Review: Qatar Airways A320 Business Class (PSA – DOH)

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class Cabin

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I had wanted to try out the Qatar Airways A320 Business Class product for quite some time so, when I saw a great fare between Pisa and Seoul (via Doha) which would allow me to see what it was like, I jumped at the chance.

Those of us who pay attention to this kind of thing know that, most of the time, it’s a good idea to avoid narrowbody aircraft (like the A320) when booking long haul flights in Business Class as the premium cabins on smaller aircraft aren’t usually up to much….but I still really wanted to try out the Qatar A320.

Qatar Airways uses its smaller aircraft on a number of routes between Europe and Doha and, if you want to take advantage of some of the great Business Class fares the airline often offers to Asia, it can be quite hard to avoid the A320….so I had to check it out.

I had flown in to Pisa earlier in the day and spent a few hours in the highly forgettable Sala VIP lounge.

Sala VIP Lounge Pisa – nothing very “VIP” about it

I decided to leave the lounge at around an hour and fifteen minutes before departure in order to get to the gate early enough to be the first on the aircraft – I wanted clear photos of the A320 Business Class cabin.

What I had forgotten was that most countries (excluding the US and UK) perform immigration checks on the way out as well as on the way in and Italy is one such country.

The immigration line was just a few steps away from the lounge and, thanks to the Italians supplying just two immigration agents, the line was already getting long and wasn’t moving particularly fast.

I was more than a bit annoyed by the hold up as I assumed that, by the time I boarded, the Business Class cabin would have passengers in it and passengers ruin photos 🙂

It took 20 minutes to get through immigration and, as boarding had already been called by the time I reached the gate, I walked straight on to the aircraft and into an empty Business Class cabin – clearly I wasn’t the only passenger unexpectedly held up at immigration!

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class Cabin

I was escorted to my seat by the flight attendant and immediately offered my choice of drink.

I asked for champagne and was the offered brut or rose….I went for brut….which turned out to be Billcart Salmon.

As well as being offered a drink I was also offered my choice of a hot or cold towel – it was a warm day so I chose cold. 

Within a minute the flight attendant was back with my drink and cold towel……

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

……and then within another minute she was back again with menus…..

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

……and a Bric’s amenity kit:

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

The Qatar Airways A320 Business Class cabin has three rows of seats set out in a 2-2 formation with the seats angled slightly towards the windows.

Seat map courtesy of SeatGuru.com

Waiting for me on my seat was a pillow and blanket…..

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

…..while on a ledge behind my seat was a bottle of Italian mineral water (nice touch) and the standard issue Qatar Airways headphones:

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

A quick look around the cabin (as I was taking pictures) showed that the Qatar Airways A320 has the same quirk as the airline’s A340 – row 1 seats have more room for the passengers’ feet than either of the other 2 rows.

Here’s what my row (row 2) looked like:

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

And here’s what row 1 looked like:

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

That’s a noticeable difference in space and, as I have another A320 flight booked on the return, I made a mental note to change my seat to one in row 1 if possible.

There’s a little storage around the seat but not much…..especially not if you’re traveling with a laptop.

There’s a ledge under the IFE screen that’s useful for smaller items (row 1 doesn’t have this):

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

There’s a shoe storage area at floor level ahead of the centre section between the two seats:

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

There’s a small storage well under the armrest (useful for a phone-size object but not much more)…..

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

…….and there’s the ledge behind the seat where the headphones and mineral water are found when you board.

This last storage spot is the most useful (especially as this is where the USB point is) but none of these areas are much good if you’re looking to keep a laptop anywhere near you. My 15″ MacBook ended up stored on the floor between the seat and the body of the aircraft.

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

As I’ve just suggested, the Qatar Airways A320 offers a USB port, and audio port and a headphone input to one side of the seat headrest:

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

And the power ports are in the centre section between the two seats:

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

The power ports are universal (so plugs from most countries should work) and there are no obstruction anywhere near the sockets so travelers with cumbersome power adapters (like min on the MacBook) shouldn’t have any issues plugging in (unlike on the Qatar Airways Dreamliner).

Boarding + 25 mins: My seat mate arrived and a second flight attendant came around and introduced herself – she’ll be looking after us on this flight. Smiley, friendly and just plain nice.

Boarding + 27 mins: A senior member of cabin crew came around to introduce herself, to wish us a pleasant flight and to say that we should call her or a member of her crew if we need anything at all.

I settled in to my seat and I felt comfortable.

I know the A320 aircraft offers a 2-2 layout on a narrow body aircraft but it still feels good.

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Ok, so the cabin doesn’t allow for all seats to have direct access to the aisle (a prerequisite for a top quality Business Class cabin) but there wasn’t any feeling of being hemmed in or confined.

The seat controls are pretty self-explanatory and are found in the centre divider between the seats:

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Boarding + 35 mins: A champagne refill was offered and gladly accepted

Boarding + 36 mins: All passengers were onboard and the ground staff were asked to leave the aircraft.

Boarding + 37 mins: The cabin crew offered newspapers and the Captain introduced himself and confirmed the flight time at 5 hours 45 minutes.

Boarding + 44 mins:  The Captain asked the cabin crew to close doors for departure.

I took this opportunity to peruse the menu as I knew orders would be taken shortly.

Here’s the food menu:

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class Food Menu (click to enlarge)

And here’s the drinks menu:

Boarding + 48 mins: A flight attendant took my dinner order and, as Qatar Airways offers a “dine on demand” service, I asked for my meal to be served 2 hours after take off – I love using the dine when you want option!

Looking around the cabin I could see that 3 of the 12 seats were empty and all 3 were in row 1.

I was very tempted to ask to move….especially as my seat mate had already spilled champagne everywhere and I’d already been offered a seat change….but I want to see how tight the feet area was in the non bulkhead rows so I stayed where I was –  the things I do for reviews! 🙂

Boarding + 50 mins:  We pushed back 5 minutes early

Boarding + 1 hr: After pushback we were held just yards from the gate for 10 mins before we started taxiing again.

Boarding + 1 hr 10 mins: We took off from Pisa and were on our way to Doha.

Looking down on Pisa shortly after take off

Take off + 28 mins:  Hot nuts and drinks were served

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Take off + 34 mins: I plugged my MacBook into the power port but, despite the power ports showing green lights before take off,they were now dark.

The flight attendants were still busy serving drinks (and some passengers were being served their meals) so I made a mental note to ask them to reset the power when there was a lull in their duties.

I went back to considering my surroundings.

The tray table pulls out of the centre section between the seats…..

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

…..and comfortably holds a 15″ MacBook:

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

As good as the table is from a size point of view there is an issue with it.

Because of the way the table is made to fold in the middle, the laptop will pivot on the raised line in the middle….so you get a see-saw effect when you rest your hands on the laptop to type. This is supremely annoying!

I tried to ignore this new annoyance and decided to check out the WiFi on board.

Qatar Airways offers free 15 mins/10 MB of wi-fi or a variety of plans depending on how many MB you want to use……

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

….but I HATE this kind of wi-fi pricing.

Iberia and Singapore airlines do this too and it drives me nuts!

How is anyone meant to know how many MB they want (or need) to use…..why can’t we have a $/£/€ figure for unlimited data for the flight (like most other civilised airlines) and be done with it?!

I refuse to pay for internet of this kind so I opted for the freebie to see (a) how quick the connection was and what 10MB gets you.

My first attempt to get online failed (nothing happened after I entered my email where required), the second attempt looked positive until the wi-fi stopped responding shortly after I got the screen showing that I was logged in…..

…..and after that I couldn’t persuade the wi-fi to let me try again. I couldn’t get the wi-fi login page to come up again, I just kept getting messages saying that I was being timed out:

So I gave up.

Take off + 1 hr 57 mins: Right on time (remember I’d asked for my meal 2 hours after take off) one of the flight attendants asked if I was ready for dinner and I asked for a few more minutes to allow me to wrap up a blog I was writing.

I normally prefer to watch whatever movies or shows I’ve pre-loaded on to my MacBook but, as on the Qatar A320 there’s no room to both eat and have a laptop open, I set up the inflight entertainment  to show Rogue One.

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Take off + 2 hrs: My table was set for the meal service and a bread basket provided.

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Take off + 2 hrs 2 mins:  An very nice amuse bouche of cod with a payneer sauce was served

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Take off + 2 hrs 10 mins: My starter of goat’s cheese and roast pumpkin salad with toasted pine nuts and a red onion and apple dressing was served.

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

This was also very nice and the dressing, in particular, was very good.

Take off + 2 hrs 20 mins: My main course of “seared fillet of fish with lemon and spring vegetable sauce” with sautéed potatoes and confit cherry tomatoes was brought to my table.

I had deliberately chosen the fish as it’s one of the harder things for airlines to get right and I wanted to see what Qatar Airways catering could do.

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

I have no idea what fish was served but, whatever it was, it was excellent.

It was warm, flakey and flavourful – I would have accepted this in a restaurant so, for food at 35,000ft, this was impressive.

Take off + 2 hrs 33 mins: A dessert of cheesecake and mint tea arrived

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

…..it was nice….just not great. But overall I could have very few complaints about what was served.

Take off + 2 hrs 45 mins: The cabin lights were dimmed

Take off + 2 hrs 55 mins: Hot towels were offered

Take off + 3 hrs 15 mins: The cabin crew brought around small boxes of Godiva chocolates

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

At this point I decided to try out the seat in lie-flat mode…..I didn’t actually need to lie down or sleep but I just wanted to get a feel for what it was like.

On a positive note I can say that there’s more room for a passenger’s feet on a Qatar Airways A320 than there is on a Delta 767 or on and American Airlines 767 as, when lying on your back, there’s nothing preventing your feet from pointing up….there’s enough height to the cavity where your feet go.

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

On a more negative note, the cavity for your feet is a lot more confining if you choose to lie on your side. There’s not much width and this is where the larger space afforded by the seats in row 1 will make a difference.

The experience in rows 2 & 3 is by no means terrible….but it’s not great either.

The rest of the seat is comfortable and, although I measured the width at just 20″ (armrest to centre partition), it didn’t feel confining.

When I finished playing around with the seat I had another quick look at the IFE.

The Qatar Airways Oryx entertainment system is about to get a make over but, for now, it’s adequate.

The remote control is housed in The centre section that divides the two seats…..

…..and it controls everything you see on the 15″ screen that sits in a fixed position directly in front of the seat.

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

From what I saw the movie selection was reasonably up to date (I’ve already mentioned that I watched rogue one) but, while there’s a good enough selection of TV shows, there aren’t enough episodes or full box sets on offer.

Put simply, the Qatar Airways IFE is fine and it will get you through your flight….but I’ve seen better.

The flight attendants came around few times to check that I didn’t need or want anything but they were very good at not hovering or disturbing me while I was clearly doing or watching something. That’s not an easy trick to pull off but this crew did it well.

From my earlier photographs of the amenity kit you may have noticed that there was a lack of any of the more practical toiletries that a passenger may need….and that’s because they’re all stored in the washrooms.

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Like a few other premium carriers Qatar Airways offers a good supply of toothbrushes, toothpaste and shaving items in the washroom rather than in the amenity kits and there’s little chance of the aircraft running out.

Qatar Airways A320 Business Class

Take off + 5 hrs: The cabin lights were partly raised

Take off + 5 hrs 5 mins:  The Captain announced that we had started our descent into Doha and thanks passengers for flying with Qatar Airways.

Take off + 5 hrs 12 mins: The standard Qatar Airways video introducing passengers to Doha Hamad International airport was played

Take off + 5 hrs 17 mins: The cabin lights were put fully up and the seatbelt sign was illuminated.

Take off + 5 hrs 24 mins: One of the flight attendants came around to say thanks for flying Qatar Airways

Take off + 5 hrs 28 mins: The cabin lights were dimmed for landing….so I’m not really sure why they raised them in the first place.

Take off + 5 hrs 35 mins: The Captain asked the cabin crew to prepare for landing

Take off + 5 hrs 38 mins: We landed in Doha

Landing + 4 mins: The aircraft pulled up to a remote stand……and that’s not what I wanted to see when my next flight was meant to start boarding in 38 minutes!

Still, Qatar set the connection time so presumably they know what they’re doing 🙂

Landing + 8 mins: The aircraft doors were opened and within a minute the 9 passengers from the Business Class cabin were in the nicest airport bus I’ve ever been in.

Qatar Airways Transfer Bus At Doha Hamad International Airport

Qatar Airways Transfer Bus At Doha Hamad International Airport

Qatar Airways Transfer Bus At Doha Hamad International Airport

Landing + 13 mins: Our bus pulled up to the terminal and, after a ride upon escalator and a 50 yard walk I was by the transfer security lines…..which were empty.

It took less than 5 minutes to get through security so I was soon in the terminal proper and heading to my next flight.

Thoughts

Negatives:

  • There isn’t much storage space around the seat area but, considering this is a narrowbody aircraft, what was on offer wasn’t all that bad.
  • The area where a passenger’s feet go when the seat is in the lie-flat position will be cramped for anyone who doesn’t sleep on their back. Fortunately it’s not often that Qatar Airways uses its A320 on overnight flights so this isn’t as big an issue as it could be.
  • No all-aisle access seating….but then this a narrowbody Business Class cabin so that was never going to be offered.
  • The way Qatar Airways sells wi-fi annoys me – I have no idea how much 10MB equates to in terms of what I need to do online so I far prefer to have a fee set by duration and not by consumption.

Positives:

  • The crew were great – polite, smiling and efficient and I can’t ask for more than that.
  • The seat, when not in lie-flat mode, was comfortable and felt spacious – I’d have no issue spending a 6 – 7 hour daytime flight in this seat.
  • The food was very good indeed and I was impressed with how well the fish was cooked and served.
  • The choice of alcoholic drinks was very good for a Business Class cabin.

Bottom Line

As long as you’re not flying overnight there’s absolutely no reason to avoid the Qatar Airways A320 as far as I can see.

The seat is comfortable and the service is typical Qatar Airways (polished) so, unless you need to sleep, you’re not going to find this experience all that different from what you’d get on one of Qatar’s 777 aircraft (the ones yet to be fitted with the new QSuite).

All in all I’m more than happy to fly on the Qatar Airways A320 again….especially if I can score another great deal as I did on this occasion.


 

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