FIRST LEG: I flew Business Class from Dar es Salaam to Doha, departing at 23:25, on a 787-8 Dreamliner.
PRE-BOARDING: It was a balmy evening at Julius Nyerere International Airport as passengers formed a well-observed, socially-distanced line while airport authorities double checked and photographed everyone’s documentation, paying special attention to nationality, destination and the signed negative Covid-19 certificate. In line with present protocols, this must be obtained no more than 72 hours prior to your flight. The airport boarding process is taking longer than usual and passengers should definitely arrive at least three hours before their flight is due to depart.
CHECK-IN: There were hand sanitiser dispensers at check-in and all the staff were wearing masks. My passport was closely scrutinised, to ensure that the number corresponded with the same on my Covid certificate. I was also asked to produce my completed UK Passenger Locator Form and confirm my mobile phone number. Boarding was staggered to limit passengers from congregating in the boarding bridges.
THE SEAT: The attentive crew settled me into a super-spacious window seat, 1K, right at the front of the Business Class cabin. They demonstrated all the personal convenience features including noise cancelling headsets, a large entertainment screen, the foldout desk/dining table, handy charger port and a leg-side stowaway bin. The toiletries bag contained bespoke skincare hydration products from Italian brand Castello Monte Vibiano and the travel safely kit had a disposable medical face mask, gloves and hand sanitiser. The crew picked up on my personal Covid protocols – that is, me cleaning all surfaces in my immediate space – and reassured me of Qatar Airways’ extensive health and safety measures: the aircraft is disinfected after every flight; the cabins, seats and surfaces are further cleaned with a UV light; all bedding is washed at a 100F; and the air is cleansed throughout the journey by an industrial size HEPA filtration system. Knowing this definitely helped to put my mind at ease.
THE SERVICE: Once in my seat, I was offered Qatar’s Airways signature lemon and mint mocktail. Pre-dinner, my order for a tall, chilled glass of Tattinger’s Prestige Rose duly arrived. The à la Carte menu and comprehensive drinks menu was outstanding: I dined on cracking-fresh dill and lemon marinated prawns and micro-herb salad, while the main was a delicious, rolled mustard and herb beef fillet, mashed potato roses, jus and fresh veggies. Good vegetarian options were also available. The Business Class cabin’s ‘social hangout’ mini-lounge area, which usually features a bumper selection of high-end magazines, refreshments and a tantalising nibbles ‘pantry’, is not currently in use due to social distancing measures.
THE VERDICT: Qatar Airways is taking extensive measures to keep its crew and passengers safe while travelling during the pandemic. The crew are kitted in full PPE with goggles, a mask, gloves and a full body apron over their uniforms. Richard and Farhad were very kind and attentive throughout the flight. I changed into the snug PJs from The White Company and, after dinner and a movie, settled down under a cosy duvet on a lie-flat bed. Qatar Airways have won several awards for their medical-standard health and safety protocols, the exquisite food and beverage service, the top creature comforts onboard and the warm hospitality provided by the crew.
SECOND LEG: I flew Business Class from Doha to London-Heathrow, departing at 07.45, on Qatar Airways refurbished Boeing 777-300 ER.
THE TRANSIT: Qatar’s Al Maha Platinum Transfer service is a disembark-to-embark ‘handhold package’ where you are met off your flight in Doha and guided through transit. I arrived from Dar Es Salaam and, during this time of the pandemic, it was reassuring to be taken through the busy Hamad International Airport by a friendly customer service member, straight to the Al Maha lounge. I enjoyed a full breakfast service, a fluffy cappuccino, and a power-shower with aromatherapy REN toiletries that left me feeling fresh and ready for the homeward flight. The layover was just under three hours and the lounge provided the perfect calm haven.
CHECK-IN: My documentation received even more scrutiny (I am South African with residency rights in the UK and my flight was a couple of days after the UK Government announced impending new hotel quarantine measures for arriving passengers). With the health and safety of passengers and crew the priority, I found these checks very reassuring. Staff wearing face masks were friendly as they checked that my passport number corresponded with the one on my negative Covid certificate. I was also asked to produce my completed UK passenger locator form and reminded that I must quarantine for 10 days once I arrived in the UK.
THE SEAT: Boarding was staggered to limit the passengers in the boarding bridges. Once on board I was directed to suite 2D. The Q-Suites are impressive cube-like ‘cabins’ with nice high panelling and a sliding door offering across to the aisle, which gave a real sense of privacy. The Q-Suite is clearly designed to maximise and emphasise personal space and puts comfort front of mind. The convenience features – all freshly sanitised – included noise-cancelling headsets, a large entertainment screen, foldout desk/dining table, WiFi, a handy charger port and a personal stowaway bin. I appreciated the goodie bag’s bespoke skincare hydration products from Castello Monte Vibiano: lip balm, facial mist and anti-ageing moisturiser. There was also a ‘travel safely kit’ with a disposable medical face mask, gloves and hand sanitiser. The aircraft is disinfected after every flight and the cabins, seats and surfaces are cleaned with a UV light. Bedding is washed at a temperature of 100 degrees and the air is cleansed and reflowed throughout the flight, via an industrial size HEPA filtration system.
THE SERVICE: While passengers were still boarding, I sipped again on Qatar Airways’ refreshing lime and mint mocktail and, once we were at our cruising altitude, my request for a Bloody Mary arrived. Being an early morning flight I could order from the à la carte menu at any time. The breakfast menu was extensive: fresh smoothies, traditional continental fare, cream cheese and red pepper omelettes, date pancakes with vanilla whipped cream and even a selection of iced coffees. For brunch there were several options, including beef and chicken sliders on charcoal and thyme brioche buns served with Emmental cheese, blue cheese, guacamole and chunky chips. The wine and beverage selection just made me wish I was on a longer flight! It included fine dessert wines, liqueurs and classic cocktails. And for those who still had room for a snack attack, there was a cheese platter, crisps, caramelised popcorn, chocolates and biscuits.
THE VERDICT: I found it extremely comforting and reassuring – as it must be for the crew also – to see full PPE in use on Qatar Airways’ flights. Flight attendants wore goggles, face masks, gloves and aprons over their uniforms. It felt like I had my own personal attendants with Rachida and Lea doting over me throughout the flight. I changed into the snug PJs provided by The White Company and, after breakfast and a movie, settled down under a cosy duvet on a lie-flat bed. Flying during a pandemic, I appreciated their strict health and safety protocols, while any stress I felt about travelling was further alleviated by the fine dining and warm hospitality.
THE DETAILS: Return Business Class fares from Dar es Salaam-Doha-London Heathrow start at £2,026pp qatarairways.com
Reviewed by Renette Hartridge (January 29, 2021)