This may be the first trip whose flights are reported backward in time. The main point in translating this one from French was to complete the story about Doha's new airport, which is now coded DOH, but identified as HIA for the time being in FR's data base. Another reason is that there aren't that many reports in English on TK night flights in economy.
This was a business trip which collided with a pre-arranged private trip to Cologne. My primary objective was to save as much as possible of it, and I was ready to cope with a red-eye flight for that. No, my company would not fly me in business class for that distance. And no, I did not want to fly in daytime and spend less time in Cologne.
The FR starts after going through the security check after leaving the plane from CGN, with zero waiting time. The Arrivals level seemed empty, but at the top of the escalator leading to the Departures level, I was suddenly in a beehive with passengers from all kinds of places. The clothes they wore were enough to realize how much Istanbul is a gateway between the West and the East, be it Near, Middle or Far.
The gate number had been announced before landing in IST, and yes, it was confirmed as being 310. There were not that many gates whose number began with number 3, and I saw that as a bad omen.
The corridors may look longish…
…. but contrary to some other airports, the immigration counters are reasonably centrally located and there is no corridor before separate terminals, so the whole place is reasonably compact.
Plane spotting at midnight is TK only, since few foreign aircraft stay overnight, like this Olympic A319 and Air France A320. (I was told that despite this Greek aircraft has two overwing emergency exits, it is not an A320).
My guess was correct: gate 310 was at the lower level, and that meant a transfer by bus. As is often the case, the area was quite cluttered, with lower ceilings and was overall less attractive than the rest of the terminal.
But I had nothing else to do, so I followed the instructions and went to the gate of my flight.
A TK aircraft, just to remind you what the livery looks like.
Contrary to CGN, there were power plugs for passengers, some of them under power, but poorly located
… because the power supply cord had to be across the way (I did find plugs next to seats, but they did not have any power).
Meanwhile, flight CA5234 to PVG finished boarding,
… leaving some rubbish on the nearest seats.
I do not know how many last calls where broadcasted over the PA for flight CA5234, for this passenger was not the last one, far from it: late passengers arrived one after the other, running progressively faster, possibly from late connecting flights.
I did not wait until Flight CA5234 was closed, because boarding had started for mine, with full respect of priorities. Abaya and niqab for here, dishdasha for him : this couple travelling in J reminded me that we were going to the Gulf area.
Since we would be transferred by bus, there was no use to rush. I went to the counter only when the line had nearly disappeared, after the first bus had left. 37°C was the current temperature in Doha, and also that of my body.
Driving along a number of TK aircraft at jetbridges
… until we reached this A321.
I learned the existence of this small city in Anatolia,
… and of this sharklet in TK's fleet, which meant that the aircraft was brand new.
The A320 parked nearby was older, since it had wingtip fences.
Climbing in the aircraft
A last look at the reactor.
I had asked for a window seat when checking in in CGN and I got one. On the other hand, I did not explicitly request a good seat, and did not get one, because although seat 6A was two rows ahead of the second door, there was not seat 7A (seats 7B and 7C do exist), with the result that seat 6A did not recline. You can see rows 5 and 6 in that picture taken when leaving the aircraft.
To make it easier to understand, I borrowed this seat layout to seatguru.com
Note that the amount of reclining did not make that much of a difference in comfort.
My neighbor, a friendly Italian, first tried this position to get some sleep…
… but then had the good idea of moving after the meal service to seats 7B and 7C which were empty. I took this opportunity to go to the toilets at the rear of the aircraft. When I returned, after dodging several trolleys (the FAs did their best to let me go), I took ownership of seat 6B which had become empty and unclaimed by the passenger in 6C. Once the armrest between 6A and 6B was lifted, that provided me a 98 cm long lie flat bed. Few people realize that I am (slightly) taller than that, but I did manage to sleep comfortably (slightly comfortably only, because I had never been so much aware of my height being that excessive).
The passengers who slept the best were probably those in the back of the aircraft, lying on three seats on each side, because the aircraft was far from being empty. I might have had one of these improvised beds if I had checked in on the internet, but I had worked late instead the night before to prepare that business trip.
That drives us away from the comfort of the seat, which as opposed to that of the preceding short haul flight had an IFE of decent size and quality.
… which is used for the safety demonstration, and the safety information leaflet.
Apart from the emergency exits diagram, it is a twin of that of the A320 of the previous flight.
Pushback is late, and a long wait for takeoff. This seems to be a rush hour in IST.
Another taxiway to cross, and it will be our turn.
Take off at long last, at 1:18 am, with the apologies of the captain (the air traffic control…), which was bad news for me, because the hour of sleep that I was looking forward upon arrival at the hotel before setting to work was vanishing into thin air.
The lights of the ships which are admittedly fewer than when you take off from SIN.
The strobe (after umpteen failed trials)
What about the comfort of the seat? It is standard economy stuff, with a legacy airline seat pitch.
IST and HIA are in the same time zone, and this breakfast was served at 2:14 am, i.e. an hour after takeoff. That was a rather strange schedule for this meal, but all things considered, it was a better idea to serve it as soon as possible and let the passengers sleep until the descent, rather than wake them up too early in order to be sure to have enough time to serve them all.
This was a rather standard breakfast, but the bread was warm (some other airlines seem to have a hard time providing that), and it was both good and served efficiently.
A visit to the toilets, taking advantage of the above mentioned move of my neighbor.
Again these baby changing boards for exclusive female use.
And a forgotten turbulence warning light, which did not worry the FA when they saw me wait for my turn in front of the toilets.
A glimpse of the galley being cleaned up by a FA.
And then sleep in fetal position, and wake-up about here.
The plane did not follow the great circle route: it avoided the Saudi airspace and the center of Iraq.
Sharklet in the early morning
And landing at 5:06 local time, which meant 26 minutes late
… under the eyes of a plane spotter, or rather a passerby.
The good news was that Doha's brand new airport had starter operation on May 27, only five days earlier, making Doha's reputation as an all bus transfer airport a thing of the past.
The bad news was that guiding an aircraft to its final parking position requires a lot more precision when a jet bridge is going to be used.
The aircraft moved up a few meters: it did not seem enough, because it lurched forward again twice, with much waiting in between, until it did reach its final parking position. There has been a time when I thought that they would use the moving stairs as a plan B, with this truck whose staircase got deployed in the background.
Qatar is young country, with a brand new airport: we should not be too harsh on them; they need to pick up experience. HIA will eventually take its share in the air transport business, and they definitely that share to grow, with CDG being served with an A380 from next summer.
All that did nothing to reduce the delay of the aircraft
The corridors were evidently spotless clean, since they had been used for a few days only.
A peculiarity is that the toilets are explicitly designed to allow two parents to simultaneously change their twin babies' nappies. I did not expect HIA to be at the forefront of the world struggle towards equality between sexes when it comes to baby care, but I do take note of it.
An advantage of an airport being more an international transfer hub rather than a final destination is that the lines at the immigration were limited. Visa on arrival – if your nationality allows that – is delivered in a one-step procedure, contrary to the double queue when you land in Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia: you only need to give your passport and your credit card, and input your PIN code like in any convenience store. For 100 QAR (20 EUR), you do not have a smile (Taiwan does not charge anything and provides a smile for free), but you reach the luggage delivery room quickly.
I did not have any checked luggage, and customs control consisted only in an X ray check of the bulkier pieces of luggage, I was airside, where a driver was waiting for me.
His car was in the short term parking lot in front of the terminal.
I was luckier than a colleague who had landed the previous evening: the driver sent by the company did have the flight number, but waited for him at the old terminal, and the colleague eventually took a taxi.
That is what happens when you don't do the job yourself (the adult population in Qatar is 90% made up of foreigners – high end expatriates who travel in J, and low cost manpower flying steerage like me)
There is a huge parking lot outside the terminal, probably for the medium level staff who can afford to have their own car. Note the thousands of parasols to reduce the greenhouse effect in the cars.
The low end workers shuttle in buses with small ventilators and open windows.
I am already shifting into the tourist bonus which may be unfair to the local tourist attraction, to which I had no time to devote. My knowledge of Qatar is limited so far to less than 48 hours between these two stamps in my passport, and I encourage my customers to give more business and opportunities to research the issue.
No, I did not do my prayers, and yet I knew the schedule, to the minute, thanks to this display in the corridor outside the meeting rooms.
I had several excuses that this lack of piety: the fact that the mosque nearest to my hotel was obviously not yet ready to welcome worshippers, since it was still at the raw concrete stage,
… that the prayer room nearest to the meeting room was for women (in full bad faith, I did not try to find the symmetrical one),
… and last because nobody in the meeting seemed to want to make a pause at the prescribed time, since nobody was local. Due to the circumstances, this tourist bonus will not take into consideration the religious dimension of the country.
My first impression of Doha's skyline, as seen from the expressway from the airport, was of rather heterogeneous shapes.
I would have stopped to take better pictures of the Qatari merchant fleet, but the ideal spot for that was not adequate.
This kind of detail shows that Doha has not understood what it takes to make a city a major tourist destination. Doha has more heat, sea, sand and palm trees than the French Riviera, but it does not really qualify as a beach resort.
Especially if these activities are banned on the seafront, at least in that area.
(The top line is easy to identify as Arabic. What about the lower one? Maybe Urdu, the national language in Pakistan, whose alphabet is an extension of the Persian alphabet, which is itself an extension of the Arabic alphabet)
It is a good idea to encourage the Qatari women to exercise to reduce their risk diabetes, but forbidding hiking on the seaside is not a step in the right direction.
The Qatari Ministry of Social Affairs actually has a lot of work to do on that issue, for 50% of Qatar's female citizens have a BMI above 30, and they rival with those of Kuwait in the World Women's Championship of Obesity.
This may explain why they had no time to seriously overhaul the kefala system, whose existence some people at FIFA to have discovered, after awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Being the subject of enquiries by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch is a poor publicity, and it made the front page in the local English language newspaper received in my hotel room. The difference with Mainland China is that this kind of issue made the front page of a local newspaper.
True enough, their traditional clothing does not encourage the women to do much exercise in their daily life. This young lady at the check in when I left Doha only wore dark glasses, but many wear a strict niqab, which masks every square inch of the body except the eyes and is illegal in France.
I am straying from the topic…
You may have noticed that the sidewalk along the seafront was in construction. I found it to be in the same condition in many other places in the business quarter, and it is coherent with the fact that Doha's center is nearly empty of pedestrians, day and night.
In the searing heat – the temperature was then above 40°C in daytime, above 35°C at night – the only pedestrians are the low end workers, whose comfort is not a priority.
Let's revert to the architecture. It is a matter of personal taste, but it did not impress me.
I had the impression of a heterogeneous jumble of different styles, like if it was enough to draw a weird shape and cover it with glass to design a building.
I also had the impression of a race to height, even though space should not be at a premium in a city next to a desert, which limited creativity. The decoration of the Doha Tower (left, in the foreground), and the pure shape of the Tornado Tower are exceptions in that urban landscape, seen here in daytime
…and by night
It came as no surprise that the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning is in a rather nondescript building.
There is nothing new in this building on the seafront – we already have that in a French Mediterranean resort geared to mass tourism.
Building activity appears to be brisk. Contrary to the appearances, this is not the result of a scaffolding collapse, but a future entanglement of disks – I would not give my opinion before the building is completed.
Building is being carried out day and night; work conditions on the construction sites may be less demanding at night due to the temperature – it was on 33°C when I walked around after work, vs. a maximum of 44°C in daytime.
Only once, at night, did I see locals – Qatari or Emirati, I would not know – smoking a water pipe at the terrace of a bar. This was the only place where I saw people in the outside for a leisure activity. The only other places to unwind seem to be shopping malls, like this one.
Strolling in a shopping mall, be it in Doha or in Paris, is not my piece of cake, and I came back to my hotel.
… from where the view, both far away and in the vicinity, had nothing special.
This is the end of this FR and its tourist bonus, and time to draw a conclusion on this flight.
Istanbul - ISL
Doha - DOH
When you are in economy class on a red-eye flight, comfort can only range from disastrous to poor (unless you managed to annex a full row to yourself). TK reaches the poor rating, and that is because having two seats compensated the fact that the seat did not recline.
The catering was decent; the timing was unexpected but good for getting rest. The FAs did their best to let walk up the aisle: a good point for them on a flight where they had few opportunities to stand up from the crowd.
I penalize the delay (shared between TK and HIA), for it had an impact on my tiredness during the ensuing day.
Zero waiting time at the security check in IST, and no significant congestion in the terminal despite this being a peak traffic time slot, with a rather simple layout and excellent signage. There was some rubbish leftover in the boarding rooms, but you can't have a cleaner behind each passenger. The power plugs are inconveniently located, but they did exist (there was none in CGN). I did not look for an internet access.
The terminal at HIA had been operating for a few days only: it was spot clean, but the snafu when the aircraft reached its final parking position resulted in a useless waste of time. Immigration was not friendly, but it was efficient. HIA is not far from the city center, but the absence of a rail link is not acceptable in a 21st century brand new major airport.
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