By Matt Mitchell
There are too few airlines in the world where one can accompany a falcon onboard legally.
You know, a bird of prey is kind of essential in the modern stylish traveller’s trousseau. Perhaps one day all airlines will meet this pressing need.
Since 2010, Qatar has taken to the Australian skies to challenge the Flying Kangaroo with its Flying Oryx. Now flying daily from Melbourne and Perth to Doha, Qatar Airways is now the fourth major Middle Eastern airline to service the growing Australian market.
Qatar flies one of the youngest fleets and services more than 120 destinations from its hub at Doha – the capital of Qatar – a barren, sandy, oil-rich finger of a peninsula that juts off Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf.
Melbourne and Perth are served by Boeing 777s, which are clean and surprisingly spacious, even at the rear.
The airline’s Oryx entertainment system (the in-flight magazine is called Oryx, too; they seem to love an oryx) is first class with hundreds of the latest movies and TV shows in English, Arabic and other languages.
The staff are very good (mostly) and the food is well above average. Price-wise, Qatar hovers around the mid-range and this is where it should stay. Don’t bother with the in-flight magazine unless you’re really keen to read pages of small state complex with Qatar spruiking its amazing natural gas supplies or its inspiring leadership from its hereditary ruling family
One of the benefits of Qatar is its interesting destinations, particularly in Europe and Africa. To Europe, it’s almost the only airline that flies direct into uber-cool Berlin, meaning travellers to the German capital can bypass the seemingly obligatory arrival into the very beige Frankfurt before transferring. In Africa, the airline flies beyond the typical gateways of Johannesburg and Cairo to include Maputo, Dar es Salaam and Kigali.
The downside (sadly) is Doha international airport. Flying in low over the Gulf’s tourmaline waters, the plane descends over the roofs of the city’s old coastal villages laid out like a white-frosted gingerbread jigsaw. From there on, however, its arid suburbs are peppered with portable homes; its modern city centre skyline barely visible through the thick haze of the early morning heat.
The airport itself is almost nonsensical. Disembarking passengers are herded onto coaches with vague directions that they’re being moved on to the transfer terminal where (stupidly) everyone again goes through a security bag check. But it’s once you’re inside that things start going really pear-shaped. Directions are difficult to find, airport staff are vacant and robed in indifference. Good luck if you’ve got a short connection time.
The smart traveller will cough up for the Oryx Lounge (see a pattern?) where even economy passengers are welcome if they pay the AUD$42 fee. The lounge has passable food, a limited bar (alcohol included, 11am to 2am), free Wi-Fi and its own smoking room (where just two seconds will snatch 40 per cent of your lung capacity); the biggest advantages are the 3.2-metre high, monsoon showers and almost flatbed-like couches.
Doha international airport is a huge letdown after the good, solid service of Qatar Airways. The new Hamad international airport is expected to open later this year (after many delays) and it cannot come soon enough. Airport staff will need more training in customer service if it’s going to work.
Qatar Airways www.qatarairways.com
Service: Three and half stars
Food: Four stars
Entertainment: Four and a half stars
Reliability: Four stars
Comfort: Four stars
Overall: Four stars