Qatar Airways has just won the prestigious AirlineRatings.com Airline of the Year award for 2022. British Airways, once lauded as “the world’s favourite airline” because it carried more international passengers more miles than any other, was ranked 20th. Why does Qatar Airways soar above the flag carrier? Having flown with both on numerous occasions, here’s what I’ve learnt.
When you book
Qatar Airways’ website is a cinch to use and you can hold flights for 72 hours, unlike on BA.com. (Also, it does not crash).
At the airport
At Heathrow, Qatar Airways operates from Terminal Four, which is the best because it’s the smallest. (BA used to operate Concorde from T4). When I last flew to Doha on a Qatar Airways Boeing 777 it took less than 12 minutes to check in and go through security. In the business and first-class lounge at Heathrow there is a restaurant complete with natty crockery decorated with geometric Arab motifs, and waiters always on the move. “Wine list, sir?” Bollinger rosé, please. “And to eat?” Chicken shawarma, followed by roast lamb, with tabbouleh and preserved lemon yoghurt.
Qatar Airways’ hub, Doha’s Hamad International superconnector, is luxurious and efficient and a planned new indoor tropical garden should provide some much needed warmth – it is cavernous and the grey colour scheme can make it a bit cold.
The premium lounges for Qatar Airways’ passengers offer spas and sleeping rooms. In the restaurants you can enjoy Laurent Perrier Champagne and Chilean sea bass, with a cheeky smoke in the cigar lounge along with an after-dinner digestif. There are newspapers and magazines you might want to read – not just the ones publishers give away (BA take note). Arriving first-and business-class passengers have a private arrivals wing, so they can exit the airport within minutes.
A new lounge will open soon with a spa, a gym, and a business centre for all passengers, not just those travelling business or first class. There is also a hotel airside with a squash court and swimming pool for those with long lay-overs.
Up in the air
Qatar Airways has bought the best long-haul planes – the Airbus A350 and A380, and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and 777-300ER. Nothing can compete with the space you get on the A380. It’s a £350 million double-decker clipper in the clouds. The bar for first-and business-class passengers is the biggest in the sky and – joy – often empty since many Qatar Airways’ customers do not drink alcohol, so prefer to stay in their seats and watch films. On a flight to Oman, via Doha, I had the bar virtually to myself for six hours. There are seat belts on the banquettes which mean you don’t have to return to your seat if it gets choppy.
The Dreamliners and the new A350s boast the highest air pressure and the most moisturised air since they are made of carbon fibre that is stronger than aluminium. The dense carbon fibre fuselage also makes them whisper quiet.
When you turn left
Qatar Airways’ first class, on the A380 only, is among the most exclusive in the sky. I was one of only eight passengers on a flight to Doha before lockdown. The seat/bed was bigger (and nicer and more expensive) than anything I have at home and, unlike on BA, it was next to the window, not angled away from it, so I could gaze down from 39,000ft on mountains and deserts.
Qatar Airways’ Q Suite is the best business-class suite in the sky. Not just because it is vast, comfortable and intelligently designed with lots of storage space and charge points but also because its high walls enable people to work or read with the windows open, without disturbing those who want to sleep or sit in the dark watching films. Snag a window seat if you want to work or read and one of the centre pods if you want to kip or enjoy dinner and a movie. If you are travelling with your partner, the Q Suites in the centre of the cabin can be configured to create a double bed.
Wherever you sit on a Qatar jet, the TV is massive, there’s fast Wi-Fi, and the food and wine are as good as anything you can find at 39,000ft. In first class there’s caviar – Oscietra with balik-style salmon and blinis, served with Krug Champagne. Over the main courses – butter poached lobster, lemon risotto, sautéed kale and asparagus with chive butter – you can enjoy Vincent Girardin Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru Morgeot. With dessert – Apple tarte fin served hot with crème anglaise – there’s Arthur Metz Vendages Tardives 2007.
In business class, the dine on demand menu offers smoked tenderloin of salmon with radish, chicken machboos with mint raita, and fresh berries and lychee sorbet for dessert. Wines include Albert Bichot Pouilly-Fuisse 2015 and Chateau Lynch-Moussas 2012 grand cru classe Pauillac. Even the chicken curry in economy ain’t half bad.
The airline’s feisty boss, Akbar Al Baker, personally taste-tests each dish. If you are travelling economy class on the A380, bag a seat in the tiny section on the upper deck, the best economy cabin in the sky.
For loyal customers
For UK travellers, Qatar Airways has the advantage that it is a partner of British Airways which means passengers can earn BA loyalty tier points and Avios air miles without, er, having to travel on BA. BA Silver and Gold executive club members can use dedicated new lounges at Hamad with showers and a restaurant.