Flight Review: QR Business Class DPS to ZNZ
We used 70,000 AA miles per person to book this flight on quite a random route from Bali to Zanzibar. It was the best choice for two reasons; firstly, it was just one stop, and secondly, Qatar reputedly has a great business class product.
Note: On the day we were due to take this flight, the Gulf States started an embargo with Qatar, with many surrounding nations refusing to let Qatar use their airspace. Since we were in Bali, we weren’t checking the news frequently, and we found this out after we had checked in and went through security. We were now checked on a flight through Doha, and unsure whether, when we landed, we would have any route out.
Check-In: The process at DPS can only be described as inefficient and painful. Check-in only opens three hours prior to flight departures in Denpasar. We had to linger in the pre-security area until our flight was posted on the screens since we had arrived quite early. We were third in line to check in at the Qatar desk designated for Business Class passengers, and it took them about 30 mins to process each pair of passengers. The QR contract agent checking us in had to take our flight information outbound from Tanzania with all the details including ticket numbers which I luckily had in my email. After all the information was entered into the system, the information had to be verified by a manager who was running between all the desks, and finally the agent hand wrote tickets to the “Premier Lounge.” We then headed through security which took another 45 minutes; there was no open line for premium passengers. Safe to say DPS is not one of the most efficient airports and our hot tip is to leave at least one extra hour to go through.
DPS Airport: After we finally cleared security I decided to look at the BBC on my phone and read the news about the Gulf State “blockade” of Qatar. We had about an hour before boarding time, so we headed to the extremely mediocre “Premier Lounge” to call AA and if any alternate routes were available. At this stage, AA hadn’t issued a waiver so call centre employees weren’t aware of the situation (even though it was headlines on CNN and BBC), and there weren’t any other Oneworld award flights to re-route us with. AA did the best they could and we then decided to head down to the gate and try to talk to some QR employees about the situation. The airport itself is medium-sized and clean, there are a few shops including a DFS for fragrance/beauty, a Ferragamo, Gucci, Burberry and some local brands.
The Lounge: Mediocre would be one word to describe it. The place is old, tired, dirty and over crowded. The seats are stained, the food looks like it was last changed in the late 1990s and the fridge of drinks was not working, which meant the beer was all warm. Someone at the bar told me he’d been waiting 10 mins to order a drink. The food selection was small and uninspired, composed of salads, “fresh” fruit, and white bread sandwiches stuffed with pink lunch meat. We decided to pass on the food poisoning (happened with the cold food at another lounge in Asia) and move on.
Gate: As we arrived at gate 9B, we couldn’t see any Qatar Airways staff anywhere. We asked the airport staff (who were managing check-in) if they could answer our questions about what would happen if flights were grounded in Doha. They had no info, but promised to get someone from the airline for us which we totally understood as DPS is a smaller operation for QR. We waited to the side while the plane began boarding. And waited. And waited. After the plane was mostly boarded and the gate area empty, we finally saw a QR employee trudging over to the gate area. The woman who had been helping us explained our question, and the QR employee seemed extremely irritated that he had been summoned. Before we had even begun speaking he said “You can get on the plane now." “Oh yes, we know,” we assured him. “We just don't want to until we know what the plan is for passengers should we get stuck in Doha.” “You will not get trapped,” he said. “Do you understand the situation?” I asked him. “No I don’t,” he replied. I tried my best to explain the restricted airspace and what was initially perceived as a rapidly escalating situation. “I guarantee you can get out of Doha,” he said. This made us laugh. We explained he couldn’t speak for the entire Middle East, nor were we asking him to. We simply wanted clarity on rebooking options or an understanding about how they would help us should we be stuck in Doha. The request seemed to trigger some deep inner rage. He raised his voice and told us we had two choices: get on the plane, or book ourselves another ticket with another carrier. He made sure we understood that he didn’t care what we did. “It’s your decision,” he kept repeating, “but I guarantee you will be out of Doha.” The more we tried to clarify our question, the angrier he became. At which point I said, “Hey man, we’re just asking what the policy is, but the way you are behaving is making us very uncomfortable.” His response? “I don’t care, buy a ticket with another airline.” At this point, I regretfully mentioned that "this situation is really f***** up man", which sent him into an absolute frenzy. He started yelling and said he was calling immigration officers to come retrieve us as it is illegal to swear in Indonesia. As Sari was almost in tears, and the Nat Geo show "Locked Up Abroad" flashed through my head we decided to board. The woman who was originally helping us took a step away from him, looked at us and shook her head, just as shocked as we were. At this point, we decided to board the flight just to get away from him. We handed our boarding passes over and it felt like we were walking the plank onto the plane.
Flight: QR 961
Date: June 6, 2017
Departure Time: 00:35
DPS to DOH: After a miserable experience on the ground in Denpasar, from the security to the ground staff, boarding the plane was a breath of fresh air. The business class cabin looked quite new and we were seated in 3J and 3K. The seats were outfitted with Bric’s amenity kits, pillows and blankets. The staff took our welcome drink orders and we both needed a glass of Champagne ASAP. The flight attendants were really lovely, warm and welcoming as were getting settled in. They explained the “Dine on Demand” concept where you can choose any menu items off and have them served anytime throughout the flight. I ordered the Roasted Vegetable Lasagne with Pesto, while Sari ordered the Seabass Lemongrass Skewers to be served shortly after takeoff. After another glass of champagne to wash away the negativity of DPS Airport, we were ready to taxi and takeoff.
We reached cruising altitude about 30 minutes into the flight and the flight attendants were quick into work again. After our tables were set, they brought out a bowl with a few pieces of bread for each of us and the choice of three different olive oils. The chili infused olive oil was the bomb. The main course of the Lasagne was really delicious; the vegetables were slightly charred, the pesto was bursting with flavor and the actual pasta wasn’t overcooked. The Lemongrass Skewers were flavorful, but the fish was dry. We finished the meal off by sharing a piece of chocolate cake before dozing off into the night. The flight attendants dropped off a small box of Godiva chocolates at our seat which was a nice touch.
The seats on this A330 lied completely flat and were quite comfortable, the only complaint would be they are slightly narrow. The “Oryx” in-flight entertainment system was impressive and had a variety of programming from all around the world. They have a Pixar collection and I was able to watch “Inside Out” which I had been meaning to watch for ages. I also found the wood panelling around the seat and the entertainment console elegant.
We had slept for around 6 hours which we were impressed with. As we woke up I headed to the bathroom to get freshened up. The bathroom was well-stocked with dental kits and razors, along with Rituals soap and hand lotion. For breakfast I had ordered the bircher muesli along with the celery, apple and lime “energizer” juice, while Sari ordered the carmelized apple waffles. The bircher museli was full of nuts and dried fruit, but not too sweet, while the waffles were soft, buttery and served at the perfect temperature. If you like your waffles crispy you might have been disappointed. Both breakfasts were served with a bread basket with a warm roll and croissant which we didn’t really touch. As we were getting closer to Doha, the pilot made an announcement about being slightly delayed due to airspace routing issues and a slightly delayed departure; we were going to land about 40 minutes late which luckily still left us with plenty of time to make our connection to ZNZ. When we landed in Doha, it was slightly eerie seeing only QR planes on the ground. To be fair, it was also me being naive since it was my first flight with one of the major middle eastern carriers.
Al Mourjan Lounge Doha: After landing, we followed the signs towards for connecting flights painlessly passed through security. We obviously snapped a few photos of the infamous giant teddy bear, and headed up the escalated to the Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge. The sheer size of the lounge is amazing. We loved the natural elements with the “lake” on the first floor and the plants surrounding the lower level sitting area. As we looked at the flight board, there were a whole host of cancellations but luckily our flight to Zanzibar was on schedule. I swung by the shower area to put our names down, and the attendant said to come back in 30 to 45 minutes. We headed upstairs and grabbed a bite to eat at the buffet - the hummus, labneh and indian food was all really tasty. There was no alcohol being served in the lounge because of Ramadan, but carrot juice and tea was a nice way to start the day. After a quick shower, we were feeling refreshed and strolled over to the gate for our flight to ZNZ.
Flight: QR 1357
Date: June 6, 2017
Departure Time: 08:50
DOH to ZNZ: We arrived at the gate just as last call was being announced and were told to wait for a specific “business class” bus to our flight which seemed unnecessary. It turns out it was just the normal bus, but they would drive us to the plane alone. As we reached our plane, we walked up the forward stairs and got settled in seats 2D and 2F. To my disappointment, this plane was equipped with “recliner” seats (some Qatar A320s have lie-flats). There wasn’t a full amenity kit, but there were classy “Nappa Dori” pouches that support an Indian charity filled with socks, lip balm and an eye mask on every seat
As we got settled in, the flight attendants went over the menus and offered a welcome drink - we both chose the Piper Heidisieck Rosé Sauvage. For lunch, Sari ordered the Tandoori Panner and I requested the Grilled Prawns, Grouper and Lobster which were both served with a Carrot and Cumin soup. I had a creative drink order request for lunch - gin with fresh lemon and mint juice and club soda, which they were also happy to accommodate. Since there was no seat back entertainment, the flight attendants came by to distribute iPads loaded with an abysmal array of movies and TV shows. The pilot then came on and mentioned we would be departing slightly late due to some late arriving cargo, and provided instructions for those passengers continuing onto Kiliminjaro on the same aircraft from Zanzibar. At about 9:20 AM we took off from Doha and the flight attendants sprung into action thereafter. Drinks were served along with nuts and they had set our tables for the meal. The gin drink was exactly as delicious as I had hoped and I had a few more of those throughout the flight. We had requested to have soup now and the full meal in a few hours which the flight service manager said was not a problem. The carrot and cumin soup was creamy, smooth and spiced nicely.
We rested for the next three hours with the seats fully reclined and foot rests up. The seats were mediocre, our main qualm was when the footrest was fully extended it would sandwich your feet tightly under the seat in front of you. That being said, I did prefer these seats to the business class seats on most domestic flights in the US. After we woke up, we were served the main course along with another round of drinks. I had another creative drink request - iced Irish coffee - which they again were happy to make. We started with an Arabic Mezze dish to share with hummus, tabouleh and a walnut dip. The paneer dish was was doused in a delicious curry sauce and served with some veggies and rice which was the star of the show, while the seafood dish was dry and lacked flavor. We finished this meal off with a carmelized hazelnut pastry which was absolutely sublime. About an hour later, we began our descent and landed in Zanzibar.
Tsunami Says: DPS to ZNZ is quite a random route, so we were happy to find business class award availability on Qatar for 70,000 AA miles per person . The overall in-flight experience was really solid - especially on the longer haul from DPS to DOH. That being said, the ground staff in DPS created one of the most uncomfortable airport experiences we have ever had (although it is slightly my fault). It will be tough to forget that, and personally I will try to avoid Qatar Airways in the future. I did reach out to QR after the issue and received a canned response about how the issue will be raised with the impacted teams.