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Airline Review Qatar Airways

Relaunched in 1997, Qatar Airways is the national airline of the tiny Gulf State of Qatar, famous as the home of the Al Jazeera tv channel and one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Under the leadership of CEO Akbar Al Baker the airline is rapidly expanding, and its grey and crimson Airbus aircraft are being seen at more and more airports around the world.

At the time of writing I have flown Qatar Airways on two return journeys from Manchester, one to Manila and one to Dubai, both via Doha.

Example journey: Dubai to Manchester Monday 21 June 2004

Check-in is easy at Dubai, with plenty of staff and no queues. There are plenty of extra staff on hand to help with problems. A baggage problem before our Manchester to Manila flights - we were over the weight limit - was handled courteously and efficiently by the station manager there.

After check-in at Dubai, passengers are encouraged to proceed early to the gate by announcements saying the flight is ready for boarding, even though plenty of time remains before departure. Soon it really is time for borading and we are ushered down the airbridge and onto the grey and crimson Airbus A330-200 (reg. A7 - ACA). Today's flight to Doha is nearly full. Cabin staff as ever are very friendly and attentive. The retro-look of the female cabin attendants' uniform gives a classic feel, as does the use of 'Airways' in the name.

The company colours, based around the Qatari flag with its subdued shade of crimson, combined with shades of grey, may be an acquired taste, but after a while it grows on you. The company logo represents the Arabian Oryx, an endangered species in Qatar and across the Gulf. Aerofoil-shaped lines around the head of the Oryx complete a clever and attractive design, visible on all items and merchandise, and on the inside surfaces of the winglets.

Welcoming music and video images also impart a soothing and sophisticated on-board ambience. The opening theme with repeated synthesiser keystrokes and percussion, in the style of Enigma and Deep Forest, is followed by an arpeggio Phillip Glass type theme, with moving images from Qatar and around the world on a theme of travel and local culture. The overall impression is professional and appropriate to the core values of the airline and its home country. On repeated flights I never tired of hearing the music or seeing the images.

As stated in the background information, the staff of Qatar Airways are from 51 countries. It's interesting to to pass the time on board by guessing which countries they come from. They were nearly always polite, attentive and friendly and gave special attention to our 2 year old daughter Adele.

Preparation for departure was smooth and efficient, and soon we are rolling out towards Dubai Airport's main runway for a westbound take-off over the Gulf. During this period, we see the safety video with its three slightly bizarre computer generated figures in Western dress. I found artificial character of the figures slightly jarring, which distracted me from the safety message. The video is repeated in English and then again in Arabic.

Once in the air and the seat belt signs are switched off, cabin crew provide hot towels and drinks. There is time to sample the inflight entertainment, with news from BBC and Al-Jazeera as well as a wide range of audio channels. A light meal is served, consisting of tasty filled rolls and a choice of drinks, including beer and wine. The food is better than on the Doha Dubai flight which had one too many refrigerated Danish pastries for my liking, and no coffee.

Our short flight above the sparkling Arabian Gulf soon reaches its final stages as the seat belt signs come on, and before long we are in the ground at Doha Airport after covering a distance of only 250 miles (400km) and spending about half an hour in the air.

Transfer to the terminal is via buses, which I personally much prefer to airbridges as you get to walk on the tarmac, taste the atmosphere and see the plane and its whining engines up close.

The Terminal is modern but small and rather crowded. A security scan of all hand baggage before entering the main terminal area is reassuring and doesn't take long.

Now it's time to wait for your flight - in our case we have a stopover of only an hour, just enough time to check the small duty free shop, take a coffee in one of the two cafeterias and pay a visit to the toilets.

The terminal is somewhat over capacity and thronged with a multitude of nationalities. A large new terminal is planned to open in 2008, but as far as I am concerned, the present arrangement is fine as I enjoy people watching, and get to pay a lower fare.

Before long we have filed on to our second aircraft of the day, an Airbus A320-200. The now familiar welcoming music greets us again, and the cabin staff direct us to our seats. Embarkation is swift and punctual, and soon we are looking through the portholes at the Qatar coastline receding into the distance, and we head up through Saudi and Iraqi airspace towards Europe.

On this longer flight there is more scope to try out the sophisticated in-flight entertainment system. Each seat has a mini-screen with a choice of audio and video, including a selection of films on demand, with play, pause and rewind controls rather inconveniently located in the side of the armrest. The only problem is working out which buttons to press and not accidentally paging one of the cabin attendants.

The food is very good indeed, with a choice of chicken and potatoes with vegetables or Arabic style matchboos biriyani rice and vegetables. The vegetarian option is similar, with delicious cauliflower, courgettes and green beans in a spicy sauce. Cabin attendants serve water, juices, carbonated drinks and stronger beverages.

The plane charts a straight path over the Balkans and central Europe, and our position is indicated on the in-flight map and information system, a feature which I like very much. Soon we are flying over southern Germany, then over Amsterdam, the North Sea and finally the Pennines. The 'Fasten Seabelt' signs are switched on, and in a few minutes we are on the ground in Manchester after a slightly bumpy landing. A journey of nearly 3000 miles seems to have been telescoped into a relatively short space of time, making it seem as if the Gulf and the skyscrapers of Dubai are only just beyond the Pennine hilltops.

Taxiing to the terminal, the Qatar Airways refrain and images are replayed one final time. I feel genuinely sad that my time as a guest of the airline has ended and I look forward to the next flight.

Judging from my mid-2004 flights with Qatar Airways my conclusion is that they offer a very good service with a friendly and attentive crew, pleasant on-board ambience, new and well equipped aircraft, convenient transfer at Doha, punctuality and above all value for money.

Qatar Airways is well on the way to achieving a very good reputation in the Gulf region and worldwide. Since I flew with the airline in mid-2004, I have noticed that fares have risen. My only criticism was the crowded terminal at Doha and the need for longer stopovers on some flights. Many passengers are less satisfied than me with the small terminal building. See www.airlinequality.com.

For full details about Qatar Airways, go to the Qatar Airways website www.qatarairways.com.

Words and pictures copyright Aidan O'Rourke www.aidan.co.uk

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2004-06-25

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