I was originally scheduled to fly on Qatar's newly-announced Auckland to Doha service, but due to aircraft availability, the commencement of this route was pushed back. As a result, my ticket was rebooked on Qatar's Sydney to Doha service, operated by its flagship aircraft, the Airbus A380-800.
A couple of weeks prior to the flight I had speculatively transferred 50,000 Qmiles into my Qatar Airways Privilege club account - the amount needed to upgrade my Sydney to Doha flight from business class to first class. My chances looked good - first was wide open, in fact, only one single seat showed as occupied and business class was oversold. My first stop after arriving from my Qantas flight out of Auckland was the Qatar Airways check-in and luck was on my side, the staff gladly took my miles in return for a seat in first class.
After check-in, I proceeded to the Qantas First Class lounge. I will note that Qatar apparently does not provide any kind of ground escort for its first class passengers, certainly a pitty, considering that Qatar only has a relatively small cabin with eight seats. The Qantas lounge was wonderful just like the day before prior to my Qantas flight to Auckland. While enjoying a meal, I managed to take some pictures of my Qatar Airways A380-800 aircraft landing at Sydney.
Not only did I see my aircraft touching-down, the aircraft pulled up to the gate right underneath the lounge.
All this, while I was enjoying a wonderful dessert in the lounge - pure bliss. The lounge attendants probably thought that I was crazy taking so many pictures of an aircraft, but I couldn't believe my luck. By the way, the dessert, some kind of mango / sorbet combination and the cappuccino, were delicious.
In no time, it was time to leave the lounge and queue up for boarding. Qatar's gate setup at Sydney is pretty awful, unfortunately. I wanted the ask whether there was a special boarding for first class passengers, but the gate podium was cordoned off throughout the entire boarding process. There was only one premium channel, but as you can imagine on an A380, the line was quite long.
Boarding commenced and unfortunately, there wasn't a pre-boarding for first class passengers. The "Priority Boarding" call pretty much included all first and business class passengers, as well as Qatar frequent flyers - a complete zoo and very disappointing for a "Five-Star" airline.
There were a total of three boarding bridges with a separate bridge for first and business class - and wow, did my frustration disappear once I entered Qatar's First Class cabin - I felt like a kid in the candy store. I was seated in 1A.
Qatar's First Class cabin has a total of eight seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. The middle seats have a pretty high privacy divider so that strangers don't have to get too cozy with each other.
The cabin looked gorgeous in this purple mood light and boarding was in full swing. I was the second passenger to arrive, directly behind a gentlemen who received an op-up at the gate. I am fairly sure that all passengers except for one received upgrades to first - certainly a nice way to treat your frequent flyers.
While the cabin was filling up, I explored my seat. The IFE screen was huge, as I would find out later, the content wasn't high definition unfortunately, resulting in very grainy videos. There also was a more decorative than functional lamp to the left of the TV. The ottoman offered more than enough space for a companion if you wanted to dine together.
There was a storage for magazines on the left to my seat, along with buttons to control the window shades (slightly to the right on the picture).
Very similar to the compartment in Qatar's business class cabin, there is a dedicated storage for the water bottle, along with the remote for the IFE. While Emirates and Etihad offer a small mini-bar in their respective first class cabins, Qatar only offers a bottle of water.
There also was a small reading light integrated into the headrest - quite useful really.
I am fairly certain that the headset provided to first class passengers was identical to the one you get in business class - the only difference was the bag it came with. Once again, Qatar's headset was decent enough and I used it instead of my usual Bose QC25.
Unfortunately, once again, there was no storage space to put your personal belonging so I had to just put them on the surface area between me and the windows - I simply cannot understand why you would not include some kind of storage space when there is such a huge amount of space available.
Right near the stairs down to the cockpit and the lower deck, this cabinet had some drinks and snack as well as magazines for first class passengers.
I liked the light fixture in the galley between the two restrooms - very elegant.
I decided to get a glass of champagne as pre-departure beverage, which was served with some olives and cheese. I was asked whether I cared for a hot or cold towel and once again went with a cold towel given that the cabin temperature was quite warm.
Shortly after receiving my PDB, I got the food and drinks menu for tonight's flight.
The menu was mostly identical to the business class menu. Parnasi, a lovely flight attendant from India took care of my side of the cabin on tonight's flight. After distributing the menu, she proceeded to take passengers's dinner orders. Here is one point of crticism: the professionalism in service greatly varies depending on the cabin crew member at Qatar. While Parnasi was taking care of some safety duties, another colleague continued with taking my order. Unfortunately, her English was quite bad and we had some trouble communicating - not ideal in international first class.
Boarding sure took some time and before we pushed back, Parnasi offered Arabic coffee to first class passengers.
Along with the Arabic coffee, I requested a glass of Qatar's delicious Mint-Lemonade and also had a date, which came wrapped in plastic - also not very premium.
Boarding was finally completed and we were soon ready for departure. After taxiing to the runway, we were in the air and on our way to Doha. We left the gate slightly late but were still scheduled to arrive pretty much on time.
Most if not all of Qatar's longhaul aircraft are fitted with in-flight internet and so was this A380-800. Exclusively for first class passengers, Qatar provides this Wi-Fi voucher which is good for a flight pass on your flight. I know that internet is a high priority for some, but I actually appreciate the fact that you can disconnect from the world for a little while. I still used the voucher on my cellphone to check my emails and get some news for such a long flight.
Qatar already provides PJs and slippers to its business class passengers. In first class, these two items are Missoni-branded, I certainly did not feel a significant difference between these and the one's I received on my Doha to Hong Kong flight.
Parnasi also handed me a Giorgio Armmani branded amenity kit. They look very similar to the ones used in business class, once again, but are slightly larger and the contents are also somewhat different.
The contents provided were actually pretty nice. The big tube in the picture is an after-shave cream, something I don't really used but the decently-sized eau de cologne bottle was certainly appreciated. Additional amenities such as a sleeping mask and socks were in a black pouch.
After distributing the amentiy kits and PJs, it was time for my glass of champagne, which I ordered while still on the ground. As it should be in first class, the champagne was poured at the seat. Along with the champagne, I was served an amuse bouche, which was a crab cake with a dipping sauce.
In no time, it was time for dinner. Passengers travelling in Qatar's business and first class can dine at any time during the flight. Since it was dinner time anyway, I elected to have dinner right after takeoff. Pasani set my table for dinner and the first thing I noticed how everything is very similar to the items you get in business - both in terms of tableware and items on the menu.
To begin with, I ordered the Wagyu beef breasola with fig and walnuts in a truffle and honey dressing. The fig was very fresh, but the truffle dressing was a bit overpowering unfortunately, as it is usually the case when not dosed properly.
Dinner continued with an an Asian-style chicken broth with dumplings. Unlike my recent "soup experience" on Qantas, this one was delicious and just hit the spot. I also like that Qatar serves the soup in a soup tureen with the lid being removed at the seat - a very nice touch.
As for the mains, I had the choice between a pan-freid cod with rice, lamb, chicken and tortellini. I have to be honest, none of the main courses really appealed to me, so I went with the pan fried cod with rice, hoping that an Arabic entree would probably workout for the best on an Arabic airline.
Unfortunately, the main was just alright - the cod was a bit dry and the spices were just too overpowering.
A dinner would not be complete without dessert. The menu listed a passion frout curd tart and a chocolate souffle with strawberry coulis. In addition, there was gourmet ice cream and seasonal fresh fruit available. I was quite full at this point, so I just had the chocolate souffle and a cappuccino. The souffle was good, but certainly not the best dessert I have ever had.
It is customary in Qatar business and first class to receive a hot or cold towel as well as some chocolates after dinner. The only difference between business and first class was that the Valrhona package contained six chocolates instead of just three in business.
All in all, it was a decent dinner service. Pasani was well-intentioned, but unfortunately not nearly as polished and professional as flight attendants on other carriers. One big element that was missing was the personal component. There was no small-talk or chitchat and service just did not feel very personal. In addition, service in first class felt too similar to what you already get in business class. Although the seat is a little bit nicer, it does not offer the privacy one would expect in first class. In my opinion, Qatar's business class is an excellent product already so there really is no need for first class on Qatar Airways flights.
After dinner, I wandered to the back of the upper deck to check out Qatar's on-board bar - it certainly did not disappoint. The bar area was just gorgeous and easily the best execution of an on-board bar among the Middle-Eastern carriers.
Interestingly, the bottles on display at the bar are not actually used to mix your drinks - they are for display only.
The bar area also featured at least two dozen real red roses - wonderful.
Well done Qatar - what a great area to have a drink after dinner and socialize with other passengers.
Qatar also has a dedicated bar drink menu, which contained some interesting cocktails. I had a green tea vodka cocktail and some baklava. The flight attendant staffing the bar area was from Belarus. I have to say that she had some very strong opinions about things, a bit intimidating even, but I still appreciated the opportunity to have some conversation with her.
After visiting the bar area, I decided to check out one of the two first class bathrooms. Now I think that it is great to have bathrooms this big, but I still think that Qatar could have integrated a shower facility - both Emirates and Etihad feature a shower on-board of their A380-800 aircraft.
I do like that Qatar had some additional amenities available in the bathroom.
The bathroom also featured RITUALS cosmetics.
After the bar and dinner, I felt a bit tired. I asked Parnasi to make up my bed. Unfortunately the passenger seated right behind me in 2A had a severe cold - at least I hope that it was a cold. He kept coughing and coughing - I could set the clock for it - a cough attack every 10 minutes or so. So every time he would have one of his attacks, I would wake up, even wearing my noise-cancelling headset.
I did manage to rest for a couple of hours, but gave up after waking up once more because of this passenger's coughing and watched some movies on Qatar's IFE system. We still had about six hours to go and I felt a bit hungry again. I ordered the chicken shawarma wrap with fattoush salad.
It was a bit underwhelming. I expected the warp to be hot but it was served ice-cold. The salad was alright but the wrap was also very dry and the dip did not help much.
Annoyingly, the in-flight map did not work so I did not really have a good idea about how much time was left. After the wrap, I watched another movie and by then, fortunately, it was time for breakfast.
Now the table setup was actually very similar to dinner. The bread basked was filled with breakfast pastries. I ordered a celery, cucumber and kiwi energiser along with some greek yoghurt with cherry compote and toasted granola.
The granola was quite delicious, but I wish they would serve the sweet breakfast items after the savory ones - maybe I should add that preference to my order the next time.
Now I originally ordered the beef sausage and has browns with scrambled eggs. Unfortunately, they were out of scrambled eggs and only had the cheese omelette left. The sausages and the hash browns were alright, but the omelette wasn't that great, very dry.
Now the highlight of breakfast was once again the French toast. It was served with fresh berries, a berry compote and mascarpone - it was very delicious.
After breakfast wrapped up, we had about an hour left and for once, I was seated on the correct side of the aircraft - we had a stunning view of downtown Doha on approach.
With the runway in sight, this 14+ hours flight was quickly coming to an end.
Luckily, a jetbridge for the upper deck was available, and the flight attendants held back business class passengers so that first class passengers could disembark first.
Qatar Airways currently has a fleet of only six A380-800, meaning that first class is not easy to come by - I am excluding the handful of Middle Eastern destinations that Qatar markets as "First Class" but really are just business class. Service was OK and the food was also OK, Qatar's offering certainly did not wow me, however. The most amazing element on Qatar's A380-800 is the on-board bar, but you get access to that as business class passenger too.
Qatar's CEO, Al Baker once said that he thinks that First Class is soon going to be a thing of the past, and for his airline, I would have to agree. Qatar's business class is so excellent that the differences between first class and business class on Qatar are very subtle - many elements of Qatar's business class you would only find in first class on other carriers, such as PJs or the sophisticated table setup for meals. If you are an aviation enthusiast just like me, I would try Qatar First Class just for saying you have tried it - is it worth a premium over business class? Certainly not would be my answer.