I had never flown on Qatar Airways before, they are a very recent addition to the market of international airlines flying out of Adelaide. The market for European to Australian air travel is very crowded; many national airlines of countries in south-east Asia, east Asia, the subcontinent, the middle east operate services both towards Australia and Europe. The requirement for a stop over helps fuel the number of airlines offering the service. The service to Heathrow even has an unofficial name: the Kangaroo route. Hence options are plentiful for travel.
In an attempt to win some of the market on their launch from Adelaide, Qatar are flying brand-new Airbus A350s on their Adelaide-Doha route, helped by the fact that they were the launch aircraft for the type. To the average traveller, the newer plane may not have been immediately noticeable, but there definitely were perks. In particular, the cabin pressure and humidity are higher than most other long-haul aircraft, so at no point did the aircraft feel stuffy and I did find it easy to rest, but there are also many confounding factors.
Departing on an international flight from Adelaide is almost exactly the same regardless of carrier. After check-in, there is a small immigration area which, since I had last visited, had now been updated to have e-passport gates. In another case of automation replacing and improving human jobs, the process was much faster than it had previously been, even though there were passengers for both Qatar and Emirates passing through.
Boarding started very soon after I arrived in the international departures lounge. Through the single aerobridge, we were called by row numbers. The business class seats looked spectacular, arranged in a 1-2-1 formation with a large divider between the middle seats. They were set at an angle, were wide and surrounded by a half-cocoon. The economy class seats were in a 3-3-3 formation, so the seats were a tad wider than many other aircraft and there was an inch or so of extra seat room, which can make all the difference. The headrest, however, left much to be decided. It could move up and down, though the wings were so small it made them largely redundant. I sat in seat 25F, on the aisle, and with nobody in the seat next to me, so I had plenty of room to stretch out.
The in-flight entertainment was extensive. There were a wide selection of movies, both Hollywood and Arabic. There were a number of television shows as well, but they tended to be American and, unlike Emirates, were not in boxed sets. The controls were operated by a touch-screen, which had been (relatively) recently cleaned so the display was not distorted by fingerprint oils. A group of ladies sitting across from me found their display not functioning, and the system had to be reset after take-off.
For the first part of the flight, I watched The Man Who Knew Infinity; which was very befitting of circumstance. Starring Dev Patel, it is a biographical film about Srinivasa Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematician who is invited to and studies at Cambridge and is well known within the mathematical community and less so without. Like the Theory of Everything, it is focused on the personal story and didn’t spend too much time on the actual mathematics. Next was a recapping of Star Wars VII, followed by the British biographical comedy Eddie the Eagle. It followed British ski-jumper Michael Edwards in his attempt to enter the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. I found it a typically British fighting-against-the-odds underdog story, which is refreshing to my pallet compared to the hero-can-do-no-wrong action films of Hollywood. Finally, the 3D map of the plane’s position was acceptable, though being a middle-eastern airline, half of the time that you check where you are, you have to wait several minutes for it to cycle out of Arabic text.
The food on the flight was moderate at best. We were served both dinner and breakfast. Dinner was a chicken and rice dish, whereas breakfast was chicken sausage and potato. Both were identifiable as food, and identifiable as not having used fake ingredients, but there is little more to be said about it. Oddly for a Middle Eastern airline, there was nothing easily identifiable as Arabic cuisine.
Our landing on Doha was comfortable. Our exit from the aircraft was delayed since there were paramedics who needed to come aboard. We were shuffled onto busses who then drove us to the main terminal. Being so early in the morning, there was no queue for the security screening. The departing flight was very close, I didn’t need to change terminal or walk down extensive concourses. Like many international airports, Doha is impressive for its scale, but the retail is mostly big and expensive multinational fashion brands, so I found little to do other than wait by the gate. There were charging points available with universal plugs, but none other than the USB ports seemed to work.
It was a short lay over, only 2 hours, before the onward flight to London Heathrow. The sun was rising in the half-hour or so before boarding. Agan, we were called by row number, which had been organised into a series of zones (though passengers who didn’t speak English or Arabic seemed to just queue anyway). The plane was much older, with the economy class in a 3-4-3 formation. The seat pitch was shorter, which made me value my aisle seat of 33C. However, the lady next to me changed her seat shortly after take-off so I again had ample room to stretch out. My in-flight entertainment screen was again a touch screen, though it was rather unresponsive and I ended up having to use the hand-held controller, which too was unresponsive. The second flight was much shorter too: 7 hours compared to 13 previously. I managed to get a fair bit of sleep on the flight. I did manage to watch Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! which is majestic and over the top in every scene.
The food on this flight was again palatable but not outstanding. Highlights though, were the croissants, of which I was given two since I was the last in the section to be served and there were spares. There was also some nice strawberry yogurt.
Being a daytime flight and a clear, cloudless day it was possible to gaze out of the window at the passing landscape. There were some excellent views of the Zagros Mountains in Iran, and again coming in over the Thames Estuary into London. Upon our approach the captain announced that there was some (inevitable) congestion coming into Heathrow, so we had to wait in a holding pattern for a couple of loops over Greenwich before we could land. The landing was smooth but steep. One of the more amusing sights was during taxiing, where I got a glimpse of the planes approaching the runway. There was one in sight about to make its landing, and behind it were another 4 lights shining out from the cloud like a ladder to the heavens.
Immigration in Heathrow was very slow, but the line kept moving at a modest pace. In the end, my visa was stamped without troubles and I didn’t need to wait long for my bags, so I was quickly out into the world of London.