Thursday, January 19, 2006

"Taking you more personally"

So goes the motto of Qatar Airways, the state airline of Qatar. When it's working, Qatar Airways is brilliant, providing larger than normal seat pitch in a new fleet of Airbus aircraft. The airline is trying to clean up in the Middle East by using Doha airport as a hub for flights west as far as London and east to Manila. Further afield, partners include Lufthansa.

I am in the Business Class lounge in Doha airport primarily because today the Manila flight did not go like clockwork.

I booked return flights from Dubai to Manila via Doha. There was a multitude of problems at the Dubai office owing to flights being fully booked, block booked by travel agents and whatever. In order to get a guaranteed return ticket I paid the extra and booked Business Class from Manila back to Doha.

There was a small problem. As usual, the published telephone numbers to reconfirm the return flight always ended up in a call tree with an annoying robot woman explaining that no-one was available. They must work some peculiar hours, because Qatar Airways staff are never available in Manila. I suspect that the phone number terminates at a handset in a broom-cupboard somewhere. This is not just a Manila issue; it's similar trying to call the Dubai, Sharjah, London and Manchester offices. I do not appreciate paying for a 30-minute long-distance phone call being constantly told by the annoying robot woman that "your call is important to us."

Flying business proved to be a generally excellent decision. There were no hassles at Manila concerning the additional baggage allowance, the seats were huge, and access to the airport lounge was very welcome. Having made the effort to get up even before the sparrows had finished their sprout balti, it transpired that the flight was late into Manila and consequently would be an hour late out again.

No problem. Rapid transfer labels on the check-in luggage, and Doha airport is small.

The flight was uneventful, except that the much-trumpeted Movies On Demand refused to work. DVD movies were unavailable on this particular aircraft because of Movies On Demand. Bah, Humbug.

A 160mph headwind delayed the flight, and we landed in Doha at 2020 for a connection departing at 2045. Trying to check in, the airport staff advised that the Doha to Dubai had been delayed by an hour because of our late arrival. I tried to get into the waiting room, but was told that my boarding pass, as issued in Manila, would have to be reissued. I wan't told immediately, of course. First I was advised that despite the "Last Call" messages on the PA system I had half an hour before I had to check in. Half an hour later then, with 20 minutes before take-off, I was off to the transfer desk.

Queues in the Middle East are interesting affairs. They're always 50 yards wide and three people deep. Behind the desk, over-wrought staff were dealing with hundreds of passengers who, having handed over hundreds of US$ or equivalent, were now being told that they weren't allowed on the aircraft. One guy was particularly loquatious.

"I paid my money, turned up at the appointed time and now you are breaking your part of the deal!"

I was told that I'd have to deal with Qatar Airways staff directly to sort out why my perfectly good boarding pass was now useless. Why, after paying the extra to fly Business in order to make the connection, should I get bumped off the flight? I went off to find someone in a maroon uniform, making loud remarks concerning how I'd encountered Brownian motion that was more organised.

Eventually the QA rep explained that he might be able to shoehorn me on to the flight, but couldn't guarantee that my bags would make it. I had no desire to return to Dubai on Friday to collect my luggage, so suggested a compromise.

Surprise, surprise, an expired Silver frequent flier card got me the seat I wanted on the later 2345 flight, more or less, and access to the Business lounge. The rep assued me that the new boarding pass was for an aisle seat as I had requested. Incidentally the broadband internet connection in the Business lounge at Doha is the narrowest I have ever encountered. It was slower than my home dial-up by a significant proportion.

For unknown reasons, all economy-class passengers are boarded through the back door of the aircraft. This is especially clever, given that my seat was at the other end of the aircraft. It was also neither an aisle nor a window seat, so I was sandwiched between two other huge passengers. Everyone was on board and ready to go, when at 2345 the announcement came stating that "due to technical reasons the departure would be delayed by 20 minutes." We all sat on the tarmac for 40 minutes before taking off for a 40-minute flight.

I am frankly fed up with the grief associated with trying to fly Qatar Airways. It is always difficult to book, sometimes even months in advance, and can be almost impossible to use frequent-flyer Q-miles. I have resolved to use up all my Q-miles on business upgrades and then change my allegiance.


guile said...

nice, cozy place you got here :)..

didaxis said...

I have similar disgruntlements with Qatar airways. Having recently arrived at DOH for a flight to DXB I was told that my ticket had been cancelled. This despite the fact that the ticket was bought and paid for in cash well in advance, and I hold the silver privilege card which allegedly means you dont have to re-confirm your bookings.

No explanation or apology was forthcoming and my only chance was to go to the waitlist check in to see if there was a seat available. forunatley there were two seats remianing and I did get to Dubai. Checking my return flight this too had been cancelled but they were able to rebook for me.

The incompetence is staggering to an outsider, but those who live in the Gulf know its just par for the course. Since businesses are obliged by law to employ a vertain ratio of Qataris, they have employees with no relevant skills, who cant be sacked and so dont give a damn about anything.

Oh Well, thats life in the third world. (despite all the money this is still the third world in so many ways)

The Wanderer said...

Its amazing, I have had a similar or worser experience with QR too! Just goes to show that they suck! Check out that link for the full story I wrote for another forum.


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