Qatar A350-900 (business class) — A Wonderful Experience

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Qatar A350-900 in Philadelphia, PA

I recently traveled to the Middle East and I could fly a number of aircraft for an identical price.  I opted for the Qatar A350-900, which Qatar recently started flying to the United States–January 2016.  The A350 is one of the newest commercial aircraft in the sky so I was excited to see what it had to offer.  The seats, service, and food were the best that I’ve had on an airplane to date, hands down!  I flew from Philadelphia to Doha, Qatar, and I was in the air for approximately 12 hours!  Not a terrible way to spend 12 hours.

The Plane

The plane is beautiful, both inside and out.  The Airbus A350 competes mainly with the Boeing 787 as a medium-high capacity wide-body plane that flies long-distance routes.  These planes are special because of they are much more efficient than previous generations of aircraft.  Composite bodies, aerodynamic designs, efficient engines, and sophisticated electronics result in a very fuel efficient aircraft.  I snapped this picture as we were bused away from the plane.  I guess we were privileged to deplane on the tarmac in Doha?  Notice the background–the airport is literally in the middle of a desert.

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The gentleman standing next to the A350 helps illustrate the large size of the aircraft.  Even though the A350 is smaller than the A380 and 747, it’s still a large wide-body aircraft.

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This picture was taken at the bar looking toward the front of the plane.  All of the business class seats face forward and away from the aisle.  The lack of overhead luggage storage in the middle of this aircraft makes its interior appear quite large.  The seats also lacked the pod/suite/apartment feel of other reverse herringbone products.  Overall it made the cabin feel more spacious and easier to maneuver, despite the small decrease in privacy.  There is no first class on this aircraft.

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A cool but under-utilized feature of the plane was the bar.  During the flight, the bar mainly served as a place for people to awkwardly stand as they waited for the bathroom.  As some point, a bottle of champagne on ice appeared, but everyone else in the business class cabin was sleeping.

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This picture actually shows the same half of the bar (it forms a circle) just later in the flight.  You’ll notice the untouched champagne and the small fruit basket (folks were awake at this point).  I’m sure the flight crew would have stocked the bar upon request, but most people slept for a good portion of the flight.

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Herringbone Business Class Seat

The seats were arranged in a reverse herringbone configuration, meaning they all faced forward and away from the aisle in a 1-2-1 arrangement.  Each seat was slightly larger than those I experienced on other planes and had the leg room to match.  I’m slouching and my feet are a solid 6-8 inches from the back of the footrest.  I’m 6′ 2″.

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Near my right shoulder was a large wooden table. It was one of four tables that I had access to.  The second is barely shown on the left part of the screen.  The third was the fold able tray and the fourth was a large shelf in front of my seat that I could access from my row 1 seat.  The cord is attached to a remote for the tv.  The leather finish on the side of the seat was pretty cool.
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All the buttons.  After figuring out what all of them controlled, I quickly found a favorite.  In the bottom row two from the left, is a button with a circular symbol on it.  This is a ‘massage’ button.  It doesn’t actually massage your back but it constantly adjusts your lumbar support from very hard to very soft, so it’s pretty close to a massage.  You’ll also notice the second wood table, the headphone jack (to the right of the massage button) and the universal power port (below the headphone jack).  The height of the arm rests were also power adjustable.

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The tray was quite large and folded out from under the tv.  The tv was touch operated and easy to control.  I watched Spectre during the flight.

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This picture shows two storage bins and the extra flat surface that the first row seat can access.  I stored my coffee and numerous work books (not pictured) on that shelf.  Since I didn’t sleep on the flight, this extra shelf allowed me to spread out my work materials for the long haul.

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The seat, comfortable and spacious.  You’ll notice that the head area of the seat is fully exposed and is not separated from the hallway by a divider (like with American Airline’s reverse herringbone seats).  This reduces privacy but makes the cabin feel more spacious.  I like it I would understand if other people preferred American’s more enclosed seats.  The seats lay fully flat and that is controlled by the buttons.  A very plush seat cover, pillow, and comforter are provided.

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My only complaint with the seat is the placement of the window shade button.  I had to ask for help to figure out how to operate it.  You don’t see any buttons in this picture (taken from my vantage point, seated).

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To see the shade button you have to lift yourself up and look over the edge of the little table that’s between you and the window.  The buttons are barely raised so you cannot feel which button you are pressing.  After a lot of effort, I closed my shade.  Although I did not sleep on this flight, everyone else in the cabin had their shade closed and were trying to sleep.

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Amenities

My right arm rest contained a water and Qatar noise cancelling headphones.  These were no Bose headphones but I liked having access to them during the entire flight.  Some airlines and out headphones after the reach cruising altitude and collect them before landing, which cuts into movie watching to the tune of one hour.  The arm rest height was power adjustable.

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Business class passengers receive a comfy pair of pajamas.  They were so comfortable that I made extra room in my backpack so I could take them home.  Just a warning, the pajamas run short and wide in size.

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I used the socks but not the other amenities.

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Food

The food was delicious.  I was not disappointed by anything served on the flight.  Since we crossed so many time zones, you could order from the entire menu during the entire flight.  I started with breakfast because it was around 10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.  I was first offered a bread bowl with three pieces of bread.

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Next, the french toast arrived.  Although the bread was probably just warmed up in a mircowave, it tasted fresh.  The whipped creme also tasted like someone was making it fresh in the kitchen (although I doubt it).  Again, the food was delicious.

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In the middle of the night (well the cabin was completely dark and people were sleeping), I ordered a butternut squash soup.  It had good flavor and enough spice to make it interesting.  The portion was small, so I would recommend eating it as a snack or appetizer.

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I assumed the soup would cover me for dinner but that was not the case.  This of course meant I had to order dessert.  The ice cream was dense, like a custard.  Delicious.

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I ordered the tikka dish (vegetarian) pretty late into the flight, probably around dinner time on the east coast.  I’m not sure what the meat substitute was (I thought I ordered a chicken dish initially) but it had good texture and absorbed the taste from the sauce.  The sauce was delicious and the overall course exceeded my expectations.  I really like Indian food and this dish again exceeded my expectations.

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Here is the full food menu for those who were interested.  I normally like to sample all of the desserts, but who eats fruit for dessert?  Seriously?  Not me.

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Service

I do not have any pictures of the flight crew but I felt like this picture nicely captured the quality of the service.  They served a pre-departure glass of champagne (it was 10 a.m. but I imagine it was 5 p.m. somewhere).  The plane was about 45 minutes late taking off so the flight attendants even walked around to top off the glass.

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The service was this good the entire flight, although the fact that I was the only person who did not sleep may have contributed to my excellent service.  They proactively asked if I was hungry and took my order.  The crew was cheerful and even suggested customization to my order when I debated what I wanted to eat.  You simply do not see this level of service and attentiveness on American carriers.

Operational Issues

The plane was 45 minutes late leaving the gate and about 25 minutes late landing in Doha, Qatar.  This does not seem like a big issue but I missed my connecting flight and this was partly the reason.  The other reason was the American connecting flight was late arriving.  I think American saw I might miss this flight so they booked me on a later flight out of Chicago.  Qatar (codeshare) noticed I was flying two DOH-DWC flights on the same day and automatically canceled the first flight.  I was not able to resolve this issue in Doha before missing the DOH-DWC flight.  Qatar could not figure out how to resolve the issue because I booked a codeshare through American, so I was stranded in Doha for several hours.  I’ll post more on that later.

Conclusion

I highly recommend flying on this wonderful aircraft–Qatar’s A350.  The extra time spent laying over in the Philadelphia airport (or New York or Boston) is definitely worth it.

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