Global aviation media assembles in Doha for the Airbus A350XWB launch


(Posted 06th January 2015)

The mention ‘Not to off load’ on my ticket sounded reassuring after checking in on line for my flight to Doha, where Qatar Airways will tomorrow launch their latest acquisition, the state of the art Airbus A350XWB. The system had allocated me into seat 29B and attempts to change it to a more forward position failed, indicative of a full house on the flight. Oh well I thought, better seated there and getting to Doha, for an event not a single aviation journalist would want to miss, that being offloaded for holding a free ticket.

I was of course forgetting the attention to detail, the smallest detail in fact, Qatar Airways’ staff are trained for and known for, as my emails to QR staff in Kampala, requesting a move to a more forward, and if possible window seat, were only met with cryptic responses that ‘the team at Entebbe will be waiting for you’.

Thankfully it was a bright day, so no one got rained upon, keeping me in a good mood, not even spoiled by another one of those people employed by the airport who subjected every single page of my passport to an intense scrutiny, a new passport that is with, and I counted, 45 pages utterly empty. Perhaps that fascinated her and eventually, when murmurs rose from impatient passengers wanting to get into the terminal, she most reluctantly let go of my travel document, then turning her wrath to those who had dared to complain while she, in her own words ‘was doing her job’ … ahem.

A far better experience though awaited me after clearing the terminal access security check, smiles from the moment I was approaching the check in area of Qatar Airways, indicative that training in the private sector works while the training provided in the public sector apparently had gone to waste on that particular Matron Horribilis at the terminal door. Enough though of the critique, for from that point onwards would anything else but thumbs up be a misrepresentation of my unfolding experience.

The first surprise was, after presenting my passport and Visa for Qatar, to be ushered to the Business Class check in where an upgrade from seat 29B to 1F had been arranged. While the check in itself was performed by the staff of the handing agent ENHAS was a uniformed member of the Qatar Airways Entebbe team also at hand, informing me that ‘we will see you later on in the lounge’ heralding more surprises.

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Indeed did Mr. Lance Longstaff, the Entebbe Airport Services Manager make an appearance, followed momentarily by his team, after they had completed the check in of their ‘guests’, not passengers or as often overheard the utilitarian word ‘Pax’.

This led to the opportunity to take a picture with the QR team before they all wished me a good flight. Pre boarding security too seemed for a change friendlier and more relaxed and as I entered the gate area came the announcement through that boarding was imminent, and that mothers with children would be boarded first, but that passengers in Business Class could equally board at their own convenience.

It turned out that the economy class section was indeed fully booked, even my former seat 29B given to another passenger, but there was plenty of space in the front cabin and the two flight attendants working in Business were able to shower even greater attention on the half dozen passengers who had booked this five star airline’ premium class. Every passenger in the front cabin was greeted by name, and the often perfunctionary and at times mechanical service seen at other airlines turned into a celebration of service, with a five star meal – and in my case – five star tea served as if the cabin had been turned into a Michelin restaurant. Special mention deserved the Asparagus soup, yes, they serve soup as part of the meal, which was better than most I had in a long time in some of Kampala’s restaurants.

A full belly and the time of day, aided by the steady hum of the engines, induced some sleep and when coming around, another cup of tea was offered before the Captain announced we were half an hour from landing and half an hour early for that matter and the cabin was prepared for landing.

It was my first arrival at the new Hamad International Airport, and Qatar Airways’ service on the ground too was as impressive as it comes. A Ugandan staff member no less met me right off the aircraft, got me fast tracked into the terminal and then, lo and behold, no queues, not for me or any other premium class passenger anyway. An arrival lounge awaits, with a dedicated immigration desk in fact, and once that was done, faster than when I come home to Uganda in fact, it was only the checked bag to be collected. Not by me though as a porter was at hand, taking my baggage tag while yours truly was guided to yet another arrival lounge, where premium passengers headed into the city of Doha were able to wait for the personal transport conveyance, aka limo.

It was an entirely pleasant experience, from the moment I left home – no traffic jams for a change – to the moment I arrived at the Oryx Rotana in Doha, where I found my check in card prepared, signature all that was needed and hey presto I was in my room. Five star indeed, if anyone had any doubts that is.

As I wrote in a recent article ‘Savoir Vivre in the air and on the ground’ service in the air must be matched by the same level of service on the ground and Qatar Airways did pull out all stops and all the right stops. A harbinger of things to come over the next two days? I am certainly looking forward to the programme which Qatar Airways has lined up for over 100 invited aviation journalists from around the world who have alongside me come to Doha to witness the launch of the first Airbus A350WB.

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