By GRACE CHEN
Eighteen years in operation. 150 destinations. And super troopers in a crew to keep the flag flying for Qatar Airways.
The two-part journey to Zurich, which saw us in the Business class sections of the Airbus 330 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner, gave us an insight into how Skytrax’s Best Airline in the World (for the third time in five years) runs its show.
I am struggling with hand luggage. Travel light, my editors had warned me. Don’t expect help from the flight attendants. They have their union’s support to refuse to offer assistance for their spines’ sake. But in mid-heave, a supporting hand comes from behind. I turn around to say thank you and come face-to-face with a Bollywood hunk. This airline has a very good-looking crew. The ground assistant who showed us around the Al Mourjan Business Lounge in Hamad International Airport looked like Naomi Campbell.
Back to the good-looker. Isn’t he exempted from porter duty? There are exceptions, said he. It’s impossible to apply the same for an entire planeful of passengers. They’d be beat if they did. But women, mothers with children and old people get special consideration.
Another episode worth recalling happened in Doha during our return journey. One member of the group had mistakenly boarded the wrong bus. On landing, two buses await to ferry passengers across the tarmac to the arrival gates. One is for the economy class. Another, decked in posher outfittings, is for Business class. This member, on following the crowd, had gone into the economy bus. It wasn’t a big deal because both buses were headed for the same destination, anyway. But the Naomi Campbell lookalike wasn’t having it.
To retrieve her precious Business class passenger, this lanky ebony beauty sprinted to the bus, rushed into the coach and escorted this passenger to his rightful place. It was like a scene from the movies!
Later, after settling down, someone remarked it was his good luck to have two women chasing after him (the airline’s marketing officer for Brunei and Malaysia had also taken part in the brief run)! From the flush in his cheeks, the chap was obviously enjoying the attention.
The airline is also very proud of its fleet. Listed in their inventory is the world’s first A350 XWB, a wide-body jet which took Airbus seven years to develop. The most oft-spoken aircraft in this airline is the Dreamliner. The first thing Qatar Airways marketing officer for Brunei and Malaysia Ng Siow May pointed out was the electrochromic windows which can be dimmed at the touch of a button. Embedded in the window panes is a type of material that can change colour on reaction with an electrical charge.
Cabin pressure is another interesting point to bring up. Remember the time when air travel also meant crying babies and insufferable vertigo?
In the Dreamliner, cabin pressure is set at a lower altitude to mimic atmospheric conditions at 6,000 feet above sea level. Conventionally, they were set at 8,000 feet. The earlier condition encourages more oxygen intake into the body, which helps to counter airsickness. Flight attendants also report less dryness, crediting better humidity levels. They say they are less tired after a flight due to this.
But human factor is the main ingredient. Flying Business class, one gets the impression that the flight attendants like to fuss over their passengers. The moment I sat down, there was no letting up from the stewards who asked if I wanted anything to drink or eat. Every time I said No, they seemed disappointed. But the moment I said Yes, out came the linen, glasses and silver cutlery!
I also liked it that the flight attendants were good at making small talk. While I was lining up to go to the washroom, one helped me to pass time by giving tips on how to handle jet lag. Time, rest and a positive attitude are the only remedies, he said.
Upon exit from the ladies’, I was also greeted with a smile. A request for a cup of hot chocolate also prompted not one but two flight attendants to move into action. It was the service attitude that gave me the courage to use the service button without guilt throughout the remaining leg of the journey and to say, “I’d like to have a glass of champagne shortly after take-off, please.”
One advantage of an la carte menu was flexibility. I had dessert first, a velvety chocolate mousse. This came by shortly after I flicked on the inflight entertainment. A cheese platter followed suit. And just an hour before the flight tracker indicated that we were about to land, I rang for the main course – a chicken dish, whose meat was still passably tender despite having gone through six hours of storage time.
Qatar Airways flies to Doha thrice a day from Kuala Lumpur. A daily flight completes the remaining leg from Doha to Zurich.