Brian Salter's Blogs:
How Come Qatar Airways is Still in Business?

 

It seems to be a sad fact on this little planet of ours that when companies (or individuals for that matter) become successful, they often “take their eye off the ball” and start behaving like jerks, treating their customers like nobodies and expecting them to dance to the company’s tune.

I’ve written before about falling out of love with Qatar Airways; but their fall from grace (in my eyes at any rate) continues relentlessly, such that when my Gold Privilege Card runs out at the end of this year I can’t say I’m going to miss it that much. I mean, sure – I can get a generous luggage allowance on their aircraft, but being spared some of the nonsense they dole out to their customers will not be something about which I will feel totally bereft.

Take my recent visit back to the Middle East, as an example. You’d think that getting a flight from Beijing to Dubai, transiting through Doha, wouldn’t be such a big deal, would it? Well, naively I thought so too. Hey, what better than to use up some of those accumulated Privilege Club air miles that I have been earning for so long with them?

The first problem is actually trying to log on to their web site. To get to the point of actually trying to book a ticket though their Privilege Club takes me some three or four weeks. I kid you not. Every time I try logging on to their micro-site it is either down, or busy or just doesn’t work. Every time I try putting in the originating airport it won’t recognise Beijing. Nor the IATA code – PEK.

When I DO finally manage that little hurdle, I discover that these precious privilege miles are pretty useless if you want to travel at a reasonable time on a reasonable day. They are only valid for the flights the airline has difficulty filling. No worries; I will adjust my time in Dubai accordingly.

Then you find that you still have to pay an exorbitant amount for airport taxes and fuel surcharges, so your “free” flights are now starting to add up. I book the ticket, only to find the site crashes at just that moment when it has accepted my credit card, but before I can reserve my seats, give meal preferences or even get a receipt. Luckily I am quick to write down the reference number it gives me, for now I cannot even get into “manage bookings” as it doesn’t recognise my booking, even though my bank account has been debited.

I write to Qatar Airways “Customer Service” – and get a reply four days later that my booking is OK. They eMail me the receipt which gives the flight details. Only problem is I still cannot get into the Privilege Club bookings manager to reserve my seats. That takes another four weeks!

Finally I manage to get my seats reserved and print off the eBooking which I will take with me to the airport. As I am leaving Beijing on the 2350 flight, I get to the airport in plenty of time, only to discover that the check-in desks are closed. Strange. I go to Airport Information to discover that the flight doesn’t leave until 0140. So I sit around aimlessly with the other passengers who likewise have turned up in plenty of time to check in for a non-existent flight.

Finally the check in girls arrive. I query the change of flight time. Oh yes; it was changed two months ago! But no one from the airline ever bothered to let me – or the other hapless passengers - know that. The Qatar Airways girl couldn’t be less interested.

By the time I am through immigration clearance I find all the duty free shops are closed.

I make my way to the Qatar Airways Privilege Lounge which I happen to know from a previous trip is actually the Air China lounge. Outside is a list of partner airlines in the Star Alliance but for some strange reason Qatar Airways isn’t listed. Perhaps Air China knows something we don’t.

I stock up on the calories as there are some excellent steamed dumplings in a variety of fillings shouting out Eat me Eat me from their little baskets; and wash it down with some reasonable plonk and a couple of Tsingtaos.

Eventually it’s time to board. Naturally I am sitting in the only area where the videos don’t work and it takes over 45 minutes after take off – itself delayed a further 35 minutes - for the air crew to reboot their blessed computer so that those of us that are still awake can try to enjoy the show.

By the time the food is served, there is practically no one awake.

I check out the local weather in Dubai. 20 degrees apparently. I check the weather in Doha – hardly spitting distance from Dubai – and see it is listed as zero. It remains at zero for the entire flight. A great advertisement for the national airline when they cannot even get the weather in their own capital right!

Of course, my turn around time in Doha has now been reduced so much that there is no time to pop into the Gold class lounge to get some refreshment, (maybe, reading some other blogs, that is no bad thing); nor is there time to go to the Duty Free and use up some old Qatari riyals I have had stuffed in my travel wallet for what seems like millennia.

We rush through the bag controls to the Dubai flight, which according to my ticket should have been boarding for the past 20 minutes; and when I reach gate 9 I find that the indicator board is now showing a flight to Manila that leaves in just over an hour's time. Could I have missed the connection? No. It’s just that this flight is also delayed.

“Breakfast” is a carton of orange juice and a cardboard box containing a shawarma-type roll which, it turns out, has not been cooked properly. I count at least a dozen passengers cursing Qatar Airways’ catering, trying to remove the remains of their shawarmas that have collapsed into their laps.

We finally arrive well over an hour late in Dubai.

The return journey is not a lot better, though I am glad to stock up on yet more calories in Dubai’s Business Lounge (a word to the wise: always ask for the Business rather than Gold lounge, as the latter is always overcrowded and there isn’t such a good selection of food on offer).

We board the aircraft, only for some Qatari guys who have got Economy class tickets to decide they like the look of Business class better – and as it is empty they park their ample bottoms in these wider seats. Only after they have been served a welcoming glass of champagne does the crew realise they shouldn’t be there in the first place and it takes 45 minutes to eject them back to Economy. Why doesn’t someone just kick them off the flight, I ask one of the tired looking trolley dollies? They’re Qatari, she sighs, as though that excuses everything.

We arrive an hour late in Doha – on a flight that takes all of 35 minutes flying time! I pop quickly into the Gold lounge to use their (disgusting) facilities and marvel that a “Gold” lounge can have the nerve to offer such paltry fare to its “privileged” customers.

And then we are driven across the entire airfield in a bus journey, which takes 18 minutes, to board the Beijing flight.

I am the only non-Chinese in my section of the cabin; and before I am comfortably settled in my seat an Indian stewardess has started to chat me up… Where do I live in Beijing? Is that anywhere near their hotel? What is there to see near there? How much time do I get off from my job?

Cute though she undoubtedly is, this girl must be even younger than my daughter, and finally she gets the message that I’m not really interested in taking her and her friends out for a gallivanting good time around Beijing. She leaves me in peace to enjoy a film and get some shut eye.

We arrive 45 minutes late. We tumble off the aircraft. And I for one am so glad to be back on Chinese soil.

Friendly, polite immigration officers (not like those awful ones in Dubai … no, don’t get me started!); and loos in which you could happily eat your lunch, they are so spotless (as opposed to the disgusting rest rooms in Doha and the slightly less disgusting ones in Dubai).

I collect my bags and head for “home”. It’s great to be back.