I spent Wednesday night in Hong Kong, throwing items into my luggage, making sure I had all my cables and chargers for the computer and iPad, and tossing any liquids that I intended to bring because I wanted to stick with carry-on luggage only. I curled up in bed on Wednesday night knowing it was the last time I’d be sleeping in Hong Kong for a while, and the first night among the coming five in which I would be falling asleep in a different bed each night.
My plans, if not my sleep, seemed sound that night, but no matter how well prepared something unexpected always seems to happen on the day of travel that throws those plans into the wind. This time, just before heading to the airport on Thursday, I was called into my boss’ office with strict marching orders to complete a task — urgently. As I watched the hands on the clock ticking ever later, I quickly wrapped up the meeting, grabbed by bags and made a beeline for the airport with work now hanging over my head.
Fortunately for people who are perennially late, no city is as efficient as Hong Kong in getting people to the airport. Passengers can check in for their flight at two locations downtown, drop off their bags, and receive their boarding passes before hopping on board an express train direct to the airport, which only takes 24 minutes. In some cases, check-in opens 48 hours before the flight departs, meaning you can ditch your heavy bags extra early.
If you don’t want to talk to anybody at all, most airlines will let you check in via mobile application instead. Cathay has a convenient app that loads boarding passes into Apple’s Wallet app or the Apple Watch, which displays a QR code to whisk you through security.
Around noon on Thursday I decided to check in using Qatar Airways’ mobile app, and was slightly disappointed. The app looks slightly dated compared to Cathay’s, and the check in process timed out for me repeatedly. I needed to enter my booking reference (which is odd, considering the app should already have this information — I was signed into my account), then needed to add my passport number, nationality, expiry date, and a lot more over multiple screens. Every time it timed out, it reverted back to the beginning and I had to start filling in the information all over again. It took me four tries before I finally got my boarding pass, which I then downloaded to my iPhone Wallet.
It looks nice, but it didn’t work.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work either. I got to the airport with very little time to spare, but when I tried to go through security I was told the QR code on the boarding pass had a problem. I was escorted to Qatar Airways’ counter, where the friendly staff gave me two paper boarding passes (to Doha, and on to Warsaw). With time tight, Qatar staff then took me through the VIP security lane and I whisked right through. The moral of the story? I would’ve saved more time skipping the mobile check-in altogether.
Qatar Airways doesn’t have a lounge at Hong Kong Airport, but as a Oneworld airline I had access to the Cathay and Qantas lounges. I had been to the CX lounges already, so figured I had just enough time to give the Qantas Lounge a look-see — and I’m glad I did! It is easily one of the largest lounges in Hong Kong with multiple seating areas, business bars, hot buffet, showers, and televisions showing news and sports in different parts of the lounge. The hot food menu was decent for a lounge, with sweet corn soup, greek style braised chicken, vegetarian fried rice, rigatoni pesto pasta and pork and cucumber dumplings on offer. While I didn’t try the food (I was saving space for the meal on board), a lot of people were digging in and the reviews on Lounge Buddy were positive. (The salted caramel cheesecake looked particularly appealing!) The Qantas Lounge also had a wide selection of Australian wines.
With only a few minutes to spare, I popped downstairs to Gate 16 and boarded QR817 to Doha. I had read about Qatar’s business class layout on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, but it still has to be seen to be believed: beautiful wood paneling, classy lighting, a 22 inch television monitor for each seat, and lots of personal storage space. For a Middle Eastern airline, it was able to strike a balance by avoiding the gold and garish ostentation of Emirates Airlines but still giving passengers a classy and high-end experience.
My home for the next eight hours.
After getting seated, I was given a glass of rose and began hauling out my computer, iPad and Kindle for use later during the flight.
Qatar Airways leaves some champagne and fruit on a counter at the back of the business class cabin.
I will cut to the chase here: service on Qatar Airways is the best I’ve come across on board any airline. The flight attendant came to my seat to explain how things worked on board, asked me about my final destination in Warsaw, and even suggested restaurants in the old town for great perogies! I particularly liked the fact there is no designated meal time on Qatar — the menu is all a la carte, and passengers can order whatever they like whenever they’re hungry. Nonetheless the flight attendant was taking orders now for people who wanted to eat right after takeoff, so I requested the creamy coconut soup and smoked salmon with goat cheese crumble to start, followed by a main of grilled beef fillet with caramelized onion jus and a peppery Dijon mustard.
Right after takeoff I opened my laptop to begin writing, and had plenty of room to prop up both my iPad (which contained my notes) and a 15” laptop (to write), underscoring how big the working and eating area are in each individual suite. I popped open the armrest and found a bottle of Evian water alongside noise cancelling, over-ear headphones to use with the airline’s Onyx on-board entertainment system.
Passengers were also given a small pouch in a Brics travel bag containing products from Castello Monte Vibiano, an Italian maker of wines, olive oils and cosmetics. Inside was a hydrating facial mist, lip balm, an anti-aging moisturizer and some Brics socks. The flight attendant also gave me a full set of pajamas, and told me if there’s any problem with the sizing to let her know and she’d get another pair (I never bothered to try them on, as the flight was slightly too short.)
Then it was time for dinner, so I shut down my computer.
Thinking I was going to start working again, I ordered myself a latte to perk up. But after reclining back in my seat following a hearty meal, and cognizant it was now evening in Hong Kong, I got a bit sleepy so decided to nap for a bit first. Just before dozing off, the flight attendant brought an after dinner treat: chocolates from Godiva.
I slept much longer than I anticipated, and woke up around 1am Hong Kong time, about two hours out from Doha. I attempted again to get onto the internet, and it was extremely spotty. Qatar’s most expensive on-board internet plan is US$20 for 200 MB of data, which under normal circumstances could disappear in a hurry. Fortunately, the internet was so slow I got nowhere close to using it all up.
(Pro tip: When traveling and to avoid background processes on your computer taking up bandwidth and data, such as iTunes and iCloud updates, backups, and syncs, you can download an app called Trip Mode on the Mac. It lets you determine which apps can access the internet, and it shuts all the other ones off to ensure you conserve data.)
I ordered two more lattes to wake up and decided to get one more bite to eat. I had heard the Arabic mezze platter was delicious, so I asked the flight attendant and she brought it a few minutes later. I am a huge fan of babaganoush and tabbouleh, which were both on point, and I even thoroughly enjoyed the hummus with the warm pita bread. As I ate I chatted with a few people still awake in Hong Kong via iMessage and did a bit more writing until we began our descent into Doha. Business class service and comfort was A+ on Qatar Airways, and I didn’t want the flight to end.
Qatar is a global airline that shuttles people through Doha, the capital of the country, en route to somewhere else. Therefore it has become a key transit hub in the Gulf region, and most passengers on my flight proceeded to the transit area to wait for a connecting flight. I decided to pop into town, even just for a short time, so headed for the arrivals area.
I had transited through Doha back in 2012, but a new airport has opened since which is absolutely spectacular. Hammid International Airport has an industrial but classy feel, is spacious and airy, and is sparkling clean. It is also famous for its duty free shops, which apparently offer up unbeatable bargains.
I headed towards arrivals and saw signs indicating business class passengers should carry on to a different immigration processing area. I walked in, and it appeared to be more like a lounge: there was a reception area, tables and chairs, sofas, coffee machines, tea, cakes and cookies on hand for passengers to sit down and relax after a long flight. But it was actually the immigration area. Sure enough, at the front, a guy was quietly stamping passports and issuing visas as soon as passengers were ready to go through. I have never seen such an immaculate and well-thought-through immigration process, which was comfortable and convenient. It made traveling through the airport almost blissful.
The first and business class immigration “lounge” at Hammid International. Behind me was a coffee and tea station, with cookies and cakes.
After getting my passport stamped I went to grab a taxi. As I stepped outside, the hot air blasted me in the face. I’m used to the heat and humidity in Hong Kong, but the heat in Doha was debilitating. While it was a dry heat, which is generally easier to handle than Hong Kong’s steam baths, it was still extremely uncomfortable. Thankfully the cab driver had the air conditioning on full blast.
Party time in the souq.
I stayed at a hotel in the Souq Wafiq area near the waterfront. Souq roughly means “market” in Arabic, and there was no indication people were winding down when I arrived. The souq was lively with people sitting outdoors, musicians playing music, stalls offering up street food, and a general festive atmosphere. I arrived around 11pm and originally intended to walk around the city. But alas, even the best laid plans often go sideways. Instead I holed myself up in my hotel room finishing my work task, which was due before the morning hours in Hong Kong. So I holed myself up in my hotel room until past midnight getting it done before finally nodding off to sleep.