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In the world of premium air travel, there are a handful of what frequent flyers call “destination lounges.” These spaces, luxuriously appointed and exclusively for the use of the highest-paying passengers, are often an embarrassment of riches and, thus, completely worth spacing your travel with time enough to visit.
Qatar Airways’ Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge at Doha’s Hamad International Airport is the newest addition to the list of must-visit lounges, and with good reason. Not only is it massive (30,000+ sq ft!) and filled with features like designer furniture and its own lake, but the Al Mourjan lounge has entire semi-private rooms just for families and a full restaurant with such variety of food and drink as to make other lounges cry into their chex mix with shame.
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Fly from the US to Europe with a layover in the Middle East? How about a long-haul from Europe to Australia with a lunch of Arabic mezze in Qatar? This is the (near) future envisioned by the brand new, superlative city that is Hamad International Airport-DOH in Doha, Qatar.
The numbers behind the $16 billion(!!) project are appropriately gigantic; DOH can handle 8,700 passengers per hour, and has the space and infrastructure to see 50 million passengers annually through 65 gates once all phases are finished. 60% of the land the airport is built on was reclaimed from the Arabian Gulf, and in all that space passengers will find 22,000 sq m of retail, 15,000 sq m of dining, and a gobsmacking 80,000 sq m dedicated to the 16 lounges within the airport.
A simple layover may not be enough to fully enjoy all of Hamad International Airport, so we’ve done the legwork to name the highlights:
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This is the week! From January 15, the brand-spanking-new Airbus A350 begins regular commercial flights and welcomes passengers to the enjoy everything Airbus has been working on since 2004.
As far its place within the range of the newest aircraft out there, the A350-900 is larger than a 787-800, smaller than an A380, and due to replace the A330 for some of the airlines adding it to their fleets. It costs $295 million each, and there's some 700 orders on the books for the plane. With those numbers, more and more travelers will soon find themselves walking down the jetway to board a plane they've never before experienced.
And what an experience. Thanks to technology, modern materials, and a refreshing re-focus on passenger comfort, the Airbus A350 is about to silence many of the most common complaints in air travel. Here are just a few:
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It's not every day that an airline welcomes an airplane so new that no one else has it yet. That was, however, the case this week as Qatar Airways celebrated the arrival of the first Airbus A350. Come next week, anyone can fly on the plane and, with over 700 orders for the aircraft (80 just from Qatar Airways), this will hardly be the last you'll hear of it.
Why is Qatar Airways’ A350 so special? Put quite simply, the airline has it first. The A350 rolled off the runway at Airbus’ Toulouse factory to land at Doha and begin its service, as Qatar Airways is the “Global Launch Customer” for the type; they’re debuting the plane, setting the bar, and offering an experience unavailable anywhere else.
In addition to its body of advanced materials and engines that are the cleanest yet, the Airbus A350 also brings onboard humidification systems (no more dry eyes and skin!), an air management system that filters the entire cabin of air every 2-3 minutes, improved cabin temperature levels (no more “too hot” or “too cold”), and seats designed specifically for Qatar Airways and their heightened standards for both luxury and comfort.
Speaking of the seats...
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We come across some downright awesome airline amenity kits in our travels, and the surprises of each zippered pouch can often make or break comfort on a premium flight. With this in mind, here's to our new series: Inside the Amenity Kit, wherein we unzip, unwrap, and expose the loot inside:
14 hours is a long flight. Even with a nice tailwind to slice nearly an hour off the time in the air, a nonstop such as Chicago - Doha on QR722, a Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER, can be trying without some small comforts. Luckily Qatar is generous with both meal services and amenities, so even fussy flyers are left purring.
The 777s Qatar flies to their US destinations are two-class airplanes, with both Business and Economy. All of Qatar's long-haul fleet features flatbed seats in Business, and touchscreen in-flight entertainment systems throughout. The cherry on top is an amenity kit of Giorgio Armani products and a few other small surprises.
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We’ve shown you that business class on a Qatar Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner is not a bad place to spend a few hours, but how does one of the airline’s latest additions compare to the workhorse of the fleet, the Boeing 777? With 34 in total, split between 777-200 and 777-300 versions, Qatar has more of the triple-seven than any other aircraft type at the moment. Connecting from a 787 onto a 777 recently gave us a good opportunity to compare.
We flew the 777 between Doha and Bangkok, a flight that connects further to Hanoi (Vietnam) after a brief stop in Thailand. Consistent on both legs? A virtually empty business class cabin, with less than ten passengers across the 42 seats, which guaranteed not just a seat pair to ourselves, but multiple rows.
If you want to get a sense of how much the Middle East has become a key gateway for international air travel (and feel incredibly small in the process), a visit to Doha’s vast Hamad International Airport (DOH) will do the trick.
We transferred here during some recent travels, only weeks after the much-delayed airport opened its doors, and were suitably impressed by the soaring roofs and seemingly endless gates surrounded by an abundance of space, though not everything was quite as it should be.
If you ever had the pleasure of visiting the old Doha Airport, you'd have experienced the delight of being bussed from terminal to plane in desert heat. Yeah, not fun. The new Hamad and its 50-million-passenger per year capacity should have eliminated that; alas, imagine our disappointment on our first visit to Hamad when, after taking the escalator down to our gate, we descended into absolute chaos with hundreds of passengers camped out on every inch of floor space in front of several bus gates.
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Getting to the Middle East might seem like a fuss with only a few handfuls of non-stop flights from the U.S. and plenty of hours in a plane, so a welcome addition is Qatar Airways' launch of all-business-class flights from Doha, Qatar to London-Heathrow. This marks the first time for such a service between the two regions.
In all, flights from Qatar to the UK take just about 7 hours. So, for that amount of time, passengers will be able to eat, sleep, and catch up on work with the in-flight SMS and GPRS technology. The Airbus A319 will seat a mere 40 passengers in a 2-2 configuration of lie-flat seats, so the sense of a small domestic flight will be as pervasive as the free-flowing bubbles.
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Just over a year ago, we reported on the news that Qatar Airways was about to do something no other Middle Eastern airline had done before: join an alliance. More specifically, it accepted the invitation to cozy up to the likes of American Airlines and British Airways to become part of Oneworld. Such an integration process doesn’t happen overnight, but on October 30 - last week - the process was finally complete.
So what benefit is there for you? For starters, if you plan your travel right, you may find yourself in the luxurious environment of the business class cabin on Qatar’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner (flying between home base Doha and London for instance). More importantly, Oneworld alliance membership means more opportunity to both earn and burn miles for frequent travelers.
Now that the details have been published, we’ll have a quick look at what that means for those with American’s Advantage and British Airways Executive Club programs:
Kitty cats. They rule the internet and, whether we realize it or not, pretty much the world too. Ever noticed how cats sometimes stake out the coolest spots in a city? This new featureTravel Catfocuses on exactly that. Submit a photo to be featured by tweeting or Instagramming it to us (details below).
Travel Cat spotted at: The Museum of Islamic Art park in Doha, Qatar.
Of the kitty, he notes:
[The photo] is at the Islamic museum park, I was...out there with my wife and friends then I found this cat starring at the towers. The funny thing that my wife made fun of me for taking picture of a cat [sic].
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An instagram we recently posted with Qatar announced their Oneworld membership
Question or two for you. Have you traveled anywhere recently? Do you Instagram? If you answered yes to both (we hope you did), then you're already half-way to winning roundtrip flight on Qatar Airways.
In what is surely one of the easiest, most open Instagram contests yet, the Qatar Museums Authority is celebrating their "Art of Travel: Bartholomäus Schachman (1559-1614)" exhibition of watercolors from explorer Schachman's travels in the Ottoman Empire. What the Museums Authority wants to see from you is not a watercolor, however, but one great Instagram.
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L to R: Horton, Al Baker, Walsh, Ashby
Earlier today, in a small event room in the middle of Midtown Manhattan, four men sat down in front of four microphones. TheyTom Horton (CEO American Airlines), Akbar Al Baker (CEO Qatar Airways), Willie Walsh (CEO of IAG, parent company of British Airways and Iberia) and Bruce Ashby (CEO Oneworld Alliance)represented their respective airlines but also sat there as heads of companies responsible for billions of dollars in the travel sector and millions of flyers in the air. And they'd come together to get even closer to one another, by inviting Qatar Airways to join the Oneworld Alliance.
Guess what? Qatar Airways accepted the invitation.
From here it'll take another 12-18 months until Qatar completes integration into Oneworld, but now's the time to start smirking at the potential benefits. Yeah, you're probably like, "why should I care?" Well, just think that next time you book a long-haul flight with American Airlines and it has a stopover in Doha, you could actually be walking onto a Qatar Airways plane (ooo maybe even a 787!) with Qatari crew and Qatar's 5-star service and then you'll be googling to see when all this happened while being very glad it did.