There we were, in Doha’s Hamad International Airport at 0146 hours. 17hr14min till our next flight to Kolkata. An enquiry about a potential hotel stay at an information desk in Concourse A, we were soon directed to head up the stairs to the transit area (where the arrival security check was at). Finding this was another trouble, since the escalators were hidden behind a bunch of elevators.
Anyway, once up there, the staff members took their time to see if we were indeed eligible for a complimentary hotel stay. This happened if the only available connection between flights was between 8 hours and 24 hours. The answer for us however, was in the negative. There was a Qatar Airways Dream)liner (QR22) arriving from Manchester at around 4pm, putting it in a prime connection with the flight to Kolkata. Nooooo! We were resigned to staying in Hamad International (the quiet rooms)…..or perhaps heading out for a city tour that would start at 6am. We decided then and there that we’d rather stay in the airport, and now so many months we regret not voicing our inner feelings - both of us wanted to see a new country for free, and get that extra couple of stamps on our passports. Our other option was to splurge on the airport hotel.
My great friend TG was in Doha at the time. Him being an ex-resident of Doha, he was willing to come visit me at the hotel. This plan also fell through, seeing as we were ‘stuck’ at Hamad Intl. How we regret not going through with the city tour! Anyway, we had to head back down to the departures concourse (seeing as how the top part is for arriving flights), but a flight had just arrived which meant many passengers had to go through security, us included. This did not take too long, thankfully.
Onwards and forwards - to the quiet rooms! The instructions by the various information desks were not ideal. Eventually, we took the rather snazzy looking people transporter. More like a spaceship - it looked very aerodynamic for sure. We made it to concourse D. Nothing much going on there, except the frantic ground staff calling for passengers for the flight to Johannesburg - QR1363. It was about 3am, and we found a quiet room. This was a family quiet room, so the two of us (barely) managed to snag some recliners. Not ideal when suitcases and bags take up the space, right?
My girlfriend slept soundly as I had various thoughts pop up in to my head. It had been a day and a half after I was supposed to reach Kolkata, however I was still far away. A 4.5 hour flight, for sure, however it was a long 16 hour layover before the flight even departed. This loss felt especially painful as I realized I won’t be able to see my dog till after Christmas, when we got back from Guwahati. I also finally realized that I had huge responsibilities to take care of my girlfriend, since she was the minority now. With that in mind, I had an uneasy nap for about 45 minutes.
SOME OTHER OPTIONS - HEY, JET AIRWAYS!
My Dad messaged me. He was just about to talk Dobby for a walk. He tried everything at his end to book my girlfriend and me on an alternate itinerary to Kolkata. He suggested our trusted Jet Airways - they wouldn’t have a flight to Mumbai till about 10.40pm (the great TG would be on this flight), and we’d reach Kolkata only at 9am, much later than QR540. It was a no-brainer to stick to our new original itinerary. We killed about an hour and bit in there, and had some of the remains of the American Airlines breakfast. The muffin top and dried fruits really did it for me :)
DOHA'S MORNING RUSH
0524 hour AST, we found ourselves in front of the infamous Doha Hamad Intl. giant teddy bear. There was no limit to the number of people getting selfies in front of this….beast, I guess.
The central atrium was bustling with people as the huge screens advertised the luxury products sold in duty free. The morning bank of flights were being prepared for departure. Southeast Asia, the Middle East, most of Europe, South Asia, East Asia, even the United States - this was Qatar Airways’ time! Added to that, there were many codeshares.
Another hour passed, we found the Jamocha Cafe in Concourse C. Between gates C4 and C6, to be specific. I found a place to sit, right in front of the nose of a Boeing 777-300ER.
This gave me a decent view of the activity on the tarmac, which mostly included narrow body A320s, but some wide bodies too. The airline that never was - Al Maha of Saudi Arabia (come to think of it, had this airline even flown in the KSA, wonder how things would be right now?!)
Another pretty gone sight at DOH - the gold Gulf Air A320.
B787 or A350?! :D
Opposite us (Gate C5) was QR777, a Boeing 777-300ER boarding to Miami. Was it almost better to be on the ultra long haul nonstop? Or the many stops to Kolkata? Looking at the passengers board, part of me felt for their long flight half way across the world, while part of me really wanted to be in Kolkata soon. It was 7am. 12 hours to departure, 5 hours spent in Doha.
THE PRAWL AROUND HAMAD INTL.
Among the many departures was the particularly impressive departures to the USA: Atlanta, Boston, Dallas/Fort. Worth, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami (as mentioned above), New York JFK (one of the flights), Philadelphia and Washington DC, all of which departed within 55 minutes of each other, between 0740 hours and 0835 hours. Most flights from India arrived around 0600 hours. I had seen a largely similar working of a hub at Dubai as well. Abu Dhabi remained elusive…. Here’s the A350 to Boston, operating QR743.
Curvy winglet or the regular winglet? I can't wait to see the A330neo :D
It was at this point I realized that there were moving components regulating the heat/sunshine coming in to the terminal. This unfortunately hindered my spotting abilities! :( We found another set of quiet rooms adjacent to gates D20 & D21. Prior to heading there, I tried my luck in checking in for the Jet Airways flight to Guwahati…that was not to be, because of some weird reason on the Jet Airways website. Ah well.
MORE REST TIME!
We split up in to the gendered rooms. I tried to catch up on some sleep, however the air conditioning was too powerful, and keeping warm was surprisingly tricky. We spent about 3.5 hours napping. Our half way point of this transit was sometime in between here.
Once again on the swanky train, we made our way to the food court.
It was just prior to noon, just over 7 hours to departure. We decided to have Burger King because guess where having beef is not quite accepted socially…. There was a pretty nice view on the tarmac - I had to rush to get an image of A7-ALF…..
….as there was an A320 that was coming in to park! ALF had come in from Adelaide, before spending most of the day at gate C6, and then heading to Singapore as QR946.
Some more aimless walking around the duty free store and also me spotting VT-JBP, which was being prepared for a flight to Thiruvananthapuram. Suffice to say, it was fantastic to see an Indian bird!
By 1305 hours, we found a much larger, airy quiet room:
Right in front of an Airbus A320-200 that would head to Cairo. This was an Al Maha A320. Spotter unfriendly Doha! :(
Right beside it was a lovely A330-200 being set up for its flight to Barcelona, Spain. Spotter unfriendly Doha, again! :(
We were in concourse A, which is where we arrived at from Manchester.
ITS ALMOST GO TIME!
We spent a good part of the four hours napping - just the nap we needed! It was 1730 hours. We had spent 16.5 hours in Doha, and now we were ever so close to boarding our plane to Kolkata! After freshening up, pretending to be awake and aware, we figured our flight would depart from gate A7. The very gate we arrived in from Manchester!
Hello A7! Wait, aren't you the national code for aircraft registration in Qatar? :)
It was the usual sights and sounds you would expect while boarding a flight to India - crowding up at the gate, not listening to the ground staff’s requests. Not being ideal, for the most part. The aircraft showed up at Gate A7 by 1800 hours, just an hour before departure. This meant one of two things - a delay, or a super impressive turnaround. This aircraft was A7-BCT, a 1.9 year old B787-8 Dream)liner from London Heathrow as QR6. Funny enough, BCT is the station code for Mumbai Central, a popular railway station for both suburban and long distance passenger. TG would be on a Jet Airways A330-200 to Mumbai!
Passengers were let in to hold area about 40 minutes prior to departure. We were in there by 1834 hours.
Port side of A7-BCT was a B777-300ER A7-BAS, and starboard was an A330-300.
A7-BCT, take me home!
It was at this point I maintained a 100% record in being on a B787 to Kolkata since I moved in to the USA: December '15 on Air India's VT-ANQ, May '15 on Air India's VT-ANV, and now on Qatar's A7-BCT :)
Boarding commenced at 1845 hours, a whole 15 minutes prior to departure. We were so excited to be finally boarding the flight that would take us to Kolkata, a whole 2.5 days late.
As always, boarding was quite chaotic, clogging the jet bridge for most of the way. Could be worse, could’ve been the entire jet bridge, but most of the passengers boarded anyway. We were some of the last to board.
ONBOARD & PRE-DEPARTURE
I was onboard at 1905 hours, to the very open feel of the Dream)liner cabin, a sunset mood-lighting, and a lovely crew member guiding passengers to their seats and greeting us by name. Qatar Airways had hit it on the spot. Again.
Our seat mate was actually just in front of us in line, she was an American of Asian descent. We took our seats, and it was absolutely fantastic to be seated in a window seat again. Even more so, the feeling of being on the plane that’s actually headed home was in itself, a surreal feel!
We were handed the Qatar Airways refresher towel packets, which are pretty rare today. I was onboard at 1905 hours, took my seat at 1909 hours, and pushback commenced at 1915 hours, just 15 minutes late, and a turnaround time that lasted 1hr23min. The more impressive part was that the completely-packed Dream)liner was boarded in under half an hour!
DEPARTURE & TAKE OFF
Once again, following the “Dua-e-Safar" was the FC Barcelona themed safety video. The sounds of the GEnx-1B engines was definitely more interesting as they were brought in to action in their typical loud manner, before entering a phase of quietness.
QR540 was one of thirteen departures to India: narrow bodies to Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Goa, Kozhikode, Nagpur and Thiruvanthapuram, and wide bodies to Bengaluru, Chennai, New Delhi, Cochin, Mumbai and us to Kolkata. All of these were within an hour of each other, and some 1.5/2 hours after the USA arrivals. The amazing workings of a hub, and I had seen both sides of it. The long layover ended, as we finally made our way to runway 34R for departure.
Some pics from taxiing -
In the midst of many Qatar Airways planes, big and small, the Al Maha A320s, some other middle eastern narrow bodies, was a lovely KLM A330 from Amsterdam, which would later head to Bahrain. I excitedly pointed this out to my girlfriend - after all, when times were simpler a year ago, I flew KLM from Chicago to Delhi, without too much of a fuss, and I spent a good hour just resting at a gate in Amsterdam Schiphol, in front of the A330 that would later head to Doha. You can find the Flying Dutchman in the middle left of this picture:
We were in the air following a 50 second long take off roll. The announcements came up, lights were dim, and my girlfriend fell in to a long slumber for most of the flight.
Checked out the IFE - once again it was a tad slow to load, however it worked fine afterwards. Some glitches here and there - the remaining flight time was wrong for the most part (except when it was actually 2hr33min remaining). Time literally flew on this 4hr20min flight.
We had to pinch outselves to believe this - we were on a flight to Kolkata! Freakin' Kolkata, about time!
Very helpful hand held device for IFE controls - this was inoperative on A7-BCQ (MAN-DOH)
Unlike the MAN-DOH flight, there was no blanket placed on the seat, just the pillow. I don’t recall observing them handing out any blankets (or if at all the passengers wanted them). Pillow and headset
As soon as the seatbelt signs went off, the passengers got quite restless - moving around the cabin, getting in the way of everyone and everything. No, they did not hold back from absolutely obliterating the cabin crew call button. Whyyyyyyyyyyy
More football stuff
With that in mind, let me talk about the cabin crew on this flight. They were the reason why Qatar Airways would go down as one of my favorites in my books. Comprising mostly of Indian crew, with some east Asian and European crew members as well. To say that they were courteous is an understatement. For every mistaken/redundant ding they’d hear thanks to the passengers, they’d show up and make sure every thing is all well. They’d always smile. On one occasion, I figured I’d ask the cabin crew member for an arrival form. The lovely flight attendant came back and told me that she couldn’t find any, and apologized for it. Pretty good stuff, to be honest.
The seat itself was pretty decent and nicely padded, however I wasn’t quite a fan of the IFE box under the seat. I thought this was a pre-2010 thing
Did I mention the seatbelts had QR’s logo on it? Pretty nice touch!
Flipping through the magazine - quite a shocker to see some flimsy aircraft models being sold on board QR. This is in stark contrast to 2008, where my father bought me the entire fleet of 1:500 Herpa Wings models (A340-600, A380-800, three different A330-300 special liveries)
New destinations - QR on an insane expansion spree
Nooooo these look pretty horrible!
Mood lighting in full spree, notice the crew call light on -
Engine shot, or somewhat of an attempt
Safety card -
I had Finding Dory on the PTV screen, the moving map on the handset and I read the magazines.
Dinner was served about an hour after take off, 2024 AST. The usual two selections on India flights - vegetarian or chicken (the latter would be called non vegetarian on AI/9W).
The appetizer was a typical Indian flavored gram pea and potato salad, which was nice and cold.
A dinner roll was served, along with butter, pickles and water.
Silverware back of the bus is always nice to see :)
The main course was methi chicken (fenugreek preparation), white rice and yellow dal. Vodka and sprite to go along with it, as turbulence kicked in.
To finish it off was an absolutely masterclass dessert - Phirni (Indian rice pudding) toped with a layer of custard (pictured with the appetizer). Awesome meal from Qatar Airways, and ticked all my boxes on both flights! I felt the timing of the meal was just right - around 9pm Doha time, and 11.30pm India time. Wouldn't have made sense to be serving this towards the end of the flight, when its closer to 2am IST!
Guess who couldn't use this (hint: no one!)
Lights were dimmed right from boarding really - Qatar Airways (like Emirates) did use their mood-lighting features well for the most part. There was a light sunset red/orange nomination followed by complete darkness after take off, and then keeping it at a pink/orange combination with a hint of blue here and there. I love it when airlines use the resources provided by aircraft manufacturers to be used appropriately for passenger comfort.
2354 hours IST. 2124 hours. Two hours since departure, two hour twenty minutes to arrival. We entered Indian airspace over the Western state of Gujarat. I woke up my girlfriend as we saw the lights of Ahmedabad go by to our South. I played a couple of games on the IFE for the rest of the flight.
Quite the surreal feel!
One of the games -
Inching forwards, 900 kilometers an hour ;)
WiFi screenshots - didn't bother with
DESCENT AND ARRIVAL
Captain gave us his arrival briefing at 0126 hours IST - we were expected to be on the ground in 40 minutes. The airport was reporting a little bit of mist, and a rather warm 16C (for us North Dakotan residents, at least :) ).
Cabin was prepared for arrival about half an hour prior to arrival. This included spraying a disinfectant, securing the cabin, and shutting off most of the mood lighting, but for a light blue color. Lined up for final approach at 0202 for Runway 19L, before touching down at 0204 hours, 14 minutes late.
'I think we're landing now' 'Oh, no shit bud!'
A typical salamander-like slow taxi followed to gate 12. No less than 20 domestic aircraft were parked at the gates. We docked right beside a China Eastern A320-200, to Kunming.
Being some of the first to disembark, I had the privilege of being towards the front of the Indian citizen immigration queue. I was done by 0223 hours.
The Electronic Travel Authorization line was just 7 or 8 people long. However, not only was my girlfriend the last in the queue, but her process also took the longest. This was simply because the immigration officer was curious about a few USA related things. No biggie! :D
A final concern was our baggage. Sure, we got it from Etihad at Chicago, but it was in Doha for way too long. My suitcase made it early on, however we had to wait for my girlfriend’s because it was one of the last to show up. It was 0307 hours when we got the luggage, a whole hour after touch down.
Two and a half days late. All groggy eyed everywhere. But there was my father and brother, excitedly picking us up and we headed back home. We only had 7 hours to get back to the airport prior to our flight to Guwahati. At home, Mum treated us to some lovely pre-dawn snack: spicy chicken tandoori and pav bhaaji to get things kicking in the morning. I was home, my girlfriend was in India. Our trip was back on track, and this adventure was just the start of proceedings!
Doha - DOH
Kolkata - CCU
Its never ideal when you reach your destination a whole two and a half days late. It messed with our plans of two decent days of sleep prior to heading out on the trip within India. I didn't see my dog, Dobby. However, I see the benefits. This re-route pretty much guaranteed that I'd have had flown on all three middle eastern biggies at the end of it all. It was a feeling of relief and joy to finally be home.
There were inconsistencies in the hard product. The handheld IFE device didn't work on MAN-DOH, while the time remaining was incorrect on DOH-CCU. Both systems were slow to load, and I was surprised to see IFE boxes underneath seats. The soft product won it for me. Amazing crew, great service and attention from them. Food was stunning on both flights. It is never fun to spend 17 hours in the airport, but it was a decent airport to spend a day in. WiFi got slow at times, but that happens. I cannot wait to give Qatar Airways another try - given their low prices and aplenty A350s out of the USA!
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