After a detailed look at Qatar Airways new Q Suites innovation on a long haul flight from London, England to Durban, South Africa, here’s what the experience and route home were like.
Homeward bound: QR 1361 DUR to DOH via MPM (December 28, 2020) - depart 11:25, arrive MPM 12:15, depart MPM 13:45, arrive DOH 23:20
With such a late schedule change, seat availability was limited, and at online check-in I was only able to secure 5F to Doha, but grabbed 1K to Heathrow for the onwards connection.
Luckily, the very welcoming check-in staff at DUR were able to move me to 1K for the flight to Doha. Check-in was quicker than Heathrow with no PCR COVID tests required to return to the UK. The staff captured my UK passenger locator details; you’re required to fill this form in electronically no later than 48 hours prior to departure, and you’re allocated a QR code for use by the airlines.
Durban airport was eerily quiet ahead of the presidential announcement, and instead of spending time in the uninspiring and underwhelming Umphafa Contract Lounge (the lounge itself has good tarmac views, and is comfortable enough, but the food offering is dire), I instead grabbed an excellent coffee from Woolworths and sat outside on a tree-covered bench to enjoy the last of the African sunshine and fresh-air while I could.
It’s frustrating to know that the domestic side of the airport offers two excellent Business Class lounges, the Comair Slow Lounge and the SAA Business Class Lounge, whereas it’s slim pickings on the international side. No need to get to the airport early!
We boarded the 787-8 promptly, and to my surprise Business Class was nearly entirely full with passengers from Doha who had remained on the plane en route to Maputo.
Our 787-8 had the identical reverse herringbone hard product as the A359 on the inbound. 1K was a great choice for a day-flight with unbeatable views and you’re far less affected by any noise from the forward galley.
A scheduled technical stop in Maputo
Customs regulations meant that champagne wasn’t available on the ground (the crew were very apologetic about this) but a glass of the Pommery Brut was served with nuts promptly on take-off.
It’s a very quick hop to Maputo—essentially we climbed rapidly to 31,000 feet for a total cruise time of four minutes, before starting our descent to Maputo. Landing from the north afforded stunning views of this once-beguiling city, with hints of its colonial past.
Maputo airport was quiet, and other than the arrival of a LAM 737 from Pemba we were the star attraction. Most of the passengers deplaned at MPM, and a hurried cleaning of the cabin by ground staff took place. We were on the ground for 75 minutes in Maputo. Fortunately the entertainment system stayed active so it was easy to pass the technical stop watching Oryx Entertainment.
We left Maputo on time and I chose to have lunch immediately after take-off; orders were taken on the ground. It was evident the whole “triangle” route had been catered out of Doha, which on the one hand was excellent news as the catering out of DUR isn’t great. In fact, generally speaking the catering out of South African airports is sub-standard which is a mystery given the great local ingredients available. On the other hand I was hoping for some delicious east coast seafood including the famous LM prawns.
I started with the Arabian Mezze selection which was excellent. The hummus and tabouleh were incredibly tasty and fresh and warm mini pita breads were the perfect accompaniment. For my main I selected the black garlic stuffed chicken breast, served on a celeriac puree, which was inventive and unusual, complete with a whole black garlic clove for effect. Dessert was the somewhat polarising mango sago with cashew nuts and sultanas. The ripe, tropical flavours were delicious, but the texture of sago isn’t for all, and I couldn’t decide if I loved it or not.
After taking in the gorgeous views of the east coast of Africa, I enjoyed a very comfortable brief nap. As I woke, I ordered a cup of rooibos tea which was served promptly and was offered with a variety of sweet and savoury snacks.
Instead, about two hours out of Doha, I ordered the grilled beef panini off the light bites section of the menu to serve as a light dinner, with a glass of the Erasmus Shiraz that I had missed on the inbound flight from London. This was heated to order, and was very tasty, with perfectly tender beef, served with thick cut fries.
We landed early at DOH and had the less than welcome experience of deplaning remotely, though this was done seamlessly enough with a separate bus for Business Class passengers. It was about a 10 minute bus trip to the terminal, again comparing favourably to DXB, where remote parking can consign you to a 25-30 minute ride to the terminal, wedged into a packed bus.
This time we all passed through security. The touted exclusive premium security for Business Passengers was overwhelmed by passengers arriving on a late connecting flight, making the experience rockier than anticipated.
I headed straight to the Al Mourjan Lounge, and to my great delight bumped into old friends who were en route from Belgrade to Nairobi for a safari, and who I had last seen in March in Brisbane before the world spun into COVID craziness.
A very pleasant socially distanced catch-up in the lounge ensued, and afterwards there was barely enough time to grab a shower and hustle to the gate to catch QR9 for the final leg of my journey.
Shower facilities were clean and with great water-pressure, a definite upgrade on either LHR or DXB, though not feeling quite as spa-like as the Singapore SilverKris Lounge at Changi, or your average Cathay lounge.
Final Leg: QR 9 DOH to LHR (depart 02:05, land 06:10)
The class-leading design of Q Suites was much evident on this final leg about QR9 operated by a 777-300. Though the Business Class cabin was full, once ensconced in your suite it felt calm, private and dare I say it, safe.
Though most passengers elected to head straight to sleep, a few chose to be served light bites, and this highlighted the one draw-back of sitting in 1K. You’re perhaps a bit too close to the forward galley, and despite the crew’s best intentions some noise from the catering service was inevitable. Row 3 would be my top pick for any future overnight flights.
After take-off, pyjamas, and a seat cover plus pillow case were provided—the latter largely cosmetic because there was no actual padding, not that it was needed.
The block time for this flight was 6.5 hours, which inevitably means even in a comfortable seat you’re not going to get as much sleep as you’d like. I had asked not to be disturbed for breakfast, but omitted to turn on my do not disturb sign on the door. I must have been misunderstood, as I was woken about two hours before landing and offered breakfast, which was a disappointing miscommunication.
I ended up sampling the light breakfast, which, similar to the breakfast served on the DUR flight, was pretty much spot on, with some fresh fruit, yogurt and a croissant.
As a side note, it’s worth commenting how consistently excellent both Qatar and Emirates are in sourcing and serving freshly squeezed orange juice, both onboard and in their lounges. These little details all culminate in a sense of how different the products are between the airlines and British Airlines for example.
With traffic down we were routed straight into LHR via a few s-turns, landing a little early from the east and parking at the T5 B Gates. Deplaning and immigration were surprisingly easy, and priority luggage was delivered very quickly. Within 30 minutes of stepping off the plane I was in a Zipcar heading back to Wimbledon.
During the height of the pandemic there was a time when Qatar Airways was carrying more passengers than any other airline—a remarkable achievement. A true reflection of the extraordinarily robust model the airline has in place during this difficult time to be running a global airline.
This trip validated the fact that Qatar is amongst the world’s best in my mind. The Q Suite is class-leading in nearly every way, offers more privacy than BA’s First Class, and is a true premium game changer. It’s worth emphasizing that even the standard Business Class offering on the 787 and A359 were exceptionally comfortable, and a very enjoyable way to fly.
Service was consistently good on every flight, with the warm and attentive cabin crew doing a great job despite very trying circumstances, and despite all the layers of PPE they were wearing. All the other elements of the soft product were excellent too. From the standout à la carte catering and beverages on offer to the small details like offering pajamas in business class.
If flying east or west via Doha, then Qatar should be in serious consideration for your next trip, especially if you’re a Oneworld frequent flyer. Flying Qatar if heading south is a more nuanced proposition. Make no mistake, this is the long way around, and the technical stop in Maputo makes the return journey feel even longer from Durban.
The direct flight from London to Durban would have shaved ten hours off the trip each way, and routing via Joburg would have saved six versus flying via Doha. However this wasn’t an option given the cancellation of the former route, and the temporary suspension of the latter by the UK government.
All that aside, the hard and soft products on Qatar are amongst the very best, and the robustness of the network has been proven. A very memorable trip on a truly class-leading airline!
The flight to South Africa via Qatar Q Suites is documented here.
Postscript: the good news announced in the first week of January 2021 is that the three year blockade of Qatar by the other GCC states has come to an end. This means that the airline should be able to route direct via Saudi and UAE air space, instead of the current lengthy detour out into the gulf and via the Omani exclave, which should see 30-40 minutes shaved off flights heading east and south.