REVIEW: Qatar Airways Economy Class Phuket - Kuala Lumpur
Qatar Airways (QR) Flight 849 - Phuket (HKT) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) Airbus A330 , Premium Class, Seat 35K
I often make reference to how far behind I am on reviewing many of the airlines and hotels that make their way onto the blog. "Exactly how far behind?" you may be asking yourself. (You're not, but play along for shits & giggles please). Well, this review you're about to read is for a route Qatar Airways stopped flying a little over two years ago! I flew it about a week before it ended if I recall correctly, with the airline choosing to drop the route (Doha - Kuala Lumpur - Phuket - Kuala Lumpur - Doha) that it had been operating since 2010 and opting to service both locations directly from Doha with their own flights. If the super light load on my flight was any indication, I'm not sure how Qatar Airways is operating a direct flight to Phuket profitably, but that's between its CEO, his accounting team, and God.
In a very unlike myself move, I showed up pretty late for my flight due to some particularly slow crawling traffic and a taxi driver that seemed to be auditioning for his dream job as the guy slowly driving the first car in a small town's Fourth of July parade. Still, I made it in time for the flight though I didn't manage to snap any photos of the check-in area in my rush to get my luggage checked (free) and get through security and immigration.
Once I was on the other side of all of that I had about ten minutes to spare before boarding was supposed to start.
I've flown quite a few flights with Qatar Airways to date, though this was actually my first experience with the carrier. I didn't know whether they were the kind of airline that starts boarding exactly at the time stated (like Japan Airlines) or often lets the boarding time blow past without any explanation (hello, American Airlines!). I stuck around the boarding gate just in case they were very prompt, though the total international departures area of Phuket's airport isn't particularly large. There's only a handful of duty free stores, gift shops, and food establishments to wander through. I debated stopping off to grab a snack and a drink for the flight but since it's only an hour long flight I figured I would be just fine waiting tlll I was in Kuala Lumpur.
Turns out Qatar Airways is about halfway between Japan Airlines and American Airlines in the boarding time department as they started boarding late but had the manners to notify us. Once boarding did start they began with business class and then invited those passengers with priority boarding to head down the jet bridge. At the time I was a oneworld emerald elite which meant I qualified for priority boarding, so I grabbed my shoulder bag and headed toward the plane.
Phuket's airport is pretty horrible for people who like to take photos of planes out of windows because aircraft here load and unload through enclosed glass hallways that encircle the entire outer portion of the airport. Sadly this means you never have a clear shot of a plane until you're actually boarding your plan as that's the only time you get to walk inside the outer ring where there are no obstructions.
Our plane today was a widebody (double aisle) Airbus A330. Phuket is a small airport with a ton of leisure traffic coming in from nearby big cities, but it still sees what I consider a fairly large number of big planes. I was greeted at the door by two smiling flight attendants, one male from Romania and one female from Kenya. As is standard on most airlines, they took a look at my boarding pass and directed me to cross the plane to the far aisle and head all the way back to the rear of the plane for my seat today - 35K.
Qatar's A330 comes in a variety of layouts, but this one was a two class plane with a 2-4-2 configuration in economy class until the last few rows where it converted to a 2-3-2 layout due to the curving of the fuselage.
35K is a window seat and as I alluded to earlier, the light load on the flight today meant I didn't have a seat mate (or row mate. Or even anyone in the rows in front of me or behind me....) .
Seats were a little worn but still didn't give the impression of being old. Everything was very clean and it was clear attention to maintenance was give to this particular bird.
Not a huge fan of the maroon and beige color scheme being used though, as it was all rather bland and boring. Not a lot of "pop" to the interior, which I found interesting for an airline that seems to lean toward a sexier, sleeker image.
Each seat had a standard pillow with gauzy, scratchy covering and a blanket wrapped in sanitary plastic. I love the use of "hygienically" on the bag which helps to differentiate the laundering of this blanket from the other laundering Qatar Airways must be doing?
Leg room was decent, not great. My space was mildly hampered by the presence of an in-flight entertainment box taking up about half of the space under the seat in front of me. Not a big deal on a one hour flight with no seat mate, but if I was on a longer flight, like this plane's onward service from Kuala Lumpur to Doha, I'd be a bit annoyed and likely have some leg pain by the middle of the flight.
The seats did have a drop down leg rest, which I know some passengers enjoy and find helpful for getting your feet moving and resting in new positions. If you look careful at the above picture you can see the tray table also has a built in cupholder on the back.
Even with so few passengers it seems many folks were finishing up their food, drinks, or doing some last minute trinket shopping in the terminal because people were trickling onto the plane at a glacial pace and we even ended up slightly delayed waiting for people to get on board. Once we had everyone accounted for and it was time to push back the smiling flight attendants made their way down the aisles and asked everyone to buckle their seatbelts.
Each seatbelt was emblazoned with the Oryx logo used by Qatar Airways.
Qatar Airways is one of the airlines that plays the Islamic travel prayer, which came over the PA and flashed on our in-flight entertainment screens. As the prayer finished it was followed by the safety video, during which flight attendants walked down the aisle and handed out pre-packaged refreshing towel ("towel" is generous, it's a wet nap) and hard candy as a pre-departure treat.
I've flown out of Phuket a few times in the past and there's never really been a ait to take off and today was no different. Once we were off the gate it wasn't long before the engines kicked up and we were soaring over the coast line.
Once we reached cruising altitude the crew flicked on the mood lighting, which was a nice deep blue that ran up and down the aisles.
The seat back pockets on this flight seemed particularly packed with goodies when I sat down, so I set about unpacking mine to see what was inside.
Of course there was the standard safety card outlining emergency evacuation information for the A330 along with a menu for the flight and a packaged set of headphones. I didn't bother opening the menu since I wasn't on the longer leg from Kuala Lumpur to Doha and I assumed the short one hour hop from Phuket didn't have a meal service.
Also in the seat back pocket was the in-flight entertainment guide, duty free shopping catalog, and Qatar Airways' in-flight magazine, Oryx.
With the seat back contents successfully looked through, I turned my attention to the in-flight entertainment system.
Qatar Airways has an updated and much nicer in-flight entertainment system now, but on this flight we had an older, clunkier, much less robust system that was reminiscent of the early 2000s.
It offered the standard categories for in-flight entertainment such as movies, television shows, music, and games. I almost always focus on the television programs and movie since I already have the games and music I'd want to listen to on my person devices.
Television programming was broken up into comedy, drama, sports, etc. The annoying things were that each show only had a handful of episodes vs. whole seasons and you also had to individually select each show to start playing vs. selecting a show and being able to easily go episode by episode without interruption. Shows were all recognizable American programming from within the last few years.
Similar to the television shows, movies were broken up into genres and the offerings ranged from classic cinema to recent releases, though not exactly of the "still in theaters" type.
I debated starting a television show for a second when a flight attendant approached with a beverage cart and asked what I would like to drink and also whether I'd like the snack they were offering.
I guess I should have read that menu after all, as Qatar Airways was indeed offering a hot food item on this short one hour hop to Kuala Lumpur!
I asked for a Diet Coke and agreed to the hot snack, which was all handed over to me with a napkin. Nothing on the box indicated what the snack was, but the distinct smell of warm bread and savory filling wafted up to my nose.
I followed the instructions and cracked the box open and took the top portion it off, using the bottom half to hold the pastry. It was pretty much a hot sandwich molded into tube shape - flaky toasted bread around a pizza-inspired filling.
Despite lacking the appropriate amount of filling for the empty cavity inside, it was actually a great snack for the short one hour hop. Having been distracted by the sudden appearance of an unexpected free snack, I forgot to turn on my television show once I finished snacking and listening to some music on my iPhone I realized we'd started our approach for landing.
I hopped up and went to take a quick peek at the bathroom since it was the only part of the plane I hadn't seen yet.
Typical airplane bathroom - not much room with just the toilet and a sink basin. The toilet had been set up for the next user by the crew with a cover on the top of the seat.
The sink was automatically operated by a motion sensor with an option to select hot or cold water by touch.
In addition to soap the bathroom was stocked with the same packaged scented towels we got before take off, a perfume spray, and hand lotion. Nothing too fancy but nicer than what you'd find in an economy class bathroom on many other carriers.
On my way back to my seat the captain came on the PA and asked flight attendants to prepare the cabin for landing. I buckled in and watched as a overcast sunset took shape over the flooded farm land outside of Kuala Lumpur's airport. Landing was smooth and with so few people on the plane it was a breeze hopping off. Immigration took awhile but once I was through to pick up my checked bag it was one of only three bags waiting on the carousel. I don't think it took me that long to get through immigration, it was more of a sign that most people were continuing onward to Doha.
Overall my first flight with Qatar Airways was just fine. Things that really struck me as good were the friendliness of the crew, the offering of a hot snack even on a one hour flight, and the relatively good upkeep on an airplane that was likely a bit older. Things that weren't great were the antiquated in-flight entertainment system and the overall average leg room and seat comfort offered. I definitely wasn't put off by my experience with Qatar Airways though, and I've taken several flights with them (on different aircraft and much longer flights) since this trip. Those trips helped me develop a bit of a different opinion on Qatar Airways - impressed with the overall seat comfort and much less impressed with the quality of the crews.
I'll likely be posting additional reviews of Qatar Airways from those flights in the future but my current assessment of the airline is that they offer a good plane experience with staff that are generally inconsistent in terms of friendliness and willingness to help customers. Hopefully you find this look at Qatar Airways helpful or insightful in some way.
Till next time - happy travels!