If you’re facing a flight cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic, rest assured you are not alone. There are many thousands of flyers in the same boat. I personally had four sets of air tickets cancelled by the airlines for April 2020 itself.
When it comes to cancellation, the airlines have not been very forthcoming with the passengers. British Airways and many others are playing the ‘holding’ game. They already know that majority if not all of their flights in April and May, are and will be mercilessly gutted, but they deliberately hold out from actually cancelling the flights until the very last moment as possible.
If you give in and voluntarily cancel your flights, you will give up your rights to reimbursement, re-routing or return, as well as your right to assistance and a possible compensation. So, you really do not want to initiate the cancellation process; let the airlines do it first, if at all possible, and then all the burden will fall on them.
Assuming you’ve won and received the cancellation notice by email or text message, the next step is to call the airline to rearrange your trip or to get a full refund. Rearranging your trip during normal times is easy because there are many flights operating within hours or days of your original itinerary, either operated by your airline or its rivals. But in times of this coronavirus pandemic, it can be very challenging because many flights have been halted by the airlines due to economic reasons or they are hindered from operating because of mandatory governmental orders from both sides – inbound and outbound. Or you may not feel safe and secure enough to make plans so soon after the restrictions are lifted.
Airline Voucher or Cash Refund?
Let’s be very clear here when it comes to cancellation during this pandemic. The airlines will steer you to go for a refund – not in cash, but in voucher form.
Do not fall for this. Do not accept the airline’s voucher. Demand a full cash refund.
Firstly, you are legally entitled to get refunded in the original form of payment. If you paid by credit card, you are entitled to be refunded through your credit card. When the airline cancels your flight, it is rescinding its promise to provide you with a product or service that you paid for, and therefore, by doing so, it is breaking its contractual obligation to you. In general, in US/Canada and Europe, you have the absolute right to a full cash refund.
The airlines intently make it hard for you to get cash refund online. For example, in British Airways’ website, when you use “Manage My Booking”, a request for cancellation will divert you purposely to a page requesting for a voucher. When someone found a hack to bring you to the cash refund page, British Airways fixed the hack ensuring that you do get to the voucher page. You are forced to call the Customer Service in order to ask for a cash refund.
Apart from your legal rights under contract law, it is the inherent nature of the voucher itself that you must be wary. The voucher is akin to a promissory note issued by the airline, undertaking that you can use the voucher to redeem and pay for your flights at a future date. Put simply, it is like an “IOU” note. An “IOU” is as good as the issuer itself. If the issuer is in poor financial state, you have a great chance of losing the entire value of your voucher.
Take for example, between Virgin Atlantic and British Airways (IAG), you should feel less secure if you are holding a Virgin’s voucher than that of British Airways. The bottom line is that your voucher, of say €1000, could be worth nothing a few months down the road.
Be mindful of the airlines’ business model. Their cash flow revolves around using the cash paid by customers’ today to provide you with the service of tomorrow. In a report by Bank of America Global Research, it estimated that 75% of IAG’s cash in bank was from customers with unflown flights. (IAG owns British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia, amongst others). Lufthansa, EasyJet and Norwegian were 95%, 108% and 197% respectively in terms of cash to unflown flights ratio. It explains why the airlines do not want you to have your money back.
To highlight the financial risk, British Airways had its debt rating downgraded to junk status in April 2020 by Fitch Rating (from BBB- to BB+). Fitch does not expect British Airways to be cash flow positive until 2021-2023.
There is little by way of incentive to accept the voucher. Some airlines only offer the face value. If you paid €1000 cash, British Airways would give you €1000 in voucher in return. This is simply a poor financial risk return. If BA offers me a 20% uplift, I may just consider it, but then I might not, for reasons mentioned below.
You are forgiven into thinking that by accepting the €1000 voucher, you can redeem the voucher to get exactly the flights that you have just forfeited. Far from the truth. You are subject to the prevailing fare at time of booking (your future flights). If the fare is higher, you must pay the extra (difference).
I am, primarily, a bargain/deal seeker of premium class flights and hunt for extremely great business class fares. I see great value if I can get a return long haul business class flight, of say, 10 hours, for less than €1300 (which typically would be like €2500 to €3500). Yes, it is possible but they do not come everyday. And when they do, the fares vanish as fast as they appear. With this in consideration, it is very unlikely that I could get the same flights without paying the huge fare difference, thus limiting the usefulness of the voucher to me.
The voucher has a time limit, typically for a life of 6 months to 1 year. If you go for cash, you do not have to worry about its expiry.
With the voucher, you can only redeem with the issuer (airline). With cash, you open up your choices to other airlines, maybe taking advantage of special or flash promotions that may result when the airlines try to boost travel demands after the coronavirus crisis.
As the old adage goes, “Cash is king”. You can use it whenever and however you like, at a time and convenience of your choosing.
If the airline refuses to agree to a cash refund, you are still not out of luck. You can sue the airline for breach of contract. Or the easier way, if you had paid by credit card, is to request a chargeback through your credit card company. As a last resort, if you have travel interruption insurance, just file a claim with your insurer. It has never failed to amaze me at how quick for an airline to take money from the customers but would make them jump many hoops to get theirs back.
I might consider the voucher if I can get the following flexibilities:
1. No fare difference and no change fee
2. Same route, same class of service in the next 12 months
3. Can be used on other airlines in the same alliance (eg any carriers in Oneworld)
After months of planning and preparations, we finally commenced our journey from Europe to Peru on 23rd May 2019. Getting to Machu Picchu by way of a long hike on the famous Inca Trail was the only option we considered. Taking the train, in our view, would be a wasted journey. There was no other way to appreciate and experience the Incan culture and history as immersively as hiking the Classic Inca Trail.
Madrid to Lima
Our planning began eleven months before our actual trip. The first thing we did was to make our bookings for the flights. Our trip originated from Madrid. From there, we flew to the capital of Peru – Lima. As you may recall, we managed to bag a great steal. Our business class seats cost us only €447 each. See our previous post here: https://www.sageflyer.com/amazing-iberia-avios-offer/
Our Iberia flight, IB6659, was very good, although it did not start well because it was delayed by an hour due to an electrical fault. After we took off, the inflight entertainment system was frozen for almost two hours. Then miraculously they managed to reset the system. The business class cabin on this Airbus A340-600 was quite spacious. The cabin layout was 1-2-1; compare that with Lufthansa’s A340-600 which had 2-2-2.
Every seat had direct aisle access. Privacy was very good, especially for those on the window seats. The food was noticeably tasty compared to my last Iberia flight.
A good selection of the latest Hollywood movies was on offer. Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born, The Mule, Widows, Aquaman, to name a few.
After ten hours in the air, our flight from Madrid landed at Lima Airport just thirty minutes behind schedule.
As we were the first few to disembark from the aircraft and there was no other international flight arriving at the same time, we managed to get to the front of the immigration queue before the crowd did. In the aircraft, Iberia announced that no landing card was required, but clearly, they were wrong. You are required to complete the landing card, which we completed hastily. We were through the immigration in less than fifteen minutes. We did not require Peruvian visa to enter the country as we hold UK and Canadian passports.
From Lima, we took a connecting flight to Cusco – the gateway to Machu Picchu. This was on a separate ticket using a British Airways Avios redemption. It cost us 9,000 Avios points plus €13.77 each for a return Lima-Cusco-Lima ticket. See our previous post here: https://sageflyer.com/redeemaviosshorthaul/
Our domestic flight was not until 04:43 am. This translated into over nine hours of waiting in Lima Airport. Originally, we were booked to fly out on the first flight at 03:43 am but LATAM cancelled this flight and rebooked us to the next one. The dilemma here was whether to get an overnight hotel by the airport or just wait around in the airport. In the end, we decided to wait out in the airport because it made more economic sense. The only hotel that is adjoined to the terminal is Wyndham Costa Del Sol. The rate was consistently hovering around USD180-200 per night and we only needed the room for about 5-6 hours only. Upon arrival, we walked into Wyndham and asked for a short stay rate; they wanted USD225. Of course, we declined.
You may be wondering why we needed to catch the first flight out of Lima to Cusco. Our tour operator had a prerequisite that we must arrive Cusco at least two days before the hike began and must present ourselves physically to their office (or face cancellation and lose our deposits). The prime reason was for acclimatisation purposes. By arriving very early in the morning, we gave ourselves two full days to adjust to the climate and altitude in Cusco.
Lima to Cusco
Upon arrival in Lima Airport, we proceeded to the domestic terminal to check in for our Cusco flight. It was literally the next annex of the international arrival hall. Simply exit the arrival hall, then turn left. As we stepped out, we were greeted by not so pleasant odour; the vicinity of Lima Airport was engulfed by a distinct fishy smell.
Unlike at some airports, you do not have to wait until three hours before departure time to check in. It was a huge relief; this freed us from our bags and gave us more flexibility. The check-in staff told us that we cannot enter the airside (past security) until three hours before the flight, and if we attempted, the security will turn us away.
On the landside of the domestic terminal, there was absolutely nowhere to sit. On the first floor, there was a Starbucks and a couple of eateries. You can certainly pass a couple of hours here but very unlikely for a long 5-7 hours wait. (Yes, how many grande latte can you drink?)
We decided to chance our luck and attempted to enter the airside. At the first point of check where the boarding pass was inspected, they casually waved us through. At the second point, just before the main security, the young security personnel spoke to us in Spanish. We can only assume that he was saying that we cannot enter the airside. We replied back in English, telling him that all we wanted to do was to go to the lounge inside the terminal. Amidst the language confusion, after a little hesitation, he scanned our boarding passes and let us through to the security. Bingo!! After the security check, we proceeded to the El Salon Lounge using our Priority Pass, courtesy of American Express Platinum.
This was a decent lounge – new and modern. The food was not that great but the sofas were comfortable. It had one shower room. The maximum allowable hours in this lounge was 4 hours. I used my card to gain access for the first four hours, and subsequently, the plan was to use my wife’s Priority Pass to get another 4 hours.
So, instead of spending time in the crowded terminal landside with nowhere to sit, we had an almost empty lounge to ourselves, along with free food and drinks. So, our advice is do take the chance. You might just sneak past the security! We believe it is true that you cannot enter the airside of the domestic terminal until three hours before departure. Our daughters tried their luck the day before and were turned away. It also explained why the El Salon Lounge was literally empty from 8 pm to 1:45 am. We were the only guests between 10 pm and 1:30 am. The lounge staff even gave us a pillow and blanket to make our rest more comfortable. The soft-leather sofas were very comfortable to sit on, but not so friendly to laze and sleep. It was peaceful and quiet until the airport authority allowed the waiting crowd from the landside in. At 2am, the El Salon lounge was filled to the brim.
Take note, LATAM / Oneworld does not offer lounge in the domestic terminal. I did not see one for Star Alliance or SkyTeam either.
If you do not have Priority Pass, you can purchase access to the lounge for USD25 per person and that is good for four hours. I can see the value in it because the domestic terminal was bad. It was sardine-packed with passengers, and unless you are super lucky, the only place to sit is the floor.
Our Lima to Cusco flight departed from Gate 1 which was located on the smallish ground floor (one floor below the El Salon Lounge). Boarding started 45 minutes before take-off. The whole departure hall was absolutely packed, and there was no priority boarding for elite frequent flyers. There was a sense of chaos but somehow everything flowed nicely. We were bussed to the aircraft and boarded with time to spare. Our flight LA2025 left dot on time at 4:43 am.
A quick glance inside the aircraft showed it was flying at full capacity despite the ungodly hours. The passengers were almost entirely foreign tourists. It was a strange but equally efficient flight. After the aircraft reached the cruising altitude, the cabin crew dimmed the lights to the very minimum. There was absolutely no inflight service. It was kind of “lights off and go to sleep” and ironically, many did (except myself and a few others)! We arrived Cusco at 05:48 am (scheduled 06:10 am), early by 22 minutes.
Cusco Airport is very small. It was straight to the baggage belt. After the bags were retrieved, we exited the hall to the waiting drivers. Expect to be hustled, but they are not the persistent and annoying type. Just politely decline and they will walk away.
Cusco Airport to downtown Cusco
We prebooked our taxi with TaxiDatum. As our flight arrived earlier than scheduled, we expected to have to wait for the driver. We finally located him at 06:17 am (pickup was initially arranged for 06:10 am). The drive into town centre was about 20 minutes. We were told by email that the fare would be USD8 from Cusco Airport to Hilton Garden Inn. I gave him a USD20 note and asked for USD10 change. He gave me a change of 20 Soles which I accepted in good faith that it was an equivalent of USD10. After retiring to my room, I checked the rates. 20 soles were equivalent to USD6. So, in effect, I was charged USD14 ($20 less $6) for the fare. Lesson learned (always have the correct amount in the first place).
Hilton Garden Inn – Our hotel in Cusco
We stayed in this hotel for two nights before leaving for the Inca Trail (see review in our previous post). It is perched on top of a hill. There was nothing much to complain about this hotel. It is a very nice modern and comfortable hotel with very friendly and courteous staff. Despite being a Garden Inn brand, it was actually miles superior than many of the full Hiltons in Europe and North America. Our rooms were spacious and nicely decorated with top quality furnishing. It is not in the heart of the town centre, but 10-15 minutes on foot will get you to the main centre at Plaza de Armas. But be warned, it is a steep incline on the way back to the hotel. For individuals who are attempting to hike the Inca or other trails to get to Machu Picchu, this is a really good test for you because of the steep incline and high altitude. Just as a reminder, Cusco is located at an altitude of 3,399 metres whereas Machu Picchu is around 2,430 metres. But be mindful that if you are hiking the Inca Trail, the highest peak that you will scale is 4,215 metres (at Warmiwanuska). If you are too lazy to walk back, a taxi would cost about 7 Soles to get you to Hilton Garden Inn from town centre.
There are many local boutique hotels in the city centre. Other international chain hotels we noted were JW Marriott and Novotel. Once you have booked your flights, I suggest make the booking for the hotel too. They tend to fill up quickly and the rates do creep up. For example, when we made our booking about eight months in advance, it cost us only USD99.91 (exclusive taxes and charges) per night per room. Later, when we decided to get an extra night, two months before our stay, the rate had more than doubled!
On our return from the Inca Trail, we stayed another night at Hilton Garden Inn. While we were away, we stored all our luggage in the hotel, free of charge.
The Peruvians love US Dollars! Our Inca Trail hike had to be paid in USD cash. In many places, you can pay in USD or in Soles (the local currency, pronounced ‘sol-les’), but beware of the conversion rate. When we were at Lima Airport, we were contemplating of changing some Euros into US dollars and Soles. The rates were not so friendly; in fact way, it was way off the scale, so we decided to hold off until we get to our destination. And luckily, we did.
At the advice of our tour operator (Llama Path), we went to Avenue El Sol. There are many money changers on this street, many operating out of little booths. Shop around but I would avoid the ones peddling cash by the street side. Use xe.com app to get the real time rates. When we converted our cash, XE was showing EUR 1.00 to USD 1.12 and the money changer matched it to the last cent. As for the Peruvian Sol, we were getting 3.70 Soles to 1 Euro. Specifically, we went to the money changer located at 320 Ave El Sol, Cusco. It is a few doors away from the big Interbank. The top façade displays the word “Multi Dolar”. As you enter the small store, it is on the most left counter.
Armed with the US dollars that we converted, we went back to the tour operator to pay for the balance of the Inca Trail.
Choice of Tour Operator and Finalising the Inca Trail
There are a handful of tour operators offering the Classic Inca Trail. The notable ones are Llama Path, Peru Treks, SAS Travel and Enigma. Some of them do not offer daily departures. There were not too many differentiators between them. In pricing, the variation was around plus or minus USD100. In the end, we chose Llama Path because we liked their commitment to sustainable tourism and the stories on how they cared for their porters.
Llama Path offers group or private hike. A group hike has 8 to 10 people. As there were four of us, we decided to use the private hike. The price difference between private and group service was about USD 120 per person. For a family of four, we paid a total of USD 3952. This included optional items such as half porter (to carry our personal stuff up to 8kg each), sleeping bags, inflatable pads, hiking poles and the Vistadome train tickets from Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) to Ollantaytambo.
Our tour operator made a precondition that we show up in person to their office to pay for the balance of our hike, at least two days before the hike. After doing the trail, we can fully appreciate this requirement. They really do not want people showing up for the hike unprepared and not properly acclimatised. This hike is not a walk in the park. Over four days, we ascended two steep mountain passes and covered a hike of 45 km. At the peak of Warmiwanuska (Dead Woman’s Pass), the altitude is 4,215 meters (13,829 feet).
Acclimitising and Altitude Sickness
This is one of the most common questions. Will you get sick at this altitude? As a reminder, the elevation is summarised below:
Highest peak on Inca Trail
There is no easy answer and it is specific to an individual. You can be young and fit, and still suffer from a multitude of altitude sickness symptoms. On the other hand, you can be old and not so fit, and yet elude all the symptoms. Altitude sickness is where you experience light headedness, faintish state, short of breath, dizziness, headaches, nausea, fatigue – either one, several or all of them, due to the thin oxygen level at high elevation. This is the main reason why the tour operators require you to report in Cusco in person at least two days before your hike to ensure that you are properly acclimatised.
As for the four of us, we thankfully did not suffer any symptoms. We had two full days (full 48 hours) in Cusco to acclimatise, and we did not take any form of medication, but we did drink coca leaves tea (complimentary in the lobby of Hilton Garden Inn Cusco) – more for the fun of it than as a remedial precaution.
You definitely want to avoid altitude sickness from ruining your hiking plan. It costs a lot of money to get to Peru and to do the Inca Trail. You might also want to avoid doing the walk of shame – where streams of hikers are ascending up the Inca while you are the only one descending down the opposite direction. (We actually saw only one hiker having to do this.)
If you are worried that you might suffer from altitude sickness, try getting to Cusco at least three days for proper acclimatisation. Or you can get a medical prescription for altitude sickness, but we have been told that it takes at least 48 hours for it to be effective, so you will have to take it two days before arriving Cusco.
What we did during our acclimatisation period in Cusco?
We refrained from doing strenuous activities, saving the energy for the long trek ahead of us. On our first day of arrival in Cusco, we sorted out all the remaining issues with our tour operator. In the afternoon and evening, we casually explored Cusco downtown by foot. Cusco is a charming little town, rich in culture and history. The Peruvian food is pretty good too and affordable. On the second day, we took a private tour from our tour operator (Llama Path) to explore the outer neighbourhoods of Cusco. We visited De Chinchero Archaeological Park, Maras Moray and Salineras De Maras (salt mine). Moras Moray is an interesting Inca ruin where many terraces in circular patterns are found, once used for agricultural cultivation of various crops.
The Inca Trail
This classic trek on the Peruvian Andes was for four days and three nights. It started from KM 82, near the town of Ollantaytambo at an altitude of 2,720 meters (8,920 feet) and finished at Machu Picchu itself. The hike was tough and long, especially on the second day where we scaled up 4,215 meters. The total distance according to our tour operator was 45 km, but my Runkeeper app recorded a much shorter distance. The temperature ranged from -2°C to 28°C while we did the trek in May. During day time, the sun was scorching hot (felt like high thirties). At night, it went down to negative, especially on the second night (highest elevation).
A team of eleven staff was utilised to support us (a group of four hikers) over the four days – 1 guide, 1 chef, 1 sous chef and 8 porters (each with distinct area of responsibility). At this point, I wondered why 11 to support 4? The ratio was a bit off for a so-called sustainable tourism. During the journey, it became clear to me that the number was the bare minimum required to support the complete functions of our group. They literally had to carry everything from start to finish. They were such a lovely and friendly bunch of people. Our breakfasts, lunches and dinners were delicious and can easily rival that of the good restaurants, if not better.
You have to be fit to do this hike. It is not a walk in the park. We found it quite tough and we are relatively fit people (we run half and full marathons). And you have to be prepared to rough it out too. If dirt, sleeping on hard grounds, not showering for days and a lack of proper toilets bother you, you are best advised not to attempt this hike. There were also many very early mornings too. We woke up very early each day (Day 1 03:00, Day 2 04:00, Day 3 05:30) and on the last day, we had to get up at 02:10 am – for our final push from Wina Huaya to Machu Picchu.
On the early morning of Day 4, at about 7 am, we ascended Sun Gate (Inti Punku), and then descended to Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is great! It was great to see and experience the mysterious lost civilisation of the mighty Inca Empire. But the journey on the Inca Trail itself is what made the whole trip magnificent!
This also meant we have now visited six of the new Seven Wonders of the World! (Completed previously – Roman Colosseum in Italy, Petra in Jordan, Taj Mahal in India, Great Wall of China in China, and Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.) We will be winging our way to Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico in the near future.
Trip Back to Cusco from Machu Picchu
After two hours and a bit on Machu Picchu site itself, we called it quits around 9:30 am. By this time, the non-hiking tourists were streaming into Machu Picchu in big numbers. We had been on our feet for eight hours, and the sun was blazing hot and was draining our energy by the minute to an extent that we could not focus on our guide. We took the shuttle bus down from Machu Picchu site to Aguas Calientes town which took about 20 minutes. The train station at Aguas Calientes was only a short walk away from the bus stop. At this point, we became aware of a Vistadome train leaving for Ollantaytambo at 10:50 am. We had our train booked for 16:43 departure. Our guide managed to get our ticket changed and we paid a very small penalty to make the change. It was sad to say goodbye to our guide, whom we had grown to be fond of, over the course of our hike, in a hurried manner. We would have relished the opportunity to buy him a very nice lunch and drink, and say our goodbye properly.
The train journey from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo was beautiful and scenic. It hugged the river line for most parts. The train had only two coaches attached. Inside the train, we were served a drink and a snack, and later, the staff put on a short cultural and fashion show. The train journey took 1 hour and 35 minutes.
For more information on the train services, go to Peru Rail. You will find that the Hiram Bingham train is outrageously expensive (USD 485 per person), followed by Vistadome (USD105) and the budget train Expedition (USD70). These prices were for a one way ticket from Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) to Poroy (Cusco). The cost of the train ticket was included in our tour price. There are a lot more train services from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo (Harry Bingham train is not available on this route). Obviously, if you had the choice, choose the Poroy train as you will get to your hotel in Cusco in less than half an hour.
Despite the last minute changes, a representative from Llama Path was already waiting for us at the Ollantaytambo train station. We continued our trip to Cusco in a small coach for another 1.5 hours where the driver dropped us off at our hotel, Hilton Garden Inn Cusco.
It was an exhausting trip but we treasured every moment of it.
Date of the Inca Trail Hike: 26th May to 29th May 2019 inclusive
Cathay Pacific (CX), a Skytrax 5-Star airline, operates 17 flights per week from Hong Kong to Vancouver. There are two daily flights using the Boeing 777-300 aircraft, supplemented by an Airbus 350-900 three times per week (Tue, Thu and Sat). The Boeing 777-300 has four cabins (First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy), while the Airbus 350-900 has only three – without the first class cabin.
My flight was on the Boeing 777-300ER with a scheduled departure at 0030 hours on 1st July with a flying time of 11 hours 50 minutes.
If you recall, I snatched a fantastic deal back on New Year’s day – paying only USD878 for a business and first class combo flights between Hanoi and Vancouver via Hong Kong. Read our post here.
Check In There was no landside check-in for me as I was on a connecting flight from Hanoi. The Hanoi to Hong Kong sector was operated by Cathay Dragon, a subsidiary of CX which focuses on Asian regional routes. Our departure from Hanoi was delayed by one hour and a half, and consequently, arrived in Hong Kong late by the same magnitude. In my original itinerary, there was only one hour and forty minutes transit time in Hong Kong; this implied that I would most certainly miss my onward flight to Vancouver. I was resigned to making plans in my head for alternative flights.
But much to our surprise, CX voluntarily delayed the departure of the Hong Kong to Vancouver flight. This was probably due to a total of 16 passengers were connecting to this flight, of which, 14 were in business class and 2 in first class. The ground staff were at hand to meet the delayed passengers and rushed us to the waiting aircraft. All these were accomplished under 25 minutes – aircraft to aircraft, including security checks.
I was looking forward to spending time in one of the fabulous Hong Kong lounges. Unfortunately, due to the extended delay, this was not possible. I have used several times a couple of the lounges in the past, namely The Pier (First Class) and The Wing (First Class). They are excellent lounges although sadly the quality of the food in the restaurant had deteriorated somewhat after the much-revered Peninsula’s catering contract was axed a few years ago. Regardless, I would have no problem at all in spending many hours in one of these lounges.
Boarding As we were coming from a very delayed incoming flight, there was no formality in the boarding process. I was the last to board. As soon as I was shown to my seat in 1D, the aircraft’s door was closed, and the aircraft taxied to the runway shortly after.
Cabin & Seating This flight had four classes – First, Business, Premium Economy and standard Economy. The First Class cabin was at the nose of the plane, immediately after the cockpit and galley. The layout was 1-1-1 with only two rows of seats, making a total capacity of six open suites. On this flight, it was 100% occupancy with all six seats occupied.
Stating the obvious, all the suites had full direct aisle access and can be transformed into full lie-flat bed. Despite not having a door, the suites still felt very private (great if you are claustrophobic).
The first class suite was enormous and very comfortable indeed. According to Seatguru, the seat pitch was 81” with a width of 36”. The seat itself was plush and spacious. The wide armrest when lowered down, seamlessly blended with the main seat. The soft head pillow attached to the top of the seat elevated the comfort level. There was even a stalk of fresh orchid in the flower vase attached to the side wall panel. All these little features added to the special touches.
The wood laminated side countertop was wide enough to comfortably place the drinks and to spread your personal items. Built into it was the foldable dining table, handheld screen control and a mini touchscreen. Underneath it was a USB charger and an universal power outlet.
The footrest was also quite wide. It actually doubled up as a secondary seat (with seatbelt). It was meant for facilitating “dining for two”. We did not use this feature as the flight was way past midnight and we were more interested in getting some sleep (asap).
There were only two preset modes for the seating positions – take-off/landing and sleeping. Depending on how long you press the button, you can gain many more seating variations.
Personal storage space was not an issue. Instead of an overhead compartment, there was a storage compartment at floor level, built into the shell at the front of each suite. You can store and access your cabin bag here without having to stand up. It also doubled up as your closet (you can hang your coat and others conveniently here).
Inflight Services The two cabin crew attending to the first class cabin were really lovely, warm and attentive.
Despite my late boarding, I was offered a hot towel and a pre-flight drink to help me settled in, and these were cleared off immediately due to the imminent take off. After reaching cruising altitude, I was offered another drink of my choice, and accompanied by some warm nuts served in small snack dish.
The pyjama set was distributed before the flight took off. It allowed the passengers to slip into something comfortable before a long flight. I only used the top which was very nice and soft. The set also had foam slippers and eye mask, but strangely no socks.
The amenity kit was supplied by Aesop with two variations – the beige-coloured bag was for the female, and black for the male. The design of the bag was uninspiring. Inside, there were a comb, mouth wash, toothbrush, toothpaste, earplug, soft lint wipe and parsley seed serum moisturiser. The female kit had a few more items than the male version.
The personalisation of services was quite good. Apart from formally addressing the passengers by last name, they seemed to be pretty aware of the passengers’ movement and anticipated their moves. In one instance, when my wife stepped out of her seat for the washroom, the cabin crew came to her seat and folded the quilt in such a way that when she came back, she could simply slide in and be comfortable instantly.
As for the meal menu, there were caviar and champagne, international and oriental favourite entrees and desserts. A selection of champagne, white wines, red wines and port were also available. The champagne on offer was a 2007 vintage Taittinger.
Of course, the personalisation also extended to the meals and drinks where the cabin staff took the orders, and individually prepared and served the meals at time of your choosing.
But this was where I became most unimpressed. I wanted the Chinese Favourites – steamed Boston lobster with vermicelli and jasmine rice. She could not oblige because she was out of them, and said that I was the second person she had to turn down. She offered to check if Business class had other Oriental meals. It was a bit incomprehensible here; this flight was ex Hong Kong, the first class passengers were of 100% Asian origin – the probability of the passengers wanting some kind of Asian meal was more likely going to be very high. It was quite inexcusable that you cannot get a meal of your choice in a first class cabin that had only six passengers.
I had no other choice but to agree to the western selection. My main meal started with cauliflower cream soup, followed by crab meat salad with watermelon. They were average at best. There was a nice selection of warm breads, including garlic bread.
For my entrée, I resorted to the seared lamb loin. Unfortunately, it was underwhelming; it did not taste good and was overdone. The presentation was also sub-par, not inviting at all. I left over half on the plate. The main meal was a write off, as far as I was concerned.
As I did not get the choice of the main meal, I was approached first for my breakfast preference. The dim sum platter that I selected was quite delicious and I finished them all. I was offered a second helping but I politely declined.
All the meals were served on quality dinnerware.
The inflight entertainment was delivered through the airline’s Studio CX entertainment system which offered a large selection of audio, TV and movies along with games and flight tracking. The visual display was by way of a 17” screen mounted to the top right of the suite’s shell. It was not positioned directly to the line of sight; you will have to glance to the side (left or right, depending on your seat number). But after reaching the cruising altitude, the screen can be unhooked and extended to the centre for more comfortable viewing. However, this had to be placed back to its original position for landing.
I also find it hard to believe that this screen was not a HD (high definition), especially in a first class cabin. The pixelation and ghosting were quite obvious, suggesting that CX is still operating an old and non-refreshed cabin.
Wifi was not also available on this flight.
There were two washrooms for the front cabin passengers to use. They were not very spacious and one was noticeably narrower. Apart from cotton hand towels, standard hand wash liquid and lotion, there was no other bathroom amenities available. The toilet seat paper liner was available for self-help.
When I was ready to retire, the cabin crew came to do the turndown service. The seat was transformed into a fully flat bed. A thin mattress was spread over it and properly secured. The duvet was plush and soft. Overall, it was a comfortable. Regrettably, the cabin temperature was not controlled adequately. After three hours of sleep, I woke up sweating due to the warm cabin.
Our flight arrived YVR at 2155 hours on 30th June, about 35 minutes late. We flew out from Hong Kong on 1st July and arrived the day before – even as a frequent traveller, I still find this time phenomena quite fascinating.
Summary Overall, I had a good flight. I cannot fault the comfort level or the friendliness and enthusiasm of the cabin staff. They were great. But I do think CX has lost a lot of grounds. The IFE was dated, the meals were disappointing and there was no wifi connectivity. Above all, they missed the many little touches that make first class special. If I am to be brutally honest, CX first class is probably not even at par with Qatar Airways’ business class, especially when flying the QSuite. Aside from the seat width and pitch, Qatar’s onboard experience was more refined and detailed, and it offered many special touches that made it streets ahead of CX.
Unless you are in need of a gigantic 3 feet seat width and unable to dispense the urge of having caviar and champagne, I think the business class is more than adequate and gives better value for money. Having flown CX’s business class several times before, I cannot see what’s so special about CX’s first class. You literally get almost everything in Business Class as you would get in First Class (except the big seat and some drinks).
Airline Review: CX888 Cathay Pacific B777-300ER FIRST CLASS Hong Kong to Vancouver Date Flown: 01-JULY-2019
British Airways operates three daily flights from Los Angeles to London Heathrow using a variety of aircraft. These include Airbus A380, Boeing 777, Boeing 747 and Boeing 787. My flight was on a Boeing 787-900, registration G-ZBKR. This particular aircraft is relatively a new aircraft which came into service on 1st April 2018, making it just over a year old.
Check In My incoming flight from Vancouver arrived at 10 am into a remote terminal in LAX. From there, I took a bus transfer to alight at LAX Terminal 5. As I was on a separate ticket, I had to retrieve my bag and check-in again. I casually walked from Terminal 5 to Terminal B (Tom Bradley) which took about 7-8 minutes. The only setback was that the BA counters were not open until 12 noon, so I had to hang around for almost two hours. When they opened, as a BA Gold, I used the first class check-in counter. It was speedy and I was away in minutes. Unfortunately, it was a different story with the security queue. It was quite a wait but nonetheless it went smoothly without the need for additional scrutiny.
It is a common knowledge that the Qantas First Class Lounge is one of the best airline lounges in LAX. Its access is available to Oneworld Emerald members regardless of class of travel, and of course, to first class passengers (without status) flying with Oneworld carriers. Business class passengers and Oneworld Sapphires have to use the Oneworld Business Lounge.
I have used the Qantas First Class Lounge at least a dozen of times, but could not help feeling that the service and quality of this lounge are on a decline. The sit-down dinner used to be something special that I looked forward to; but now, I felt the quality and service were marginally better than an average cafeteria. Having said that, I still like this lounge as it is quite spacious and has a lot of facilities; definitely no problem in passing more than a couple of hours before the flight.
Boarding This was my very first – boarding using facial recognition! Boarding was done by group. Those requiring special assistance went first, followed by Group 1, 2 and 3 (Group 1 was for Oneworld Emerald and first class passengers, while Group 2 was for Oneworld Sapphire and Ruby, and business class passengers). No passport and no boarding pass were required! All that was needed was to stand in a position facing the machine’s camera (assisted by painted yellow footprints on the floor).
The photo was then instantly matched against the facial image database and BA’s passenger database. The whole process took mere seconds. If the details match, the electronic barrier opens up and you head straight to the aircraft. Impressive! But that was as far as it went. At the very aircraft’s entrance, the good old fashion boarding pass was required to get you to the seat. Boarding completed in 35 minutes for an on time departure from the gate. This flight had a scheduled flying time of 10 hours 35 minutes. The safety video was the humorous version featuring numerous British personalities.
Cabin & Seating This flight had four classes – first, business (Club World), premium economy (World Traveller Plus) and economy (World Traveller). The business class cabins were in between the first and premium economy. There were two separate cabins for the business class. One was a small one with just two rows of seats, located immediately behind the first class. The other one was more sizeable with four rows. In between the two business cabins was the galley. The business cabin has a total of 46 seats.
The cabin layout was 2-3-2. As with all current (ancient) BA’s business cabin, they are not the most inspiring. Many of the seats do not have direct aisle access. Unless you are strategically seated such as at the window seat on the last row (eg 7A, 7K, 13A, 13K), you will have to either jump over someone or someone has to jump over you. I was on seat 7A, so I did not have this issue.
The other awkward and annoying feature of the seating is that it has front and rear facing seats next to each other (the Ying-Yang configuration). You are literally ‘inches’ away from the face of your neighbouring passenger. There is a privacy glass in between but on take off and landing, the privacy glass must be lowered down.
Info: Eventually, the access and privacy issues will be somewhat remedied with the roll out of BA’s newly-branded ‘Club Suite’ that offers direct-aisle access, a suite door for greater privacy, and seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. Unfortunately, it will only be rolled out on the new A350 aircraft from 1st Oct 2019 for selected long haul flights – currently to Toronto, Dubai and Tel Aviv. It will take a long while before the entire BA fleet gets a retrofit (some probably not).
The seat itself was newish, clean and comfortable although it was a tad narrow (20″ seat width). The bed length (72″) was more than adequate for me.
The cabin ambience was pleasantly maintained by the LED mood lighting. The seat transformed into 180° lie flat bed. There were preset modes for various positions. I did notice that the seating lacked personal storage space, so many of my personal items had to be kept in the cabin bag and stored in the overhead compartment.
Power outlet with universal sockets and a USB charger were available, located awkwardly towards the far bottom of the floor.
The bedding set was furnished by The White Company – of course, a British company. It consisted of a duvet, blanket and large soft plush pillow. The White Company claimed “to exude the very British style and quality…”. I had only a vague idea as to what it was referring to, but sufficient to say that, they were quite comfy.
The amenity kit was also supplied by The White Company. The bag was made from soft black leather. Inside were the usual cabin socks, eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush kit, lotions and a pen. I actually quite like the bag – I might just keep it as an accessory bag.
The washroom was kind of basic and not so spacious. It was not equipped with all the amenities and features like those found in Qatar Airways or Singapore Airlines. It did have smart lighting where it gradually brightened up after the bathroom door was locked – a thoughtful feature especially if you have just woken up and the cabin was dark. Overall, the washrooms could make do with more regular cleaning by the cabin crew.
Inflight Services The cabin crew was just okay. They did their job but were not overly warm. In many BA services, the cabin service manager (or director) will come around and introduce himself or herself and welcome the passengers, especially to the BA Gold members. There were none of that in this flight. They seemed to spend a lot of time in the galley. BA recently overhauled their inflight meals with new gourmet menus from Do&Co. I am not sure if this was taking a lot of their focus away from the passengers.
The inflight entertainment was the Thales On Demand IFE System with 15.4″ screen (source: TheBAsource.com). There were many blockbuster movies on offer (eg Bohemian Rhapsody, Star is Born, Widows, Aquaman). The inflight visual is a foldaway screen; that means you cannot view your movies from point to point as it has to be stored away during take off and landing for safety reason.
A pre-flight drink and a cold towel were offered after boarding. After reaching the cruising altitude, a drink of your choice and mixed nuts were served. Note the crystal glass (yes, in a proper crystal glass, not a simulated plastic glass)!
For starter, I had the split pea and kale soup. My main was a pan-roasted salmon with Spanish broccoli rice, and I finished off with a chocolate marquise crisp. They were all delicious. But as mentioned earlier, it did take them a long time to individually prepare and serve the meals. Also of note, the meals were also served on quality dinnerware.
About 75 minutes before landing, I was served a two-course breakfast. The first was a selection of warm breads and fresh seasonal fruits that were pleasantly presented. This was followed by my choice of a traditional English breakfast.
In my opinion, the new menu and quality of food had gone up a few notches. I actually did enjoy my meals!
I did not see any food or drinks in the galley (aka self-help Club Kitchen) during mid-flight. Either I completely missed it by the time I woke up from my rest, or there genuinely wasn’t one.
After about 10 hours in the air, our flight landed Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 at 11:05 am and arrived the gate at 11:25 am (scheduled arrival was 11:30 am).
Summary Overall, I had a pleasant flight. The cabin and seats were new, fresh and clean. Coupled with the new Do&Co meal menu, they made flying this aircraft quite an enjoyable experience.
Airline Review: BA280 British Airways B787-900 Los Angeles to London Heathrow Club World (Business Class) Date Flown: 08-MAY-2019
Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) monument in Rio de Janeiro is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. This morning, I had the opportunity to visit this immense statue. This was my sixth of the Seven Wonders, having previously visited the Roman Colosseum in Italy, Petra in Jordan, Taj Mahal in India, Great Wall of China in China and Machu Picchu in Peru. Only Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, has evaded my path so far, but I will get to this in the near future.
Christ the Redeemer is perched at the peak of Corcovado Mountain (704 meters) in the Tijuca Forest National Park overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro. The weather up here can be very unpredictable. As we experienced today, from a cloudy start, it changed to a nice clear blue sky and then within ten minutes, the storm rolled in with little warning and belted us with gale force wind and drenched us with monsoon-like rain. But that ten minute window gave us a wonderful opportunity to enjoy and admire the structure of the giant statue.
The statue itself is 30 meters (98 ft) high, excluding the pedestal, while the arms stretch 28 meters (92 ft) wide. It was mostly made of concrete but the outer layer was made from soapstone. Comparatively to the other six new Wonders of the World, this monument is relatively new – commissioned in 1931.
It is not my intention to debate or argue whether Christ the Redeemer is a deserving entity in the new Seven Wonders of the World, but all I can say is that it is quite an impressive piece of art and engineering. And of course, from the peak of Corcovado Mountain, you can enjoy the stunning views of Rio city!
Date visited: Tuesday, 4th June 2019
Visiting Christ the Redeemer – A Quick Guide
If you are thinking of visiting Christ the Redeemer soon, below is my simple guide on how to get there plus some tips that may help you.
First of all, get your ticket online. Head to the Trem do Corcovado website. This is the official operator of the train (cable tram) service between the foot and peak of Corcovado Mountain. Open an online account (I was looking for a way of not doing this, but it seems like it is a mandatory step to buy tickets online) and buy your tickets. Do NOT fake your email and ID document. They will deliver the voucher link via your email and the ID document is checked at the ticket counter. They have peak and non-peak hours – priced at 79 and 65 Reais respectively. Peak hours apply to weekends, public holidays, Rio Carnival and school holidays, and while off peak are weekdays (Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays).
We went for the first available train at 08:20 am (actually departed at 08:30) to avoid the crowds. Accordingly, if you do not pre-book in advance, walk-in wait time can be up to 2-3 hours (not so true when we visited; could have got the train straight away).
When the day comes, take a taxi or Uber (or whatever transport you prefer) to the Corcovado Train Station. The address is 513 Rua Cosme Velho, Rio de Janeiro. Uber is very common here and super efficient too. We never had to wait more than 5 minutes for the numerous rides we took in Rio. Our journey from Hilton Copacabana Beach took 29 minutes to reach Corcovado train station using Uber.
Your online voucher states that you must arrive 30 minutes before departure. Again, this is not strictly true. We arrived 15 minutes before time and everything worked out well. You also do not need to print the voucher. The ticket office will print a simplified voucher for you to sign and then exchange that with an actual ticket. But what you must do is to bring your ID document and the credit card you used to purchase the ticket. They check these!
Near the ticket counter, there is a screen displaying the weather condition at the peak. If the visibility is bad, you will be given the option to defer your trip (up to 15 days). When we checked-in, it was raining quite heavily with high winds, but we decided to take our chance. When we reached the peak, the weather was kind to us. It changed to clear blue sky, occasionally with light clouds misting the views. It gave us a good 10-15 minutes window before turning back into something very nasty.
Do not hang around the station, just join the train queue. You might get a better seat in the train. The train departs every 30 minutes and takes about 20 minutes to reach the peak (same on the return). The station opens daily, from 08:00 to 19:00.
For the best views, go for the two seaters – on the way up and down! When you arrive at the peak, exit the train as fast as you can, and start climbing the stairs, also as fast as you can. If you get there first, you will get better pictures with less or no people in your picture. There is no time limit once you are up there. You can stay all day if you like.
If you have an overnight or a very early flight the next morning, limited budget and want a hotel that is attached to London Heathrow Airport, Premier Inn London Heathrow Terminal 4should be your default choice.
It is the only budget hotel that you do not have to lug your bags onto a bus or jump into an expensive taxi. Premier Inn is not a small dingy outfit; it is the UK largest hotel brand with more than 785 hotels. This Premier Inn is relatively a new hotel, opened in May 2017.
Premier Inn Heathrow Terminal 4, as the name suggests, is located by London Heathrow Airport Terminal 4. It is physically linked to Terminal 4. There is a fully covered walkway from the terminal to the hotel. From the underground tube (train) station, it took 11 minutes to walk and dragging a bag, point to point. From the departure floor, it took 6 minutes to walk. (Yes, we timed our walks – not fast, just leisurely.)
If you are arriving at Terminal 4 by underground tube, follow the exit sign and walk to the lift. Take the lift to the Departure floor, then walk towards the end of Zone F where the entry to the walkway is located. The hotel sign is quite small, hard to spot from the centre of the terminal. If you are arriving by flight into Terminal 4 itself, all you have to do is to make your way to Departure floor and walk towards Zone F.
Continue on the covered walkway and follow Premier Inn’s sign. The walkway is akin to a huge tubular tunnel. The same walkway also leads directly to three other hotels: Hilton Terminal 4, Crowne Plaza Terminal 4, Holiday Inn Express Terminal 4.
The room rate is what I loved most about this hotel. For this stay, I booked a family room and paid £29 inclusive of taxes. I have consistently scored £29 per night; the most I had paid was £49.50 per night. If you booked well in advance, these rates are usually available. Do not get fooled by some budget and premier hotels that tag on the word ‘Heathrow’. They are offsite from the terminals and you have to spend quite a bit of money and time to ride on cabs, or jump on a bus which is inconvenient if you have heavy bags.
Check-In and Lobby
After completing the walkway, I took the lift to the first floor where the Reception is located. You can either go directly to the Reception or to one of the self check-in kiosks. I used the kiosk; you would need your reservation number for the check-in. A billing receipt was issued and the room key card was dispensed from the machine shortly after.
The lobby itself is quite large, bright and colourful. Costa Coffee and Thyme Restaurant are located on this floor.
My bedroom was on the 4th floor. It overlooked another section of the Premier Inn. The bedroom was very spacious. It accommodated a large king bed (UK sizing), a big sofa sleeper and a long counter / working desk with lots of space in between. The room was pleasantly furnished, and was bright, aided by natural and artificial lighting.
The main bed itself was comfortable; the mattress was on the firm side. There was plenty of bedside lighting available. Power plugs were at hand on both sides of the bed but unfortunately, there was no USB chargers. If you do not like sleeping in total darkness, you can turn on the purplish nightlight, emitted from the top of the headboard.
Flooring was carpeted and quite comfortable to walk on. The window had blackout curtains.
Heating for the room can be adjusted via the wall mounted temperature controller. As it was winter, I did not test the air conditioning.
The countertop/working desk was well equipped. It had a kettle and coffee/tea making facilities, a VOIP landline telephone and a side lamp to boost the lighting. There were two power sockets towards the left side. It also had a built-in audio-visual connections (HDMI, RCA phono connectors, audio analog connector and USB play port). These features make it very handy to connect the laptop to the TV via the digital or analog connections as long as you have your own cables with you. A large LED television was mounted above the working desk and there were lots of channels (not the typical 4 or 5 channels usually available in budget hotels).
There was not much space for hanging out the clothes. There were only five hangers in an open cupboard. Close to it was the hairdryer.
The room was neither equipped with a safe nor a refrigerator. I did not recall seeing the iron and ironing board, but I am quite sure it can be requested from the housekeeping.
Wifi Connection Free wifi was provided. You have to create an account and sign in. The speed was decent enough to browse and work. However, it did take a long time to download files. It took 30 minutes to download a 100MB file. Premier Inn does offer a supercharge speed (Ultimate Wifi) for an extra fiver.
While the bedroom was nicely furnished, the bathroom on the other hand, was very basic. There was no toiletry/amenity kit, not even a bar of soap. A generic liquid soap was supplied from dispensers mounted by the wash basin and another one by the bath tub. The toilet paper were not exactly friendly for use either. Despite all this, the bathroom was spacious, pleasingly tiled and very clean. The shower was also quite powerful.
Other Conveniences & Facilities Coffee shop and restaurant are by the reception floor. Continental breakfast was priced at £8.50, while full breakfast was at £10.50. Car parking was also available at £16.50 per day, provided by a third party company.
Overall, it was a comfortable and peaceful stay and I gained a restful sleep. Both bedroom and bathroom were very clean and spacious (at least by European standards). Be mindful that it is no Hilton or Marriott and you are not paying their rates either. At £29-£50 for a good night sleep with the convenience of being attached to Heathrow Airport, in my view, it was a brilliant value and hard to beat.
Hotel Review: Premier Inn Heathrow Terminal 4
Sheffield Road, London Heathrow Airport, Heathrow, TW6 3FH, England
Last Date Stayed: 1-JUN-2019 (plus four times in the last 12 months)
Tip – How to travel from Premier Inn Heathrow Terminal 4 to Heathrow Terminal 5 Departure Level:
Exit the hotel (use the lift, press for the level marked ‘Terminal’).
Walk towards Terminal 4 using the covered walkway.
Time: 6 minutes’ leisure walk
Once you arrive the Departure level in Terminal 4, walk to the lifts located at the centre of the terminal. (Note: There is a lift/elevator immediately after the walkway, but this one leads to Heathrow Express trains, NOT the London Underground trains.)
Take the lift to the London Underground level and walk to the train platform.
Take the train to Terminal 1, 2 and 3 station. There is no direct train from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5.
Time: 6 minutes’ ride
Disembark at Terminal 1, 2 and 3 station. Change train here for Terminal 5.
(Changing train here is not a hardship. It is on the next platform, 5 seconds walk.)
Take the train to Terminal 5 station.
Time: 5 minutes’ ride
Once at Terminal 5 station, exit and take the lift to Terminal 5 Departure floor (Level 3).
From leaving Premier Inn Terminal 4 to reaching Departure level of Terminal 5, the total time was 24 minutes. Allow more time during peak hours (I was travelling off-peak hours at 10:30 am).
Nothing to pay. All travels within Heathrow area including transfers between terminals are totally free on London Underground trains, Heathrow Express, Heathrow Connect and the red buses. You must tap your Oyster Card to get the entry and exit barriers to open. If you do not have an Oyster Card, you can use your contactless credit card (as long as it has contactless payment symbol). Overseas credit cards work too. See London Underground website – paying for the fare.
Heathrow Free Travel Zone
Click here for a map of the free travel zone; map provided by Heathrow Airport.
You can also take the red bus from Premier Inn Terminal 4 to Terminal 5. Go down to the car park level. After the steps, head to the main street, turn to the right for the nearest bus stop. Overall distance is about 100m. The bus stops at several places. I have done this before and did not find it to be a time saver. It took about 30 minutes. Also be warned, if you think you will have an empty bus at 5 am in the morning, you will be very mistaken. It is packed with travellers and local people going for their early morning shifts.
You can also take the Heathrow Express train (also free). Once again, I have done it before and did not find it that convenient either. Heathrow Express does not run as frequent as the London Underground trains, and it also involves changing of train.
All considered, in my opinion, the London Underground trains are the most convenient and fastest.
This flight, BA84, has a 9:10 pm departure time from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to London Heathrow with a scheduled flying time of 9 hours and 20 minutes.
Check In and Security Check I arrived at the check-in counter about two and a half hours before departure. The check in process was a breeze. I was on a one-way BA Avios redemption ticket in economy class. At check-in, I was asked if I wanted to upgrade to Premium Economy for C$450. I declined because I knew that the aircraft was old and that the cabin had not been revamped. I flew BA’s premium economy several times before and made the conclusion that it was just not worth the money.
Security was painless and fast, even without fast track. Vancouver Airport is typically quiet after 7 pm. Most of the international long haul flights tend to depart between 12 noon and 6:30 pm.
Lounges at YVR Airport International Terminal I had three choices – the default British Airways Club/First Lounge (for BA Silver/Gold members) or Plaza Premium Lounge (using Priority Pass) or SkyTeam Lounge (also using Priority Pass). I chose Plaza Premium because of the availability of hot foods. The BA lounge is nice and staffed by friendly people but it is relatively small and can be crowded. SkyTeam lounge, in my opinion, is soulless. At quiet times, you can barely get decent food there. The Plaza Premium in YVR is more than a decent lounge. It offers hot dining; I especially like the noodle station. The seating is adequate in numbers and quite comfy. As long as you can avoid the Qantas’s departing crowd, you can usually have a peaceful time there.
Boarding Much to my surprise, at the gate, my name was called out. They had swapped my economy boarding pass with a premium economy. The flight was quite empty, so to get an operational upgrade was a pleasant surprise. I accepted it graciously. Boarding was by group number, 1 to 5. I was on Group 1 (being BA Gold / One World Emerald) and was amongst the few who boarded first. Boarding was efficient and completed well ahead of scheduled time. The aircraft left the gate 10 minutes early at 9 pm.
The Aircraft The aircraft was a Boeing 747-400, a four engine aircraft with twin aisle cabin, registration G-CIVP, which came into service in 1998. (Source: The BA Source) That makes it a 21 year old aircraft. I am sure, the interior has been refreshed a couple of times.
Cabin and Seating in Premium Economy The premium economy (also known as World Traveller Plus) cabin is sandwiched between the first class and the lower deck business class cabins. See seat map below. This invariably means the first class passengers will disembark the aircraft after the premium economy passengers.
It has a total of 36 seats in a 2-4-2 layout. To give you a general idea on the spaciousness, the standard economy cabin seating layout is 3-4-3. Essentially, two seats were removed per row to make it into ‘premium’ economy. The seat pitch is 38 inches and the seat width is 20 inches; compare that with standard economy at 31 inches and 17.5 inches respectively.
The seat did recline but by not much, but sufficient enough to disrupt your back-seat viewing and comfort level if the passenger in-front decided to do the maximum recline. There was an adjustable headrest and footrest for added ‘comfort’.
The seat-back pocket had two large pouches to store your cables, glasses and other small personal items – a very convenient feature.
There was no USB outlet to directly charge the mobile devices. A multi adapter power supply is available to power the laptop and devices.
The eating tray was stored inside the seat’s armrest.
In my opinion, the seat was quite hard. Overall, the cabin had a very year ‘2000’ feel. However, to be fair, I think it probably did receive a minor refresh a few years ago because the carpets were not totally worn out and the seats were not totally sunken in.
Bear in mind that British Airways has another variant of the premium economy cabin on its Boeing 747-400 fleet. This article refers to aircraft G-CIVP. The other version has smaller number of premium economy seats and better features.
Inflight Services I self-guided myself to my seat. I was seated on 15G, an aisle seat in the middle column. No one was sitting next to me. Needless to say, the entire flight was much more comfortable as a result. The premium economy cabin was less than three-quarters full. Interestingly, I noticed that the demographic group of the passengers in this cabin was mostly the over 50 years old.
There was plenty of overhead cabin storage. On the seat itself, they had already placed the headset, amenity kit, a small pillow and a standard blanket sealed in a plastic bag. So, in order to be seated comfortably, the first thing you have to do is to remove these items to the side.
The amenity kit consisted of basic inflight conveniences, all sealed in an unimpressive BA branded plastic bag. Inside, there were cabin socks, an eye mask, earplugs, a tooth brush, a small tube of toothpaste and a pen. The latter was handy to complete the UK landing form.
The headphone was a bit flimsy, definitely not noise cancelling, despite BA claiming it to be on its website. The personal entertainment screen, mounted on the forward passenger’s backseat was very tiny, about 5.25 inches (same size as in the standard economy seat). Amazingly, it was a touchscreen (sarcasm)! To clarify, it was not touchscreen. There was also a handheld media control to operate the entertainment system. The inflight entertainment was adequate with the usual offerings of Hollywood movies, TV shows and radios. But in all frankness, it was hard to enjoy them on a screen size that was no larger than the length of an iPhone 6/7. Real time flight navigation information was also on offer to track the progress of the flight.
We were offered a pre-flight drink, limited to a choice of water or orange juice only. Shortly after, a menu was distributed in the form of a small postcard size. After reaching the cruising altitude, a warm towel was handed out. I was warmly greeted and addressed by my last name. The UK landing card was distributed shortly after, followed by drinks and snack, served from a trolley. Alcoholic drinks were offered including wine and champagne. The snack was just a packet of pretzels. She came back a short while later to take my choice for the entrée. Apart from myself, I did not see her approached other passengers in the premium economy cabin.
The dinner menu was limited in choice. It was either chicken or pasta. I selected the chicken ‘coq au vin’ which is a variation of French dish of chicken braised with wine, lardons and mushrooms. The entire dinner set (starter, main and dessert) came in one single tray, and it was quite congested. The cutlery set was a proper stainless steel and the dishware was in the form of fine china.
I was also served dinner first before others. This led me to conclude that I must be the only BA Gold member present in this cabin. (Not complaining – certainly nice to receive a little special treatment.)
The starter was a fresh salad, nothing much to shout about. My main, the chicken ‘coq au vin’, was surprisingly tasty. It was complemented with French green beans and rice. The dessert (maple berry cake) was uninspiring.
After dinner, I watched a newly released Hollywood movie, “Peppermint”, starring Jennifer Garner. The very small screen and sub-par audio headset did take some enjoyment away.
I then slept nicely for a good five hour! The fact that I did not have anyone sitting next to me added exponentially to my comfort level.
Breakfast/snack was served 1.5 hours before landing. It was a simple croissant bun and crunchy bar, along with beverage of your choice.
The premium economy cabin was serviced by just one dedicated cabin crew. She was professional, warm and had cheerful disposition, always smiling. She intuitively knew when to strike a conversation and when to leave the passengers alone. I was so impressed with her service that I gave away my first British Airway “Golden Ticket” to her. I had it for many years but never felt compelled enough to give to anyone. There were a few marginal cases where I could have dished it out, but I refrained at the last minute. (Note – Golden Ticket is British Airways’ recognition method for passengers to award its crew for outstanding services. It can be awarded by BA Gold members only.)
Our flight arrived 1 hour and 5 minutes early! BA84 was scheduled to arrive at London Heathrow Terminal 3 at 2:30 pm, but touched down at 1:25 pm. The scheduled 9 hours 20 minutes flight was accomplished in 8 hours 15 minutes. The aircraft must have rode in a jet stream with a very strong tailwind. I now wish I had paid more attention to the navigation system, especially to the tailwind speed.
Post note: A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 plane set a new speed record on February 18, 2019 by clocking 801 mph, riding on a tailwind of 231 mph. The flight completed the Los Angeles to London journey in 9 hours and 14 minutes, much less than the 11 hours scheduled. Story here.
Summary Overall, I enjoyed this premium economy flight. Firstly, I had no one sitting next to me; that instantly elevated the comfort level. The cabin staff who serviced the cabin was very pleasant, warm and professional.
On the other side of the argument, British Airways’ premium economy is not created equal across its fleet. The newer aircrafts (Boeing 787, Boeing 777 and Airbus A380) have a much more modern cabin and sleeker inflight entertainment. The Boeing 747, on the other hand, is stuck with early 2000’s technology and features. In my view, the hard product must go hand in hand with the soft product in order to make it very desirable.
If I had to pay to fly premium economy, it would be a resounding no, especially on a Boeing 747. The price differential between a standard economy and premium economy is not small. Typically, it ranges from 2 to 2.5 times the standard economy fare. It is hard to justify paying more than double for a little extra space, marginally better food and a cheap amenity kit. As I said earlier, it was not worth the money.
Seat Tip BA’s premium economy cabin in the Boeing 747-400 has a couple of configurations. If your flight has the same configuration as aircraft G-CIVP, go for first row seats on the right – 11J and 11K. Or the last row of the two seater – 16J and 16K. The seats are very private, especially for couples (no neighbours to your left).
Airline Review: BA84 British Airways Boeing 747-400 Vancouver to London Heathrow Premium Economy Class Date Flew: 21-JAN-2019
I was pretty excited to get on this ultra long haul flight for two reasons. Firstly, it was a QSUITE. Secondly, it was on a brand new A350-1000 aircraft. Both were my first; so, to fly first time on a A350-1000 with Qsuite would be quite an experience.
Transit and Boarding
We were transiting from another Qatar Airways flight from Colombo. It was a long seven hour transit in Doha Airport, but with the privilege to use the Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge, the transit was relatively painless. I am not reviewing Al Mourjan lounge now, but simply put, it is simply one of the best airline lounges in the world. During the seven hour layover, we had two meals, slept quite comfortably in the rest area and had a refreshing shower. We were fresh and clean by the time we walked to the departure gate.
Gate C7 was assigned to our flight and it was just a short stroll from the Al Mourjan lounge. As this flight was US bound, documents check was more stringent, all bags were X-rayed, passengers went through the metal detector, and a body pat-down was also conducted. This security screening process is only typical for US bound passengers, definitely not to other parts of the world. In my numerous Doha transit experiences, the only inspection performed for flights to other parts of the world was the one immediately after disembarking the arriving aircraft, and then a quick document check at the departure gate.
Just as we cleared the security, we were informed that our aircraft had experienced technical problems (yes, on a brand new aircraft) and it would be a two hour delay from the original schedule (0800 hours). We were allowed to leave the secured area, and we returned to Al Mourjan lounge. After an hour and a half waiting in the lounge, we proceeded back to the gate, just to be sure. The ground staff was not volunteering any information, but we gathered it was a technical problem with a faulty cabin door. After another hour of waiting by the gate, we went through the same security screening and finally boarded the plane at 1120 hours. Priority boarding was enforced with business class passengers allowed in first, followed by elite frequent flyers (One World Emeralds and Sapphires).
The staff on duty by the aircraft’s door were not totally ready for the passengers, but we were allowed in, nonetheless. Inside, I was warmly welcomed by the cabin crew in charge of our section. After receiving a hot towel and welcome drink, I unintendedly nodded off to sleep. The prolonged delays and time differences had got the better of me. I was woken up shortly after by a commotion. The cabin staff were busy removing their luggage from the overhead cabins and dragging the bags and themselves off the aircraft. I then realised that they were being replaced by a brand new set of air and cabin crew! Due to the delays and long duration of the flight, the initial crew would run out of legal hours partway of the journey but it defied logic as to why the management decided to do the crew swap after all the passengers had been loaded.
I was getting very agitated at this point because no information was forthcoming from the captain, and for the first time, I feared that I would miss my connecting flight from New York JFK to Vancouver. The change of crew further aggravated the delay by another hour. In the end, the aircraft left the gate at 1300 hours – five hours late, and it was airborne fifteen minutes later.
The flight path was over Europe and the Atlantic. The published flight time was 14 hours and 25 minutes (presumably with time padding) but our flight managed to complete the trip in under 13.5 hours. It landed at 1835 hours New York time and after a long taxiing which felt like eternity, we reached the gate at 1905 hours. Point to point, we arrived 4 hours and 40 minutes late.
Business Class Qsuite Cabin
The aircraft deployed on this Doha to New York route was a new Airbus A350-1000. The A350-1000 has the longest fuselage in the Airbus’s family of twin engine jets and reputed to be the quietest aircraft out there. It is seven metres longer than the A350-900 (see my Stockholm-Doha flight review here).
The cabin interior was distinctly modern and pleasant with LED ambient lighting setting the mood. The layout in the business cabin was 1-2-1, all enclosed in a suite with a sliding door, more popularly known as Qsuite. Qatar Airways clearly upped the game with its Qsuite and led the way in business class innovation. As it is now, you will almost certainly have to fly first class with other premium airlines in order to get a suite.
The seats were in staggered layout. All odd numbered seats were rear-facing, while even numbers were forward-facing. There were nine rows of the single window suites and ten middle row suites in the main Business cabin. After the galley, the aft cabin had another two rows of window and middle suites.
The middle seats had movable panels that can be transformed into a quad configuration, assuming there were four of you, or in double configuration if there were two of you. They can then be reverted back into a single private suite (if preferred) when you are ready to retire.
There were ample overhead spaces, but somehow, I struggled to find a space just above my seat for my carry-on. They were monopolised and occupied by the cabin crew’s personal luggage. I was in suite 1K, a rear-facing seat by the window. By design, there was no overhead storage compartment above the middle row suites.
All the seats have sliding doors. The doors and compartment panels were stylishly designed and featured prominently in burgundy – Qatar Airways’ corporate colour.
All the seats transformed into fully lie-flat beds. Various pre-programmed seating modes were easily accessible via the control console. The footwell was quite deep but narrow-ish. When the seat was transformed into totally lie flat, I found it quite comfortable to sleep in.
The seat was complemented with two pillows and a soft, plush duvet. The White Company, a British company, supplied the sleepwear and slippers.
There was a specially built storage for the headphone, inflight magazines and water bottle. On depressing the storage cover, the whole storage unit raised up and became an arm rest (which was very comfortable).
The dining tray was just below the screen and can be pulled towards you. It was flexible enough but I find it hard to get into a natural eating position (without bending the body forward when eating).
Inflight Entertainment System
The inflight entertainment was powered by Qatar Airways’ Oryx One. A huge touch screen was permanently affixed above the footwell. As it did not require folding away during take off and landing, you can, in theory, enjoy the entertainment from the point you step in to the point you disembark. The latest spread of Hollywood, along with Arabic, Bollywood and world cinema were available for viewing. Apart from movies, there were audio channels and TV shows. You could also monitor the flight’s progress and view the external cameras.
The media control console was amazing. It had a slew of neat features and new technologies. Apart from the pre-programmed seat modes, it included a “Do Not Disturb” indicator, handheld inflight controller, power plug, two USB chargers and a NFC controller. The latter (Near Field Communication) was the first I had seen in any aircraft, presenting the capability to make wireless data transfer between devices that have NFC capabilities. I am not exactly sure what Qatar Airways has in mind for installing the NFC, but as of now, NFC is primarily used in contactless payments (such as Android Pay and Apple Pay).
Attached to the display was another USB reader and HDMI connector. Once again, I cannot recall any airline providing an HDMI connection. It was not available on other Qatar Airways’ aircrafts, not even on the A350-900 or the Dreamliner. In my case, it was a life saver for me. I was having problems with my laptop’s screen. By connecting my laptop to inflight screen via the HDMI connector, I could replicate my laptop display onto the inflight screen and managed to get some urgent work done. Thankfully, with the inflight wifi connection, I was able to download and send urgent emails.
On this flight, the wifi was free for the first 60 minutes, but for USD10, you could have it for the whole duration of the flight. It did not specify the data size (unlike in my previous flight Stockholm to Doha, the Ultimate Plan costing USD20 had 200MB fair usage policy). Unfortunately, the satellite wifi was poor and sketchy with slow download, and in some areas, there were no satellite coverage.
You can control the window’s shade electronically with a touch of up or down button, located just above the window. The shade can be turned into semi-transparent or fully opaque state.
They were quite spacious and equipped with a generous array of quality amenities. These included dental kit, body mist spray, shaver kit, hand lotion, wet wipes and soft tissues. The washrooms were immaculately clean, and in each of my visit, I noticed that the seat had always been lined by a flushable toilet seat cover, suggesting that the cabin crew did check and clean the washrooms frequently.
Qatar Airways partnered with two Italian manufacturers for the supply of the amenity kit. The travel case was made by BRIC’s – in the form of a premium structured hard case. Mine was a bright blue case. Enclosed in the elegant case were various inflight necessities and skin care products. They included a pair of cabin socks, eye mask, ear plugs, lip balm, anti-aging moisturiser and hydration facial mist spray. The skin care products were furnished by Castello Monte Vibiano.
Before airborne, the Cabin Service Director (CSD) stopped by my suite to introduce herself and thanked me for flying Qatar Airways. I took the opportunity to voice my concern with the prolonged delays and the possibility of missing my onward connection (which I had built in a 6 hour buffer for transfer). She noted my onward flight number and said she would try to coordinate with the arrival ground staff.
On-demand dining was offered on this flight. Prior to take off, I was asked for my meal and drinks preferences. I chose to have my first meal as soon as cruising level was reached, and the next one, two hours before landing. Apart from the main menu, they also offered “Snack Platters” – a variety of light meals/snacks.
For my first meal, I selected a platter of fresh fruits for my starter. Along with it, came a selection of freshly baked breads. This was followed by Malabar Prawn Masala from the Light Options menu. It was served with pulao rice in a white porcelain bowl, accompanied with some pickled vegetables. The masala meal was tasty. My completed dish was promptly cleared, and since I did not want anything else, I was given a hot towel, followed by a box of Godiva chocolate.
Shortly after my meal, the CSD came by to inform me that they had relayed a message to their ground staff in New York, requesting connection assistance for me.
Throughout the flight, there was not a single announcement from the captain except before landing. I was expecting an update at the beginning of the flight, especially after a long delay, but nothing came from him.
Regretfully, during much of the flight, we were bombarded by a child who cried incessantly. The parents were indifferent, the nanny tried her best and failed, and the cabin crew were left helpless. I pumped up the audio volume but could not blank out the noise; so, it was a case of either the noise cancelling headphone was useless or the child cried dozens more decibels that he managed to render the headphone ineffective.
I was quite sure that the airline offered turn down service but by then, I was too tired and agitated to care.
I woke up two hours before landing. Shortly after, the cabin crew set my tray with white cloth and cutlery sets. For dinner, I had soup, followed by chicken kabsa skewers with yellow rice. The soup was nice, but I found the chicken too dry and only mildly tasty.
Before landing, the CSD came around and thanked me again for flying with them.
Overall, the cabin services were good, cordial and polite. But I could not help thinking that they were ill-prepared for this flight. They were a bunch of standby crew who were yanked out from somewhere to do an ultra long haul.
The flight arrived the gate 4 hours and 40 minutes late. Our Cathay Pacific’s connecting flight (on a separate ticket) from New York JFK to Vancouver was at 2035 hours. The minimum time for check-in/bag drop was 70 minutes. That meant we had to be at Cathay’s check-in counter by latest 1925 hours. Essentially, we had only 20 minutes to disembark, clear immigration, get the bags and sprint to the departure floor.
Incidentally, the ground assistance for our connecting flight was non-existent. There was no Qatar Airways’ ground staff waiting to help us. It was just by sheer miracle that we got through JFK immigration and customs in 20 minutes that saved our day, and due to our insistence to the one and only Qatar Airways’ staff on duty by the baggage belt to radio ahead to Cathay Pacific’s check-in supervisor of our imminent arrival, and luckily for us, our departure and arrival were all in the same Terminal 8.
Qatar Airways’ Qsuite is without doubt the best long haul business class available out there today. It is innovative and sets the standard that even premier airlines like Singapore Airlines will find to beat. Qsuite is essentially a premium lie flat seat in an enclosed personal compartment, and it is simply outstanding for privacy. You may argue that it can be quite claustrophobic, but you can always leave the suite door open.
Despite an outstanding hard product and lovely cabin staff, this flight was not as enjoyable as I would have liked it to be. (Read my Stockholm-Doha flight review here). It was marred by extended delays, poor communication, unplanned crew change and a screaming child.
All said, for ultimate privacy and comfort, Qsuite has my vote and I would fly it again in a heartbeat.
Airline Review: QR701 Qatar Airways, Airbus A350-1000 XWB, Doha to New York JFK, QSUITE Business Class
Date Flew: 29-NOV-2018
Duration: 13.5 hours
For a brief period of 4-5 hours on New Year’s eve (or New Year’s day, depending on where you were), you could have grabbed a return business class ticket on Cathay Pacific from just US$674. This was from Vietnam (Da Nang, Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City) to Canada (Vancouver) or States (San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York or Washington). For first class cabin, it was a mere US$1,100 return. And we are talking about Cathay Pacific, one of the best airlines in the world.
I happened to be at the right place (i.e. by my computer) at the right time, and I managed to snatch two sets of tickets, one for June and the other for October 2019. There wasn’t much time to ponder on perfect dates and itineraries. It was a case of grab the seats and get them ticketed immediately, then worry the consequences later.
I managed to snatch Hanoi to Vancouver via Hong Kong return for just US$878 in business and first class combination. Three sectors were in business class (Hanoi to Hong Kong, Vancouver to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Hanoi) and one sector in first class (Hong Kong to Vancouver).
Call whatever you like, it was definitely a mistake by Cathay Pacific. Typically, first class fares would run into five digits for these long haul flights. I wasn’t sure if Cathay was going to honour the tickets/fares. It was a case of ‘wait and see’ if Cathay would act honourably. Much to its credit, Cathay Pacific acted swiftly and decisively, and in just 24 hours, it announced publicly that it will honour all the tickets! Kudos to Cathay Pacific!
As for me, it was a relief as I did not have to anguish over a decision for prolonged period (like the Iberia Avios fiasco). I can now get on with planning and acquiring my repositioning flights and hotels, and at the same time, build in a nice holiday around the dates. But above all, as we enter a new year, I need to start gathering my British Airways Executive Club tier points in order to maintain my elite status (BA Gold / One World Emerald). My calculation shows that I will get 960 BA tier points from my two sets of tickets, which means, I am almost two-third of my way to retaining BA Gold. The other third, I guess, I will wait for a good sale from Qatar Airways.
Qatar Airways was awarded the world’s Best Business Class Airline 2018 by Skytrax, outdoing close rivals such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Emirates. I have flown numerous times with Qatar Airways in the front cabin, and it is really hard to disagree with the award of this accolade. Qatar Airways truly has the best business class seats with equally impressive inflight services to match.
I booked my flights five months ahead of my trip, and within this period, there were three aircraft changes. At one point, it was changed to a QSuite, which got me excited, but two weeks before departure, it was reverted back to the standard business seats.
My departure was from Stockholm Arlanda Airport Terminal 5. The check-in counter opened promptly three hours before departure. Check-in was a breeze, and so was the security checks (using fast track). After passing the duty free shops, I reached the Immigration. Again, it was a quick process and I was off to the lounge in minutes.
Stockholm Arlanda Lounge
There was only one lounge available in the whole of Terminal 5 (not a big terminal). Stockholm Arlanda Lounge is operated by an independent company and its entry is by invitation. Business class passengers and OneWorld Alliance elite members (Emerald and Sapphire) can access the lounge. I also noticed that Singapore Airlines and Priority Pass passengers use this lounge too. The lounge was basic and not well-maintained as a lounge should be. The flooring was dirty with food waste scattered all over. The chairs and sofas were stained. Food and drinks were minimal; whatever little food there was, it was unappetizing and by 8pm, the food was removed. If you have a late flight and are thinking of having a shower before your long onward flight, you are out of luck. There was no shower available. This is not a lounge that you want to spend many hours inside but by all accounts, it is not exactly a dump either – just dirty and basic.
QR172 was attached to an aerobridge at Gate F58. As usual, business class passengers and OneWorld elites were boarded first. The whole process was well-organised, fast and efficient with all the passengers loaded in good time. I was warmly welcomed by a team of cabin crew and was shown to my seat by the Cabin Service Manager himself.
Cabin and Seating
The aircraft used on this Stockholm Arlanda to Doha route was an Airbus A350-900. The A350 is my favourite long haul aircraft because it is quieter and spacious, at least perceived in my mind. The layout of the business cabin was 1-2-1. The single seaters were reverse herring bone with the seats angled towards the windows. The centre two seaters were positioned slightly angled towards each other. The main front cabin had six rows, with another three rows after the bar/galley.
I was seated in 3A, a window single seater on the left side, which afforded me a lot of privacy.
The business cabin had the full LED mood lighting on which created a nice ambience. The cabin was immaculately clean and organised to the last details, including the washrooms. Overall, the cabin felt very spacious and private.
All the seats were fully lie flat complemented with plush pillow and a premium quality blanket/duvet. There were plenty of overhead compartment spaces. There was also a drawer for storing shoes, and purpose-built storage for water bottle, magazines and headphone.
The inflight entertainment was channeled through a very large touchscreen display. It was non-foldable, so in theory, you could watch your movie right until disembarkation (ground to ground). A USB charger and power plug were available next to the seat, in case you need to energise your mobile devices and laptop.
As soon as I was seated, I was asked what I wanted for a pre-flight drink, and whether I preferred hot or cold towel. My drink and hot towel came very promptly. The Business Class à la carte menu and drinks menus were handed out shortly after, followed by a set of pyjamas, furnished by The White Company, a British company. The pyjama set consisted of throw-away slippers, a bottom and a top. My meals and drinks orders were also taken before take-off. Qatar Airways offers ‘dine anytime, on demand’ service. You can specify when you would like to have your meals served. I typically prefer my meals shortly after take-off, and another one about one and a half hour before landing. This, in my view, maximises my downtime.
After reaching the cruising altitude, my drink “So Jennie”, a delicious pale pink sparkling beverage made mostly of grapes, was served along with a small bowl of warm nuts (almond, cashews and pistachios).
While I was munching on the nuts, the cabin crew started preparing the dining table-tray with white-cloth and white napkin. The white dinnerware, stainless steel cutlery and condiments were positioned and aligned with precision.
My starter was sweet corn soup. It was complimented with a selection of fresh white and brown artisan breads. I tried the spicy lemon vinaigrette for my dip; it was surprisingly nice. This was followed by my chosen appetiser – smoked salmon with horseradish and chive. My entrée was a spicy Thai green curry vegetable with jasmine rice, red chili and kaffir lime. Altogether, the meals were fresh and delicious, and presented beautifully and meticulously served. My finished dishes were cleared promptly. I declined the dessert as I was too full, but if I had wanted to, I could have had the molten chocolate cake with blueberry compote. Instead, I settled for a freshly brewed cup of macchiato, along with a couple of Godiva chocolates.
The inflight amenity kit was furnished by BRIC’S, a renowned Italian maker of luxury travel bags. The contents included a pair of cabin socks, eye mask, foam ear plug, lip balm, anti-aging moisturiser and hydration facial mist. The three skin care products were from the Beauty line of Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio, another Italian manufacturer. All these items were enclosed in an elegant and premium hard travel case.
Qatar Airways’ Oryx One provided the inflight entertainment. A large monitor sat above the table tray. The touchscreen provided easy navigation for movies, audio and flight maps. A good selection of the latest Hollywood, Bollywood and other world movies were on offer, amongst which, included Mission Impossible – Fallout, Mamma Mia 2, Equalizer 2 and Annihilation. The noise cancelling headset worked effectively, providing good quality audio.
You can also monitor the flight progress by tuning to the flight navigation map, and if you so desire, you can also take an exterior peek through the A350 cameras. You can also control the inflight entertainment using the wired portable hand control, located immediately above the hand rest. This was particularly handy when you were already in your ‘relaxed’ seating position and the touchscreen was a bit of a stretch to reach.
In between the main front business class cabin and the smallish rear business class cabin was the bar/galley area where fruits, snacks (chocolate bars, potato chips, etc) and drinks were freely available on self-help basis.
There was onboard wifi, provided by Ooredoo. It was complimentary for the first 30 minutes. If you wanted more, it was USD10 for three hours or USD20 for the whole duration of the flight. There was a fair usage data policy – the three hour plan was constrained to 100 MB, while the whole flight plan was limited to 200 MB. To me, the limit was too low, almost unworkable for a long flight. I had no idea what happened if you exceeded the data limit. I tested the complimentary wifi on my laptop. It was slow; I think satellite wifi has a long way to catch up with the land technology.
The washrooms were quite spacious and very clean, equipped with an extensive array of amenities such as shaver kits, toothbrush kits, wet wipes, soft tissues, hand lotion, body mist and power outlet. The toilet’s flush and water tap were non-touch on this A350-900 aircraft, activated by hand gesture – the first I have seen on an aircraft. In fact, the toilet cover closed automatically when flushed. The cabin crew also dutifully cleaned the toilet and ensured the toilet paper seat cover was replaced after each visit.
Onboard turndown / seat cover service was not offered on this flight, or rather not voluntarily offered. (On one of my previous flights to and from Tokyo, the crew pro-actively went around the cabin to offer a turndown service.)
The seat had some 14 pre-programmed seat modes, and with a little tweaking, I found a comfortable position. I slept about three hours out of the six hour flight. Personally, I found the lie flat bed to be a bit on the hard side but certainly tolerable.
Forty-five minutes before landing, the cabin’s ambience lighting was brightened. A hot towel was offered, and I was asked if I wanted anything to eat or drink. I opted for a cup of hot English breakfast tea and some ginger snap cookies.
Our flight landed on time in Doha.
It dawned upon me that after numerous business class travels, this must be easily one of the best and comfortable flights I had taken in a premium cabin of any airlines. The fine dining was most enjoyable, the cabin crew were very attentive and warm, and their pursuit for attention to details was top notch. I wish all Qatar Airways’ flights can be consistently and equally good as this. And for the aircraft – the Airbus A350-900 was fabulously comfortable, clean, spacious and private. I would rate this flight 9.5 out of 10, if I am pushed for a quantitative rating.
Airline Review: QR172 Qatar Airways, Airbus A350-900 XWB, Stockholm Arlanda to Doha, Business Class
Date Flew: 11-NOV-2018
Duration: 6 hours