Travelling from Abu Dhabi with a connection in Doha, my day begins at 4am, with a taxi to the airport at 4.45am (unlike Emirates and Etihad, there’s no complimentary chauffeur for Qatar Airways business class passengers in the UAE).
I’m checked in all the way to Atlanta, and the smooth transit is only marred by a 20-minute wait on the transfer bus in Abu Dhabi, where business class passengers are mixed in with economy.
My transfer time in Doha is just over an hour – the gleaming new Hamad International Airport is a great improvement – and there’s barely time to sit down before the flight’s 8am departure.
I’m on the inaugural flight, an Airbus A380 with 48 passengers in business class; normally this route is served by a Boeing 777, which has 42 in business. The A380 top deck layout is slick, with business class sitting between a large kitchen galley and a decent-sized bar/lounge area.
My flatbed seat near the window is extremely supportive and comfortable, but I’m disappointed with the in-flight entertainment system, which is controlled by a hand-held device which is too unresponsive and with a poor display, letting down the huge, good quality screen. Also taxing is the promised Wi-Fi system, which is so slow as to be unusable. It was frustrating not to be able to work, but fortunately I’ve brought a book with me – otherwise I would have been bored.
The food is good, with a “kitchen any time” concept keeping the team of hard-working stewardesses constantly on the go, as every seat in the cabin is taken. I try several dishes on the 12-hour flight; standouts are the sesame crusted salmon with soba noodles and a delicious mango salsa, and the Arabic spiced chicken breast with machboos sauce. Both of these were approaching restaurant quality. There’s also a good range of mocktails and non-alcoholic champagne.
The landing was marred by technical difficulties – there was no gate allocated for the A380 (the airport only has one), which meant disembarkation was via mobile stairs and shuttle buses.
Overall this was an excellent flight bar the technical issues. Tickets on this service are currently on promotion – from Dh3,075 return in economy and Dh14,125 return in business.
Rosemary Behan expands on the controversy over Qatar Airways’ expansion of its service to Atlanta:
Since the halting of Delta’s direct Dubai-Atlanta service last year, the Gulf has been missing a direct connection to Jackson Hartfield International Airport, the world’s busiest by total passenger numbers. Following a public row with Delta, which uses Atlanta airport as its HQ and main hub, Qatar Airways launched its new daily service to the city last Wednesday. It’s Qatar’s 10th US destination.
Why is the route controversial?
Delta stopped its Dubai-Atlanta service last February, saying the route was unprofitable, and objected to Qatar launching, saying the airline was only able to operate the route because of government subsidies. However, when the A380 took off from Doha on June 1, the flight was full, mostly with travellers from India, suggesting that Qatar is able to capture passengers wishing to travel to the US from beyond Doha, something Delta was not able to do. When Qatar held a launch party featuring Jennifer Lopez at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, Delta dropped its sponsorship of the theatre.
What went wrong with the inaugural flight?
Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker branded Delta Air Lines “wicked” over its part in ruining the first flight. He says the A380 was not allocated a gate on landing as a much smaller A230 was parked at the hub’s only A380 -ready gate. He added: “Old and frail people had to walk up very large steps to get into the terminal”.
How significant is Atlanta as a business hub?
With a population of more than 5 million, Atlanta is the business centre of the southeastern US and its main transport hub. Its major industries are financial services, technology and telecommunications.
* The writer was a guest of the airline