I want to be very clear at the start of this, there are a lot of very silly things I will spend money on, but First Class travel just isn’t one of them.
It’s not that I don’t like the idea of First Class travel. I mean, not liking First Class travel is like not liking life’s luxuries, which I do. It’s just I’d rather suffer up the back of the bus than spend the money to be at the front.
And I’ve spent money on lots of foolish things. Cars and art, the very best phone – but I have never flown First Class. Except now I have, unexpectedly, unwittingly and probably unwisely.
Unwisely, because no matter where I fly from now on, when someone asks, “How was your flight?” no matter how the flight was, it will never be as good as First Class – Sydney to Doha.
To be honest, when I checked in, I didn’t even realize I had been upgraded. I fly a lot for work and the act of going to the airport, checking in and sitting in the lounge has no particular pleasure for me – it’s a process. I check in, and then I work.
I chose Qatar Airways, because it was cheaper than Qantas to Europe and because they are both members of the oneworld frequent flyer program, it meant I could use the First Class lounge in Sydney and Doha.
Did I mention that I fly a lot? I did, didn’t I? I fly so much that I am an Emerald tier member with oneworld, which translates to the highest level on Qantas. That means I get to use their Business Class check-in lane, get fast tracked at every airport and use their First Class lounge everywhere in the world.
Flying a lot also means I have a lot of Frequent Flyer points. I quite literally have a million of them. So when I am on a long haul flight, I buy the cheapest priced full economy then upgrade it on points to Business Class, which is what I did for this flight – bought economy and burned points to get upgraded.
To maximize time, I am getting the 9pm flight on Friday to Oslo via Doha. This suits me perfectly, because it means I can work all day, go to the airport, have dinner in the Qantas First Class Lounge, knock back a couple of free scotches, avoid the airline food and sleep all the way to Doha.
Side note here – the Qantas First Class Lounge in Sydney is the best in the world. I’ve been to all of them in all the major airports. I once sat between Victoria Beckham and Simon Pegg at a Crowded LA Airport – she was on the phone whining about her children, he was as lovely as you would expect him to be – in case you were wondering.
The reason you would eat there and not on the plane is simple – the entire menus is provided by Neil Perry and it features the best dishes from Rockpool and Spice Temple. Have the fish in broth with noodles and then the deconstructed Pavalova. Wash it down with some Four Pillars gin while watching the planes come in and out – it’s worth it.
To be honest, I was so preoccupied by work and drinking I hadn’t even looked at my ticket until I was boarding. I lined up, got on and then as I was going through the door of the plane, realised I was in seat 1E.
Even then, I was unfamiliar with how Qatar Airways set up their Business Class so I assumed I was in the front row of Business Class. I was mildly irritated by this because I thought I would be sitting close the toilet.
It turns out I am so dim, that even when I got on and took my seat I thought, “Gee Business Class on Qatar is really pretty nice…” It literally wasn’t until the young and glamourous Romanian hostess handed me the food menu which said Qatar Airlines First Class that I realised where I was.
Here though, is the dilemma. If you have eaten in the lounge with the expectation that you are not going to eat on the flight and you suddenly find yourself being offered Krug Champagne and an al la carte menu, you do what any sane man would do. You unbuckle your belt and you dig in.
Let’s start with the seats. The Firsts Class cabin of Qatar has eight seats in a 1:2:1 configuration. Each seat comes with a 26-inch touch screen television, a privacy screen between you and your neighbor and an in seat controller that allows you to control your lights, your seat angle and your TV – and you need it. The seat is so big that in order to touch the screen to control it like you would in economy, you’d have to unbuckle your seat belt and get up out of your seat to touch the 26-inch TV that you have all to yourself.
You also get a decent number of pillows, access to snacks and chocolates throughout the flight and a permanently open bar, which serve drinks, food and snacks.
On arrival I was served Krug Champagne. On arrival drinks I usually say no, just water please. But if someone is offering you Krug, it’s rude to say no, so I said yes.
There are two great things about flying First Class, the first of which is the seat which transforms into a bed. I’m big – 198 centimeters in my socks and 120 kilos on the scale. In Business Class sleepers my feet are usually jammed against the end and I have to compress my shoulders like I am squeezing through a doggy-door to sleep.
But in Qatar Fist class? Nope. I went to the bar to have a scotch, came back to find my bed made with a pair of grey pyjamas laid out from The White Company in England along with an amenities kit which included earplugs, an eyemask and various unctions and creams for my skin.
I then went to the toilet to change into my pyjamas.
On a Business Class flight this act for me is a bit like a magicians trick in which I contort myself into various positions to get out of my clothes, and then into more positions to get back into the pyjamas. All of this while climbing all over the toilet to pull off and put on my clothes.
In First Class this doesn’t happen. In First Class on Qatar, the toilets are large enough to hold a dance class in. You can change clothes, and if the mood takes you, Samba from one end to the other. Literally – I counted the steps – one two three one two three, cha cha cha.
So, the big pluses of Qatar’s First Class? It’s quiet, it’s private, and, even at my cro-magnon man size, you can stretch out and sleep.
The downside? Well frankly they seem petty. The entertainment system featured older movies – a great range but nothing new. They newest one on my flight was Logan. The TV show range was pretty limited too.
And the food… I was prepared to be amazed. I had the chargrilled salmon just after take off – which was ok – but not great and my breakfast, which was an omelet with cottage cheese, left a great deal to be desired.
But when you’ve had five hours of solid sleep on a decent sized bed in a noiseless and black cabin, numbed by fantastic champagne and scotch – there is a certain amount that you can put up with.