I’ve recently been on a hot streak of checking off quite a few airlines’ premium cabins from my bucket list, but the airline occupying top spot in the business class category has eluded me thus far: Qatar Airways, and in particular their groundbreaking Qsuites business class product that launched in 2017.
As it turns out, as I was planning my Chinese New Year trip in 2020, I discovered a sweet spot within Cathay Pacific Asia Miles that would allow me to book not one, but two Qsuites flights – on a mix of the Airbus A350-1000 and the Boeing 777 – very efficiently. And so I had booked Tokyo–Doha–Montreal, with a stopover in Qatar’s capital, for 90,000 Asia Miles and only $90 in taxes and fees thanks to Japan’s fuel surcharge regulations.
While I had originally planned to stay in China for a week before catching my first Qsuites flight, the recent coronavirus outbreak meant that I had to leave early, and thankfully, I was still able to find Qsuites award space on an earlier departure date out of Tokyo. I only paid US$40 to change my Asia Miles booking, since I was still keeping the same route and only changing the date.
After an overnight stay in Tokyo that was as enjoyable as always, I headed to Haneda Airport a few hours early with palpable excitement.
I arrived at Haneda at about 8pm, although the Qatar Airways check-in counters wouldn’t open until three hours before our 11:50pm departure (and with this being Japan, not a minute earlier than that). I therefore waited in line for quite a while, chatting with another business class passenger, before I was able to pick up my boarding pass, drop off my bags, and head for the lounge.
Since I was flying in business class on a Oneworld airline, I’d ordinarily have access to the Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge, but that was under renovations at the time. Therefore, I was invited to the “Sky Lounge Annex” instead, a place that still offered JAL’s usual high-quality lounge catering, albeit in much less glamorous surroundings.
I got some work done in the lounge while downing at least three small bowls of udon noodles, and then I headed down to the gate with about 15 minutes to go until boarding was called.
I could barely contain my excitement as I handed over my boarding pass to be scanned and then raced down the jet bridge to board my first ever Airbus A350.
Qatar Airways | QR813
Aircraft: Airbus A350-1000
Cabin: Business class
Route: Tokyo (HND) to Doha (DOH)
Date: Monday, January 27, 2020
Time: Departing 11:50pm and arriving 6:10am the next day
Duration: 12 hours 20 minutes
On this aircraft, the Qatar Airways Qsuites seat layout is divided into two separate cabins: Rows 1–10 comprise the main cabin at the front of the plane between the two forward galleys, while Rows 11–12 comprise a mini-cabin just behind the second galley, separated from the economy class cabin by a simple curtain.
I had reserved Seat 11K in the mini-cabin, but to reach it, I needed to traverse the main cabin first. And I found myself absolutely blown away by the Qsuites interiors as I turned the corner and made my way inside.
A darker shade of red has always been among my favourite colours, and the Qsuites cabin’s colour scheme – a classy shade of red somewhere between crimson, redcurrant, and mulberry, made an instant impression on me.
I made my way through the main cabin and arrived at Seat 11K, the first window seat on the right side of the Qsuites mini-cabin.
As I stored my belongings and began taking pictures of the seat, the purser for the flight, Geraldo, took note of my enthusiasm for taking pictures and came by to chat. He mentioned that no one else was sitting in any of the other seven seats in the mini-cabin, so I was free to make myself at home among all eight seats across Rows 11 and 12!
Geraldo even offered to show me how the centre seats could be configured for groups of two and four passengers travelling together! I took him up on his offer, and using the resulting pictures, I’ll now discuss the incredible flexibility of the Qsuites seating arrangement.
The first thing to note is that the seats alternate between forward-facing (in even-numbered rows) and backward-facing (in odd-numbered rows). This was a similar layout to ANA’s 777 new business class, which I had flown not too long ago, in which every seat’s footwell goes underneath the seat console of its opposite number.
For solo travellers, the window seats are the natural choice, with the backward-facing seats designated as “A” or “K” being closer to the window, and thus slightly more private from the aisle, than the forward-facing seats designated as “B” or “J”.
In fact, if you’re booked on Qsuites as a solo passenger, you may only be allowed to select a window seat, because the middle seats are generally reserved for passengers who are travelling in larger groups.
Specifically, when travelling as a couple you may select a pair of seats in the centre aisle. The backward-facing seats designated “E” and “F” are closer together than the forward-facing seats designated “D” and “J”.
While there’s a privacy partition between every set of middle seats that can be raised, it can also be lowered all the way down to the level of the lie-flat bed itself. Then, a mini-mattress pad can be fitted in the space between the seats to create something resembling a double bed in the sky!
(The caveat is that the footwells are still separate, so while you can whisper sweet nothings to your partner as you drift off to sleep at 35,000 feet in the sky, you can’t really cuddle or anything like that.)
But that’s not all – if you’re travelling as a quartet, the entire set of four seats in the middle (i.e., all “D”, “E”, “F”, and “G” seats across two consecutive rows) can be opened up – with each row’s privacy partitions sliding all the way down, and then the walls between the row sliding across to open up a gap in the middle – to form one large four-person suite!
I was absolutely flabbergasted when I saw this in action. As someone who’s taken hundreds of flights in the past and who thoroughly relishes the aviation experience, this was a level of innovation that I had never imagined was possible.
Finally, if you’re travelling as a trio, then you can still select the four-person suite in the middle, with the understanding that a fourth passenger might join the group and keep their privacy partitions closed during the flight.
After a few minutes of feeling totally stunned and amazed by the incredible functionality of the Qsuites middle seats, I finally took a few moments to retreat to Seat 11K to examine the seat itself.
By this point, Natasha, the flight attendant who’d be taking care of me during our 11-hour ride to Doha, had already come by to introduce herself and offer me a welcome beverage. I selected the Taittinger rosé champagne, which was served along with a hot towel.
Every seat is fitted with a 21.5’’ entertainment screen, beneath which you’ll find a narrow surface that can be used to place a small ramekin or piece of glassware.
The seat console provides you with a much larger surface space, where the pillow, blanket, and amenity kit were found waiting for me upon arrival. I really loved the faux-marble finishes on the surfaces, which contrasted nicely against the darker shades of colour used everywhere else.
The tray table slides towards you from just underneath the entertainment monitor, and then folds over into a full-sized table. I found it to be quite heavy, which was a good thing, although it would only lock in place at the very end of its range of motion, with no option to keep it steady somewhere in the middle.
The footwell is positioned further below, and becomes part of the bed in lie-flat mode. Unfortunately, there’s no under-seat storage available, so your larger belongings will need to be stowed in the overhead bins for taxi and takeoff, and can only be stored in the footwell itself if you want to have easy access during the flight.
Next, the seat console is designed in a way that’s simultaneously ergonomic but also slightly confusing. I couldn’t quite figure out the purpose of the little gap underneath the faux-marble surface, and I ended up only using it for storing my unwanted plastic garbage out of sight and out of mind.
However, the positioning of all the other seat features along the curvature of the seat console was very user-friendly. The seat controls, entertainment controller, USB and power outlets, headphone jack, and literature pocket were all within easy reach, which I greatly appreciated – especially the fact that the power outlet was not obstructed by any other seat features (something too many other airlines are guilty of), allowing you to use any charging device no matter how bulky.
It was also interesting to see a contactless credit card reader situated here, presumably allowing you to make any in-flight duty-free purchases directly from your entertainment screen.
The seat’s primary storage unit is found down by your feet, in the small walkway between the seat and the aisle. The compartment played host to a bottled water holder, which came equipped with a bottle of Evian, as well as a set of headphones for the flight. The remaining storage room would be enough for a few loose items like a book or an amenity kit.
A reading light can be found up top by your shoulders. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the seat, the armrest can be lowered to provide the seat with more width in both upright and lie-flat modes.
One of the most significant features of the Qsuites product, of course, is the sliding door that affords total privacy to every business class passenger. These are usually locked for takeoff and landing, but Geraldo was kind enough to temporarily unlock the door on Seat 11F opposite the aisle from me, so that I could try it out.
The door handle fits like a puzzle piece perfectly with the groove in the seat shell, creating not even the slightest gap in-between.
Finally, how about a word for how gorgeous and aesthetically pleasing everything looks here in the Qsuites cabin? Not only were the cabin colours exactly to my taste, but all of the subtle design touches, from the diamond-shaped grooves on the seat shells to the backlit seat number displays, simply exuded a far higher level of sophistication than any other business class product I’ve flown to date.
As the captain came on the PA to announce that boarding was complete, Geraldo and Natasha came by to check up on my continuously, offering top-ups to my rosé and passing out a series of in-flight amenities.
First, I was given the pajamas, or as Qatar Airways calls it, the “loungewear”. Qatar Airways is one of the few airlines in the world that offers pajamas in business class – EVA Air is the only other one that comes to mind at the moment.
This set was produced by The White Company, a UK-based linen chain, and featured a light grey top with a triangle design on the crew neck, as well as dark grey bottoms to go with it.
I was also handed the business class menus, which consisted of separate pamphlets for the food, drinks, and snacks.
The dinner menu read as follows:
Meanwhile, the wine list and beverage menu read as follows:
Finally, we had the snack menu card, which listed the following snacks that could be ordered at any time during the flight.
After giving me some time to browse, Natasha returned to take my order before takeoff. She confirmed that I wanted to dine at the beginning of the flight, and also specifically asked about exactly how many hours before landing I’d like to have breakfast.
Then, she meticulously went through my meal order with a seriously impressive level of precision. The first decision was between the Western and Japanese menus, where I went with the latter, since I was curious how Qatar Airways’s interpretation of Japanese kaiseki would taste like, although I still ordered some Arabic mezze as an appetizer and also chose the Western breakfast.
Beyond that, though, there was a far greater level of customizability to every part of the dining experience as well. What drink did I want to enjoy after takeoff, and what drink did I want to have with my dinner? Did I want jam, honey, or margarine with my bread for breakfast? Was I in the mood for cereal or muesli, and since I wanted cereal, did I want whole or skim milk?
Since I’m not a fan of mushrooms, I asked if I could have my scrambled eggs prepared without mushrooms – no problem, Natasha nodded, it would be taken care of. I was being wowed by Qatar Airways like never before thus far, and we hadn’t even taken off yet!
I took the last few seconds before pushback to examine the amenity kit, which was made by Brics and fitted with products from Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio, both of Italy.
I did think that the amenity kit looked rather run-of-the-mill, and that an airline of Qatar Airways’s calibre could’ve done much more to differentiate themselves here.
The football-themed safety video played on the entertainment screen as we taxied and prepared for takeoff. This was one of the more engaging safety video’s I’ve seen recently, since it featured quite a few well-known stars.
Qatar Airways is somewhat famous for its purple and pink mood lighting, which was switched on as we took off into the Tokyo night. I had though the cabin looked very pretty earlier, but it was downright drop-dead gorgeous in the mood lighting!
As we climbed to cruising altitude, I took a few moments to flick through the Oryx One entertainment system, which I had heard fantastic things about before. The touch-screen is highly responsive, and the user interfaces are all very well-designed and easy to use.
The list of movies went on and on endlessly; there must’ve been at least 200 titles to choose from in the Hollywood category alone. At one point, the entire screen consisted of movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which goes to show just how seriously Qatar Airways takes their in-flight entertainment.
The television selection was also impressive, even containing a few Netflix Originals such as You.
In some ways, I’m not sure if there’s an incremental gain in offering hundreds upon hundreds of titles to choose from, compared to, say, just one hundred. I’m not usually one to watch movies or TV on a long-haul flight, but even if I were, how many could I possibly watch?
I ended up putting on the airshow to track our progress throughout the flight.
The A350 also has camera feeds that you can watch from the outside of the plane, but those weren’t very entertaining at the moment since it was pitch-black outside.
I also connected to the wifi. Qatar Airways offers free wifi to all passengers for one hour, and charges US$10 for unlimited access throughout the entire flight. I thought that was a pretty good value, so went ahead and purchased the wifi access for the duration of the flight.
Dinner service began with another glass of the Taittinger rosé, along with some mixed warm nuts. The crew got to work preparing the meal service very swiftly, since our late-night departure from Tokyo meant that most passengers would be looking to rest as soon as possible.
I decided to move to the centre seats for my dinner, since I’d have much more personal space and many more surfaces on which to put the plates and drinks. Oh, the joys of being the only occupant of an eight-person mini-cabin!
Natasha soon came by to set my table, and she was on top of her game in terms of the service. She wore a face of effortless concentration as she placed every plate, glass, and ornament in its rightful place, starting every movement with a graceful “May I?” and finishing it with a “Please enjoy.”
(As another example of the sheer degree of customizability that Qatar Airways offers, I was given the choice of no less than five different types of balsamic vinegar to go along with my breadbasket. I ended up choosing two: the olive & berry flavour and the spicy lemon flavour.)
The first dish to be served was the amuse bouche, which consisted of a slice of salmon along with its roe, which I eagerly polished off in one bite.
Next up was my trio of Arabic mezze, which I had ordered off the Western menu. These were some seriously heavy portions of muhammara, tabbouleh, and hummus, which count roasted red pepper, chopped parsley, and chickpeas as their respective main ingredients. I scooped up large bites with every chunk of the pita bread, although there was still some of each mezze left over.
Then came the Japanese kaiseki dinner, accompanied by the glass of chardonnay that I had asked to go with my meal, as well as an additional glass of mango juice that I had ordered. Unlike Japanese airlines, which would typically serve this meal over at least two courses in business class, Qatar Airways delivers it all – zensai appetizer, dainomono main dish, and the soup – all on one tray.
With that being said, the presentation of the items was exquisite, and the arrangement of the sesame rice within a small wrapped-up pouch was a very nice touch, reminding me of how ANA does their Japanese breakfasts.
While I savoured and enjoyed every bite of the Japanese meal, it didn’t quite blow me away to the same levels as Japan Airlines and ANA have in the past, which is of course fully expected. I’m sure that Qatar Airways invests far more heavily in their Western meal offerings, which they offer on all their global routes, rather than the regional flavours that many of their peers in business class might not even bother to offer in the first place.
The Japanese dinner doesn’t come with dessert, and Natasha asked me if I’d like any sweets or cheeses from the Western menu. However, after a very long day in Tokyo, I was on the verge of passing out by this point, so I just asked her for some sencha green tea (to which I was then asked for my preference among four different types of biscuits to go with it).
Qatar Airways’s impeccable design choices continue into the restroom. The Airbus A350-1000 is the largest in the A350 family, and the restroom is quite a generous size as a result, featuring a window and a bench that can be lowered on top of the toilet seat.
There was also a wealth of restroom amenities, like dental kits, hand cream, and freshening spray.
Returning to my seat, I was quite happy to see that Natasha had proactively prepared my bed already. Even the blanket was decked out in Qatar Airways colours, making the bed look very warm and inviting.
As I crawled underneath and got comfortable, I found it amusing that all of my beverages had been lined up in a row on the countertop, as though I was being served at a bar. The four-person Qsuites arrangement really is incredible – if you were travelling as a group of four, you’d all get to enjoy this shared surface space for any purpose you might wish to use it for!
Funnily enough, just as I was about to drift off to sleep, another flight attendant came through the mini-cabin in the opposite aisle and asked if I wanted the seat next to me to be made into part of my bed as well. And how could I say no?
While it would be somewhat impractical for one person to sleep on both seats (since the footwells remain separate), I did enjoy spreading out across the entire pseudo-double-bed and revelling in just how much space I had to myself.
After that little bit of fun, it was finally time to sleep, and I did so for a very peaceful six hours until I naturally woke up with two and a half hours of the flight left to go.
Looking at the flight map, I saw that we were about to enter Iranian airspace, which gave me a slight tinge of concern in light of recent events.
To soothe my spirits, I ordered a cappuccino from Natasha to go along with the breakfast service.
Again, Natasha took a few minutes to painstakingly set my table with all the necessary items (including that cute flickering candlelight ornament, which I had only seen on Turkish Airlines business class before), before serving up a seasonal fruit platter as the first course of the Western breakfast.
While a fruit selection usually isn’t much to speak of, I was happy to find a slice of mango, which you don’t often get on airplanes. That also reminded me to order another glass of the delicious mango juice, too.
I was browsing through the menu at this point and noticed that I had missed the fact that the Japanese menu also came with a “light option” of a selection of nigiri sushi. Even the Japanese airlines don’t often serve sushi onboard, so I was quite intrigued by this, and asked Natasha if I could have the sushi before my next breakfast course.
She was of course happy to oblige, and I found every piece of sushi to be quite delectable. While the rice was definitely a bit stale compared to what you’d find on the ground in Japan, the fish was fresh and tasty, and I was also impressed that each piece of sushi came correctly prepared with a little bit of wasabi on the inside already.
The Western breakfast would then resume with the cereal course, which was, like everything else on this flight, exquisitely presented. The plating of dishes here in Qatar Airways business class truly wasn’t very far off from several airlines that I had flown in First Class!
Finally, I was treated to my “scrambled eggs with no mushrooms”, which came with grilled chicken and rösti on the side. As a pretty standard breakfast option, this was less memorable than everything else I had eaten on this flight, but still quite appetizing. And again, I was able to customize the dining experience to my heart’s desire: “Ketchup, mustard, or Tabasco sauce?”
I ordered a glass of milk tea to finish off the meal, and then I moved back to my original seat, Seat 11K, to take in the landing views.
It was still the early morning as we circled Doha, but it was pretty incredible to see the engine of the Airbus A350 against a backdrop of the city lights.
I also turned on the tail camera on the entertainment monitor to watch along as we approached the runway.
We taxied around the grounds of Hamad International Airport for quite a while, allowing time for the sun to rise and reveal a sea of other Qatar Airways planes all around us.
With one final glance at the beautiful Qatar Airways Qsuites cabin, I headed to the galley to disembark – but not before Geraldo caught up with me and offered to let me keep one of the pillows as a souvenir! I made sure to thank him profusely for how eager he was to ensure that I fully enjoyed my first Qsuites flight.
Surprisingly, we had arrived at a remote stand, so all the business class passengers piled into an airport tarmac bus to bring us to the main building, where I’d be clearing immigration and customs before heading into Doha.
Wow, wow, WOW!
Before taking this flight, I had known Qatar Airways Qsuites to be hyped-up as the world’s best business class product. Now that I’ve tried it for myself, I can say with absolute certainty that the reputation was very much well-deserved, and that the Qsuites experience surpasses every other business class flight I’ve taken before.
In terms of the seat, only ANA’s new 777 business class rivals it, and even then, both products excel in different ways. Qsuites is no doubt a cutting-edge product as a solo traveller, offering a very strong balance of storage, functionality, and comfort, but it’s the middle seats that truly change the game for those travelling in groups of two, three, or four. On this flight, I was lucky enough to get the entire mini-cabin on the Airbus A350 to myself, thus getting to experience a little bit of every seat type that Qsuites offers.
The soft product, however, is where Qatar Airways differentiates itself the most, as I was treated to a very respectable showing of Japanese cuisine and a tasty Western breakfast, all delivered by the excellent Natasha in a service process that would befit any fine dining establishment on the ground.
Throw in the pajamas, the stunning visuals, and the degree to which every component of the meal service can be customized (which rivals many airlines’ First Class products in its variety)and I’m ready to hop onboard the hype train and throw my full weight behind Qatar Airways Qsuites as the world’s best business class product – one that I’d highly encourage everyone to try at least once.
And the best part? I won’t have to wait long for the next Qsuites experience, since I’m booked on the 777 flight back to Montreal later this week!