As I write this segment of my trip, I can't help but feel fortunate that I was able to avoid the diplomatic crisis that erupted between some Middle Eastern countries and Qatar which culminated in the suspension of flight service between these countries. Egypt as we all know was one of countries involved and if I had decided to take this trip a week later I would be writing about this trip with another carrier. All my efforts to have my award trip changed from EY to QR would have been in vain. Who would have thought?
After my arrival from SIN I was looking forward to my stay at QR's Al Safwa Lounge which proved to be the most stunning F lounge that I have ever visited. Architecturally speaking this impressive lounge should be a subject on the aesthetics of design since it surpasses its functionality as a traveler's lounge to become something more.
On my way to Al Safwa lounge.
Two attendants guard the entrance at the stairs and check for credentials before allowing guests to enter.
Upon entering I stop by the desk to reserve a room to rest. The attendant tells me that the room will be ready in half an hour and invites me to visit the restaurant in the meantime.
The lobby with its remarkably high ceiling gives a sense of unlimited space and it almost makes the surrounding furniture look "Lilliputian". The centerpiece is the modern fountain with a steady stream coming out of the ceiling.
The restaurant and WC's are adjacent to the fountain. When i stepped into the WC an attendant greeted me and even turned on the sink for me. He was performing his duty diligently but I find that such effusive style of service to be slightly unnerving. As you can imagine with such vigilant service, I did not dare take a pic of the facilities.
Upon entering the restaurant that first thing that you will notice is the extensive bar. However, due to Ramadan, alcoholic drinks were not displayed on this occasion. The bar staff greeted me warmly and asked if I desired something to drink. I thanked them but declined the offer.
The dining area is divided into smaller areas and when I requested a quiet spot I was taken to the far right side at the end which remained blissfully empty during my entire stay. At least 3-4 different staff members waited on me.
I was presented with a menu with limited choices. Soon an attendant came by to take my order and I had the seafood bisque to start, followed by lamb chops and Arabic desserts. A simple three course meal this late at night (or morning). It was around 01:00.
Seafood bisque - disappointingly flavorless accompanied by "So Jeannie" non alcoholic bubbly.
Herb crusted lamb chops - delicious and tender, although I would have preferred it a bit more "pink" in the center. I enjoyed this dish.
Arabic desserts - sort of like bread pieces in custard sauce and rice pudding. I don't particularly like rose water as a flavoring for dessert.
I returned to the service desk and I was informed that my room was ready. I was directed to the Spa area where one of the receptionists there asked for my connecting boarding pass and then showed me to my room.
Islamic/Middle Eastern art displays.
I was assigned room #12. The room was comfy and had an ensuite WC, but the door to the WC would not stay open and it felt a bit stuffy.
Nap rooms area.
I got a couple of hours of rest and the following morning I explored more areas of the lounge.
There is a separate Duty Free store located inside the lounge.
The lounge never became crowded and it truly felt like an oasis of tranquility in the middle of a busy airport. It lived up to another characteristic that every First Class lounge must possess - exclusivity.
Breakfast at the lounge.
I returned to the restaurant to have something to eat. One of the staff members from the previous visit recognized me and welcomed me back. Again, I requested a quiet spot and this time I was taken to the far left side of the lounge. There were some buffet items displayed by the seating area.
The menu had a limited selection of "a la carte" items. I chose the Eggs Benedicts which was cooked right but the use of turkey bacon instead of pork was perceptible in the overall taste of the dish.
Business Center with individual "offices".
I still had time to spare so I checked out the "Al Mourjan" Business lounge.
Reception after the escalator.
The entrance is behind the reception wall with the pool and stairs connecting to the restaurant above. I did not venture into this restaurant.
Seating area at the end of the pool.
Limited self serve snacks and drinks.
At the opposite end there is a sit down Deli restaurant with some buffet items but I ordered a chicken sandwich. As expected it was busier here than at the Al Safwa F lounge. Right by the restaurant there was a family or game area where a child was having a tantrum crying inconsolably. To the family's credit they left quickly allowing the rest of us to enjoy our meals. Within a few tables from where I was sitting I was able to hear an inquisitive conversation between some patrons and a waiter. The party took a keen interest in finding out where the server was from and he shyly replied that he was from Bangladesh. This was followed by how long he's been in Doha which in my opinion seemed somewhat intrusive. Anyways it's not polite to listen to the conversation of others but it was so loud that I couldn't help to avoid hearing it. I took a bite of the sandwich which was satisfying and then I left. ;)
The seating area was expansive with different areas that offered privacy.
I regret not being able to explore the restaurant upstairs, but after a light breakfast at the F lounge and a bite of the chicken sandwich, in addition to counting on a decent breakfast aboard, I just couldn't indulge in more sinful gluttony. Hopefully I will have the chance to pay a visit on a future trip.
On my way to the gate.
Check-in at the gate was smooth and upon verifying all docs I was welcomed inside the sitting area. It eventually became very crowded as passengers started to arrive. There seemed to be a mix of locals and Asian passengers. Finally boarding was announced and everybody rushed to the front. Thankfully I was strategically seated close to the door and was one of the first ones to board.
Plane at the gate.
Upon entering the window shades were lowered and the cabin was dark in order to keep it cool.
Eventually the shades were raised and the cabin was bright.
The FA introduced herself and offered pre-dept. drinks. I had orange juice.
Then menus and amenity kits were distributed. I give credit to QR for offering a modified version of an amenitiy kit for this regional flight. It's really appreciated.
Because of Ramadan, no alcohol is served on regional flights to other Muslim countries.
Arabic coffee and a package of dates are distributed.
At one point during the flight the purser also introduces herself and welcomes us aboard. I can't recall if it was before taxiing out or right after take off.
Take off - bye DOH.
Quick visit to the WC where shaving kits and toothbrushes were available.
Breakfast started with strawberry and oats smoothie.
Plate setting with breakfast breads in a ceramic bowl. I'd rather use a plate and be offered a selection from a basket than see them all stuck in a bowl this way.
Main dish - Halloumi cheese and tomato tart served with potatoes and beet chutney which added a touch of sweetness to the savory dish. Miam !! My seatmate who was an Egyptian sent the same dish back telling the FA "what is this?" :P She handled the situation very well by offering an alternate dish to the upset pax.
Hot towel was handed at the conclusion of the meal.
Later on mints were offered.
Unlike my previous QR flight, Godiva chocolates were not given out unless one asked for them. I did not bother since I didn't need the extra calories but this seemed a bit inconsistent to me. Having said that, the FA's were very friendly and told me not to hesitate letting them know if I needed anything.
Approaching Egypt with the Suez Canal.
CAI coming up with a view of the pyramids in the distance.
Landing in CAI.
SV on the runway.
The land of MS.
Qatar Airways Al Safwa Lounge
Doha - DOH
Cairo - CAI
My transfer at DOH was smooth and it seems like a well run and efficient airport with the teddy bear by Swiss artist Urs Fischer as its centerpiece. Supposedly there are 3 versions of it - the other two are private collections.
QR's Al Safwa and Al Mourjan lounges are impressive in their sizes and offerings. My rating above is obviously for Af Safwa since that was my designated lounge and the one in which I spent the most time. The nap rooms are a convenient feature for the weary traveler who has a long connection at DOH and are greatly appreciated. Originally I was booked on EY for my CAI trip but the fact that EY does not have nap rooms in their lounges was one of the reasons that I switched to QR. I can't believe that EY is behind in this area compared to QR and EK.
Catering at the lounge was fine but I think that it could have been better, especially for a F class one. I did not partake in the buffet, but the "a la carte" choices were a bit limited and not all dishes shone. Service however was very good and some staff were truly exemplary in this area making you feel like a welcomed guest.
Aboard QR is a solid airline with great crew that are willing to please. The hard product is excellent with many extras like amenity kits and pajamas that competitors would not offer on flights that are not considered long haul. The cabin configuration tends to vary a lot depending on the aircraft and there are a lot of different ones out there for QR. Hopefully with the introduction of the new Q Suites in J, there will be some consistency in the future.
I like QR's catering with meals that are well presented and varied in choice. In addition I think the wine menu had a great selection to satisfy every taste. The dine on request feature is great and adds a true premium touch to its product. Because of this, I can see more staffing in the front cabins in order to accommodate this but at the same time it tends to create a more "chaotic" feel in the cabin with staff running back and forth.
I enjoyed my experience on QR and hope to repeat it in the future. It's a good thing that SFO is a new destination in 2018.
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