Ahead in this report:
- British Airways Club Europe on the 767 and A319
Qatar Airways Business Class on the 787 and A350
InterContinental Singapore and impressions from the Garden City
A smorgasbord of lounges including QR, BA, QF and IC
Singapore is one of my favourite cities, and Qatar Airways one of my favourite airlines. It was therefore with a sense of great anticipation that I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 on another of those seemingly endless, miserably grey February mornings and headed towards the First Wing.
Walking through to the Refectory inside the Galleries First lounge, I noticed that BA had repositioned the furniture yet again, which the cynical amongst us might surmise is merely a thinly disguised attempt at distracting us from the ever-decreasing physical condition of the lounge. A promotional set-up of advertising banners and accompanying temporary fridges on the terrace did nothing to improve the premium feel of the space, although the view was as good as ever.
Giving the unappetising buffet a wide berth, I flagged down a waiter and requested the flaxseed granola (with Greek yogurt, fresh berries and honey) from the menu for breakfast, which I ate as quickly as possible before escaping the heat of the Refectory for the relative coolness of the rest of the lounge and a coffee.
If you’re looking for more images of the First Wing and Galleries First lounge at T5, see my previous report: http://www.airliners.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1368577.
Boarding my positioning flight to Stockholm from Gate A13, BA’s new group boarding process worked reasonably well (despite the display screens showing that the flight was closing before boarding had even started) with three lanes set up for Group 1, Groups 2/3, and Groups 4/5, although with a light load, the gate agents decided to board Groups 1 (Club Europe/Emerald) and 2 (Sapphire) at the same time with no announcements.
I was greeted at Door 2L of the second oldest aircraft in BA’s fleet, G-BNWB, a 1989-vintage 767 and my second time on this particular aircraft. I talked in length about the configuration of BA’s 767 fleet in a previous trip report (see http://www.airliners.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1384613) , so won’t dwell on that now, the only new information being that this particular aircraft had the entire forward cabin of 9 rows dedicated to Club Europe today despite a very low load of just seven passengers.
After checking with the cabin crew once boarding was complete, I moved from 2F (that I had assigned myself to ensure a space next to any potential neighbour) to 4K to enjoy the view from the window. Naturally, the headrest was broken on both seats (in fact, I’m pretty sure they are broken on every convertible seat across the fleet of seven 767s).
Jackets were taken and small menus handed out, the latter accompanied by a hot towel. It really irks me that the menus still have the old Club Europe capital typeface in the logo, almost 10 years after it was changed! We pushed back from the stand 4 minutes ahead of schedule as the intensely irritating and at times inappropriate safety video played.
Lunch service commenced in short order after our takeoff from Runway 27L, beginning with a hand-run bar service. In fact, perhaps channelling QR, all service on this flight was hand-run from the galley, something which I appreciate as it minimises disturbance to passengers in aisle seats.
In an obvious attempt at minimising their workload, the crew decided to present the starter and main course together (the starter should come first on the tray with dessert and cheese, with the main course following once the starter is finished and cleared away). With a starter as miniscule as the Balik-style smoked salmon with horseradish cream, this wasn’t really an issue as the time taken to eat it was barely a couple of minutes, but it did mean the tray table was somewhat crowded.
One disadvantage of moving back to Row 4 was that I was the penultimate passenger to be served, by which time the alternative main course option of grilled Atlantic cod fillet with olive mash and ratatouille had been snapped up. The herb-grilled chicken supreme with thyme jus, truffled linguine and root vegetables did not, however, feel like a compromise as it was flavourful, filling and piping hot. Warm bread was offered from the basket multiple times, and drinks refills were forthcoming.
I concluded lunch with a peppermint tea (where I once again played the game of where to put the teabag without a drip dish) and the coffee cream caramel with gingerbread crumble, which reminded me of those little crème caramel yogurt pots I used to enjoy as a child. Service on the whole was quick, with a personable CSD but a slightly gruff second in command serving the starboard aisle.
I took advantage of the light load on the flight to stretch my legs all the way to the back of the aircraft, noting that this 767 appears to be in fairly good condition for such an old airframe. The washrooms at Doors 2 didn’t have the usual Elemis products in them (or the new White Company products), and despite being dated were clean(ish) and again in good(ish) condition. The stainless steel washbasins have stood the test of time, which is more than can be said for the light coloured plastic basins on the A320 family aircraft.
We had a long taxi into T2 on arrival in a snowy Sweden, disembarking through Door 1L. After navigating the illogical ups and downs of the terminal and emerging landside, it was about a ten minute walk to T5 from where QR flights depart to Doha.
QR online check-in opens roughly 48 hours before departure. I had been unable to check-in via the app as the page hung on the passenger information screen, but things seemed fine via the website and I had been able to complete check-in before loading the boarding pass on the app. This was critical as I was arriving from London around 4 hours ahead of departure of my QR flight; with desks not opening for another hour and travelling with hand baggage only, I needed my boarding pass to get airside as I didn’t want to hang around in the check-in hall. The automated gate at Fast Track security didn’t like my mobile BP, but the agent let me through after insisting on seeing my BA Gold card. I’m not quite sure why that was needed as my boarding pass clearly showed the class of travel which itself is enough to use Fast Track. It appeared to be peak evening time for SAS departures, resulting in security being a little slow despite two lanes being open for Fast Track.
After a brief wander around T5 I headed through immigration to the non-Schengen pier and upstairs to the third party Stockholm Arlanda lounge. This was my second time using this lounge and my impressions remain unchanged from those of two years ago; it’s a pleasant enough space to spend an hour, but uninviting for any longer period of time.
Arranged in an L shape, the main section features a small news section behind reception, followed by an open plan buffet/high top table dining area with plenty of power sockets, but no USB ports. At the end of the dining area is some comfier seating, with a play and business area illogically next to each other around the corner. The design of the lounge is very Scandinavian as you may expect, not to my taste personally and not remotely luxurious, but functional and inoffensive.
Initially quite busy, the lounge emptied rapidly as a flight was called and I was alone in the lounge briefly before fellow QR passengers slowly filtered in. Thanks to the remarkably decent lunch on my positioning flight I wasn’t terribly hungry, and so didn’t investigate the buffet too deeply, although did note there was just the one hot option of potato gratin. Oddly the coffee machine was placed on a high top table and not on the buffet; I assume this is a temporary setup as it looked out of place. I headed to the business area and settled down to catch up with my YouTube subscriptions. There appears to be more lounge space beyond the business area, although this wasn’t open. Utilitarian washrooms are located inside the lounge in a corridor just past reception; they are gender neutral and generally in need of better attention to keep clean.
I noted that the QR app was showing departure time as 19:45 rather than the scheduled 21:45; this was clearly an error as it was by now well past 19:45 and the flight information screens were showing the scheduled time. I popped out of the lounge to the transfer desk just around the corner to collect paper boarding passes, which confirmed the scheduled time as the correct time.
Gate F58 features a closed gateroom layout; I’m generally not a fan of these as they can feel somewhat like a cattle pen. A priority lane was set up for the boarding pass and passport check which was handy to skirt around the building queue, but it made little difference as once inside the gateroom there was quite some wait for boarding to commence; indeed, the crew were only just boarding as I arrived. When things did get under way, Business Class and Emerald/Sapphire were all announced together, plus those with small children. I had strategically positioned myself next to the desk and its tiny priority sign, and followed just a handful of other passengers through the doors. For some reason they all decided to head to the lift, perhaps not spotting the stairs directly in front of them. The result was that I was first down the airbridge and to be welcomed at Door 2L of A7-BCJ, a 787-8 delivered to QR in 2014.
I was escorted through the beautifully lit cabin to 2K, where I was immediately offered my drink of choice, a hot or cold towel and my jacket taken. What a great first impression of what could well be the world’s best business class. The QR 787 fleet is equipped with B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats in the forward cabin, arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration with all seats having direct aisle access. I won’t offer a full tour of the seat in this section as my focus was on maximising sleep on what is a fairly short flight, and the product is virtually identical to that fitted to the majority of the A350-900 fleet that I would be experiencing on the next sector.
A pillow was pre-placed on each seat, with a blanket and tan coloured Bric’s amenity kit (featuring Castello Monte Vibiano amenities) on the shelf beside the seat. A bottle of water and unbranded noise cancelling headphones were located in the armrest.
The crew soon delivered QR’s signature mint and lime drink along with my requested hot towel. The attention to detail with QR’s service is phenomenal; a choice of towel temperature and for it to be served on its own tray are details that even most international first class products lack.
Next up was the delivery of a bag containing The White Company branded pyjamas and slippers, along with the menu and wine list, an offer of newspapers, and an explanation of the seat’s features for those passengers needing it.
The captain announced a flight time of 5h30 cruising at 39,000ft, with dinner orders taken just before pushback. I say dinner, but of course QR offer à la carte dining so you can choose anything from the menu at any time you like during the flight. The CSM popped around to welcome each passenger individually and apologise for the re-set of the IFE system. Despite just four vacant seats in the cabin, the welcome didn’t feel rushed at all. Talking of the IFE system, I didn’t really use it on this sector but did note that both the touchscreen and handheld remote control were quite laggy.
I nipped to one of the two generously proportioned washrooms located at the rear of the cabin as soon as the seatbelt signs had been turned off after takeoff. The window in the washroom is a great feature, and the facilities were kept spotlessly clean throughout the flight. Rituals amenities included hand wash, moisturiser and body spray, whilst plenty of dental and shaving kits were placed on the vanity unit. If I have one criticism of the washrooms it’s that the hand towels are very flimsy to the point of being almost useless.
The crew seemed a little concerned that I wasn’t going to dine on this flight, but understood when I mentioned the longer day flight to SIN for the next sector in the trip. I’ve included the menu below for completeness, which I perused as the crew brought me a nightcap of a hot chocolate.
I dozed for around 4 hours, appreciating the luxurious blanket (originally introduced on Qsuite-equipped aircraft) but not so much the soft pillow. QR only offer turndown service and mattress pads on ultra longhaul overnight flights in J. For sleeping, this seat is not as private as window seats in BA’s Club World cabins, but what it lacks in privacy it makes up for in personal and storage space. Seat comfort was good, without offering quite the same amount of support, width and length as BA First or even the Zodiac Cirrus business class product (found on AA’s 77Ws and CX’s 77Ws/A350s amongst others). I noticed that during the night, the crew laid out magazines and snacks in the entrance area by Doors 2, and at some point as I was sleeping had placed some Godiva chocolates by my seat.
Waking up a few hours later I requested the seasonal fresh fruit plate, which I enjoyed with a cappuccino. The crew laid the table with a table cloth, cutlery and serviette which was impressive with just a fruit plate to eat.
The crew on this sector were professional, efficient and thorough, to the point of requesting the menus back towards the end of the flight. I had quite a job convincing one of the crew to let me keep my copies, but eventually succeeded, doing a bargain with the return of the wine list (which is the same on all sectors in the month) for keeping the menu.
Landing on time into Doha as dawn broke, the crew closed the curtains to hold back the rear cabins as we drew into our gate, allowing the forward cabin to disembark through Door 2L down stairs to a dedicated Business Class bus. As buses go, this one was reasonably comfortable with each seat having an antimacassar. The advantage of arriving onto a remote stand at DOH is that the bus drops you close to transfer security, although on the flip side the speed of the journey can often be limited by aircraft movements as was the case this morning. This caused a few passengers to become increasingly agitated as they risked missing their connecting flights. Once in the terminal, I couldn’t easily locate the priority lane, but with none of the lanes particularly busy just joined the closest one and was soon emerging into the expansive departure hall.
Heading upstairs to the Al Mourjan lounge, I made a beeline for the showers behind the café at the end of the lounge. With just a handful of shower suites, lengthy waits are quite common; today’s was up to 25 minutes, with no option of a buzzer to take away and return. With under 2 hours until boarding for my next flight, and forgetting at the time about the other set of showers at the other end of the lounge (which I’m sure would’ve been equally busy), I headed instead to the washrooms and used the lone changing room to freshen up. Although these lack showers and the full complement of Rituals amenities that go alongside them, they do offer a private space with a toilet and washbasin which is enough for a shave and change of shirt.
This lounge is in desperate need for more shower suites; it’s really not acceptable to have such long waits. I do wonder whether the showers in the First and Business Class lounges (for status passengers not travelling in F/J) would’ve been more readily available; perhaps something to explore on the next occasion this happens.
I emerged into the café for a light breakfast of bircher muesli, accompanied by some alarmingly concentrated orange juice; it seems that the fresh OJ has been enhanced away from the lounge in a nod to QR’s involvement with IAG/BA.
I’m slightly confused by the service concept in this area; waiters don’t appear to proactively approach you when you sit down, and there is both a buffet and a menu. I guess it operates like BA’s Galleries First lounges in London where the service is mainly self-led with plenty of flagging down required if you want a menu item. I noted that since my previous visit a couple of years ago, the plants that lined the high top tables in the café had been removed, although I gather this is temporary. I’ve yet to try out the more formal restaurant and tended bar on the mezzanine of the lounge, but will hopefully be doing so at the end of this month.
Also in the vicinity of the café, adjacent to the showers, are a number of semi-private quiet rest areas. These have to be reserved at the shower reception, although I made it through unchallenged (albeit briefly) to take a picture. These look to be the best option for a long layover in the lounge, with a comfortable chair and sofa, TV and storage space. There are dedicated family rooms and play/games areas on the opposite side of the café.
Moving back into the main lounge area, I was reminded that I’m not a huge fan of this lounge. The space, ten times that of an Olympic swimming pool, is undoubtedly impressive, but it lacks natural light, any view to speak of, and feels a little clinical with such high ceilings and regimented seating.
A quiet seating room with red armchairs off to one side of the main space is probably the most attractive area of the lounge, featuring its own small buffet and drinks station, the main business centre, a small secondary games room, and a quiet relaxation area adjacent to some windows offering a partially obscured view of the apron.
I wandered up to the end of the lounge below the mezzanine restaurant to find more regimented blue seating and a waft of something obnoxious from the nearby smoking room, so made a hasty retreat back to the centre of the lounge.
One final space to comment on is the small relaxation area to the right of reception, which appeared to be underused in comparison to the other relaxation area and individual quiet rooms.
Present throughout the lounge are self-service drinks stations, and there are plenty of roving waiters if you desire something you can’t easily locate.
Initially fairly busy, the lounge emptied significantly around 07:15, leaving me a good 20 minutes or so with plenty of space before I headed out for the long transit to the gate.
My flight to SIN was leaving from the E pier, or Gate E20 to be precise. I used the train to get there, and took the lift down to apron level as E20 is a remote gate. For a brand new airport, remote gate usage is surprisingly significant. There was a clear priority lane at the gate, with a small Special Services bus waiting to ferry J passengers to the aircraft. This was a definite upgrade over the previous bus journey, with just a dozen or so comfortable armchair-like seats upholstered in plush fabrics. I believe these buses used to be used to ferry First Class passengers from the Premium Terminal at the old Doha airport to their aircraft in the days when QR operated a far more extensive F route network. Nothing beats boarding an aircraft via stairs (provided the weather is amenable of course!); to see the majesty of the A350 up close as the morning sun shone over Doha was quite an experience.
The A350 entrance at Doors 2 feels even more spacious than the 787, thanks to the wider fuselage and the split J cabin with three rows aft and six rows forward of the entrance; I’ll have several full cabin overview shots on the return sector which will illustrate this better than I can describe here. Of course, the lack of overhead bins in J in the central section (common to the 787) also helps with the airy effect.
I was welcomed and escorted to 4K on this barely two year old A350-900, A7-ALM.
I opted for another mint and lime drink with a cold towel chosen this time to suit the local weather. As this wasn’t a night flight, the thick blanket of my previous flight wasn’t offered (neither were PJs/slippers), and instead the pillow on the seat was joined by a thinner blanket that was still more than adequate for a day flight.
A blue Bric’s amenity kit featuring the same contents as that on my previous flight (facial mist, moisturiser, lip balm, earplugs, socks and an eyeshade) was on the shelf beside the seat; the bag itself is very smart and I like the fact that the contents are colour coordinated to the colour of the bag, although the Castello Monte Vibiano fragrance isn’t to my taste (or smell, I guess).
In a welcome change to the seat design compared to the 787 product, the shelf beside the seat does away with the small privacy shield which annoyingly almost blocks one of the windows on the 787; this is where the water bottle is stored on the A350 (despite there also being space in the armrest alongside the headphones).
Aside from that detail, the seat is virtually identical to that on the 787, with a storage drawer in the back of the seat in front at low level, a large side bin, two side shelves at differing heights offering plenty of space, individual reading lights at high and low level (the latter being adjustable for direction and intensity) and, that most welcome of features, personal air vents (including in the washrooms!). Connectivity options are decent, with a power socket and USB port at each seat and wifi available. The seat controls are intuitively placed without the need to reach far.
The materials and finishes around the seat are both elegant and practical, and the whole cabin exudes understated luxury due in part to the ever-changing ambient mood lighting.
These finishes extend to the washrooms, which are positioned ahead of Doors 2 rather than aft of them as on the 787. Unfortunately, the washrooms are a little on the small side and lack a window, although the quality of the vanity unit is a step up from the 787. All of the same amenities from my previous sector were present here, and once again standards of cleanliness were high.
Our captain announced a flight time of 6h55 with a cruising altitude of 41,000ft; menus and wine lists were handed out at this time and orders taken as we pushed back. Note that the wine list was the same on all sectors on this trip. A passenger ahead of me across the aisle commented to the crew that she was surprised breakfast featured as the main meal service on this flight; with a departure time of 08:30 local (13:30 in Singapore) and a 7-hour flight ahead arriving into SIN in the evening, a more conventional lunch/dinner selection would be far more suitable.
We took off from Runway 34; I put the A350’s external cameras to good use, cycling through the different views as we soared over the Persian Gulf.
Annoyingly all window shades were lowered automatically after takeoff, although after a brief pause they could be (and were partially, in my case) overridden by each passenger. I commenced proceedings with a drop of the Lanson Brut Rosé, served along with a ramekin of tepid nuts (not pictured here).
Firing up the IFE system, I settled down to watch Victoria and Abdul, not usually my first preference of movie genre but one that paid off in a well shot, charming and at times poignant story. The A350 version of the Oryx One system is more intuitive than that on the 787, and response times were better although still far from smooth. The headphones that QR use are unbranded, and although they offer decent sound quality, become quite tight after any length of time, even though they are adjustable. I would like to see QR offering Bose or similar premium headphones; this is perhaps the only area where AA beats QR!
Breakfast commenced with an individual selection of artisan breads and a strawberry and banana smoothie; the pastries were not quite to the same quality as I recall from my previous QR breakfast experience in 2016. In what was an otherwise flawless service experience, I noted the crew member who had laid my table had forgotten to place the butter and salt/pepper cellars on the table (but rather had left them on the bread plate); if that’s my only complaint, we’re doing well!
Next up was the beautifully presented seasonal fresh fruit, followed by bircher muesli (rolled oats mixed with yogurt, fruits, almonds and cinnamon) and my chosen main course of tomato omelette with grilled beef patty, served with Lyonnaise potatoes, grilled mushrooms and roasted tomato; this was superb, although the portion size was on the small side. As breakfast concluded, a hot towel was offered and I requested a cappuccino.
As Victoria and Abdul concluded, I tried out the wifi service. A paltry 10MB/15 minutes is offered to all passengers free of charge, although the speed (or lack thereof) rendered it pretty much useless. The excellent crew regularly stopped by to see if I needed anything, and drinks were free flowing. As we moved into the latter half of the flight, I watched the latest Murder on the Orient Express movie; as something of an Agatha Christie fan, this particular adaptation left me feeling slightly cold, but it was nevertheless a passable update of a previous adaptation that didn’t really need updating. I do wonder why more airlines don’t adopt HD screens in premium cabins; I tend to avoid watching major movies (such as Dunkirk) on flights for this reason, as the visual quality is generally iffy.
A little over three hours after the conclusion of breakfast, it was time for a snack; the grilled honey mustard chicken breast with mesclun leaves, bocconcini with pesto, sun dried tomato and roasted almond flakes was smaller and less interesting than I was expecting, but once I’d selected one of the three(!) oils and mixed this with the leaves, the salad was more than passable. Sadly the bread that accompanied the salad was uninteresting and a little stale.
I gave the pineapple punch a go alongside the salad, a refreshing concoction of pineapple, orange and lemon juice, soda water and a slice of lemon.
An Americano (to keep me awake) accompanied the selection of individual indulgent desserts; the menu wasn’t specific on what they were, but I believe they were some kind of pistachio layered cake and lemon éclair – whatever they were, they were delicious.
At the top of descent, a third round of hot towels was made as the sun set outside. Once on the ground, there was a short wait before we could park at our stand at Changi’s T3; dual airbridges had me thinking we would be exiting from the forward door, but it was the second airbridge that connected first and so we were bid farewell at Door 2L. After a short ride on the transit train, there was no queue at immigration and I was soon in a taxi on my way to the InterContinental.
For a full review of the Club InterContinental experience at the InterContinental Singapore, and views from around the city, please see the full version of this report here: https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-reports/1904061-world-s-best-business-class-experience-city-garden.html.
Singapore’s self-styled aspiration to be a ‘city in a garden’ is not just evident in the downtown area. Airport Boulevard provides an oasis-like welcome to Changi, long since heralded as the pinnacle global aviation hub. For reasons that aren’t clear, Qatar Airways don’t offer mobile boarding passes for departures from Singapore. Being unable, therefore, to access airside until QR’s check-in desks opened, I arrived at T3 almost on the dot of 3 hours before departure. With another passenger already checking in at the single J desk, I was beckoned over to a Y desk to get my boarding passes through to Oslo, presented in a stylish wallet.
I was also handed an invitation to use the third party Dnata lounge in T3, although had no intention of using that lounge given better options provided by other oneworld airlines are just a brisk walk away in T1. There was no queue at immigration and, with Changi having security screening at each gate rather than centrally, I emerged straight into the departure lounge.
Whilst Changi is undoubtedly impressive, the pervasive carpets are entirely impractical for a rollaboard suitcase, not to mention the fortune they must cost in maintenance and regular replacement. A ten-minute distance away via numerous travellators, the transit train, and stumbled suitcase moments, the Qantas and British Airways lounges are located next to each other one level above T1’s departure lounge, conveniently at the closest end to T3. I headed to The Qantas Singapore Lounge first, opened in the space of the former joint British Airways/Qantas Business lounge in 2013. It’s a combined first and business class facility and follows the familiar design cues on show at QF’s latest lounges in HKG, LHR, PER and BNE.
I was greeted at reception and advised that no boarding calls are made for QR flights in the lounge (not entirely surprising given QR depart from a different terminal). The lounge is slightly oddly shaped through imaginative use of partition walls and the location of the kitchen. After the wood and stone-clad curved reception area, the lounge opens up to reveal the tended bar to the right, with the dining area beyond. The bar adopts the similar stylish design to those in the Qantas First lounges at SYD, MEL and LAX, albeit without the Marc Newson pattern backing the shelves. Less stylish are the cardboard coffee cups adjacent to the iced tea dispenser. Several pre-made glasses of the mocktail of the day were sitting on the bar ready for thirsty passengers to take; a nice thought, but pre-made rather takes the fun out of cocktails, whether mock or not.
Arranged in a jaunty L shape around the kitchen, the dining area is expansive but was rather crowded at the time of my visit. Large communal tables are bordered by tables for two along the side of the lounge, with various buffet stations and an open kitchen arranged on the opposite wall. I didn’t pay too close attention to the menu as I was planning to have dinner onboard, but the impression I got was positive, with plenty of variety on offer. The design of the dining area isn’t really to my personal taste (industrial springs to mind), but it does the job of catering to large numbers in a vaguely premium way.
Shower suites are located at the rear of the dining area; I didn’t have an opportunity to look in one, but if the bland and slightly messy washrooms (located immediately to the left after reception) are anything to go by, I didn’t miss out on much. Amenities were that Qantas staple Aspire.
Opposite the entrance to the washrooms and the bar is a seating area with high top table, uncomfortable-looking yellow bucket chairs and a news stand integrated into the wall, beyond which the lounge really opens out into two distinct seating areas. Both offer nearly identical seating arrangements; mostly comfortable Qantas signature armchairs, with a couple of communal work tables and borders of banquette seating. One area features a small children’s play area (impractically open entirely to the rest of the lounge), whilst the other offers a small but practical self-serve drinks station. Both offer TVs and ample power sockets throughout. Perhaps the nicest seating area is adjacent to the windows overlooking the departure lounge; as good a view as you’re going to get in this location within the terminal.
Whilst the catering looked good, I was left feeling underwhelmed by the rest of the lounge; it’s dark, and the design seems unwelcoming and remarkably dated for a relatively new concept. There also seemed to be a lack of private seating areas, with all armchairs and dining tables being in close proximity to one another. I spent very little time in the lounge, and soon headed across the lobby to see whether BA could improve the situation.
Opened a couple of years after QF’s lounge in 2015, the British Airways lounge occupies the space of the former joint British Airways/Qantas First lounge. As with QF’s ‘new’ lounge, the BA lounge is a joint first and business class facility, although features a Concorde Bar for BA First passengers and Premier/Concorde Room cardholders. Incidentally, with QF resuming F services through SIN as of March this year, Qantas are in the process of creating a much-needed dedicated area within their own lounge for their First passengers; it remains to be seen what this will look like in practice.
I was welcomed at the entrance to the BA lounge and stepped through into what is a fairly narrow space, with washrooms and showers off to the left and the Concorde Bar to the right. The main lounge area opens up ahead, with the entire lounge following BA’s Galleries Evolution design, until this month the airline’s latest lounge concept now replaced by a new and as yet unnamed concept recently debuted at Rome. The Galleries Evolution design certainly feels very ‘BA’; reassuringly so in a far-flung foreign land.
The main lounge area is broadly split into two halves; seating on one with dining on the other, although the area at the very end offers a square of comfortable seating and separate TV and work areas spanning the width of the lounge. With its distinct zones, the space is entirely practical, whilst retaining an edge of luxury. In contrast to the Qantas lounge, low dividers break up the seating areas, meaning a smidgen of privacy isn’t hard to find. Power and USB sockets are plentiful, mostly built into side tables between armchairs.
The dining and bar areas are attractive, bordered along one side by individual banquette seating pods lit by Tom Dixon pendants. The usual extensive array of alcohol was present, although food offerings were distinctly poor in comparison to the QF lounge. I was visiting the lounge during a quiet period, so the full array wasn’t yet available, but the limited hot options on show all looked a little sad; the cold bowl of greens even sadder.
One of the agents at reception kindly showed me the Concorde Bar. It’s a very small and dark space, with precisely no natural light and precisely no external views. Instead, large digital display screens set into the walls and ceiling project images of the Singapore skyline; call me old fashioned, but windows would’ve been nicer. A central bar offers a slightly expanded alcohol offering compared to the main lounge, whilst there are more limited food options set out on a mini buffet to the rear. A server is permanently stationed in the lounge and offers waiter service.
Seven individual dining pods are complemented by a handful of individual high-back chairs and three individual sofa/armchair ‘rooms’, each with their own TV. The space feels inherently claustrophobic; if I’d have been eligible for access, I’d have obtained a glass of the nicer champagne and headed out into the brighter and more spacious main lounge area.
I found a spot in the seating area near reception and whiled away the next hour or so reading as the lounge filled up with passengers recently arrived from LHR and heading onward to SYD. Before heading back to T3, I popped into the washrooms which are of a far nicer standard than the LHR lounges (although unlike at Heathrow are not individual rooms). Amenities by Elemis were to be expected.
En route to Gate A15, I stopped off at Changi’s famed butterfly garden in T3. I have very little patience, which I feel probably played a part in this next sentence, but… I didn’t see any butterflies. What I did see was a nice view of a Singapore Airlines A380 through the window with a backdrop of the setting sun.
Gate security was very efficient with no queue and no need to remove liquids from bags; whilst I therefore didn’t need a priority lane on this occasion, I do find it odd that one of the world’s supposedly best airports doesn’t seem to think they are required at all. Fortuitously I arrived into the gateroom just as boarding was about to be announced; seeing me approaching the gate, an agent sprang forward and took my boarding pass, resulting in me once again being the first passenger down the airbridge. Dual airbridges were in operation on this stand; I took the dedicated Business Class airbridge on the left to arrive at Door 1L of A7-ALF, a three year old A350-900.
For the first time on a QR sector this trip, I wasn’t escorted to my seat, but the welcome was genuine and I was soon settling into 4A, a pretty much identical seat to 4K on the outbound sector to Singapore.
A pillow and thin blanket were waiting on my seat, with headphones in the armrest and Vittel water bottle and tan-coloured amenity kit on the side shelf. Jackets were taken and hot and cold towels offered, along with a choice of drink; I opted for another of the mint and lime concoctions together with a cold towel.
The CSD came around to welcome each passenger individually, after which newspapers, menus, wine lists (the same as on both previous sectors) and old-style pyjamas were handed out. I actually prefer these PJs to the new White Company ones; they cut a smarter figure, although the trade-off is slippers aren’t included in the pack (and weren’t available on request). A passenger behind me in 6A liked the PJs so much that he asked the crew whether he could buy them! Thankfully the crew member took it in her stride and informed the gentleman that he could take them with him when he left the aircraft.
Dinner orders were taken on the ground just before pushback; I was informed my first choice of both starter and main course had run out, but the crew member checked the opposite aisle and came back a few moments later to inform me that there was enough of each dish loaded after all. This wasn’t a great first impression given the fact I was only in Row 4 of 9.
After takeoff just behind BA’s 77W headed to Sydney, I popped to the washroom to change into the PJ top. I was surprised to find the washroom not in such good condition as my other two QR sectors so far this trip, but it was nonetheless cleaner than those you would expect to find on the vast majority of other airlines. The crew member serving my aisle saw me arriving back at my seat and offered to hang my shirt for me; it’s the little touches such as this that make the difference between good and great service.
As I fired up the IFE to watch Wind River (quite a compelling use of the best part of 2 hours), dinner service commenced with a glass of the Lanson Black Label and warm nuts. This was followed by an unspecified amuse-bouche, served on the beautifully laid table with individual bread basket.
The pumpkin and lemongrass soup with herb crème fraiche was very palatable, although I found the grilled prawns with chunky pomelo salad (served with quail egg, cucumber, roast grated coconut and chili tamarind dressing) to be a little too variegated for my taste. Once again, the breads that accompanied this dinner service were on the cheaper end of the spectrum.
My chosen main course of grilled beef tenderloin with grain mustard sauce, sautéed potatoes with chives, roasted cherry tomatoes, asparagus and mushrooms was super flavoursome if a little tough and lacking in any visible asparagus. I appreciated the fact that the mustard served on the side (of which I had a choice of type) was in a mini glass bottle rather than a sachet.
The mango sticky rice cake with pandan coconut sauce was excellent, accompanied by a peppermint tea and Godiva chocolates. It’s a small thing, but QR crew always brew tea in the galley and remove the teabag before serving to passengers; no need for the drip dish game here.
I slept for a good few hours following dinner. When I awoke around an hour out of Doha, a crew member emerged from nowhere to offer me a drink or something to eat; they were out of sparkling water at this point in the flight, but still wasn’t a difficult compromise – I opted for an Americano to keep me awake as I listened to the soundtrack of Violet Skies.
At the top of descent, I managed to capture a full width shot of the beautiful forward cabin of the Qatar Airways A350, which illustrates the amount of space afforded by no middle overhead bins and showcases the exquisite ambient mood lighting that is particularly vibrant on the A350.
The CSD popped by at this point to say goodbye to each passenger. QR tend to finish each flight with an ‘open skies’ promotional film, mainly aimed at sources of resistance in the US to Middle Eastern airline competition; I’m not sure how appropriate or worthwhile this is to screen to passengers who have already made a choice to use a Middle Eastern carrier. With 10 minutes of air holding announced by the captain, we landed into Doha 35 minutes behind schedule, arriving at Gate D4 where, despite dual airbridges being used, the one to Door 2L was once again the first to be connected to allow us to disembark.
I presume as a consequence of our late arrival, or perhaps in recognition of Singapore’s stringent security, connecting passengers were directed straight into the departures gate area, bypassing transfer security entirely.
A good 15-minute walk to Gate A6 right at the other end of the terminal meant that there was no time for a visit to the Al Mourjan lounge on this connection. Arriving at the gate, there was a clear priority lane for the boarding pass check, after which each part of the gate seating area was clearly marked with zone numbers corresponding presumably to boarding pass zones; premium passengers had a dedicated zone at the forward part of the gate, which was well policed by ground agents. I was once again first through the doors after passengers requiring assistance, and headed through the forward of two airbridges to Door 1L of A7-BCV, a three year old 787-8.
As on the previous sector, I was pointed but not escorted to my seat. I’m not sure what QR’s policy is here; I assume whether you get an escort or not is down to whether there are enough crew at the door at the particular moment you step onboard. The by now familiar routine of jackets being taken, an offer of a drink and delivery of said drink with hot or cold towel played out as I settled into 2K.
On my seat was a pillow and the Qsuite blanket, with blue amenity kit on the ledge and headphones and Evian water bottle inside the armrest. Menus were handed out and White Company PJ and slipper packs distributed.
I changed into the rather oversized PJ top in the washroom before pushback, returning to my seat just in time for newspapers to be offered and dinner orders to be taken for what would be my second dinner that evening.
As we got airborne just slightly behind schedule, I turned from the camera view to watch The Hitman’s Bodyguard. If you suspend reality for a moment and are in the mood for comedy, this is a laugh-a-minute watch. I do object to the excessive editing QR do to censor language in films (although oddly, expletive-ridden music tracks are offered aplenty).
Dinner service commenced with drinks and nuts; as I was planning on sleeping for the middle portion of this short flight to top up my sleep from the last sector, I went with the sensible option of water as the CSD came around to welcome each passenger. QR crews can be pretty variable; I’d lucked out with two excellent crews on the SIN sectors and one good crew on the ARN sector so far this trip. Looking after my aisle on this final sector to OSL was a rather robotic crew member completely lacking in warmth, but she thawed somewhat as time went on and was always professional.
As this was a late night departure, the main meal service was breakfast, so only ‘light’ options were offered for dinner. I jumped straight to the main course of Arabic spiced chicken breast with cinnamon spiced sauce, served with rice with mince lamb and herbs, and golden fried onions. The chicken was pretty overcooked and tough, and whilst nicely flavoured and textured, the entire dish was luke warm at best; a disappointing blip in an otherwise good run of QR meals.
For dessert I opted for the dacquoise biscuit with chocolate ganache, crushed nuts, Florentine and Chantilly whipped cream. Divine. Dinner concluded with a cappuccino, Godiva chocolates and a hot towel.
Once the film had finished I slept pretty well for a few hours, despite the noticeably noisier cabin when compared to the A350. I wasn’t particularly hungry when I woke; not fancying any of the three main course options (two of which were cheese-infested in a nod to AA) I opted, after another hot towel, for a few Continental options, starting with the Greek yogurt, strawberry compote, and toasted granola with nuts.
Next up was the beautifully presented seasonal fresh fruit, with the meal completed by the always-excellent Bircher muesli, an Americano and a third hot towel.
The CSD stopped by to thank each passenger for travelling with Qatar Airways. We landed around 5 minutes behind schedule which earned ‘sincere apologies’ from the CSD. A single airbridge had us disembarking from Door 2L into a freezing Norwegian early morning. For reasons I have been unable to fathom but assume was due to poor signage, I ended up in the wrong queue for passport control for connecting passengers and got stuck behind a significant queue of non-EU passengers from another arriving aircraft. Ten minutes later I was through the efficient transfer security and descending into the departure lounge.
British Airways use the third party OSL lounge at this airport, located on the mezzanine above the departure lounge. It’s a pretty large space, separated into a standard pay-in offering on the left and a ‘premium’ side to the right for airline-eligible passengers. The premium side of the lounge doesn’t open until 09:00, so I was initially directed to the left for the first 90 minutes or so of my visit.
I was unable to find any mention of showers in the lounge from online research but asked at reception as soon as I arrived on the off-chance that they were available. Surprisingly the lounge does indeed have a lone shower room; I was handed a towel and escorted through a staff door to the right of the reception desk and a short way along a corridor to the room. Whilst pretty basic, the shower room follows the interior design of the premium side of the lounge and offers basic pump-operated shampoo and shower gel. There is no bath mat or hairdryer, and the design of the shower door appeared to be modelled on a sieve, as the powerful rain shower half-flooded the floor.
The pay-in/standard side of the lounge offers plenty of different seating areas, basic washrooms and a limited buffet that for a third party lounge are perfectly adequate. Expansive windows look out over the apron, but the view is hampered by automatic external blinds that seemingly constantly adjust.
The premium side of the lounge offers near-identical catering, but the space is significantly more modern and smarter in design, if still a little eclectic. This side of the lounge also has its own dedicated washrooms. Views are internal, looking out over the check-in area.
Group Boarding hadn’t quite made it to Oslo at the time of my trip, so the usual free for all ensued as Priority Boarding was announced at Gate F19. For my final flight of this trip I would be travelling on G-EUOE, an A319 delivered new to BA in 2001. Inauspiciously, this was the very aircraft that lost its engine cowlings after takeoff from Heathrow to Oslo in 2013 and turned back to perform an emergency landing and subsequent evacuation on the Northern Runway.
The Mixed Fleet crew welcomed me at the door, with the CSM stopping by 1F to collect my jacket and welcome me by name. What is this, Qatar Airways?! Today’s aircraft had six rows of Club Europe seating, but a fairly light load meant that nobody was beside me in 1D.
The captain announced a flight time of 1h50 cruising at 38,000ft, and we pushed back ten minutes early with a manual safety demonstration due to a short taxi.
After some spectacular snowy scenes on takeoff, hot towels were handed out and the bar service commenced from the trolley; as I would be driving home from Heathrow, an apple juice accompanied my packaged cashew nuts (since sadly replaced by almonds). Without prompting, the CSM also brought a bottle of Highland Spring water, which was appreciated.
These Medium band flights offer a pathetic choice of warm sandwich or miniscule salad on lunch and dinner sectors; not liking the sound of the tiger prawn salad, I was left with the alternative of chicken Caesar panini which was hand delivered from the galley. This dreadfully presented cheap but weirdly tasty lump of carbs was served on a tray inexplicably containing some butter and milk; the chocolate mousse dessert was edible but unmemorable.
I finished lunch with a peppermint tea, which was, in a klaxon-sounding moment, served unprompted with a drip dish.
We landed onto a wet and grey Runway 27L at Heathrow, parking at the Northern end of T5A on a domestic stand that necessitated a bus transfer to the terminal. A dedicated Club Europe bus was available, but more than a few rows after CE were let on, somewhat defeating the point. There was no queue for the eGates at immigration, and with no bags to collect I was soon on the way home after a very enjoyable trip.
Thanks for following along with me to Singapore. Your comments and questions are, as ever, very welcome.