Qatar Airways is the “World’s Best Airline.” Do They Deserve It?

Gulf Carrier Wins Skytrax Award for 2017.   But Here’s Why I’m Not So Impressed.

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE AUTHOR

June 22, 2017

AT THE PARIS AIR SHOW on Tuesday, Qatar Airways was named “World’s Best Airline” in the annual Skytrax awards ceremony. Skytrax is the popular consumer-aviation ranking site, and its yearly awards are considered the “Oscars” of the airline world. Qatar has taken the top spot four times now in the past ten years. (Singapore Airlines was this year’s runner-up, with All Nippon Airways taking third. Last year’s top finisher, Emirates, dropped to fourth place.)

Here’s an airline that didn’t exist 25 years ago, yet has grown to become one of the industry’s heaviest hitters, serving 150 cities on six continents. Theirs is a story almost identical to that of its Persian Gulf neighbor, Emirates: a tiny but incredibly wealthy country saw a remarkable opportunity — a chance to become the crossroads of the world — and took it. Somebody looked at a map and said, “Hey, look at us, sitting here, equidistant between the planet’s most populous regions. Let’s start an airline!” And they made it happen.

Now, I’d be remiss not to add that while this growth has been impressive to say the least, it’s been happening much to the chagrin of airlines in Europe and North America, who, not unreasonably, find the whole thing terribly unfair. U.S. airlines are increasingly nervous as government-backed carriers like Qatar expand into more American markets. In Europe the worry is even greater. Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways and the other legacies are getting squeezed from both sides: they’ve got the low-cost operators like easyJet and Ryanair to contend with on the short-haul front, while Emirates and Qatar siphon off their long-haul customers. Adjust and survive, you might say. A nice idea, but easier said than done when a rich nation-state is giving blank checks to your competitors. The Gulf airlines also have been dogged by accusations of unfair and exploitative treatment of their employees, most of whom are expats from other nations. And — stop the press — it was just announced today that Qatar is interested in taking a ten percent stake in American Airlines, its largest partner in the Oneworld alliance.

But, okay, for now, congratulations to Qatar Airways. They need a little cheering up, I think, in light of the economic blockade the neighboring states have imposed on their little peninsula.

Shark fin winglet of the Airbus A350, with a 777 in the background.

The thing is, though, I’ve flown on Qatar Airways. Twice, actually. Two trips and four separate legs, on 777, A380, and A350 aircraft. All in the carrier’s highly touted business class — also deemed by Skytrax, in a separate award, as “Best in the World.” So that was the best cabin in the world, on the best airline in the world. Supposedly.

And that’s where Skytrax and I part ways. I think maybe Qatar is one of those carriers who’ve built an identity around presumably being the best, rather than actually being it. While they offer a good product, my own experiences show it to be overrated. It’s a case, maybe, of a reputation preceding you — something we see a lot in the airline business.

It’s tricky, grading airlines. Experiences can vary tremendously flight to flight, depending on the temperament of the crew, aircraft type and cabin configuration, and so on. An accurate appraisal requires a healthy sampling of various routes and planes. My own sample size is admittedly very small. But I’ll share my observations nonetheless…

My first experience was a two-leg trip, from Bangkok to Philadelphia, via Doha, with both legs on 777s.

Things started off great. I remember stepping onto the plane at Suvarnabhumi airport and thinking how beautiful the cabin was. It was spotless, for one, and Qatar’s interior decor — the airline’s signature colors are a deep magenta and gray — accented by the 777’s adjustable moonlighting, is possibly the most striking and attractive in the industry. A polished copy of its logo, the Arabian oryx, was mounted handsomely on the bulkhead. The cloth upholstery was a pleasant change from the usual sticky leather. Just a gorgeous cabin.

After the predeparture drinks were served, the purser politely asked my permission — “may I take your glass please?” — before picking up my obviously empty champagne flute. Then he comes around with pajamas, tops and bottoms in a gray drawstring bag, and asks my size. Hey, I’m thinking, this is going to be fantastic.

Qatar’s flight attendant uniforms use that same signature purple-maroon, and are maybe the best-looking uniforms in the sky. There as distinctive as those worn at Emirates, but less fussy.

Plush digs on the 777.

The business cabin on the 777 is laid out six-abreast, 2-2-2, with a wide console between each seat. The plane felt very roomy (for some reason it seemed much roomier than the Korean Air 777 I’d been on earlier, despite the same layout), but the retractable privacy barrier was small and not particularly useful. Also, I much prefer the angled, herringbone-style configuration in which every seat has direct-aisle access. It stinks (sometimes literally) having to climb over the feet of the person next to you on the way to the lavatory.

Neither do I like the type of seatback-mounted video screens, common as they are, that allow everybody in the cabin to see what you’re watching. Not a big deal, though, and Qatar’s inflight entertainment (IFE) system has loads of films and television shows to choose from. I started with the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” That’s when I was introduced to what has to be the most cumbersome and user-unfriendly IFE interface I’ve yet seen. You scroll through the options using a cursor, and the cursor… moves… very… very… slowly. And each time you highlight a movie or program to learn more about it, the system resets to the beginning. Unless you actually watch that selection, you have to re-scroll all the way through again. And when you do finally pick something, it takes three separate clicks to get the program running, each on a different part of the screen, requiring you to reposition that slow-motion cursor each time. Navigating this system is the height of tedium. (Emirates’ IFE is by far the most comprehensive, but, if you ask me, Delta’s is overall the best and most user-friendly.)

There was a mattress pad for use in the full recline position, which helped fill in the cushion gaps and made for a comfortable bed. The pillows, though, were skimpy. In a slot at each seat was a big leather binder, like the ones you find in a luxury hotel room, containing the menu and wine list. Qatar’s wine glasses taper inward at the top — a clever idea that helps reduce spills.

What I didn’t realize, however, is that, there are no formal meal services. Everything is on request. You can order whichever dish you want, when you want it. If you’re hungry or thirsty, you ring your call button and ask. This is appealing for obvious reasons, but it’s a little too open-ended, and at no time was this process explained. After takeoff on the first flight, I sat there for two hours, ravenously hungry and waiting for the service to begin, before finally figuring out there was no service.

But, all right, that one was on me. Maybe if I were a more regular high-end flyer (not that I should need to be), I would’ve known this off the bat. What wasn’t in any way my fault, however, was the attitude of the flight attendants. Each time I asked for something, it felt like I was putting them out. They quickly organized my meals, but they never smiled, and each time I was left with the sensation that they were doing me a favor.

The crew also acted very confused about the menu choices. When I asked for breakfast — one of the items was clearly labeled “breakfast” — the flight attendant didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. Finally she took out a menu, studied it for several seconds, then said, “Oh, yes, that one. But you had it already?”

I had not.

Appetizer course.

Overall, with the exception of a very tasty mezze appetizer, the food itself was mediocre and the portions tiny. One of the meals, on the second flight — “Arabic spiced chicken breast with machboos sauce” — was lukewarm and undercooked, and I nearly sent it back.

Worst of all, aside from when my meals were served, not once during the entire trip did a flight attendant ask if I needed anything. Not once, on either leg, totally about twenty hours in the air. Not even water was offered. Walk-throughs were nonexistent, and I sat with an empty wine glass and plastic trash on my console for four hours before finally carrying it to the galley myself. Under no circumstances is this acceptable in a long-haul, business class cabin.

Waiting for a walk-through.

An hour later.

A second hour later.

A third hour later.

But the strangest and most startling moment comes near the end of the second flight — the fourteen-hour leg from Doha to Philadelphia:

It’s about 45 minutes before landing. We haven’t started descending. I’m in 3A, watching a movie. It’s bright daylight outside, but the shades are drawn so the cabin is dark and cozy. All of a sudden, one of the flight attendants comes over. Without a word, she reaches across my body and WHAM!, WHAM!, WHAM!, she slams up the shades to all three of my windows! I’m blind as everything goes screamingly white with sunlight.

What the fuck! I almost blurt out. What I actually say, rather curtly, is “Excuse me, I’m watching a movie!” No response. Without a word, she stalks to the next poor passenger’s seat and WHAM!, WHAM!, WHAM!, slams up his shades as well. I understand that the shades need to be open for takeoff and landing (see chapter five of my book). But this is almost an hour before arrival. And the rudeness of it is appalling.

After she moves along, I slide two of the shades back down. A few minutes later she comes back. Again, saying nothing, she reaches across me, nearly hitting me in the nose with her elbow, and WHAM!, WHAM!, yanks the shades up again. This time I don’t argue.

Qatar’s A350s and A380s have the angled, 1-2-1 configuration.

It wasn’t much different on my second experience, about a year later. This was another two-leg trip, this time on an Airbus A380 and a brand-new A350.

Once again, the business class cabins were handsome and stylish. These aircraft have the 1-2-1 angled herringbone layout that I missed on the 777. It’s a super-comfortable seat and plenty of shelves and cubbyholes for storage. The side console is on the inboard side, however, and the shell doesn’t reach quite far enough around, which leaves you somewhat exposed to the aisle. If the shell were a bit deeper, there’d be a stronger feeling of privacy. The headset — and it’s an excellent one — has its own storage compartment.

And, once again, the onboard staff were somewhere between apathetic and cantankerous. No walk-throughs, no water, no sense that they gave a damn. Look, I’m low maintenance when I fly, and I don’t need the kind of phony, kabuki-style doting that you might see in one of Qatar’s advertisements, where some flawlessly pretty flight attendant is smiling like a movie star as she tucks you in. But business class isn’t cheap, and what I do expect is a certain level of attentiveness.

Business class on the A380.

A380 window seat in the 1-2-1 configuration.

Business class lavatory.

Dining was another on-demand, a la carte service. The food, this time, was decidedly better than on the first trip, with a wide choice of both light-bite options (grilled prawn, Inaniwa noodles, green pea soup), or fuller, fancier entrees (Achari paneer tikka, seared cod), along with various appetizers and snacks. The dessert course on leg two — “glazed chocolate ganache cake” — was maybe the tastiest and most decadent thing I’ve ever eaten on a plane. All in all, even if the food itself is less than spectacular, Qatar’s long-haul biz class menu blows Emirates’ away.

Mediocre service, but an inflight dessert like no other.

On the A380, I took a mid-flight walk to the lounge. Qatar’s A380s, like those of Emirates, have a upper-deck lounge for first and business passengers. There’s a bar and a couple of couches. On Emirates this set-up is in the very back of the cabin; on Qatar it’s in the center.

The first thing I noticed is that all of the liquor was stashed away. The juice and soda bottles were out, but otherwise the bar was bare except for some fruit, snack plates, and a tray of roses.

The bartender saw my surprise. “It’s Ramadan,” she said. “During Ramadan they don’t like us to have the bottles in view, so we keep them in the carts.” (Her accent was Eastern European. Russian? Ukrainian?) She motioned to a point below the counter, where presumably everything was stashed.

“Oh. So, you’re not serving?”

“Well, uh, yeah, you can order something.” She said this in a strange, noncommittal sort of way that was somewhere between a “Sure, you can order something” and “Please leave me alone so I can continue chatting with my colleague over here.” I couldn’t tell if it was a yes or a no. Was the bar open or closed?

“Okay…” I said. “Could I get a vodka tonic?”

She gave no verbal reply. Then, without looking at me, she slowly, deliberately, began making me a drink. Clank, bang, slam. Judging from her movements and the look of disappointment on her face, you’d think that I’d just asked her if she’d shine my shoes, or if she’d mind giving me a massage. I wanted to ask her, “Why are you standing behind the damn bar in the first place when you obviously resent having to make someone a drink?” Clank, bang, slam. All the while now she’s chatting with a second flight attendant standing about ten fee away. And still no eye contact as she hands me the glass.

I was planning to enjoy my cocktail on one of the s-shaped couches, but because I was the only passenger there at the time, doing so would only intensify the weirdness of what already was one of the weirder interactions I’ve had on a plane. So I took it back to my seat.

A380 upper-deck lounge. Not much happening today.

I had a five-hour layover at Doha’s new Hamad International Airport (DOH), which opened in 2014. I headed straight to the Al Mourjan business class lounge. The lounge is split into two levels, connected by a circular staircase. The mezzanine level offers several eating spots, while the centerpiece of the lower level is a huge reflecting pool. It’s without a doubt one of the more attractive and luxurious airport lounges in the world.

The boarding gates, though, are another story. I’ve been spoiled, maybe, having flown Emirates via Dubai (DXB) a few times, where, at least in terminals A or B, premium class customers have direct access from the lounge, via dedicated jetways, straight onto the plane. DXB is an awful airport otherwise — a hurricane of bright lights, noise, and intensely crowded corridors — but there’s nothing like the Emirates lounge, and the opportunity to walk onto a plane at your leisure, with a whole jetway effectively to yourself. In DOH the gates are the usual scrum of screaming kids and crowds of unruly people who completely ignore the boarding protocols, crushing into the doorway the instant the first announcement is made. First and business passengers are called first, of course, but they have to push and squeeze their way to the front, around the wheelchairs, the baby strollers, and the dozens of passengers who insist on turning the boarding process into a punk rock mosh pit circa 1982.

The Al Mourjan lounge at Doha’s Hamad International Airport.

Final report card:

Punctuality: A-plus
Check-in: A
Cabin decor and accoutrements: A-plus
Food and wine: B
Inflight Entertainment System: C-minus
Airport lounges: A
Boarding process: F
Inflight service: F

THIS STORY HAS BEEN REPRINTED IN BUSINESS INSIDER magazine. CLICK HERE TO VIEW.



 

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40 Responses to “Qatar Airways is the “World’s Best Airline.” Do They Deserve It?”
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  1. Ira says:

    Well like many other things in life, there is a lot of subjectivity to what is the “best” in the air. I just flew Qatar business class on an A380 DOH-LHR, then BA LHR-BOS on a relatively new B787 (both ticketed via American codeshare). Frankly I found the 7 hour flight Qatar flight to London really enjoyable, with nice fixed-time service and tasty food, the herringbone seats (I was traveling alone), good easy to use IFE system (though I thought the choice was limited) and a reasonably friendly crew. In fact, I had a nice chat with the friendly Korean flight attendant when I hung out for a while in the A380 lounge.

    I preferred my Qatar business experience to any of the three BA flights I had on B747-400 (upper deck), B777-300, or Dreamliner all with BA’s reverse herringbone layout and wacky separate footrest with need to people step over you (I always take the aisle).

    The Hamad experience was just as Patrick described, quick and easy to get to the beautiful lounge, then my gate was not too far away and I got there early so I did not experience the “scrum.” This compares to most business class boarding I see whether in the US or at major European airports. I’ll agree that it is much better to be able to board business directly from the lounge, but the only experiences I’ve had in this regard are LH and BA from the new Terminal E lounges at Boston Logan and LH to Frankfurt from the B Concourse lounge at Washington Dulles.

  2. nonoti says:

    I must say, my opinion differs a lot.

    I’ve flown Business on Qatar many times and have found them to be absolutely fantastic.

    During that time, I flew to the USA where I was put in “first” class on local carriers – I can only describe it as the biggest let-down in history. I felt like I was in Economy. The food was horrible, the service bad and people came on board with Mcdonalds and Burger King and who-knows-what-else bags until the whole aircraft smelt like a food court with no ventilation!

    I love the USA, and its people – but man your airlines give you no license to talk about service on Qatar..

    Qatar takes the top sport for me 100%.

  3. Paul says:

    I’ve just completed two legs with Qatar, Perth-Doha-Vienna. The Qatar experience, especially on the DOH -VIE leg was exemplary.

    PER-DOH was an overnighter on a 777 with the older 2-2-2 configuration. I have to say I love this setup when travelling with my beloved. The spaciousness of this cabin is outstanding, together with the massage function on the seats, it’s quite luxurious. However, the entertainment system is even worse than I remember, and I gave up on it.

    The eat what you want when you want concept was explained by the purser, and the food (limited amount that we ate after a late night departure) was quite excellent. The crew were proactive in looking after us, though I slept for most of the journey.

    The new Doha business lounge is exceptional. Boarding was unfortunately by bus, but premium passengers had our own door to our own bus. There was none of the pushinb, shoving and shrieking that Patrick refers to.

    • Paul says:

      …sorry, this is going on a bit. However I think it’s important to show that Patrick’s experience is not the norm.

      The DOH -VIE leg was in a 787 with the reverse herringbone arrangement – I personally prefer the 777 confirmation. The crew could not have been more friendly and attentive, and plied us with food and drinks non-stop, all the way to Vienna.

      In my limited experience, Qatar have improved from an already high standard. There’s no such thing as the world’s best airline, but Qatar are definitely up among the best.

  4. Rais says:

    What a contrast with Indonesia’s Garuda. My experience between Perth and Jakarta return in Economy is one of pleasant cabin crew moving up and down the aisle checking that passengers have what they need. Palatable food served on time and an efficient entertainment system. And on the return flight the pilot flew nearly 1000 kilometres out of his way to save us from the turbulence we might have experienced from a powerful tropical cyclone (hurricane) near the Western Australian coast.

  5. Francis Bwikizo says:

    Qatar airways, no way! I am glad that I am having the same view as “the people’s pilot”, Patrick Smith, though mine is more of a feeling than an experience. Most importantly, my feelings now have some credible evidence in this article. The Finance Director of my employer is a regular flier to the Eastern side of the continent but he’s sworn never to fly Qatar airways again when he’s sane. This has been due to multiple unacceptable inflight experiences, some similar to the ones highlighted above. Being a diehard fanatic of aviation,I always interview those closest to me on their every flight experience, and apart from praising it as a RyanAir of it’s category, I don’t remember any one ranking Qatar above Emirates, KLM, Cathy Pacific, BA or Delta. Truth be said; while the East is great on ticket prices and Cabin layout, the west is much greater on crew professionalism. May be Skytrax needs to review their latest rankings.

  6. Ych says:

    Qatar Airlines – Overrated and lousy airline to me
    I am digusted why this airline is being treated like the “god of all airlines” when my experience is quite the opposite. Is the country so rich that it has somehow managed to bribe its way to the top, like it did for the 2022 world cup? Lousy cabin ambience and service in economy class, frequently ran out of my preferred main course choice, poor airport design in Hamad with horrifying queue lines, non working Apple Macs and constant harrassment by airport toilet staff when using the cubicles. It is no surprise that the ongoing diplomatic spat with its neighbours is some consolation to me and shows that Qatar cant just buy its way out of everything while continuing to treat people like dirt.

  7. Speed says:

    It’s not unanimous …

    TripAdvisor®, the travel planning and booking site, today announced the winners of its first annual Travelers’ Choice® awards for airlines, recognizing travelers’ favorite carriers around the globe. Emirates was named the top airline in the world, followed by Singapore Airlines and Azul.

    https://tripadvisor.mediaroom.com/2017-04-10-TripAdvisor-Names-The-Best-Airlines-In-The-World

    Qatar was not even in the top 10.

    I don’t believe for a minute that TripAdvisor’s methodology is better than Skytrax but there is no reason to believe it is any worse.

    • Shaz says:

      Except Emirates is no where near the airline it was 15 years ago…. Qatar indeed would beat it hands down on food, but so does BA! Overall, Cathay or Singapore for best airline.

      • Patrick says:

        I’ve done Emirates first on the A380 a few times and loved it. It’s hard to beat the shower spa and the onboard bars. EK’s business class, though, has become a bit of a cattle call.

  8. Maja Tremiszewska says:

    Patrick, is it possible that there was no food service because of Ramadan? I have flown only once in bussiness class (with Virgin Atlantic ) and I vividly remember a flight attendant coming and asking what I would like to order. So perhaps they never came with food because they didn’t want to offend fasting Muslims, the same wig hiding the alcohol from the plain view. Just a thought.

    • Rais says:

      I can answer that for you, Maja, as a Muslim. Muslims travelling more than a short distance don’t have to observe the Ramadan fast. We can, if we wish, break the fast during travel and replace the days not fasted with other days after we reach our destination. Muslim law doesn’t expect non Muslims to fast anyway although my experience with non Muslim colleagues has been that they avoid eating in front of me until I tell them it doesn’t bother me.

  9. Leslie in Oregon says:

    As a former purser for an international airline, I hope that you informed Qatar Airways of your experiences with their Business Class cabin crews. The passenger treatment that you describe is indefensible, and I hope that you are not again subjected to anything like it.

  10. Mike Richards says:

    Qatar is playing a canny game. As well as creating a brand-new airport and stunning new airport in Doha, they also hold a 10% share in British Airways. Something the Qatari government was keen to remind the British government of last week when asking for international support for their position vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia.

  11. Gottettaz says:

    I was happy to see the photograph of the Qatar A350 lavatory, not only because it shows good design but because it also gives an idea of the standard of cleanliness on Qatar flights. The same standard is upheld on other (Asian) premium airlines but definitely not on US or European carriers: the crew keep the lavatories spotless even on the longest flights (earlier this month I flew Doha-Auckland and back).

    Do the Skytrax rankings reflect an objective reality? Are airlines number two and three in the rankings really inferior to airline number one? Probably not. Qatar are in some ways superior to many, even most airlines, but I personally prefer ANA and Singapore. Many people agree (Patrick’s experiences notwithstanding) that Qatar provide superior in-flight service but that their ground services are terrible and their customer service is almost non-existent. Other premium airlines such as those just mentioned are known for their service not only in the air but also on the ground, and furthermore for dealing responsibly and professionally with issues when they arise.

  12. Gottettaz says:

    As for the Qatar Airways B777, the business-class cabin is a very old design which over the coming months and years will be replaced with the vaunted “Q-suite” interior, which may or may not be an improvement. Personally, like Patrick, I like the reverse-herringbone seating offered on the A350 and the B787 – but I also like the old B777 interior (this is a much-debated topic on the Flyer Talk forum, with opinion seemingly evenly divided for and against the old design), which despite its 2-2-2 layout is incredibly spacious, unlike more modern designs which involve staggering seats between the rows and/or, in one way or another, overlap between the rows so as to bring them closer together and maximise seating. The two seats together on either side of the 777 are very popular with couples. A solo traveller can book one of the middle seats to have unhindered access to the aisle.

    I fully agree that the IFE on the Qatar 777 is antiquated and can be a real pain.

    Like Patrick, I dislike the “on demand” meal services, which in my experience are a sham since most people take their meals within an hour or two after take-off and then again two or three hours before landing (about what you would expect without any pretence of “on demand”). Apart from that, the food on QR has become decidedly sub-standard in recent years and does not bear comparison with other premium airlines such as ANA, Singapore, Cathay or Turkish. On the other hand, QR wines are still superb.

  13. Gottettaz says:

    I think Patrick had exceptionally bad luck with cabin crews on his two trips. Standards on Qatar Airways have slipped over the years, but his experiences were extraordinarily bad.

    I was horrified by the photos of the trash that was never picked up. On QR it used to be that whenever I placed an empty water bottle horizontally on the surface next to me it was replaced almost instantly with a full one. Those days are long gone, unless of course the cabin attendant was already with the company back in the golden age…

    A lot of things changed for the worse around the time the airline moved into the new airport. Until then, biz passengers used the Premium Terminal in the old Doha airport, which offered them separate security screening and separate boarding. I fully agree about the uncivilised scrum at Hamad International. But it’s even worse than Patrick suggests, since many flights board from bus gates where, often, biz pax do not board first but dead last. This means that premium passengers need to arrive at these (distant, and unpleasant) gate areas on concourses D and E well ahead of the departure time, since they cannot know when boarding will actually commence unless they are on the spot. In addition, the boarding process itself is chaotic and although it may have been announced that biz pax will board last (how many people amid the mayhem will have understood?), those passengers arriving after the announcement was made cannot possibly know what is going on.

  14. Paul says:

    “First and business passengers are called first, of course, but they have to push and squeeze their way to the front, around the wheelchairs, the baby strollers, and the dozens of passengers who insist on turning the boarding process into a punk rock mosh pit circa 1982”.

    Why bother? Surely you don’t have to be on the plane before everybody else? Do you really have to push your way to the front? Is your sense of entitlement threatened by the fact that somebody with a baby might get on the plane before you?

    Linger a while longer in the lounge and have another drink or two, why which time the scrum will have evaporated. At some airports Qatar call business class passengers last, so it’s actually quite civilised.

    • Patrick says:

      In Doha, the lounge is nowhere near the gate. And, there’s secondary gate-side screening for all flights headed to the United States, with metal detectors and x-ray belts. So, long and short, you need to be there early, amidst the throngs. And so you might as well get onto the plane ASAP.

      Personally, I love getting on board as early as I can. I stow my things, settle in, have a drink, take a look through the video guide, etc. It’s very relaxing. It sure beats sitting in a plastic chair surrounded by shrieking kids. I can understand some people wanting to hide in the lounge until the last second, but here this wasn’t an option.

  15. Paul says:

    Best airline in the world? Probably not, but then how do you define “best”?

    My fairly limited experience with Qatar (PER -> DOH -> CDG, NCE -> DOH -> PER) was quite unlike Patrick’s experience. True some of the staff were somewhat reserved, but generally they were pleasant and friendly. Food and drinks were quick to appear and the mess was quickly taken away. The IFE was a bit clunky but the selection of content was great, and in multiple languages.

    My beloved left her Kindle on one plane (thinking it was gone forever) but it was waiting for her at the departure gate of the next leg.

    Contrast this to my experiences on American Airlines (a few years ago now) where the staff were invariably rude and surly, there was no food service and the IFE consisted of countless re-runs of “Everybody Loves Raymond”. Not one flight was on time and we got bumped from a flight despite having a confirmed reservation.

    But in truth I always prefer flying with Qantas,though they are not the great airline they once were. There’s something very special about boarding a Red Roo after a long time away and being greeted with the familiar accent. Sadly Qantas signed away their international routes through Perth a few years ago (code shares with Emirates) but will be reinstating services later this year – a 17.5 hour non-stop to London.

  16. mitch says:

    Identifying Emirates or Qatar with the country that owns them is a joke. In both countries, imported workers greatly outnumber actual locally-born citizens.Both airlines are financed and protected by governments ruled by authoritarian despots with too much oil money.

    Both airlines are staffed by multi-national mercenaries trying to understand each other, while working their contract to support their families at home. The movers and shakers in both airlines are expats, paid enormous salaries to fly the airplanes and manage the airline. Mechanics, caterers, ramp workers, cleaners et al can be from anywhere.

    Even if the flight attendants are not as pretty, or the food ain’t all that great, I’ll stick with an airline where I can have some confidence that flights ops, cabin services, and maintenance are all staffed by skilled and knowledgeable people all living in their home country, speaking the same language, and sharing the same culture and heritage. These legacy airlines are the ones that deserve our business.

    • OMG Im In Pattaya says:

      You had a bit of credibility until you said Dubai had allot of oil wealth. It, in fact, has very little…thus the financial and transportation hub development strategy.

      • mitch says:

        My mistake: Qatar is a country; Dubai is a city, the largest in the United Arab Emirates, hence the airline’s name.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Arab_Emirates
        You are correct: the city of Dubai does not have oil. However according to Wikipedia “The UAE’s oil reserves are the seventh-largest in the world while its natural gas reserves are the world’s seventeenth-largest”
        From the same source, only 11% of the UAE’s populace is Emirati. For Qatar, only 12% are Qatari

        • Rod says:

          I’d like to go back to Mitch’s original post. Yes, despots. And if their treatment of their own staff is questionable, don’t even think about all the wage slaves in the rest of the economy, from Points East. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is courtesy of the sweat, exploitation and frequent death of those wage slaves.
          Who would want to give their freaking Airlines one’s money??
          I frequently fly easyJet. Hey, I Can Afford It. From what I know, its remuneration is at least correct, if not generous.
          I’d NEVER fly Ryanair, which has pay-to-fly FOs and goes out of its way to show its contempt for its customers, let alone its employees.

          • Simon says:

            Very good points, Rod.

            I too sometimes wonder by what double standard we approach these carriers. They treat their employees (and especially women) like junk, but that doesn’t bother us, because hey, their fare to cross the globe is $50 cheaper than the next carrier.

            Here in the Bay Area people go nuts about how companies like Uber treat their female staff (and rightly so!), but the very same people appear to have no reservations about flying with Qatar, vacationing in Dubai, or doing business with China.

            I think it’s high time we started actively voting with out wallets, proverbially putting our money where our mouth is.

    • Ben says:

      Do not forget the other big Gulf Carrier in Ethad based in Abu Dhabi which is in the exact same boat as Qatar and Emirates.

      • Simon says:

        I forgot exactly which one of these three carriers it was, but they almost got banned from flying to Scandinavia a few years ago when it became known that they’d fire flight attendants if they became pregnant.

  17. Simon says:

    A very interesting read, Patrick.

    Regarding government subsidies, let me offer this maybe not so well know fact about government subsidies in the US. Of course the US government doesn’t subsidies US carriers directly. That would be too blunt and doesn’t go so well with the free market enterprise mantra. But thanks to the Fly America Act they can do it through the back door. When I as travel funded through the US government I’m required to do so with a US carrier. I have to take the cheapest flight, but only the cheapest flight offered by US carriers. So if I for example travel to Northern Europe from the West Coast, I end up costing the US taxpayer $600 per leg with United rather than $200 per leg with Norwegian. So the US taxpayer gets to pay three times as much while the US carriers are shielded from competition that would otherwise force them to be better. A lose-lose for us Americans.

    • Patrick says:

      Don’t forget, also, the billions that U.S. carriers were forgiven in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations between 2001-2010 or so. That too could be part of your argument.

    • Ben says:

      An addition to your points is the existence of “Flag Carriers” that get special priority over every other airline registered in the country. Their ownership ranges from being completely private (often privatized) to entirely owned by the national government where the airline is based. Most nations have one, and the US is the odd one out as it is one of the few nations to not have one.

      • Mike Richards says:

        The US is unusual amongst Western countries that it still forbids non-American individuals or companies from having a controlling interest in an airline.

        Which might be a good thing, ever since BA became part of IAG and run by people raised in budget airliners, they’ve started turning into RyanAir but with higher prices and less punctuality.

  18. Speed says:

    I do not trust results of such surveys. The Skytrax website leaves many questions unanswered. For me anyway.

    1. How close were the top three airlines?

    2. In sub categories Garuda, Emirates, EVA Air, AirAsia, Etihad, Qatar, Thai and Bankok each had a first place.
    http://www.airlinequality.com/news/qatar-airways-is-voted-the-worlds-best-airline-in-2017/

    3. “No payment or reward of any type is made to survey respondents, with all submissions on a voluntary basis.” but “Airlines were able to invite customers to participate in the survey on a strictly voluntary basis.”
    http://www.worldairlineawards.com/Awards/awards_methodology.html
    Translation: Ballot stuffing allowed.

    4. There were 49 survey questionnaire topics. Did “reading materials” receive the same weight as “Service friendliness/hospitality” and
    “Service attentiveness/efficiency?”
    http://www.worldairlineawards.com/Awards/awards_methodology.html

    I don’t doubt that the top 10 airlines were better than the bottom 10 (the survey included 325 airlines!) but was number one really better than number two? Or number 10?

  19. Ben says:

    If the service was this poor in first and business class, I cannot imagine how much worse it would be in economy.

    • Andy says:

      In my experience (2 roundtrips), economy isn’t bad, but maybe my expectations weren’t high to begin with. Food was definitely better than what you’d get with UA (no ramen cups mid-flight with flight crew walking down the aisles with kettles of hot water), and the IFE options were second to none.

      I mean, I get that the cabin crew are required by corporate policy to put up a facade, and that most of them are just doing this to pay the bills (so there’s a limit to how much they actually ‘care’ about doing their jobs). But based on Patrick’s description, my economy class cabin crew were definitely more attentive (and circulated around the cabin more) than they were in biz or first.

  20. Alan Dahl says:

    I would not judge the lack of smiles from female flight attendants to immediately be a sign that they are surly or upset. In some cultures a smile from a women is considered a come-on by men and thus they could be avoiding it to avoid mixed messages. Even among Western cultures Americans smile a lot more. My wife is from Europe and she’s often wonder why Americans smile like idiots in situations where she thinks it’s inappropriate.

    Given the rest of your experience this really seems more like the disgruntled worker attitude one gets with United and other carriers with poor management/worker relations but it’s best not to read too much into the lack of smiles.

  21. Stephen Stapleton says:

    “Adjust and survive, you might say.”

    No, I would say, “Curl up and die.” Why would any business choose to compete with companies who have entire governments behind them? The answer is to let those government-subsidized companies do the job. I don’t have any problem flying on an airline whose operations is subsidized by a foreign government. That government is paying me to fly through that subsidy. Let’s use our private capital for something more productive and let Qatar spend its subsidizing flying me and others about.

    I used to own a small, but thriving, computer support business. We had many businesses as clients and dealt exclusively with MacOS. Then Apple opened the Genius bars and did what we did for free. I closed up shop. Competing with free is way too hard. I am now a lawyer. If Apple started offering free legal clinics, I’d go on to something else.

    • Patrick says:

      Interesting comment, Stephen. But, you come at this from the angle of an entrepreneur, more or less. There are tens of thousands of blue collar U.S. workers out there who can’t simply or quickly adjust/readjust the way you did to a shifting marketplace. Meanwhile, it becomes, in some ways, a race to the bottom, with foreign airlines receiving huge subsidies and exploiting cheap labor in order to drive ours out of business. Is that really the way to go?

      • Stephen Stapleton says:

        I agree the current airline model is very harmful to workers as is most of the current corporate employee rules. However, should subsidized foreign carriers take over routes previously operated by unsubsidized carriers, the replacement airline is likely to hire much of the same workers. If Qatar Airways decided to fly out Phoenix or Atlanta, they’d hire ground crew, baggage handlers, and counter people locally. Qatar would basically inherent the same people. Same job, different boss. I suspect pilots and flight crew would find their way there, too. A government-subsidized airline might be more stable and be more willing to pay to prevent labor unrest, so the jobs might be more secure and pay better.

        Say a group of Japanese investors buy the Empire State Building from Malkin Holdings. The guy selling tickets to the sky deck ain’t likely to be replaced. The same janitors will empty the same waste baskets. The investors don’t move the building to Tokyo, it stays in New York and local people work on it. In the same light, I don’t really think owners of the plane that flies in and out of a US airport matter all that much to who works at that airport. There are only so many jet mechanics, counter staff, and the like in any one place. If one airline is replaced by another, I bet most of the staff just switches employers. So, if Qatar bought Southwest, how many ground staff would be out of their job?

  22. David says:

    Old, worn, backed-up shower drains, etc. And the food voucher? Good only in a tent at the hotel (not in any of the hotel’s several restaurants), where food is served buffet style and you have to pay if you want a can of soda. Transportation to the airport in the morning was a mess…one small bus arrived for probably 100 people. With no Qatar staff there to direct, it was a rugby scrum, and once on, it was clear a good 4 or 5 of the seats of the perhaps 15-20 were taken by people who were not passengers, just catching a lift.

    Qatar is clearly operating on razor thin margins when it comes to the treatment of passengers, and with their network/schedule, the chance of being stranded in Doha seems higher than “not likely.” And once stranded in Doha, the treatment from the airline is a joke. No one gave a real apology at any time during any of the delays or forced layover. They have a poor system set up that clearly places little value on the passenger experience.

  23. David says:

    I realize that my single experience on Qatar doesn’t = a data point, and I don’t find very useful when someone says they were delayed once for two hours or once a flight attendant was somewhat rude to then and therefore the airline is terrible, but after my experience I can’t help but laugh whenever Qatar is lauded as “best” or 5-star (which the airline reminds and reminds you in their announcements and signage).

    In short, on both legs of NYC-Doha-Colombo, we missed our connection in Doha. In this first case, this meant 5 hours extra in the airport. Qatar didn’t offer any voucher or meal allowance or apology…fine. On the return, there was an inexplicable delay at Colombo for 5 hours (3 am to 8 am). Here, a voucher was offered but was good only for a sad sandwich on white brad and a can of Sprite in the designated cafeteria (there were other decent looking food options, but not for us). Qatar does not staff Colombo airport but uses, or used, another airline’s gate staff…this isn’t a recipe for success. So, no apologies later we arrive in Doha, where we again miss our connection and now have to wait ~24 hours for the next flight out…this is the network/availability of the world’s best airline? We were given a voucher for room and meals in Doha, which looked good at the airport (they valued this at something like $75 for food), but it was really just a lie. The enormous hotel you’re forced to go to has new rooms (I saw them on TA), but you won’t get on of those.