Seattle to Doha
Exploring Doha Day 1
Exploring Doha Day 2 & 3
Doha to Seattle
Sunday 18th November 2012
Up early, hitting the gym to make sure that I don’t feel guilty before what was to be a truly epic return home. I had been looking forward to this morning just as much as the flight over. So with a good 5k run in the gym, this would mean I could really enjoy myself today.
I checked out of the hotel and met up with my contact at Qatar Airways who was saying farewell and dropping me at the airport. It was a bit saddening to leave Qatar as I had a fantastic time and had enjoyed the warm weather so much I didn’t really want to head home to the Seattle winter. The weather wasn’t the real reason for not wanting to go home, but it’s a good excuse, right?
I was dropped in front of the Qatar Airways Premium Terminal and instantly a porter was there to help with the bags and take them into the check in area. It was surreal to have someone help with my bags like that as any time I had previously flown Business I still had to schlep my bags through the terminal. Pretty awesome so far. Check in was a breeze I barely even spoke, just handed the lovely lady my passport, told her I was headed to Houston and I went back to chatting to my contact at Qatar Airways. Next thing I know she’s handing me my boarding pass wishing me a safe journey. I quickly remembered I needed a bag tag for the swag bag and I was given not only the usual paper one you would expect but a lovely plastic one (that I kept for later).
Immigration was its usual Qatari breeze, hand over passport; smile for the birdie (look into the camera) and then stamp stamp off you go. Security was a bit longer due to only 2 channels open but in saying that, it was still not even 5 minutes, if that. Got to love this experience so far. So once the dignity dance was done and I was all dressed, I headed up the escalators, leaving the duty free to later.
At the top of the escalators, some staff were checking everyone’s boarding pass, not sure why as I mean it’s not as if you could be in this terminal without one, but I think they were keeping a record of the flights people were on to make sure that anyone who came in, eventually went out. Either way after they checked my boarding pass, they pointed me to the left, wished me a wonderful visit and off I went, past the cloak room (all the lockers were taken), past the nursery, past the games room, pass the smoking room, past the Doctors Clinic. Say what now. A Doctors Clinic in the lounge. Crazy! This place was like phenomenally awesome.
I finally made it actually into the lounge and it was just full of people. There were so many people in there it wasn’t funny. But it was the morning peak time with flights landing from all over Africa and the Middle East heading out to Europe and the USA (All the USA flights to New York, Washington DC & Houston all go out within 45 minutes of each other). I managed to find a single spot in the dining area to grab some breakfast and after a couple of poached eggs on toast. I headed off in search of somewhere more relaxing to finish my breakfast. Some fruit (god the dates out here in the Middle East are yum) and a couple of fresh pastries should round things out nicely (I grabbed a brioche bun thinking it was something else, but it was still good).
I settled in for my morning ritual. Coffee, emails, relax, switch off my brain. Could there be a better way to start the day than this. O did I mention that I was in an airport, with a half decent view and if I wanted to, could go and have a lie down on one of the many couches before my flight. I could seriously spend all day in this lounge and I wish I had of come a bit earlier to really relax and enjoy it. The first class side even has a day spa so THAT I could enjoy.
About 15 minutes before boarding I packed up my stuff and headed down to the Duty Free store to see if there was something I could buy to use up the last of my Rials. After browsing, there was nothing that tickled my fancy and after confirming with the staff that there was a different selection onboard, I bought a really cheap gift for a friend and headed towards the gate area. I wouldn’t really call it a gate area either; it was just a desk with a check in terminal as you headed directly onto a bus that took you to your aircraft.
Qatar Airways QR77
Doha to Houston Intercontinental George Bush
Boeing 777-200LR (A7-BBD)
Business Class – Seat 7A
Boarding: 0810 (Gate 12)
Push Back: 0909
Take Off Roll: 0928 (Runway 33)
Top of Descent: 1535
Touch Down: 1600 (Runway 26L)
Shut Down: 1607 (Bay D7)
The flight was called for boarding like 50 mins prior but I mean we still had to go through secondary screening (I hate that) and then off to the aircraft by bus. After going through security again, redressing (again) and this time having to remove my watch for some reason, even though I have never had to do that before. I was able to redress myself (while trying to stop the security from moving my stuff around without me seeing it) and get onto the bus. Once the bus was full (there’s only a dozen or so seats) the doors shut and off along the tarmac we went. Past an Air Arabia A320, past a whole heap of Qatar Airways jets, big and small. Past an Emirates 777-300ER, right up to door 2L of our 777-200LR. There was a bus already at the rear steps for the Economy passengers, and literally as we pulled up, they opened the doors and the hordes flowed up the rear steps.
However I was first onboard our aircraft, greeted with a smile, and I snapped away while the cabin was empty. I was in the mini cabin between the galley and economy. It was a good size cabin, 3 rows of 6 (2-2-2) but even then it is only marginally smaller than the 4 rows up the front. As everyone boarded I was greeted by the Purser and he introduced himself and offered any assistance. He mentioned that he had seen I was on the delivery flight and I explained I had loved it and was looking forward to more flights with Qatar Airways. A very true statement.
After many more photos, a pre departure beverage, handing out of all the goodies (pillows, slippers, socks, menus, amenity kits, pajamas etc.) we buttoned up and the steps were pushed back away from the aircraft. We pushed back a bit late waiting on paperwork to be finalized. It was coming to the end of the morning peak but still there was plenty of aircraft making their way to the takeoff points. Two Qatar Air Force Mirage 2000s taxied past us (unsure if just landed or heading to take off) and we eventually joined the long queue. We held for a while with other aircraft taking off ahead of us including a Qatar Air Force Dornier Alpha jet, a Westland Lynx landed and then it was our turn.
We turned onto Runway 33, the GE90s (which I was sitting on top off) spooled up, sucking in anything not tied down in the entire middle east (I still love the sound and feeling of these engines) and down the runway we rocketed. It was a fairly long roll as we were bound to be heavy with fuel. As we pulled out from Doha I wished it was not going to end as we pulled away from the city, back over the desert heading towards Europe. I browsed the menu and seeing that the first meal was breakfast and I had just eaten, figured I would give this dining on demand thing a real try. There were 2 main meal services in the menu, Breakfast & Lunch. There was also the “Indulgence” menu (aka snacks). I figured I would try and reset my body towards North American time.
I set up my plan for the flight. A 14 hour flight and touching down in Houston at 4pm, but leaving around 9am. Rather than eat as the menu suggested which for some reason had a breakfast up first, I decided to work for a bit putting me around lunch time in Doha but a midnight snack time in Houston. This could work. So 2-3 hours solid work, break for “lunch” and eat off the indulgence menu. After “lunch” and a movie I could, continue working or keep relaxing till about Greenland/Iceland which should be about half way through the flight and then have breakfast. Considering I usually ate pretty light anyway I was sure there would be some muesli and fruit leftover. Then after some more work/movies I would be able to finish off with Lunch with everyone else as we approached Houston, fully back into sync on US time.
So out came the laptop, a drink in hand and I settled down to working for a while. Unfortunately the power plug was out in my row, so it meant I had only about 3 hours of work or so till my battery would be critical anyway, so that gave me a deadline for lunch time. Good way to manage it I guess. The minute I returned from the bathroom though, I had noticed that all of the shades had been drawn and most people were about to go to sleep. This didn’t seem at all smart to me but hey, what do I know. So while others slept, I worked.
The flight was pretty good. I worked, I ate, I watched a heap of movies, I ate some breakfast, I watched more movies. I worked a bit, I had some lunch. Add in a quick chat with the crew while taking some photos over Greenland, enjoying some relaxing time browsing the duty free catalogue but not able to get the cool aviator cufflinks I wanted (if anyone at Qatar Airways reads this, I wouldn’t mind a set of those cufflinks in your duty free mag *hint hint*).
The food was just great and I especially enjoyed the Soups. I actually had 2 different soups on this flight. During my “dinner” I had the cauliflower soup and then during my “lunch” I had the Pea & Mint soup. Both were fantastic. I also noticed that for some reason I always chose the vegetarian options. Both on the way over and the way back, the vegetarian meals just sounded so good and it really was. This one was a Flaky Vegetable Roll with Pineapple Korma & Tossed Okra Potato served with a Cashew Chili Rice. It was one of the Master Chef meals I tried (the Mint & Pea Soup was another) and this one was by the Vineet Bhatia who is a Michelin Star Chef from Mumbai but based in London (confused yet?). Unlike other airlines that just have one big name chef to design their menus, Qatar has 4 of them so that means you have a high likelihood of having at least one item across the course of your flight.
As we tracked south over the USA making landfall around Wisconsin we flew over Chicago, followed the Mississippi towards Texas and crossed into Texas close to Texarkana (which I have visited before). I didn’t want this flight to end as it was just so good and the crew was awesome. The purser came back to check on me and I had to admit they had been so nice to me. At one point during the flight there was me, the purser and 2 other cabin crew trying to recharge my laptop and it just wouldn’t work, so they took it forward to the cockpit to recharge. Amazingly generous of them! The purser asked how the flight compared to my flight over.
I had to sit back and think for a few seconds. Was it all true about the cabin pressure and the humidity etc? I thought back to how I felt on the flight towards Doha and I had felt pretty damn good on the way over. Whereas at that point, I did feel extremely run down, like someone had smacked me over the head a few dozen times. Pretty similar to how I have felt on every other long haul flight I had taken between Australia and the USA (only slightly better cause I wasn’t in economy). I guess it was true all the hype. Made for good data for an article I was due to write.
Pretty soon we were on descent into Houston. I was looking forward to getting onto the ground and experiencing a new airport but I had a few priorities though. Get through immigration as easy as possible (always a hassle usually) and then get a shower. I had checked before and there was showers in the C Terminal United Club (which I would have access to thanks to an international ticket and an onwards business class ticket, o and also my *A Gold status.
We touched down right opposite the D terminal (where international arrivals come in) and sitting there was a lovely BA 777-300ER (I hadn’t seen one yet and they don’t have many in their fleet) and a Lufthansa A380 (plus the usual United you would expect at one of their hubs). As we pulled in my name was announced to present myself in the jet way. Umm ok something is up. What I didn’t expect was an escort by Qatar Airways staff through the terminal. What an awesome way to end what had been a phenomenal trip. Walked all the way through security, immigration (which was a breeze mind you thanks to the escort) back through customs and then through security again. Seriously I was so not wanting to get on this next flight as it being United, the service would no way in hell compare to what I had just experienced. Hell I think Qantas First in April is going to be a tough call against this.
Since I was no back in the USA, through security and escorted all the way to the check in desk at the nearest gate, I bid goodbye to my escort from Qatar who I had been chatting with for the last 45 minutes to an hour it took to go through the formalities (would have been quicker by one of my bags came late off the belt and with that, a zip was broken so I had to make a baggage report) and had been good chatting with him. I was in the United Club in the E terminal the same terminal I would be departing out of. But I really just wanted to get my boarding pass for my next flight, then go and find a shower in whatever club I needed to go to. Turns out the E Club had showers. WINNER! I could sit down and relax and not move for several hours.
I grabbed a shower in the dodgy looking shower rooms, went back outside to change the leftover Rials back into USD (which gave me a whole 16 in cash… woooo) and then sat my butt down in the United Club and relaxed. Coffee in hand, some chocolate coated raisins (cause I am a sucker for those things I swear) and my laptop to catch up on life. I whiled away a few hours in the one spot.
About 10 minutes prior to boarding I packed up all my stuff and decided to wander on over to the gate which was about a 5 minute walk through the E terminal, past the hordes of people heading home from football games or starting their thanksgiving travel really early.
United Airlines UA1204
Houston Intercontinental George Bush to Seattle Tacoma
Boeing 737-800 (N14228)
BusinessFirst – Seat 1A
Boarding: 2050 (Gate E16)
Push Back: 2125
Take Off Roll: 2137 (Runway 26L)
Top of Descent: 2317
Touch Down: 2359 (Runway 16L)
Shut Down: 0004 (Bay N16)
Boarding was a scrum, the gate lice were going crazy, their seemed to be half a plane load of people pre boarding or in the case of “Military in Uniform” it’s pretty much whoever wants to get on the plane first. I had to join the ranks of the gate lice to even attempt to get on and get my stuff in the overhead bin which would be required considering I was in row 1 and couldn’t have my bags anywhere but in the overhead.
I was by now totally a wreck. Ready to pass out, just wanting to be left alone. No channel 9 on this flight as it was an ExCon bird but that meant free DirectTv. So I found an interesting channel to distract me, put my headphones on, grabbed my book (first time on this trip I had actually read it funnily enough) and started to chill out.
We took off and it was slightly bumpy on the way out over Dallas. Drinks were served and sadly no standard Hot nuts on this flight (not sure why) all we got were a packet of lame pretzel sticks. What did I care though, I was just happy for anything. The service was fine up front, friendly and all but I did have to repeat “Diet Coke” so loud that I was shocked the whole plane didn’t hear me, cause apparently my accent is so bad no one can understand those two words :/
Dinner (well a snack according to United) was a fairly nice Antipasto platter with a fruit salad side dish and a brownie. What I could have really gone for was something really sugary to keep me going but that was failing fast and the coffee just did not help. I was drifting in and out of my thoughts for most of the flight and since it was pitch black out for just about all of the flight, I didn’t really take any photos.
We came into descent in solid cloud which meant it was a bit bumpy, punched out of the clouds over Bellevue and then did a loop out over Lake Washington coming in for a 16 approach. The 16 approaches are good if you’re on the Starboard (right) side of the aircraft as you get a good view of downtown. Sadly all I saw was pitch black lake. Boooooooring. O did I mention that it was raining and less than 10C when we touched down. Welcome home!
We touched down and taxied quickly to the N Gates. The crew seemed to be in a rush to get off the plane and either get to the crew hotel and get some sleep or just get the hell out of dodge. I didn’t blame them cause I wanted the same but it was midnight, I had to be up for work in 5 hours and I was a good 45 minutes away from home (by the time I get my bag, get to the truck and drive home). I was looking forward to getting home though to get some real sleep.
My bag came out with the priority baggage (awesome work United) but my Aegean Airlines Bag Tag was gone, broken clean off. Aegean will only ever issue one bag for the entirety of your time with them. My one and only tag was gone forever. That was just a good way for United to make me feel after the crappyness I was at by this stage. Couldn’t do much about it really, so I called the parking garage to come pick me up.
5 minutes later I was in my truck, heading for home after the staff at the garage put my bags in it for me, along with some water and 30 minutes after that I was pulling up at home into my driveway and within 1 hour and 15 minutes of touching down in Seattle. I was at home, asleep in my bed. Ending a truly awesome flight.