Thursday, April 20, 2017

Trip Report: Qatar Airways, Abu Dhabi to Lahore via Doha (April 2017)

Trip Report: Qatar Airways, Abu Dhabi to Lahore 
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In the past five years I had flown almost every major Gulf airline, but there was one airline which I had flown a long time ago and wanted to revisit Qatar Airways.  It had been almost one decade since I had flown with Qatar, and the last flight was long-haul from Washington to South Asia.  At this time, my experience on board was not good and the airport was extremely small.  Qatar has invested a lot in both its airport and airline, so I wanted to try Qatar Airways again to see what improvements had been made.
Instead of long-haul, this time my flight on Qatar would be two short-haul flights.  The first flight from Abu Dhabi to Doha was scheduled to take one hour, while the second flight from Doha to South Asia was scheduled to take 3.5 hours. Qatar had been promoting a Doha stopover, and even offered free transit visas if your itinerary qualified.  For this reason, I decided to take the morning flight out of Abu Dhabi and the evening flight out of Doha thus giving me 8-hours in Doha to look around.  Booking the itinerary through the website was very convenient, and I while booking was able to add FF numbers, select seats, and request special meals.  Even after booking it was very easy to manage the booking either through the website or through the app.
Trying to access the free transit visa, on the other hand, was not very easy.  Once you have booked your itinerary, you submit your information online and it tells you whether the free visa has been granted.  The problem is that there is no one who can answer any questions about which itinerary qualifies, and if you are rejected why the rejection took place.  There is an email associated with the visa page, but numerous emails to them went unrealized (still waiting for a reply 1.5months later).  I tried calling Qatar Airways reservation and talking to the onboard airline crew, both of whom provided incorrect information.  Also, no one at the airport has any answers because they all say that everything regarding the free transit visa is online.  Other friends and family that have taken Qatar Airways long-haul and had a problem say that the ground staff in Doha and the reservation staff on the phone are not helpful nor customer friendly; I experienced the same.
My first flight was scheduled to take off from Abu Dhabi at 11:30am, and after an hour flight time was scheduled to land in Doha at 11:40am.  I was able to check into my flight 24hours prior, and this could be done on the website or through the app.  The boarding pass could either be downloaded, emailed, or saved to your phone as mobile boarding pass.  The app was very convenient as it stored boarding passes, gate information, seat numbers, and even baggage tags associated with the reservation.  We got to the airport about 2.5hours prior to departure and it seems that the checkin staff were just getting started.  There were two agents open, but they were extremely slow and it took a long time.  Even though we were flying economy, there was no one in the Business class checkin line so we went there to checkin our bags and receive our boarding pass.  Bags checked and boarding passes received we proceeded to the gate.
The boarding pass stated boarding was scheduled to start at 10:30am so around that time we proceeded to the gate.  When we got to the gate, the inbound aircraft had not arrived yet (the inbound is scheduled to arrive into Abu Dhabi at 10:30a, giving them one hour to turn the plane around).  The plane arrived, passengers deplaned, and then it took the ground staff a while to get the plane ready for outbound flight.
The operating aircraft was an Airbus A320 in a 3-3 layout.  The plane looked very new and had updated seats.  The seat comfort was decent, the leg pitch also good, but the seat width was narrow.  Another issue with the seat was the location of the box for the in flight system – the box was located underneath the seat but took up a lot of space and thus cut into the legroom.  The seat came with a lot of amenities including an adjustable headrest, an adjustable shell seat, PTV screens behind every seat, USB ports, headphone jacks, a power socket below and a tray table above.  There was also a main pocket which contained the airline magazine, duty free magazine, sickness bag and safety card.  The main pocket was not that big and was pretty stuffed with all the materials, so it was difficult to take out the various contents.  There was also a smaller pocket available to hold items such as phone and glasses –this was a nice concept and something I have not seen on other planes.  The plane was generally full and even though we boarded mostly on time, we had a delayed pushback.  For both of my flights with Qatar, there was a rush to board the plane but then no rush to close the door and pushback; each time we spent a lot of time sitting at the gate waiting for the plane to close its doors and pushback.  The PTV system was on as soon as you boarded, so most passengers did not notice the delay.  As soon as the doors closed, refreshing wipes were distributed and the safety video shown.
Given the short duration of the flight, I did not expect must in flight service but as soon as we reached cruising altitude the attendants came by to offer a snack and a drink.  The hot snack was a box with a baked puff dough snack filled with either chicken or veggies, a muffin, and water.  Orange juice was also provided along with this service.  Even though it was a short flight, the attendants completed handing out the snack quickly – and then they disappeared.  I had experienced this the last time I flew with Qatar; the attendants only appear in the aisle if there is a service otherwise you never see a flight attendant.  Same thing for the rest of the flight; after the garbage was collected the flight attendants were not seen again.  We landed in Doha, taxied to the gate, and then deplaned.  I was told to go through transfers to get my transfer visa, but that turned out to be incorrect as I had to go through the regular process in arrivals.  It was extremely chaotic and inefficient process of going through immigration and customs in Doha.
My next flight departed Doha at 8:30p, with a boarding time at 7:30p. After touring Doha, we arrived at the airport around 6:30p to allow some time to look around the airport.  Overall, the airport has more shopping and fewer food options than one would normally think; also all the food options are concentrated in the middle with few to none located near the gates.  The boarding gate did not open until 7:30p, and that is when boarding passes were checked and we were told to wait in the secure area.  The aircraft was already there and boarding started around 8p.
The operating aircraft was a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, but a small one.  There were three sections of plane, one business class, one standard economy section and then another small economy section.  The seats were laid out in a 3-3-3 fashion and both the seat comfort and width were similar to the earlier plane.  The pitch was a bit tighter on this plane as compared to the Airbus.  The passenger load was extremely light, almost everyone in the first section had three seats to themselves.  As the load was light, we had boarded before time but again we sat at the boarding gate.  Due to paperwork, we sat in the plane at the gate until almost 9p – almost 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time.  While at the gate, the attendants distributed refreshing towels, water, headphones, and showed the safety video. 
The flight time was 3hr 30min and after takeoff the in flight service started which consisted of dinner.  Usually special meals are delivered first but for this flight no special meals were delivered.  I had ordered a special meal but when I told that to the attendant they didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.  I had ordered a veggie option and the choice for dinner was either chicken or lamb, but they did have some veggie options available.  Had it been a full flight, I am not sure all veggie options would have been sufficient.  The food quantity was small and the quality was average.  Drinks were served with the meal, and then tea and coffee were served when the trays were being cleared. After that, again the attendants disappeared for the rest of the flight.  If you needed something, you had to go back to the alley.  Many times people had pushed the call button but no attendant ever came.  We had pushed it many times to request a blanket – each seat came with a pillow but no blanket – but no one responded to the call.  It was only during the clearing of the meal trays that we finally got our blanket; almost twenty minutes later.  Even when I went to the back to get something, the attendants acted as if they were being disturbed and that no one should come back there.
To pass away the time, you could either read the airline magazine or watch the entertainment system.  The system itself was average – there were new Hollywood movies but a poor and limited selection of other movies.  The TV selection was equally as poor and limited all around – it was an extremely light selection and the selection was the same for both flights.

Overall, it was a disappointing flight with Qatar.  I expected, after 10 years, to see some change in the onboard product but after ten years they were still offering the same thing.  Below average service, average on board product, and average seat comfort.  They say you get what you pay for, and ticket prices are usually cheaper versus the other Gulf airlines; so you pay less and you get less.  For me, I would rather pay a bit more to get a bit more.

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