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A star has risen in the East

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1 June 2009 by Pete Mathers

Despite being one of only six airlines in the world to receive a maximum 5-star rating from Skytrax, Qatar Airways is still a relative unknown. Yet it's been growing at an incredible rate and now serves over 80 destinations worldwide. When the chance arose to fly Business Class on holiday, I decided to put the airline to the test. Checking in at the dedicated Business Class desk at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 was quick and efficient and I was soon relaxing in a vip lounge.

On board, my first impression was of a great sense of space – due at large to the sleek low-slung seats laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration. Qatar’s corporate colours of grey and burgundy had been used tastefully throughout the cabin, and welcome drinks included the option of a vintage champagne – Laurent Perrier Brut 1999.

Seats are of the ‘angled’ lie-flat variety. In an upright position, they’re comfortable and offer reasonable legroom. Reclined, the angle is noticeable but the large footrest can be positioned to prevent you sliding down the seat. I was perfectly comfortable and enjoyed a couple of hours of deep sleep – perhaps helped by the champagne. It’s also worth noting that fully flat beds will soon be available for Business Class passengers on Qatar Airway’s new Boeing 777s.

The flight departed promptly and breakfast was soon served. As well as a wide choice of main dishes there was a first course that could best be described as a selection of breakfast canapés – by far the most interesting breakfast I’ve ever been served on an aircraft, and one of the best tasting. A real cappuccino was a welcome accompaniment and service was slick without being obtrusive – again, among the best I have ever experienced.

The in-flight entertainment system offers a huge range of films, tv programmes, music, games and even live satellite tv – shown on screens much larger than those typically found in Business Class. I particularly liked the fact that in-flight entertainment is available throughout the flight, from take-off to landing, meaning programmes aren’t interrupted as soon as you begin your descent. One of Qatar Airways’ unique selling points is its Premium Terminal in Doha, available exclusively to its Business and First Class passengers. You disembark from the front of the plane, are met by a dedicated shuttle and are driven to the Premium Terminal.

Due to a short connection (I was flying on to Sri Lanka on holiday), I wasn’t able to make the most of the facilities, but the spacious terminal made quite an impression. It struck me as a cross between a 5-star hotel lobby and a traditional premium airline lounge, sporting a simple and clean design using walnut and marble.

If you’d rather break up a longhaul journey then consider stopping over in Doha. Hotels are predominantly top-end 5-star with prices to match – so it’s not a cheap option – but standards are high and attractions like the Museum of Islamic Art and nearby Souk Waqif should make for an enjoyable stay.

Qatar Airways is certainly out to make an impression, showing none of the obvious cost-cutting found on far too many carriers these days. Service and catering were among the best I have experienced in the air, and I’m in no two minds as to why it was awarded its 5-star status. Other airlines could learn a lot from this Middle Eastern superstar.

Tailormade holidays:

On my return I contacted Qatar Airways and negotiated some exclusive-to-Wexas fares. Try its 5-star service for yourself – call 020 7581 8761.

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