Good morning, happy holidays, and welcome to a new flight review! Over the summer, I went on a safari with my family. After an amazing week in Kenya and Tanzania, it was time to leave. But rather than going straight home to the US, we decided to stop over in Europe to visit some family. The details of our trip can be found here.
This would be my first time flying Qatar Airways. At the time, it was rated the #1 airline in the world by Skytrax, so I was excited to see whether or not it lived up to the hype.
Let’s get into the review!
After a one hour drive from Arusha, we arrived at the airport a couple of hours before our 5:35 PM scheduled departure time. Kilimanjaro Airport has a security screening before even entering the airport.
Qatar Airways had their own check-in desk. Because one of us held Oneworld Sapphire status, we were given invitation cards into the Tanzanite Business Lounge, the airport’s only lounge, even though we were not flying Business Class. We also got our boarding pass on this flight as well as on our connecting flight to Frankfurt.
First, though, we had to go through emigration. The airport only has a few gates, but it still had two sections: one for domestic flights, and another for international flights.
We obviously followed the sign for international departures. Before going through emigration, we had to fill out a declaration form.
Right after emigration, we just went up the stairs and was let into the small lounge. The lounge was nice and cozy, but it had very limited food options (which made sense at that time of the afternoon). Besides business class passengers and passengers with high enough levels of elite status, the lounge was also open to Priority Pass members.
We also got a great view of our aircraft being prepared for departure.
While entering the lounge, we were told that someone would come to get us once it was time for boarding. I thought this was a nice touch, especially given that there weren’t any departure boards at the airport.
Even though the boarding pass indicated that boarding would start a staggering one hour before departure, of course, the person got us and we boarded much later. We were boarding by stairs (there are no jetbridges in Kilimanjaro) and as we were leaving the terminal, we got a beautiful view of this new Ethiopian A350 landing and taxiing!
As much as I love the A350, I have to wonder why Ethiopian would send one of these valuable, fuel-efficient long-haul jets on a ~ 90-minute hop from Addis Ababa, especially considering Kilimanjaro is relatively not that busy? If anyone has any ideas, feel free to leave them in the comments!
I was not going to complain though, and it definitely would not be the only nice view that day!
This review is not about Ethiopian, though. We got a nice view of our A320 while walking onto the tarmac and boarding.
Qatar Airways 1354
Kilimanjaro (JRO) – Doha (DOH)
Plane Registration: A7-ADJ
Plane Type: Airbus A320-200
Flown: July 2018
Flight Time: 6 Hours 11 Minutes
Flight Distance: ~2,201 Miles (3,542 Km) (Gulf Blockade Route, not Direct Route)
Seat: 11A (Switched to 16A) (Economy)
After boarding, the first thing I noticed was how empty the plane was. Given that the seat map when checking in made it seem like the plane was completely full. I figured that despite us boarding late, maybe a big group was going to board. But then they closed the door! The plane was definitely less than half full!
I still have no idea why all of those seats were blocked. It is possible that the airline was weight restricted because of the extra flight time with the Gulf blockade (more on that below), but even that seems unlikely, given how much money they would be losing that way.
During boarding, Qatar played their old boarding music, which I absolutely love.
We were originally seated in row 11 but moved to row 16 so I could have a full row to myself. This flight was going to be comfortable!
The Ethiopian plane parked right next to us, meaning I could enjoy watching the A350 getting turned around for a little bit longer. 😉
Now let’s talk about the seat. The seats were relatively spacious and comfortable with generous padding and recline, and were decorated with Qatar’s signature burgundy purple. The armrests, although short, felt wider than many others that I have experienced. The seatbacks had a cupholder. Unfortunately, this was one of the older A320s without seatback TVs, so we had to rely on the overhead screens for entertainment. Luckily, I was planning to get some work done and get some sleep, so it didn’t make much of a difference for me.
The plane also had personal air nozzles, which I definitely appreciated.
Legroom was amazing, although the middle seats had an entertainment box (just something to be aware of).
As you can see in one of the photos above, there was a pillow, a comfortable, warm blanket, and a pair of earbuds waiting at every seat. In the seatback pocket, there was an air sickness bag, a safety card…
…and a menu! The menu in the pocket turned out to be the previous flight’s menu, but the flight attendants came around with the new one shortly afterward. This was very premium-feeling for Economy Class!
Unfortunately, there was no WiFi, not that I was planning on using it.
Soon, the safety video was attempted to play. Unfortunately, the antiquated overhead screens were having problems, and despite many attempts to get it running, the crew ended up having to do a manual demonstration.
Soon, we left our parking position and started taxiing. Other than the Ethiopian aircraft, we saw a couple of small propeller planes.
After a quick taxi, we got to the end of Runway 9, Kilimanjaro’s only runway. At around 5:32 PM, we took off and started our beautiful ascent. Oh, and in the third photo, notice the slant? That is Mount Kilimanjaro.
We would have even better views of the mountain while we kept going up to our cruising altitude of 39,000 feet.
It all cultivated until the captain made an announcement: “For your information, if you go to the right side of the aircraft, you will see Mount Kilimanjaro.” Given the light load, everyone looked out of the right side of the aircraft. What followed was one of the most beautiful if not the most beautiful view I have ever seen out of an airplane. How about this magnificent view as a final farewell to the African vacation?!
After going back to our seats and reaching our cruising altitude of 39,000 feet, meal orders were taken, and moist towelettes were handed out. Another nice touch in Economy Class!
About 5-10 minutes later, and only about half an hour after departure, meals were served. The flight attendant originally gave me the paneer dish (which I didn’t order), but she quickly corrected the meal. Although I generally take the vegetarian option if it is available, today I decided to order the chicken with paprika sauce, spätzle, and mixed sweet pepper. It came with a mixed salad, water, a bread roll, cheese, a Godiva chocolate, and a piece of berry cake. The meal was served with metal cutlery.
Although the whole meal tasted fine (the main course definitely tasted better than it looked), the salad and cake particularly stood out. The salad was oh-so-fresh tasting and refreshing, as good as I would expect on the ground, while the cake had the perfect sweetness and fruity taste, and was a great way to end off the meal.
Afterward, there was a hot drink service, which I did not participate in. The flight attendants kept coming around throughout the flight with drinks even after the meal service was over, which is definitely better than some other united airlines that I know. 😉
The flight attendants were constantly trying to fix the IFE issues but eventually gave up. They came around with an extra drink service to apologize and personally apologized to everyone. Knowing how hardworking they were, they would have probably come around anyways. 🙂
They were trying to play The Big Bang Theory and a Batman cartoon, in case anyone is interested in knowing that.
I did some work for about an hour. The lights were dimmed around 7:19 PM local time, around which time we were treated to a beautiful sunset, of which in my tired mind I did not snap a picture. Sorry!
Here’s a shot of the cabin midflight. This photo should also give you a sense of how empty the cabin was (and there were more people sitting in the back than in the front).
At this point, I started making myself a bed, using some of the strategies I talked about in a previous post and learned from a youtuber a while ago (Rohan Ghosh). I did not create a TPG suite, but I did make the bed which, although short and narrow, was nice and cozy. I even used the pillow+blanket sets from the other two seats. Even though the armrests did not go all the way up (and therefore limited my arm movement), I slept like a baby for about three hours. The sleep me and many other passengers got in our makeshift lie-flat beds probably rivaled the rest the people up front got in their recliner seats!
Right before I fell asleep, though, FAs came around with a snack service. I took the tropical mix and Kit Kat.
I woke up around 10:50 local time as landing preparations began. It was still about one hour until landing, so I did not understand why they started the preparations so early.
At around 11:09, we started our descent. At this point, we were circling around the UAE. One thing which I have not really talked about so far is the fact that due to the Gulf blockade, we had to take an indirect flight path and avoid Saudi Arabian airspace. This added an hour or two to our flight time. Although I did not take a picture of our flight map, here is the flight path that last Thursday’s flight took, taken from FlightAware:
Before I knew it, we were well into our descent, and then on final.
We touched down at Hamad International Airport around 11:45.
We taxied to a remote stand, next to another A320.
As we exited the plane, we were hit by an unbelievable blast of heat. A quick look at my phone revealed that the current temperature in this desert was 96 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celcius). Yes, at midnight! Apparently, the temperature can get well over 110 degrees Fahrenheit (~43 degrees Celcius) during the summer day. Unreal!
Everyone was put on the same bus, and we were bussed to the terminal, in which after following signs for connecting flights, we went through another security screening. I was wearing a necklace which the officer suspected was ivory, but I was quickly cleared. We were then let out into the center of the amazingly designed and absolutely gorgeous center of Hamad Airport. But more about the airport in the next installment!
Overall, I really enjoyed the flight. Even though the fact that the flight was so empty definitely helped me feel a lot more comfortable, the seat and recline were really comfortable anyways. The food was great, but the service stood out the most and was definitely world class.
The only downsides were the lack of WiFi and working IFE, although most of Qatar’s other aircraft have these features.
Thanks for reading this flight review. Please leave any questions, comments, concerns, or feedback in the comments. Stay tuned for the next installment, probably coming out in the next few weeks. Have a great holiday, and see you all in 2019!