Diving happily into my first proper holiday since the pandemic began, I recently flew to the United Kingdom from Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (IATA code: MNL), passing through Hamad International Airport (IATA code: DOH) en route to London’s Heathrow Airport (IATA code: LHR). As a little treat after more than two years of lockdowns and border closures, I allowed myself the luxury of travelling in Business Class for the outbound leg, whilst keeping the whole enterprise in budget by sticking to Economy for the return. Amongst the airlines I considered for this long journey, one stood out: a carrier that I hadn’t flown with since a trip to Italy more than a decade ago. With their reputation for top-notch onboard service and a vast, modern terminal as their transit base, I decided that the time was right to give them another go.
In this post, we’ll see how the first part of that experience went.
Welcome aboard Qatar Airways flight QR 929.
Note: The details presented here are only for the specific flight reviewed. This information might not hold true for previous or future flights, even if operated by the same airline on the same route and/or under the same flight number.
For the sake of brevity, IATA airline and airport codes have been used throughout this report in place of full names (e.g., “QR” instead of “Qatar Airways”; “MNL” instead of “Ninoy Aquino International Airport”).
This review covers the first segment (MNL-DOH) of the outbound leg of a round-trip MNL-LHR-MNL journey, where DOH was the transit point on both legs. Separate reviews of the other 3 flights in this itinerary will be published in due course.
Note: All times are local. There is a 5-hour time difference between Manila (GMT+8) and Doha (GMT+3).
Airline and flight number : Qatar Airways (QR) 929
Route : Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL) to Doha, Qatar (IATA code: DOH)
Final destination : London-Heathrow, United Kingdom (IATA code: LHR)
Route type : International
Date : Saturday, 04 June 2022
Scheduled departure time (MNL) : 00:15
Actual departure time (MNL) : 01:02
Scheduled arrival time (DOH) : 04:15
Actual arrival time (DOH) : 04:31
Equipment and cabin
Aircraft : Boeing 777-300ER
Manufacturer : Boeing
Registration number : A7-BAH
Passenger capacity : 42 Business, 316 Economy (358 total)
Travel class flown : Business Class
Delivered in February 2010, A7-BAH was approaching 12.5 years of age when I boarded it for flight QR 929. Not old, but not particularly new – and as we’ll see later, the Business Class cabin fitted on this aeroplane wasn’t exactly state-of-the-art either.
I might also add that at the time of booking, both legs of this outbound journey (MNL-DOH and DOH-LHR) were supposed to be on newer aircraft. These would have been fitted with QR’s latest-generation Business Class cabin, starring their premium QSuite: a miniature cabin complete with sliding door. Alas, a day or so before my flight, I received an email saying that the aircraft originally assigned for MNL-DOH was to be swapped out “due to operational requirements”.
Boo. Hiss. But c’est la vie and all that.
As of this writing, QR policy requires passengers to wear a face mask throughout the flight, except whilst eating or drinking. Limited exceptions apply. The exact wording as set out on their official website is as follows:
Qatar Airways requires passengers to wear a face mask throughout their flight.
Passengers in possession of a Hidden Disabilities Card or a Mask Exemption Card / medical certificate due to a medical condition will be exempt from wearing a face mask throughout their flight.
Children below 6 years old do not require a face mask.
QR’s baggage allowances vary not just by travel class, but also by route. Limits on dimensions and piece weight also apply no matter what allowance you’re entitled to. For detailed terms, refer to the fine print on your ticket and to the guidelines published on QR’s official website.
My Business Class ticket came with a complimentary checked baggage allowance of 40 kg (88 lb). I was also permitted to bring up to 2 pieces of cabin baggage on board, weighing no more than 15 kg (33 lb) put together.
At MNL, the check-in agent tagged my luggage all the way through to my final destination (LHR). She also attached a Business Class priority label before sending the bag on its way.
AT THE AIRPORT
Further details regarding MNL T3 are available in a separate Airport Guide covering that terminal.
At the time of my flight, QR’s counters were located in row E of the check-in hall. (Note that counter assignments may change without prior notice.) There was an initial checkpoint where travel documents were inspected – with particular attention paid to visas – after which passengers were allowed to join one of several queues.
Nine counters were allocated to QR in row E. Counter E01 was marked “Cashier”, E02 to E05 (4 in all) were for Economy Class, E06 was for passengers requiring special assistance, E07 was a bag-drop counter for passengers who had already checked in online…
…and two counters, E08 and E09, were for Business Class.
The Business Class lanes were also open for Privilege Club members ranked Silver or higher, as well as frequent flyers holding Oneworld Priority status.
I was issued two boarding passes: one for my initial MNL-DOH leg on QR 929, and another for my DOH-LHR leg on QR 015. The counter agent also handed me an invitation for MNL’s PAGSS Lounge.
Like most airlines, QR doesn’t operate its own premium waiting space at MNL. The PAGSS Lounge fills this role for its Business Class passengers and for loyalty programme members with lounge entitlements.
Read more about this facility in my separate Lounge Report.
At the departure gate, I observed that the seats had been arranged to form a long enclosure. Access was through a gap with a desk manned by airline staff. As each passenger came up to the front of the queue, their boarding pass was inspected and a mark made on a paper list.
The enclosure was divided into two areas. Priority seating right next to the gate was reserved for Business Class, passengers requiring special assistance, and others with first-to-board privileges. Economy Class passengers were directed to use a larger group of seats further away.
Boarding was delayed somewhat due to the late arrival of our aeroplane. When the time came, I assumed that I’d be using the forward aerobridge to enter the Business Class cabin (with Economy passengers entering further aft). As it turned out, only one – the aft aerobridge – was in service.
Cabin interior and seating
Each of QR’s Boeing 777-300ER aircraft is fitted with one of several interior configurations. Ours had a Business Class cabin occupying most of the forward fuselage, featuring 42 flat-bed seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. This area was divided into two sections: a larger one between the forward and second doors (four rows), followed by a slightly smaller space just ahead of Economy (three rows).
My assigned place (5A) was in the second, smaller section of the Business Class cabin – more specifically the port-side window seat on the first row.
Whilst not nearly as private as the newer QSuites, this seat still offered a comfortable environment for my nearly 9-hour flight to DOH. For one thing, the legroom was astoundingly vast – so much so that aisle access wasn’t a problem so long as my neighbour’s seat wasn’t fully extended.
The seat is fully adjustable via the built-in control panel.
You can use the larger buttons to manoeuvre the seat into one of four pre-set positions, then fine-tune via the smaller buttons that adjust the back, leg, and lumbar supports.
The little polished surface on the centre armrest slides open to reveal a hidden compartment…
…where you’ll find a complimentary bottle of water.
A bit lower down and back (next to the seat cushion), there’s a recess for keeping small items like mobile phones or eyeglasses. The outlet with two round openings is meant for the supplied headphones. Unfortunately, the only USB port available was for older Type A connectors, which meant that I couldn’t use my charging cables. (A Type C-compatible outlet or even a conventional power point for larger plugs would have been better given what I had.)
The dining table – which you’ll see in other pictures later – is berthed vertically in a slot under the centre armrest. It can be used folded in half (if a smaller surface is desired) or unfolded to full size (for mealtimes or when needed as a work desk).
We’ll have more to say about the IFE screen in another section, but it’s either folded into the centre partition by your knees or (for non-bulkhead rows) on the back of the seat in front. The cable-tethered controller for the screen is tucked away in a compartment under the centre armrest.
The hard-walled seat pocket is located near the floor, directly in front of you. Unfortunately, that makes it less convenient for use as additional storage.
No coat hook (or none that I noticed anyway), which is a shame. A little hook on the bulkhead directly opposite me would have been the perfect place for hanging my jacket.
Nothing special to be found on the overhead panel – just reading lights and the usual warning signage.
Right, so much for the hardware. Time for a look at the soft product.
In-flight service and amenities
Thanks to priority boarding, those of us in Business Class had time to settle in whilst the rest of the plane was being loaded. This also gave the cabin crew a chance to start service.
Now if we pull up one of the seat pictures I posted earlier…
….we can see that nearly all of the usual in-flight amenities had already been laid out prior to boarding. Propped up on the seat itself were two pillows (large and small) and a thick, velvety smooth blanket for sleep time (rolled tightly into a plastic bag). A noise-cancelling headphone set (more on that later) was tucked away on the side.
Perched on the armrest were two sets of amenities. The thin, grey plastic pouch is QR’s pandemic-era “Protective Kit” – standard issue for all travel classes – containing a mask, gloves, and sanitiser. The white box holds a premium set of toiletries exclusive to Business Class: body lotion, face cream, lip balm, and eau de toilette from the Parisian perfumer Diptyque (along with the usual socks, sleep mask, and ear plugs).
Shortly after I settled in, one of the cabin crew introduced herself and asked if I’d like a refreshment.
For my welcome drink, I chose QR’s signature beverage: a chilled non-alcoholic lemon mint cocktail. This arrived at my seat with a napkin and hot towel.
My word, that was delicious. Lusciously sweet and incredibly tart, with an intense mint flavour.
Afterwards, I was handed a package containing QR’s complimentary Business Class sleepwear – a collaboration with London-based retailer The White Company.
I haven’t opened this bag yet, nor have I used any of the other amenities I received. I’ll probably save these for a future budget airline flight, just to add a touch of class to the LCC experience. 🙂
A little later, another cabin attendant came round and politely asked if I’d had a chance to peruse the menu. I communicated my preferred choices for both the post-take-off light meal and the pre-landing breakfast, which were duly noted down. That marked the end of pre-departure service.
About an hour before landing (some time after breakfast), I was brought a couple of mints and a moist towelette.
Finally, 30 minutes or so ahead of touchdown, a cabin attendant came round with a hot towel. Just what I needed to freshen up before arrival.
Right, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the in-flight meals. 🙂
But before we dive in, let’s pull the menus out of the seat pocket and consider our options.
The food menu is a relatively simple affair at just four pages – two in English, two in Arabic (presumably containing the same information). I neglected to take a photograph of the second page, but if memory serves it’s just your standard list of non-alcoholic in-flight beverages (coffee, tea, etc.).
The beverage list, on the other hand, is a richly illustrated guide to the onboard cellar. A detailed description of each featured tipple – reading like something off a wine magazine – is accompanied by a photograph of the bottle with the label prominently displayed. To round things off, the final page catalogues a variety of cocktails and other alcoholic drinks that passengers could choose from.
About 20 minutes after departure, the cabin crew went round to collect drinks orders. I kept things simple with still water, elegantly delivered in a glass with a bowl of assorted nuts.
Another 20 minutes or so later, I was served my choice of dish for the late evening meal.
Braised beef short ribs with ginger soya sauce, served on a bed of stir-fried vegetable noodles and sambal sauce.
Lovely touch with the miniature salt and pepper grinders, and the flickering (electric) tea candle. But make no mistake, the star of the tray is the incredibly tender, richly flavoured beef in the bowl.
Fast forward 5-plus hours. Time for breakfast.
The initial table setting featured my pre-selected starter. An assiette of cold cuts including smoked balik salmon, smoked trout, caper berry, goat’s cheese, and egg mimosa. On the side: croissant with butter and jam; Greek yoghurt and strawberry compote topped with toasted granola.
Here’s the thing: I don’t like seafood. But I don’t like the idea of food going to waste either, so I cleaned up the entire plate as usual – fish included. I actually found the trout palatable, though I suspect that’s because the smoking process left it tasting like preserved meat.
Later, I was presented with the main course I’d chosen earlier: Arabic tomato omelette with lamb sambousek, pan-fried halloumi cheese, grilled tomato, asparagus, and potato.
Now that’s a tasty, filling way to start the day. If I had to nit-pick, I’d have preferred a little more meat (in addition to the lamb filling of the sambousek).
Oh, and one can’t forget the drinks. I ordered a cappuccino and a splash of dessert wine to accompany the meal.
The wine I selected was Jorge Ordóñez No. 2 “Victoria” Moscatel Dulce 2016 (from Spain), described in the onboard menu as follows:
The wine is produced from 100% Moscatel de Alexandria grapes from a 50 year-old vineyard on a rocky, precipitous hillside. There are no terraces, no irrigation and minimum human intervention. Grapes are dried on mats and the best chosen for winemaking.
This sweet wine has fresh and intense aromas of citrus, pear, candied fruit, white flowers and a touch of honey. The palate has a surprisingly fresh style, with citrus, honey and candied orange peel flavours. This complex wine has a very long and gentle finish.
A fine breakfast, to be sure – but there are still hours upon hours of flight time to account for that aren’t required for eating, drinking, and sleeping. Enter the IFE system.
Most of the Business Class passengers on this flight would have found their IFE screens mounted directly in front of them, fixed to the back of the seat ahead. Here in my bulkhead row, getting the system up and running took a bit more faff.
Where I was sitting, the IFE screen was tucked away inside the divider between my seat and my neighbour’s.
That silver button in the picture causes the screen to pop up a wee bit, at which point you’re meant to bring it up and manoeuvre it into place. I suppose it would have risen further when it was new, but in my case I had to dig into the sides and heave that weighty slab out of its berth.
That’s the hard bit done, though. Then it’s just a smooth, easy swing into your desired viewing position.
You can choose to take control remotely using a tethered handset, or directly by tapping on the monitor itself. Flip open the centre armrest and you’ll find the handset tucked away underneath.
To go with the monitor, QR supplies its Business Class passengers with noise-cancelling headphones. These were remarkably effective at not just clearly streaming the audio for whatever it is I might’ve chosen to view, but also filtering out the engine noise and ambient sounds from the cabin.
You can learn more about QR’s IFE offerings – including what’s available on specific routes – via the airline’s official website.
TRANSITING AT DOHA (just a sneak peek!)
I’m planning to write a separate post covering my transit experience at Doha’s Hamad International Airport (DOH) en route to London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR). As a preview, let’s take a quick look at the very first bit of that episode in my long journey.
Roughly 8.5 hours after leaving MNL, our plane finally touched down in Qatar.
The aerobridge was deployed in short order, and before long we were spilling out of the 777 into DOH’s vast terminal building.
Here’s the interesting bit. You’ll notice in the second picture above that there are signs pointing up to the next level for both Arrivals and Transfers. This is standard procedure at most major airports I’ve transited through, in that arriving and transferring passengers move together for a good distance before eventually passing into separate areas. When on transit, I would normally expect to see a space with airline desks for passengers requiring assistance, as well as a security checkpoint that I’d have to go through before emerging into the general departures area.
Well forget all that faff. DOH ground personnel were on hand just before the escalator, instructing arrivals to go up but directing transfer passengers to keep going straight and exit through an open door on the same level.
And once through that door…
…I found myself standing in the main departures zone.
That’s it. No long walk, no boarding pass scan, no security, nothing. Off the plane and straight into the terminal.
Given the very obviously non-standard form of this process, and the fact that permanent signage was pointing us elsewhere, and the fact that staff had to be deployed specifically to ask disembarking passengers not to follow said signage, I strongly suspect that this is a just temporary measure (perhaps to do with the pandemic). It was quick as a breeze and easy as pie, but I imagine – once conditions crawl back to normal – that all the usual faffing about with the long walk and boarding pass checks and security will simply drop back into place.
So…my first flight with Qatar Airways in over a decade. How did it go?
First, we must get one major grievance out of the way: namely the last-minute equipment swap that cost me an experience in the QSuites. I’m well aware that such changes may be driven by operational necessity, but the lack of transparency and the unapologetic tone of QR’s marketing mumbo-jumbo-laced email did nothing to assuage my disappointment. Their insulting offer of a complimentary flight change if I still wanted a QSuite-equipped aircraft (subject to “terms and conditions” at that!) only served to rub salt into this gaping wound. With my plans and accommodation bookings already finalised, do they really have the gall to offer me a costly and disruptive change one day before the flight? I’ll admit, that left me feeling thoroughly disgusted.
I suppose it would have been a complete non-issue, or at most a trifling annoyance, had I been booked to travel in Economy for this flight. Incremental improvements aside, it’s really all the same in cattle class regardless of aircraft. But on this occasion, the major difference in cabin fittings really did make this seem like a shameful bait-and-switch.
Right, enough ranting. As for the high points, where shall I start?
The older equipment was a disappointment at first, but who am I kidding – it was incredibly comfortable. The seat, the velvety blanket, the pillows, all the rest. If it weren’t for my excitement over finally breaking free of the pandemic shackles, I’d have probably gotten a very good night’s sleep.
The food? Varied, delicious, and served in satisfying portions. The IFE? Easily kept me busy with the large video library it placed at my disposal (which included a good sprinkling of fresh releases).
The cabin service was also on point: attentive, but not stiflingly so. Granted, I neither sought out nor spoke with the crew except when they were directly addressing me; such are the ways of an unsociable chap. But thinking back upon those few occasions, I recall nothing worth raising as a point of concern.
All things considered, I suppose I might – just might – fly with Qatar Airways again. (It may be a while before I can trust them enough to upgrade to Business Class, though!)