So last weekend we went off for a trip to Buenos Aires. I booked the flights with Avios points from BA, and at the time of booking the only flights available were via Qatar Aiways via São Paulo in Business Class.
Although it might seem like a bit of a waste of Avios (30k each return for a less than 3 hour flight), it was an easy opportunity to check out Qatar’s (older) business class product on their 777, and also a nice way to go on my weekend holiday. Indeed, there weren’t any stand out cheap flights, or direct flight options available that were well timed for me anyway, so going via SP GRU wasn’t adding any inconvenience either.
We arrived at São Paulo’s international airport, GRU, flying a quick TAM flight from Rio Santos Dumont with around 2.5 hours to spare before the flight.
Check in was quick, with a single desk processing Business Class passengers (given the short flight, with SP being just a brief stop over on the flight from Doha to Buenos Aires), I’m guessing they don’t get many Business Class passengers generally. Passengers have a choice of three lounge options at GRU, which I’ll talk about in another post.
We boarded around 45 minutes before departure, and I was greeted by name as the plane door, and escorted to my seat by a crew member, who stood attentively by to take my jacket, assist me putting away my bag, and getting me a welcome drink. My first thought was ‘wow, I wasn’t expecting such attentive service in business class’.
Shortly after sitting, I was served the champagne, a non vintage Jaquart. I didn’t know this at the time, as the menus had not been distributed so I asked what the champagne was to be told ‘it’s a brut sir’. Perfectly correct, but not exactly the question I was asking:)
Around ten minutes later the menus were distributed, and a few minutes after that the crew came round to take the orders. This time there was no being greeted by name, just ‘sir’. However, the service was efficient and friendly. The wine choice was also taken at this time.
Here’s the flight’s menu, and large wine selection:
I selected the butternut squash pasta for my main, and it was ok, but nothing particularly special. I paired this with the chardonnay, the Bouchard Père e Fils.
The same can be said for the desserts, ok but nothing that special! One of the wines wasn’t available, as I tried to order the Gewurztraminer to go with the desserts, but they only had the Riesling available as a slightly sweet wine.
The service however was excellent, quite comparable with some of the previous First Class experiences I have had.
But, it was over fairly quickly, with a flight time of only two and a half hours. We did have time to finish up with a digestif of an XO Cognac, which was very pleasant indeed. I was quite impressed to see an XO available in business class.
After the first flight I thought I definitely want to try Qatar again, and was thinking of going out of my way to be able to fly on their A380 or A350 flights.
But… as the title says, this is a tale of two Qatar Airways. The return flight from EZE to GRU was almost like flying a different airline.
Gone was the personal greeting when boarding, or indeed any greeting at all other than being pointed down the aisle. Gone was anyone to take my jacket, or even to bring a drink – indeed after around 5 minutes, I had to flag down a member of the crew as she was walking by to ask for a drink and to get my jacket hung up.
I didn’t at first notice the menus were actually already in the magazine holder area of the seat, but when the crew came to take orders and showed annoyance at the passengers on the row in front not having looked yet, I managed to at least look before getting told off myself!
When she did arrive to take my order, pleasantries were not the order of the day, and she seemed somewhat taken aback by my answer to ‘what do you want for dinner’ was ‘good evening, how are you this evening’, prompting a slight break of the strict school teacher with a break out of a smile and a ‘very well sir’. I neglected to take any pictures at this point, as my phone had died and it seemed the USB port wasn’t working to charge it. However, I selected another pasta dish, this time in a tomato sauce. I think it was perhaps a little better than the way out. The wine list was exactly the same, and this time I paired with the Errazurriz carmenere.
After the main, the crew arrived and collected my plate, then proceeded to take the cutlery, napkin and fold away my table for me. Now I didn’t actually want dessert as I wanted to try and get an hour’s sleep before we landed, but I wasn’t ever offered. My partner on the other hand did want, and had to ask if dessert was being served before getting his table re-set.
There was no offer of further wine or a digestif.
I haven’t talked about the plane and the hard product yet. The 777 has a 2-2-2 arrangement, and the seats are comfortable and spacious. However, I did find the bed position to be quite a bit off lie flat I thought, with a reasonable angle at the top of the body still. The massage function was interesting, in as much as you know when your seat partner turned it on! I could feel it quite significantly in my seat when my partner’s massage function was turned on – not that much of a problem if you know the person, but I could imagine it being awkward asking a stranger to turn it off, as it could be a little annoying. The seat has a fold down foot rest at the end, which I found to be a little bit on the short side for my 6ft, and when folded up the end of the seat I thought was then a bit uncomfortable due to the bulge from the foot rest being there. So an average hard product overall for me – I’m curious how it will compare to the Iberia 2-2-2 on the A340 which I’ll be flying next month. Both have a fully flat bed. Due to a plane swap, I’ve got the A340 instead of the A330 with it’s newer 1-2-1. Obviously, normally, you wouldn’t ever expect Iberia’s service to be even comparable to Qatar though, would you? I have had one stand out service though once, made by one fantastic crew member.
But back to Qatar… Really, the two experiences couldn’t be more polarised. One I can say the service was the best I have ever experienced in Business, the other is close to the worst I have ever experienced.
Where does that leave me? Would I go out of my way to fly Qatar again? Having read the reviews of their A380 with the onboard bar, and still desperately wanting to try flying on an A350, I think I would definitely give them another go. However, would I go several hours out of my way to fly via Doha, for instance to route from Brazil back to London? Probably not right now. Of the three big Middle Eastern airlines, Qatar being in One World is a big plus for me, being able to earn tier points and Avios for my BAEC account.
There is a flight from Rio to Buenos Aires on Emirates – I’d love to try that to experience Emirate’s service, although again it is operated by a 777 with the old business class, that I believe still doesn’t even have lie flat beds, although it does have First class. This was my first choice for this trip, but the timings didn’t quite work out for me this time, and the price in business was still rather high for the dates. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ll have the time to do it before I end up leaving Rio!