“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
Obviously flight has come on a long way since the 1500s when Leonardo da Vinci penned that as he mused about taking to skies, writes Scott Armstrong.
Today the Renaissance Man would have been astounded at how far his rudimentary glider designs had evolved, morphing into the people-moving machines of a global industry that now sees airlines competing for customers with ever-increasing promises of service and luxury.
Nowhere are airlines pushing the limits of premium service more than in the Arabian Gulf, and so, in the interests of science, I boarded a Qatar Airways flight, business class ticket in hand, to see for myself the extent to which this airline had elevated the concept of flight.
Of course, as clever as the “Universal Genius”(as some call him) was, as he sat on a hilltop looking over his beloved city of Florence, dreaming of swooping over the terracotta roofs, I doubt he ever imagined the drudgery that begins before a modern flight ever leaves the ground—standing in massive queues waiting to check-in, heaving suitcases, clearing security, and then shuffling in to over-crowded waiting areas.
Arriving at terminal four at Heathrow a little earlier than the traditional two hours, I was in for an experience much more in line with the romance captured by Leonardo’s quote.
I approached the smiling staff at the Qatar airways business class check-in and was swiftly relived of my bags and handed over to the efficient Meet and Assist personnel who kindly escorted me through security and immigration with a minimum of fuss. Timing it from check in to lounge was less than 10 minutes.
Stunningly un-marred by the check in and immigration process, and quite early for my flight, I settled into a deep chair and began sipping my first bubbles of the day. Qatar is rightly proud of its premium lounge at Heathrow.It’s split into two mains areas, one casual where comfy loungers overlooking the runway provide the perfect spot to sip away the time before boarding, and the other, a slightly more formal dining area for those who like to sit at a table while they eat. Both areas enjoy the central buffet and ala carte service, which kept my glass full and snacks coming until it was time to board Flight QR2, a wide-body Airbus A330-300 serving the 9.30pm London-to-Doha flight, due to land at 6.15am Qatar time.
As a business class passenger, I was greeted on board by a reception desk where smiling staff escorted me to my seat, a spacious 180-degree horizontal flatbed offering 60-inch pitch (almost double the legroom of economy), and a generous 21-inch wide seat. The amenities of the seat include a 17-inch screen for the excellent onboard entertainment system (Oryx TV) plus onboard wifi and the ability to make GSM calls, power sockets for your gadgets, lots of clever storage, noise-cancelling earphones, a goody bag of premium toiletries etcetera, etcetera. Of course, being business class, you’d expect all this.
What set Qatar apart was the atmosphere on board, in part thanks to that soft magenta lighting, but mostly due to the deft, warm (but not over-the-top) service from the crew. Smiles are not so much polished as genuine—the Downton Abbey-esque hospitality one expects when checking in to a five-star hotel. You are not an anonymous passenger, but a welcome guest for the duration of the flight.
This is a concept that is a vital as the comfort of the seat and one that has been increasingly forgotten as other airlines expand. Travellers used to think that the physical comfort offered in business class was the gift, now it is just the wrapping paper. The service on Qatar is the real present.
Like any five-star service-in-the-sky, Qatar offers an excellent menu, both in terms of food and beverage, and once you’ve had your fill, a sleep suit is available, as is a turn-down service (how Downton) during which your bed is made for you with a mattress added to aid your rest. Perhaps the ultimate sign of a comfy business class bed is the fact that none of the above were required for me to drift off, only to wake shortly before landing in Doha.
For those who, like me, are connecting to other regional flights, Qatar’s impressive Al Mourjan business lounge awaits you. This is Charlton Heston of an epic lounge—huge and cavernous with a massive water feature at its heart that really needs to be seen rather than described. Downstairs is devoted to comfy chairs, coffee, snacks and the like, while upstairs is a huge gourmet dining and imbibing area (if you didn’t already get your fill on the way over like I had). I used my connection time to access the spa-like shower area to really freshen up before getting back on board, this time in premium class for the short hop back to Muscat.
Even on this short regional hop, the reception-like greeting, genuine smiles, and five-star offering of entertainment, food, and beverage was there. Easing back into my seat, a fizzing glass in hand, subdued magenta lighting setting the mood, I couldn’t help but think that Mr da Vinci would have approved. A man who clearly loved life, I imagined him attacking the gourmet food onboard the Qatar Airways service from London Heathrow to Doha with gusto, probably accompanied by something red before happily donning his pyjamas and settling down for a snooze in the skies.