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On Sunday 5 February 2017 Qatar Airways launched its Doha to Auckland route which now holds the crown as the longest route (time-wise) in the world and, as luck would have it, I was booked to fly on day two of this new route – this is my review of that flight.
Qatar Airways appears to have been promoting its new route quite heavily with numerous bus stops in downtown Auckland advertising the service, double page adverts in prominent sections of local newspapers….
…and even adverts on the departures boards within Auckland Airport itself:
On the day of the flight I somehow managed to get to Auckland Airport far earlier than I normally would so the check-in counters weren’t even open when I walked in to the International Terminal.
Still, this wasn’t a terrible inconvenience as New Zealanders make a particularly good coffee so I had time for one more cup before I checked in.
When the check-in desks finally opened (3 hours before scheduled departure) there was a good-sized line for Economy Class check-in but the Business Class check-in line was non-existent.
There was a jovial atmosphere around the check-in area with passengers and staff both appearing excited about the new route with a lot of pictures being taken and far too many unnecessary “selfies” in evidence (it’s hard to overstate just how much I hate selfies).
Check-in was over quickly (I wasn’t putting any luggage into the hold) and I was soon on my way up to the first level of Auckland Airport where you go through security and immigration.
The departure boards were not yet displaying the gate for the flight…..
….so, after clearing immigration, I headed to the Qantas lounges to relax (reviews coming in due course).
After checking out both the Business Class and First Class Qantas lounges I headed to the gate early to make sure I was one of the first in line to board (no picture of an aircraft interior was ever improved by having passengers in it!).
At 13:55 (45 minutes before scheduled departure) boarding was called and my trip on the world’s longest flight was about to start.
Qatar Airways uses its Boeing 777-200LR aircraft to fly this route and this aircraft doesn’t have the airline’s newer Business Class cabin. In the 777-200LR the seats are set out in a 2-2-2 layout….
Qatar Airways 777-200LR Business Class Cabin Seat Map – courtesy of SeatGuru
…so passengers in the window seats do not have direct aisle access.
I had done my research well in advance of this flight so had decided that, if I was to be confined in an aircraft for 16+ hours, access to the aisle and the absence of a fellow passenger needing to clamber over me were important…so I had chosen one of the two centre seats for this trip.
A blanket, noise-cancelling headphones and good-sized pillow were already on my seat when I boarded……
…..the mattress pad for the bed was in a storage area under the screen……
and there were a pair of slippers in a second, smaller, under screen storage area:
Note: from this point onwards I’m going to set out this review as a timeline to give readers an idea of when various aspects of the flight took place and, should they at any point take this flight, when and what they can expect.
Boarding + 5 mins – The flight attendant for my aisle introduced herself as Kim and patiently waited for me to stop photographing everything in sight to offer me my choice of drink – Champagne seemed in order so I ordered the rosé.
Boarding + 10 mins – Kim returned with a glass of Champagne (which turned out to be Lanson) and a small cake which was being offered to commemorate the start of the new service.
She then came back with pajamas…..
…..a Giorgio Armani amenity kit……
…….and two of the best quality menus I’ve been handed on an aircraft – one a wine and beverage menu……
…..and the other a food menu:
The images really don’t do the menus justice – the paper had weight to it and was clearly of a pretty good quality…it just felt and looked expensive.
Click on the thumbnails to see the full contents of the menus:
Business Class Dining Menu
Business Class Wine & Beverage Menu
Boarding + 35 mins – There was an announcement that all passengers were onboard so we were almost ready to be on our way.
The Business Class cabin was not full and I had hit the jackpot – I had no one in the seat next to me, there was no one in the seat across the aisle from me and there was no one in the seat directly in front of me either. To say that things felt spacious would be an understatement! All the other seats in the cabin were occupied.
Boarding + 45 mins – We pushed back dead on time (14:40) and the remote control was showing just how long our flight was expected to be:
Boarding + 53 minutes – Glasses and any remaining drinks were removed for take off and newspapers were offered.
As we were pushing back and taxiing I finally had a bit time to actually consider my surroundings as opposed to just photographing them.
The Business Class cabin offers lots of overhead locker space so I can’t ever see carry-on storage being an issue.
Looking around the cabin confirmed that I had made a good choice when selecting a centre seat as, on a flight as long as this, having access to the aisle is always going to be important (even when traveling as a couple)….. it’s not as if there’s going to be that much to look at out of the window.
The cabin had a more spacious feel to it than I was expecting and there was a lot of leg room at each seat. If you were to find yourself in the window seat on this aircraft the need to clamber over the person next to you would only really arise if the person in the aisle seat had put the seat into bed mode or reclined a fair way.
There’s a small privacy screen between the seats in case you’re not travelling with someone you know…..
….but it’s really only of any use when the seat’s in a reclined position.
There’s not much storage space around the seat at all and the primary storage space is under the IFE screen….
….which I quickly filled up with my blanket, pillow and pajamas.
It’s probably important to note that the bulkhead seats don’t have this storage area:
Ordinarily I would avoid the bulkhead seats anyway as they can be too close to galleys/washrooms and therefore be less peaceful than the other seats, but this lack of storage space would be another reason I’d give these seats a wide berth on this aircraft.
Overall (and admittedly to my surprise) I quite liked the 777-200LR Business Class cabin. Yes, it’s not all-aisle-access as business cabins are expected to be nowadays but there is a feeling of space….but admittedly that may have something to do with the fact there wasn’t anyone next to me!
Boarding + 59 mins (almost exactly an hour after I had boarded) – The aircraft engines roared for take off so I put my thoughts on the cabin on hold.
Boarding + 1 hour 5 mins – We were up in the air, the seatbelt signs were extinguished and food orders were taken with lunch to be served in 40 minutes time for those who were happy to eat then.
Qatar Airways offers a “dine-on-demand” service…….
……so I could have had whatever I wanted whenever I wanted but I decided to have lunch at the recommended time (I hadn’t eaten in the lounge).
Once I had ordered my meal I went back to exploring the area around me to see exactly what else I could find.
The headphone socket is positioned in the centre section by where a passenger’s hips would be…..
……and it’s joined by a USB port and, for some reason, by something that resembles an Ethernet port:
There is a little bit of space here for storage which, as I found out later, was a handy place to keep cables, a mouse and the power adapter for my Macbook.
The power port is universal and can be found at the very base of the centre section between the seats….right at floor level under a sliding cover.
In the centre section (at shoulder level) there was an adjustable reading light for each seat as well as the seat divider I mentioned earlier.
The table comes out of the side of the centre section…..
…….and there are two small cubby holes (one for each seat) just above where the tray table comes out:
The remote control for the in-flight entertainment (IFE) is in the left-hand armrest…..
….while the main seat controls are on the right-hand armrest:
Take Off + 30 mins – Drinks and warm nuts arrived (I had moved on to the excellent 2006 blanc de blanc Tattinger on the recommendation of a couple seated near me)…….
……and pink mood lighting came on:
41 mins – I settled down to play with the entertainment system
The opening screen on the TV section was didn’t look too promising……
…….but then I realised it had opened up on the “Islam and life” section which, although undoubtably interesting, wasn’t quite what I was looking for at this point of the flight.
Once I’d navigated to the more standard programming I could see that there was a pretty good selection of comedies and a nice mix between up-to-date shows (like the latest series of Big Bang Theory)…..
…..and classic shows (like Friends).
The TV dramas looked ok too with shows like Breaking Bad and Downtown Abbey.
As far as movies go there were all sorts of categories including Pixar collection, X-men collection……
and even the Star Wars saga….
Extra kudos to Qatar for having episodes 1 through 6 as well as the usual “comedy” “drama” etc…. 🙂
I chose to check out “new onboard” and the selection seemed perfectly ok…..
48 mins – the flight attendants came around to set the tables for a late lunch/early dinner.
I loved the mini bread bowl…you don’t have to choose one type bread to go with your meal because you get them all 🙂
I decided to pick something to watch during the meal and I chose “Inferno”…..primarily because I couldn’t remember if I’d just read the book (yes, I’m ok with Dan Brown!) or if I’d seen the movie too.
The IFE system offered a choice of languages and subtitles (good for non-English speakers)…..
…..and I settled down to be entertained.
51 mins – A shrimp with spicy sauce amuse bouche was served…
…and it was pretty good. I’m a fan of spicy food on airplanes because it works at altitude where a lot of dishes (and drinks) can taste bland.
58 mins – My chosen starter of Arabic meze turned up.
Wow it tasted fresh! The pitta was beautifully warm and the tastes were fantastic. There was eggplant with sun-dried tomato tapenade, humous with a huge tahini overdose (loved it), and a mini-green salad that was anything but bland.
Why can’t more airlines make simple food (like this) taste this good?
1 hr 11 mins – the flight attendants removed the starter plates and my chosen main course wine (2014 Burgundy) was served.
1 hr 16 mins – My main course of chicken breast with Arabic spiced tomato and cinnamon sauce accompanied by rice with golden fried onions and raita was served.
The meal was nicely cooked, warm, not dry and, with the spices and minted yoghurt, very flavorful.
1 hr 31 mins – Main course plates were taken away and, as I really didn’t want to overfill myself on a 16+ hour flight, I chose to defer desert to later (which I never ended up ordering).
At this point I decided to change into the pajamas to be comfortable for the rest of the flight.
The pajamas I was given were L/XL (clearly I look like I need to go on a diet!) and, in hindsight, I could really have done with a medium set…. but they were very soft and comfortable (no, I’m not going to post a photo of me in embarrassingly baggy pajamas!)
When I got back to my seat there was a small box with a single Godiva Chocolate waiting for me.
I unpacked the blanket and, to be honest, it was a little disappointing. There wasn’t much to it (no weight) and it felt like a bit of a token gesture. I’ve had a lot better on other airlines……I even prefer the ones you get on American Airlines.
Still, not exactly a major issue in the grand scheme of things so I got back to my movie (I still couldn’t figure out if I’d seen it before!).
2 hrs – Hot towels were brought around
2 hrs 11 mins – The towels were taken away and Kim offered to make up my bed (I declined because I didn’t feel particularly tired).
2 hrs 51 mins – I found myself falling asleep (strange as I had been wide awake around half an hour ago) so asked Kim to make up the bed after all.
5 minutes later and I was all set:
2 hrs 56 mins – 4 hrs 21 mins – I got a little bit of sleep but woke up after about an hour and decided to get some work done as I wasn’t tired any more (despite the cabin now being in darkness)
4 hrs 36 mins – one of the flight attendants came around to check if I needed anything (I didn’t)
5 hrs 46 mins – another visit from a flight attendant to check I was ok and this time I ordered a mint tea.
5 hrs 56 mins – 7 hrs 5 mins – there was quite a lot of turbulence which got very tedious after a while….it wasn’t violent turbulence but it’s still pretty hard to type when the plane is being buffeted around. This was probably the longest period of turbulence I’ve ever experienced on any aircraft.
7 hrs 16 mins – I realised I need to charge my Macbook….. only to discover that my power socket wasn’t working.
I had the same issue that I invariably get every time I travel on a domestic American Airlines flight – all looks ok with the socket until I plug my device in at which point the green light on the socket goes out and there’s no power.
This wasn’t good.
Of all the amenities I’d like to have on a 16hr+ fight power is at the very top of my list!
Luckily I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me and the adjacent power socket worked ok.
7 hrs 21 mins – more turbulence……which was still annoying
I gave up trying to get any work done at this point (I’d already nearly spilled water on my Macbook at least half a dozen times) so I settled down to try to sleep……which somehow, despite the turbulence, I managed to do.
13 hrs 41 mins (over 6 hours later) – I woke up with a little under 3 hours of the journey left
14 hrs 11 mins – Kim came around to see if I wanted to order breakfast….which was appropriate for the time zone I’d left (it was 05:05) but not for the time zone I was in! Nevertheless I ordered.
14 hrs 19 mins – My bircher muesli arrived with orange juice…..
…together with a latte (my choice)…..
…a bread basket (Danish pastry, roll, mini croissant)….
…as well as a nice hot towel.
I also got a choice of preserves to go with the bread (I went for strawberry) and choice of water (still).
The orange juice was great (tasted like freshly squeezed rather than some abomination made from concentrate), the muesli was very nice despite Kim’s concern that it may be a bit dry (she had offered me some milk which I decided I didn’t need) and the latte was ok if nothing special.
14 hrs 33 mins – the second course (French toast) arrived
This was surprisingly good….I’ve had worse on terra firma!
14 hrs 45 mins – Last course (fresh fruit) was served ……
…….which I had with a mint tea.
14 hrs 56 mins – more hot towels brought around
15 hrs 16 mins – I was surprised to see that the flight attendants were collecting up all of the menus (perhaps they’re so expensive to print they’re reused) but I managed to keep hold of mine to scan and post here.
15 hrs 21 mins – I got changed back into my regular clothes as we had a little over an hour to go and I wanted to avoid the almost inevitable rush for the washrooms that happens when the captain announces that we’ll shortly be beginning our decent.
16 hrs 2 mins – The cabin mood lighting came back on…this time it was blue
16 hrs 8 mins – not far to go now…..
…..and the Captain came on the speaker system to say thanks for flying and to confirm this had been his longest ever flight and the longest flight for the crew.
16 hrs 16 mins – The cabin crew came around to say thanks for flying and, for the first time in my experience, one of the flight attendants asked if there was anything they could do to improve the service.
16 hrs 26 mins – The cabin lights were dimmed to pink for landing
16 hrs 28 minutes – Announcement of “cabin crew prepare for landing” from the captain
16 hours and 38 minutes after taking off from Auckland International Airport we landed in Doha.
16 hours 44 mins – we parked up at a remote stand and, as the economy class passengers were held back, the Business Class cabin decamped into a waiting bus and drove to the terminal.
The journey passed a lot quicker than I was expecting it to and, although the prolonged turbulence in the middle of the flight was annoying, the overall experience was very positive.
- From the ground staff to the cabin crew every Qatar Airways employee I encountered was pleasant, helpful and cheerful
- The food was very nice – it tasted fresh, was nicely presented and had flavor.
- The IFE selection was pretty good – I don’t normally care about the entertainment airlines offer as I bring my own but, on a 16+ hour flight it’s good to know the airline can offer back up.
- The Tattinger Champagne was excellent
- The cabin/seat was comfortable – I wasn’t expecting much considering this is an older style Business Class cabin but I had a very comfortable journey and felt pretty good when I disembarked.
Negatives (I’m really having to think hard here):
- The blanket seemed to be a bit of an afterthought and could definitely be better
- There wasn’t that much storage space around the seat and, had I not had a spare seat next to me upon which I could leave things like my Macbook, that may have been a little tiresome.
- Apparently the flight ran out of Sauvignon Blanc an hour out of Auckland – considering New Zealand’s reputation for exactly that kind of wine I’m not sure how that happened.
16 hours and 38 minutes is a long time to be in the air and, once you take into account the time I was seated in the aircraft before take off and the time I was seated in the aircraft after landing (right up to the point the doors were opened) that’s almost 18 hours in total. Wow.
I can honestly say that it didn’t feel like 18 hours….and a lot of credit for that has to go to the cabin crew for looking after me as well as they did and to the airline for providing good food, good drinks and a pretty good cabin experience overall.
I said earlier in the week that I wasn’t expecting the experience to be enjoyable but that I expected it to be bearable….but I underestimated the airline. I wouldn’t necessarily rush back to spend another 18 hours on an aircraft any time soon but, if I had to do just that, I’d be happy to do it with Qatar all over again.