New Year’s Day, 2018. Having for many years listened to the wider frequent flyer community singing the praises of Qatar Airways, I was genuinely excited to finally try the Doha airline’s fifth-freedom service from Bangkok to Hanoi.
There’s always an added element of fun when it comes to fifth-freedom flights (i.e., a flight between two countries operated by an airline based in a third country), since you’re getting a taste of the “home” airline so far away from its usual stomping grounds. And that tinge of excitement is only stronger when the airline in question is one of the world’s best.
Without further ado, let’s delve into the review of my short and sweet flight on Qatar Airways.
Qatar Airways Flight 834 originates in Doha and flies to Hanoi with a stop in Bangkok. Passengers en route to Hanoi don’t need to disembark in Bangkok, and can simply remain onboard – a fact I discovered when I was among the first to board, hoping to snap some pictures of an empty business class cabin, only to find almost every seat occupied.
The flight was operated by a Boeing 777 aircraft featuring 24 business class seats spread across 4 rows in an open 2-2-2 configuration. In this configuration, the only seats without direct aisle access are the window seats; I'd recommend picking a set of two seats by the window if travelling as a couple, and one of the seats in the centre if travelling solo.
The 777 is one of Qatar’s aircraft types that will be reconfigured with the revolutionary Qsuites over the coming years. For now, though, I got to enjoy the old seat, which was very spacious despite showing some signs of wear and tear.
I was welcomed with a warm towel and a glass of rosé champagne as I settled into my seat and had a look at the seat features.
There are literature pockets along the side of the seat, as well as on the seat back facing you. There’s also a storage compartment which is great for putting a purse, laptop bag, etc.
The seat controls are located at your fingertips, offering a full range of motion. There are also one-touch default buttons that bring the seat into varying degrees of recline.
Located in the other armrest are the entertainment controls for Qatar’s Oryx One entertainment system, which sit atop a small compartment for the in-flight noise cancelling headphones and the power ports.
Finally, the reading lights are located between the two headrests.
In terms of the pre-departure rituals, the flight attendant came by to top up my rosé champagne and hand out the business class menus, but that was about it. Throughout the flight, service was noticeably a little on the cold side; it was nothing too horrible, but all of my requests to the flight attendant were met with a straight face and a resolutely neutral demeanour.
Looking at the menu, the short Bangkok–Hanoi segment featured “Light Bites” rather than a full meal, and since I was in a peckish mood, I decided to sample all of them. I presume that passengers flying from Doha to Hanoi would be subject to the same reduced menu on this portion of the journey.
(Speaking of my fellow passengers, it seemed like over 80% of the business class cabin was filled with deadheading Qatar crew members. It’s interesting that in addition to the one-stop service via Bangkok, Qatar also operates a direct flight between Hanoi and Doha, so perhaps they needed to shuttle some crew over for that flight.)
Qatar Airways is also known for its extensive drink selection, including an impressive array of juices. I decided to order a mango juice to put that to the test, and also got a cappuccino to accompany my meal service.
As we took off from Suvarnabhumi Airport, I flicked through the entertainment system, where you can pick from a wide variety of movies and TV shows. I decided to put on the Transformers movie, just to pass the time.
Soon after reaching cruising altitude, the flight attendant came by to set our tables and commence the meal service.
First up were the drinks, which without a doubt lived up to the hype. The mango juice was full of flavour but not too sweet, with a rich texture, while the cappuccino hit the spot just right.
In terms of non-alcoholic beverages, Qatar might just be the airline that’s impressed me the most so far.
Then came my light bites. I enjoyed the assortment of hot savoury pastries – plenty of Thai and Vietnamese influences there, with the fish cake in particular proving a delight.
Meanwhile, the smoked salmon with goat cheese crumble and orange slices certainly made for an intriguing clash of flavours, which I couldn’t quite decide if I liked or not.
After finishing up my tasty morsels, there was only about an hour of the flight left, so I turned my seat into a bed to see if I could get some quick rest. We were exhausted from the New Year’s Eve festivities the previous night, and Jessica had long fallen asleep beside me, opting to skip the meal service and rest throughout the flight.
Qatar’s Boeing 777 business class seat, while slightly outdated, gets the job done when it comes to the lie-flat bed. The seat has so much legroom that you don’t have to worry about putting your legs in a cramped footwell – you have all the space you need to toss and turn.
After what seemed like mere seconds of slumber, I was hastily awakened by the flight attendant letting me know that we were beginning our descent. I restored my seat into position and sipped on the rest of my mango juice as we made a smooth touchdown in the smoggy surroundings of Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport.
I’m so glad I got to try business class Qatar Airways, a Skytrax 5-star airline, if only for a couple of hours. What I saw in terms of food and drink certainly left me keen to fly with them again on a longer journey. Qatar’s fleet of 777s will be retrofitted with Qsuites in the coming years, so the hard product should see a major upgrade as well. The only thing I found a bit lacking was the service, although perhaps the fact that the vast majority of passengers were deadheading crew members played a role in lowering the standard of service aboard the flight. In any case, I can’t wait to fly with Qatar again, hopefully sooner rather than later.