From the moment I was handed the boarding passes for my journey, there was something special about it all…I just didn’t know what, at that time. It was the first time I was flying with Qatar Airways – which claims to be the Five Star airline. And I was prepared to put it through the test, on what makes a Five Star brand, and whether Qatar Airways is indeed what it claims it is. For a start, the photos below will give you an idea about my experience.


Five star culinary experience

Qatar Airways foodAs you can tell from the number of photos in the slide show with a gastronomic feel to them, I had a LOT to eat on board my flight from Singapore to Abu Dhabi (for this conference), via Doha. Not only did I have a multi-course breakfast and dinner on board the Business Class, it was the style in which it was served that impressed me even more. Fresh napkins were spread on my lap by the steward and table covers for the table. I was asked for my choice of food before take-off (just like in a restaurant), and also asked for which meals I wanted to be woken up for (Great job, Luke!).

The food itself was very good too – unlike what airline food is generally about. If you click on some of the photos above, you’ll know what I mean. So from the culinary aspect, Qatar Airways sure is a Five Star airline.

The X-Factor – a premium terminal!

Qatar Airways loungeAll things one would expect of a quality airline were present on Qatar Airways – a comfortable seat, good in-flight entertainment (I finally watched Notting Hill!), and amazing food. But here’s what totally caught me by surprise – the Premium Terminal in Doha Qatar Airways has for its Business and First Class passengers. Yes, I mean a full terminal, not just a lounge. Though that may not sound significant from the outset, my experience was memorable.

As a transit passenger, I was for once taken care of by the airline staff, not the airport staff. The difference? Well, just imagine that you’re in transit at Singapore Changi, and the SIA Girls look after you, not the SATS or the lounge staff. Wouldn’t you like that? I loved it!

I was whisked away in a luxury bus (it had sofas, not seats) to the Premium Terminal, only to be welcomed by two Qatar Airways staff and then led to the Business Class lounge. The terminal was quiet, spacious and certainly exclusive. Almost serene, I’d say. Not only did the terminal have a dedicated duty-free shopping area, but the lounges were equipped with free wifi, a restaurant, a conference room, massage chairs, private bedrooms and even a sauna and jaccuzzi! Talk about feeling pampered. For once, I wouldn’t mind having my connecting flight delayed.

The little things that made a big difference

Very often, a customer’s interaction with a brand is taken to another level due to the small things. And in my encounter with Qatar Airways, I certainly had a number of such moments. Here are some of them.

  1. The lady in the Business Class terminal remembered my name from my prior visit earlier in the week. That was a pleasant surprise!
  2. In the short flight from Abu Dhabi – Doha, each and every passenger up-front was personally thanked for flying with Qatar Airways for the first time, or for being a frequent flier.
  3. In the Doha-Singapore flight, the Chief Steward came up and chatted with each passenger on his/her experience and actively sought feedback.

Room for improvement?Qatar Airways advertisement

Something business travelers crave on an over-night flight is a good sleep. And I wouldn’t say I had a perfect sleep on my flight, because the seat wasn’t fully flat – I kept sliding down. It’s not the most comfortable feeling when you’re trying to sleep well. Even though it was wider than the Cathay Pacific’s new Business Class bed, I’d prefer the latter, since it was fully flat.

Even though I had a journey where nothing major went wrong, I’ve heard from a number of close associates and on the internet (read a true account) that Qatar Airways doesn’t do a very good job of dealing with unforeseen circumstances. Even things like flight delays, lost baggage and weather related events sometimes cause much strife for the passenger. How to solve this? For a start, having a set of standard operating procedures and giving employees some autonomy to act can help ease things a bit.

Qatar Airways brand analysis

Let’s do a quick brand evaluation of Qatar Airways, based my flight experience, using relevant levers from the 6X airline branding model (TM).

Brand eXpectation: The advertisement Qatar Airways run claims that it provides “hospitality at the highest level”. Though that is certainly putting them in the “premium carriers” basket, think they could have done a better job of creating a distinct image versus their regional competitors like Emirates and Ethihad – both of which have similar messaging. Score: 8/10

Brand eXperience: The in-flight experience was true to what was promised, which is often a rarity these days. Product quality was far better than most out there and service was professional and courteous. And the food tasted much better than the average airline fare. They’d have gotten a perfect ten if I had seen more of the attendants during the flight, proactively anticipating needs, rather than addressing them. Score: 9/10

Brand eXpression: This relates to how well the company interacts with the customers pre and post-flight. Qatar Airways staff was actively seeking feedback during the flight, have interacted with me a couple of times after that and are even on Twitter! They’re on the right track. Score: 9/10

Brand eXternalities: This is what happens when things go wrong. Apparantely, Qatar Airways doesn’t have a very good track record here. Score: 7/10

Brand X-Factor: This is something that puts an airline in a class of its own – something difficult to duplicate for competition. The Premium Terminal and the little things they did certainly is a shiniing example of the emphasis Qatar Airways puts on its customers. 10/10

A total score of 43/50 is very respectable and I’d recommend Qatar Airways to all readers. It’s a refreshingly pampering experience.

I’ve given my verdict. What do you think? Have you had a different experience on Qatar Airways? Where is the room for improvement? What can others learn from the airline? Let’s discuss…

P.S: Special thanks to Edward Cameron from Qatar Airways for assistance in this trip.

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

CEO at SimpliFlying
Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco.

Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others.

Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
Shashank Nigam
  • whakojacko

    I hate you for posting that picture of their caesar salad-the one I had back in December on IAD-DOH was definitely be best caesar salad of my life.
    As per irregularities, when I flew IAD-DOH back in August one of my 2 checked bags didnt make it (from a flight from SFO). The ground staff in DOH were decent enough about it, and It was delivered to my apartment the next day. (just a data point)

    • http://simpliflying.com Shashank Nigam

      @whakojacko: I loved that salad too. In fact, I loved the pancakes with raspberries even more. Do check out the pics above! Glad to know your bags situation worked out fine.

  • Shaan

    Unfortunately, I did not have the privilege of flying business or first as I normally do on my business trips. This was an emergency personnel trip to India from IAD. Though the outbound went very well, the inbound trip was not as pleasant, for one my flight was delayed more than 7 hours and Qatar Airways did not offer any assistance, in terms of refreshments for me or milk for my infant, this to me was very frustrating and discouraging. Before the boarding process, there was a very rude obnoxious Qatar security person who wanted to prove his authority who was rude to ask me to shut up and also silence my 11 month infant daughter who was crying of hunger and a soiled diaper that he would not let me change, I was told to leave the security lines go back to the airport to use the restrooms or silently board the plane. I am Global 1K on United and I am frequent business traveler but this incident at the Doha Airport has completely disappointed me. I think privileges and service should not be biased based on the class of travel and must be general common across all individuals. This has left a bad taste that I have decided I rather fly Lufthansa even without their 180 flat beds over Qatar Airways.

  • Lisa

    I have flown with Qatar twice between DAR and ARN (6-7 hrs DAR-DOH and another 7ish hours DOH-ARN) and both times I was baffled about the low quality of almost everything. Admittedly I did not fly Business or First class but my experience with for instance Emirates in Economy on similar routes has been nothing but complete satisfaction. First off, getting in touch with the Qatar office in Dar can only be done via phone; they repeatedly ignore emails. The 50 extra USD I had to pay for changing the ticket could only be made by physically going to the office which was a hassle for me since I am a good 3 hours (incl 30 minute flight) from Dar Es Salaam. Food is just terrible, it brings back horrible memories from flying in the early 90’s (I almost have no words for the breakfast; a greasy croissant, some jam and a painfully sweet juice of some sorts). Online entertainment has been a joke on each of my flights; no individual screens (and I have noticed that not even business class have their own screens on this route), extremely poor choice of movies and for some reason it has been turned off a good full hour before landing. They have crammed so many seats in so when the drink and food trolleys are out you cannot visit the restrooms. Doha airport is an absolute nightmare – on my last two flights, passing through migration took more than hour each time in something that resembled a wildbeest migration(only much slower). I have not been able to find electricty outlets in any other place than underneath the phone boots on the second floor (a good 15 meters from the nearest chair) and one (1) next to a table in the annoyingly expensive fast food area on the second floor – amazing! My special food requirements have never been honoured. If I have a say in the future it will most certainly be “Never again!”.

  • Darren Hulbert

    QR give the business and first class pax a truly excellent experience, however as more pax are now moving to the back of the aircraft as staff travel budgets are being cut when will this service be given to all the passengers? and will QR be market leaders?

  • Shokat Nasser

    My experience with QR has been quite good. QR is certainly doing well to maintain their service levels. Afterall, they are up against giants like EK in the region !

  • Arpita Chowdhury

    Qatar airways is truely a five-star airline , not only for the on-board services, but also its on-ground service is excellent.The crafts are well-maintaned, staff is very friendly and service oriented. Their multi-lingual approach is much appreciated by passengers.With having their hub DOHA international airport a very modern smart look, well equipped with all modern facilties and duty free options available, the transit is also an enjoyable experience.

  • Kristofer Younger

    Not sure, but 1st class on Singapore while nice, wasn’t great food. Could have been a lot better – of course, I’m past the age where nice wine covers up mediocre (and fatty) food.

  • Eric Zoetmulder

    Good timing; I’m leaving tonight on a Sin-Par-Sin trip with QR C Class. LEts see how they do and I’ll keep you current in a blow by blow recount

  • Joe Corno

    Shashank is asking a question, where the air line has “marketed” Shashank to the point of spreading word-to-mouth about their “branding”. They are succeeding in implementing “preceived value”, what I call: Atypical Marketing.

    By engaging consumer’s emotions and sensory receptors, Qatar is marketing atypically. Shashank states it when he says: “a breath of fresh air”, which invokes sensory elements to actually engage and experience the service or product.

    There is research, evaluations, and percentages on the new innovative atypical marketing business plans. The best companies, who are experiencing growth and strength, are utilizing and incorporating atypicall marketing business plans.

    Yes, you do have a better service experience, because Qatar has incorporated “exceeding consumer’s expectations” into their business plan.

    So, is Qatar really a five star airline, or have they marketed the consumer in experiencing a strong positive engagement of feelings that makes us believe that they are? The one thing is for sure, Qatar has a great atypical business plan.

  • Navneet Shukla

    I certainly felt so after travelling on different airlines in Europe and the USA. Qatar Airways has been consistently been winning awards from Skytrax and many other organisations who are the best judge in the business.Its no fluke.

  • Gareth Pryce

    Consistantly good. I fly regularly in the Middle East and they’re still ahead of Emirates and miles ahead of Gulf and Etihad who are pretty dire!

  • Gareth Pryce

    I would have expected Navneet to rate Qatar’s service – he works for Qatar!
    US carriers aren’t known for service standards and most are in chapter 11 or financial dire straits so the comparison isn’t a good one. Remember also that Gulf carriers such as Qatar are in the very fortunate position of having Gas/Oil rich governments to support them so aren’t really working in the real market as US/Euro carriers have to. A fairer comparison for Qatar would be with Asian carriers such as Cathay/Malaysian.

  • David Hayes

    In relation to Gareth’s comment regarding US carriers being in dire financial straits: whilst this is undoubtedly true it is precisely at this time that things which actually cost nothing, e.g. courtesy, can make a huge difference to the future of an airline. Qatar are, in my experience, a superb carrier and no, I don’t work for them. On the other hand there are some major carriers, by no means confined to the US, who I simply will not use.

  • Funke Koleosho

    Absolutely not. once i travelled with them and my in flight entertainment was faulty. I had to be moved away from my family, there was nothing special about the food or the service….far from 5 star

  • Paul Sciacca

    Absolutely! The one of the best carrier in the air. The service is in my option the best and the employees are eager to assist you when all possible. They are passionate about their job and the company they represent.

    From the moment you board the aircraft you since that you are in the Middle East. The flight crew work as a team and you don’t feel “put out” when you request something. I only wish that all carriers had the same service mentality. As a person who travels frequently, I have been on many domestic and international carriers and some airlines employee’s attitudes are simply “We are taking you from point to point.” But Qatar’s service makes you feel like you are the only passenger on board. I tell people who have the opportunity to select them when possible.

  • Stan Wraight

    not at all impressed by Business class in A330 or the so called premium lounge in DOH airport. A320 just as bad in business (first). definately not even 4 star, Etihad and EK offer a much better product on board.

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  • Dave Liddell

    If Qatar is so good (and they are), who is the worst?

  • Shrinivas Dharmadhikari

    I agree with you Shashank. The airline service is really falling apart. Only thing the full service Airlines seems to have learnt from No frills is, “how to cut on customer service on board”. British Airways seems to excel among all in this department.

    Recently, I had a bizzare experience with BA , while flying from Mexico city to London. The Fresh crew arrived late to take charge of the plane, reportedly traffic jams enroute Mexico City Airport. Boarding procedure was bypassed halfway. Amidst the confusion , when I lost my temper momentarily, I was brow beaten by the on board crew into silence, threatening to throw me out and flying out leaving me behind.

    So much for BA discipline , professionalism and hsopitality . No wonder, I have vowed not to travel on BA in future !

  • vijayyakkanti

    I will never fly Qatar Airways again in my Life. Not only that I am also not going to buy tickets for any one of my employees for that matter. Which we usually travel Qatart between IAD & HYD. Not any more….

    As a corporate policy, we were travelling Qatar Airways bcz of their reasonable pricing and service on-board. Though I hate to be herded in Doha airport on the buses and thru a cramped up terminal.

    But I had a very bad experience in my last trip on April 21st where I checked in two bags and lost items from my bags. 3 items are stolen from one bag and 2 are from other bag. I had a Netbook(brand new with the box), Rayban glasses with the case & 5 dresses for my daughter. Total value of $650.

    All this has started with the delay of my flight from Columbia, SC. By the time I reached Washington Dulles I did not have much time to catch flight. I ran thru the newly configured carridor of IAD and was able to catch flight to Doha at last second. Qatar representative has informed me that my bags will not be able to make the flight. That made the bags sit in IAD for 24 hours. I am pretty sure in the control of Qatar Airways staff. I came home to Hyd and the next day I got my bags delivered at my office. They were all tagged with the lockable strips and when opened them, I first saw the dresses for my daughter were missing and then netbook and then sunglasses.

    I right away reported to Qatar Airways Hyderabad office about it. They first said they are not responsible for it bcz the TSA is the who might have done it, bcz I did not lock my bags. when I explained that TSA does not want us to lock the bags, they asked me to send me report with all the boarding passes ( stubs we usually throw them away when we land). For some reason I kept them this time and scanned them and sent them. After 2 days I get a phone call saying Doha office declined to pay for the lost items. For some reason, I think they are very used this kind of mis handling of the bags. No one I talked to had any kind of empathy for my situation. which tells me that this happens all the time and they are aware of it. but they don't care about it.

    I am so hurt now that I will not be able to fly Qatar Airways or recommend them to anyone of my colleagues or friends anymore…

    If you are travelling Qatar, please take a picture of all the items you are putting your bags before you check them in and also take a picture of the bags as you open them and if you are missing items, please give a police report right away.

    Happy Travels…
    Vijay

    • http://simpliflying.com/ Shashank Nigam

      That's a terrible experience! Did you share your story with someone
      senior in Qatar Airways? I hear the CEO is very hands-on and looks
      into situations personally.

    • Tanuja Sookraj

      I also had a bad experience with Qater. My cellphone was stolen on board the flight. A man not far from me had his small bag with all his cash, credit cards and passport stolen as well. All they could say was, ” we’ll let you know if something comes up.”

      They treat their first and business class passengers like God and neglect the rest. They forget bulk of the money comes from the economy class.

      Their service is pathetic! We book special meals in advance, but there is forever no meals for us. They say they will check in the back and get back to you, but they never do. Eventually when it’s landing time they tell they say, “oh I checked but there wasn’t any.” They are pathetic!

      Travelling happily with Emirates
      Tanuja

  • vijayyakkanti

    I will never fly Qatar Airways again in my Life. Not only that I am also not going to buy tickets for any one of my employees for that matter. Which we usually travel Qatart between IAD & HYD. Not any more….

    As a corporate policy, we were travelling Qatar Airways bcz of their reasonable pricing and service on-board. Though I hate to be herded in Doha airport on the buses and thru a cramped up terminal.

    But I had a very bad experience in my last trip on April 21st where I checked in two bags and lost items from my bags. 3 items are stolen from one bag and 2 are from other bag. I had a Netbook(brand new with the box), Rayban glasses with the case & 5 dresses for my daughter. Total value of $650.

    All this has started with the delay of my flight from Columbia, SC. By the time I reached Washington Dulles I did not have much time to catch flight. I ran thru the newly configured carridor of IAD and was able to catch flight to Doha at last second. Qatar representative has informed me that my bags will not be able to make the flight. That made the bags sit in IAD for 24 hours. I am pretty sure in the control of Qatar Airways staff. I came home to Hyd and the next day I got my bags delivered at my office. They were all tagged with the lockable strips and when opened them, I first saw the dresses for my daughter were missing and then netbook and then sunglasses.

    I right away reported to Qatar Airways Hyderabad office about it. They first said they are not responsible for it bcz the TSA is the who might have done it, bcz I did not lock my bags. when I explained that TSA does not want us to lock the bags, they asked me to send me report with all the boarding passes ( stubs we usually throw them away when we land). For some reason I kept them this time and scanned them and sent them. After 2 days I get a phone call saying Doha office declined to pay for the lost items. For some reason, I think they are very used this kind of mis handling of the bags. No one I talked to had any kind of empathy for my situation. which tells me that this happens all the time and they are aware of it. but they don't care about it.

    I am so hurt now that I will not be able to fly Qatar Airways or recommend them to anyone of my colleagues or friends anymore…

    If you are travelling Qatar, please take a picture of all the items you are putting your bags before you check them in and also take a picture of the bags as you open them and if you are missing items, please give a police report right away.

    Happy Travels…
    Vijay

  • Mcrawford259

    We knew our son was going to be ruined for coach when his first flight was international on business and first class tickets. We didn't know how ruined he would be since it was our first flight on Qatar Airways. Wow, our business class there so far surpassed United's first class that United should just quit the business in shame. What a lovely flight, excellent stewards and beautiful food, comfort and PJ's! Yes, it is definitely 5 star-unless they come up with a higher level.

  • http://www.livingroomwarehouse.com/ Modern Sofas

    I also had a bad experience on Quatar Airways. Hope the management would fix many issues as soon as possible.

  • KV

    while on Business Class it was slightly better, Economy was absolutly bad. I probably had a worst food ever. No warmth in the services at all. After this Qatar flight, I feel many European airlines seem to be far better on Service (which normally I hate)

    • http://simpliflying.com/ Shashank Nigam

      Was this a one off, or have you experienced it multiple times on Qatar?

  • RK

    This is definitely not a 5 star airline. i would rate it a 2 star. There are others which are more comfortable and having good food options specially for a vegetarian person

  • Eddie the Eagle

    ” But here’s what totally caught me by surprise – the Premium Terminal in
    Doha Qatar Airways has for its Business and First Class passengers.
    Yes, I mean a full terminal, not just a lounge.” Ahh… that would explain why the terminal for the rest of us economy class passengers sucks bigtime.

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