rising demand in travel. More planes were needed, and reactivating the A380s made sense, especially on trunk routes to/from Doha (London, Paris, Bangkok, and Perth). In addition, Qatar Airways took the lease of several Cathay Pacific 777-300ER aircraft for additional capacity and introduced their First Class on them. If anyone has flown Cathay Pacific First Class, I’m sure these seats look familiar.
Qatar Airways also offers a third variation of first-class on flights within the Middle East. These are marketed as First Class; however, they offer only a business class experience with first class ground service. This includes access to the Al Safwa First Lounge at Hamad International Airport in Doha.
I booked the Qatar Airways First Class flight using my Avios points through Qatar’s Privilege Club. If you look for availability right now, there likely won’t be much. The best way to secure such aspirational awards is to book speculatively the moment you see any availability. I’m of the mentality of “Book First, Think Later,” which is precisely what I did during the height of the Covid Omnicron lockdowns. Award availability was plentiful, and I booked it together with my Singapore Airlines Suites flight.
The cost was 82,500 points + 229.90 CAD in taxes for Bangkok-Doha-Muscat flights, including a purposeful 18-hour layover in Doha.
My Qatar Airways flight was scheduled to depart at 2:30 AM from Bangkok, and I was in Singapore. I needed to get to Bangkok early the day before to do a Covid PCR test as this was required to enter the State of Qatar. After checking out of the fantastic Shangri-La hotel (booked using American Express FHR) in Singapore, I headed to Changi airport and hopped on a Singapore Airlines A350 flight in business class for the 2-hour jaunt to Bangkok.
The flight was excellent, as expected, with Singapore Airlines. Good food, good seats, and most importantly, good hospitability.
While my stay in Bangkok would be just shy of 15.5 hours, I managed to pack in quite a bit during this time, including getting some rest at The Athenee, a Luxury Collection hotel that I booked using a Marriott Bonvoy 35k certificate.
The highlight of my layover was watching the sunset from a rooftop café overlooking the Chao Phraya river and Wat Arun.
Ground Experience (Bangkok)
Back at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, after the short layover, I was happy to see dedicated Qatar Airways first-class check-in counters, which were empty. Behind me, business class check-in was busy, and Economy, well, that line was snaking down the hall.
After check-in, I used the Fast Track security and immigration, and I was through within minutes.
Overall, a very good ground experience at a Qatar Airways outstation in Bangkok. The dedicated fast track channel certainly expedite ground formalities although it was not exclusive to First Class.
The A380 First Class Seat
Let’s face it, the Qatar Airways A380 seat is not very glamorous but is very spacious in its 1-2-1 configuration. Despite the massive seat, it’s exposed to those around you; privacy is limited and is missing the all-important door. However, there is a retractable wall next to the seat that can be raised for added privacy, which helped, but not by much.
Middle seats are the obvious choice if traveling with a companion:
Sleeping is very comfortable and ignoring the lack of privacy, it is much better than Qsuite. A mattress topper is provided along with a thick duvet, which I did not opt for on this flight as I was awake for most of it.
Overall, the Qatar Airways A380 First Class hard product is rather disappointing. It is spacious and comfortable, but that’s it. Nothing elusive about it makes you want to come back for more.
Pajamas & Amenity Kit
Qatar Airways provides pajamas whether you are flying in first or business class. Unfortunately, the pajama set is the same and not up to first-class standards; the fabric is rough and thin. The only highlight was they were special edition pajamas for the FIFA World Cup.
The amenity kit by Diptyque is also disappointing for a couple of reasons:
- The kit is enclosed in a cardboard box
- Business and First Class are provided the same kit
I’m sure the Diptyque products are fine, but the presentation in a cardboard box is ridiculous, especially for an airline like Qatar Airways and in First Class. Qatar Airways should be ashamed of itself!
Qatar Airways’ service is generally on point and perfect, at least on their Qsuites business class product. However, I felt the first-class service was not up to first-class standards. I was shocked when the flight attendant informed me that she had never heard of Krug champagne and didn’t think they had that on board. While the service was satisfactory, it didn’t seem personalized and hospitable to the level I would expect of an airline of this caliber. In fact, it was poorer than what I have received on my many prior business-class flights. Oddly enough, the business-class flight attendants and bartenders were much better.
Food, Drinks, and the Onboard Bar
Let’s cut to the chase and talk about the onboard bar that exceeded my expectations. Beautifully laid out on the upper deck of the A380 behind the first-class cabin, it’s accessible to anyone flying in first or business class. Its layout is thoughtful and maximizes all the available space. I found it to be much better than the Emirates onboard bar. I spent a couple of hours here talking to the bartender, flight attendants, and fellow passengers who passed through during the red-eye flight.
Now the Food…
The quality of food served by Qatar Airways always surprises me and first class was no exception and the experience was elevated. Every dish ordered was spectacular! The highlights were the unique caviar and balik salmon combo and the pandan dessert. Yum!
What about drinks? As an individual that enjoys vintage champagnes, my sole focus was on the Krug 2004 from the drink menu. This champagne is the best I’ve had in the sky. It may not be the most expensive (retails for $600/bottle), but it certainly tastes the best. The flight attendants were kind enough to leave me the entire bottle to enjoy, and I certainly did!
The food was stellar on this flight despite the shorted red-eye menu. I look forward to a future daytime flight offering a more extensive menu to indulge in. Great job Qatar Airways on the food, A+!
Qatar Airways Oryx inflight entertainment (IFE) system needs no introduction. It’s a world-class product with a myriad of entertainment options available. However, on this flight, the offerings were much fewer than the Oryx IFE on the A350s and 777s. This was of no consequence to me as I took advantage of the HDMI input and continued watching shows I had brought along with me on my mobile device. I do appreciate any airline that offers an HDMI input.
As I said in my Singapore Airlines Suites review, where is the shower? Actually, the better question to ask is, why am I asking this question? I blame Emirates and Etihad for setting the bar so high with their A380 shower suites. However, despite the lack of a shower, the lavatory makes it up in aesthetics. It is one of the most beautiful lavatories I have seen. An elongated vanity and mirror are paired with a white tile backsplash. On the opposing wall is a long bench, part of which hides the toilet. The bench is quite comfortable. I accidentally ended up taking a nap here, whoops. After all, I was running on fumes country hopping as part of my no jet lag 8 days, 7 country experience.
Ground Experience (Doha)
The Qatar Airways First Class ground experience in Doha is the epitome of exclusivity. From the moment you step foot into Hamad International Airport to boarding the flight, there is complete segregation from the lower classes:
Check-in –> Immigration–> Security–> Lounge –> Transfer –> Boarding
As you enter the terminal, you are greeted by Qatar Airways ground staff and escorted to the private check-in area of the terminal dedicated to first-class passengers.
Ground formalities were quick, and in a mere 10 minutes after entering the terminal, I found myself in the Al Safwa First lounge. Did I mention there is a private entrance to the lounge right after security? That’s right—no need to enter the main terminal hall and zig-zag through the crowd.
Al Safwa First Lounge
I am unable to find the right words to describe this lounge. The Al Safwa First Lounge is my #1 lounge in the world. I once spent 14 hours here, purposely, and loved every minute of it! Here are my reasons why this lounge is so special to me:
- Ambiance – The feeling of being inside a fine art museum inside a stone monolith.
- Luxury – Conveyed through minimalism: expansive walls, high ceilings, and sparsely laid out artwork.
- Dining – Offered a la carte serving some of the best dishes I’ve ever had in a lounge.
- Champagnes – Some of the finest, including Krug, if you’re lucky.
- Spa – Enjoying the jacuzzi is a ritual here
- Rest – Private sleep rooms with full ensuite bathrooms.
- Seating – Varied options with dedicated zones for work, rest, or play
- Peace & Quiet – A sanctuary that endows a feeling of Zen
For this trip, I spent about 6 of the 18-hour layover at the lounge. And just as before, I explored all the lounge offerings, including the game room, movie theatre, and gift shop.
Approximately 45 minutes before departure, I was escorted from the lounge down a private elevator and onto a First Class bus and driven right to the A350 aircraft for the short flight to Muscat, Oman. This bus pales compared to a private car transfer that competitors offer but is still exclusive nonetheless.
Qatar Airways spiced up the interior of the bus by offering throne seating.
Was the chase to fly Qatar Airways First class worth it? I think so. Despite the lackluster hard product and subpar service I received, Qatar Airways hit a home run with food and drinks offerings on this flight. And the onboard bar, wow! I thought Emirates was good, but I enjoyed Qatar’s much more.
Would I choose to fly Qatar Airways First Class over Qsuite? It depends. Do I want doors or no doors? If traveling with a companion, Qsuite is the obvious choice, but traveling alone would be a tough decision. Is sacrificing a poor hard product worth it for better food, drinks, and access to Al Safwa lounge in Doha? I think it is, but only by a small margin.
Qatar’s A380 first-class product won’t be around forever as Al Bakar seems very firm about retiring them as soon as possible. I’m happy to have gotten the opportunity to fly it, and I’m sure I will do so again very shortly.
Good review. I received an OPUP to F from BKK-DOH on the A380 (then got one to F on AA on their 772 DOH-JFK, but that’s a whole different story). I’d agree with a lot of what you wrote, though my FA experience was radically better.
My FA was Federico, he was phenomenal. He anticipated what I was going to need and appeared with it, then left me alone to sleep for a few hours. I accessed the Al Safwah lounge, though I’m told I wasn’t entitled to it as an OPUP, but they never looked at me twice. Maybe it was because my F flight on AA didn’t reflect as an OPUP? No way to know. I didn’t have enough time to enjoy it properly, hopefully next time.
I’ve flown 2 QR flights with that Diptyque box, I don’t like it either. I suspect that folks who use the products onboard but who aren’t avgeeks probably don’t care.
Wow, nice review. My wife is flying from Bangkok to Doha to the USA in a few days and the first leg is on the A380 so that makes this especially helpful. Since the second leg of her flight doesn’t offer first class, any idea if she’ll have first class lounge access from the first leg or business class access from the second leg?
Yes, she will have access to the Al Safwa First Lounge 🙂