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So on Saturday 23 April my trip finally kicked off! After a lot of planning and impatiently counting down the days I got onto the train in Antwerp. That would take me to Brussels-Midi station first and it was then on to the TGV to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. During the train ride my thoughts dwindled and I started thinking about my dad, who passed away in January, and all the trips we took together in the past…
He would be very proud of me if he were to read that I was flying first class on the A380 for the first time in my life. What follows is the story of my journey and experience on board this fine service.
If you want to read about how I secured this flight using some cannily-collected miles, all is revealed here.
Check in at Paris Charles de Gaulle
After an uneventful trip on the TGV, I arrived at Terminal 3 at CDG airport. I had to make my way to Terminal 1 and to get there you need to head down to the shuttle, with the transfer taking about 10 minutes. The check in counters of Qatar Airways couldn’t be missed as there was a huge queue! I approached one of the staff members and told him the flight I would be on and without even looking at my e-ticket he told me to queue up behind the approximately 300 others. So… I showed him my ticket again and this time he noticed it read “first”.
Check in was nothing special and within a couple of minutes I received my boarding passes for my flight from Paris to Doha and for my connecting flight from Doha to Bali. I also received an invitation to the “first class” lounge…
The lounge you get access to is the Salon Galaxy, and I had already talked to a couple of other frequent flyers before my trip who told me that this lounge is anything but a first class lounge. It’s located before security, so I knew up front that I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time there.
You would think that a lounge with a name like Salon Galaxy would be big, but in reality it was actually pretty small. There were about 20 people in the lounge and it felt crowded. While the reception was friendly, the whole lounge was a disappointment as there was very little choice of food and drinks. Instant noodles in a first class lounge?
The most refined food there was a small pile of sandwiches which tasted anything but fresh. “Oh stop complaining!” I thought to myself, “You’re just way too spoiled!”. Maybe I am, but you tend to get used to spending time in lounges where the offerings are way better than what I was presented with here.
I hardly need to tell you that the A380 is a huge aeroplane, with the Qatar Airways version able to carry 517 passengers. As such, the pre boarding area was very crowded and I was lucky to find an available seat. Indeed, QR was actually using 2 gates right next to each other to get all people on board of this huge aircraft.
The seat I found was right next to gate 35 where the business and first class passengers would be boarding. The Qatar Airways staff were walking around like crazy as it was so busy at the gate and all of a sudden they made the announcement that business and first class passenger could come forward and start boarding. After a quick check of my passport and boarding pass I could go through the gate and immediately take a left to go up to the upper deck of the A380. I was so excited!
Before this trip I had been looking at all kinds of pictures and reviews of this plane, but you still have this buzzing feeling deep inside you when you get on board for the first time. I received a very friendly welcome from the cabin crew (Jenni), who showed me the way to my seat in the first class cabin.
The cabin crew really does take care of everything for you. I didn’t even sit down before I was asked if they could put away my sweater and hand luggage. So I quickly got out my camera and headphones and sat down in the huge seat, which made me feel like a king!
The weeks prior to the flight I had been checking on the website of Expertflyer how many seats were taken in first class and it turned out that there were 5 other people. It was actually quite funny when we got on board as it seemed that it was the first time for all of us in Qatar Airways first class as everyone started taking pictures of the cabin.
I was seated on seat 2A, in front of me there was an older couple from the UAE on seats 1A and 1E. Seats 1K, 2E and 2K were also taken by some young businessmen.
I got back to my seat after taking a couple of pictures and as soon as I sat down Jenni showed up, handed over the menus and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. Alcohol would only be served after take off, so I opted for a glass of water and got a small bowl of very tasty snacks with it.
The first menu I opened was the beverages… Those who know me will know that I’ll never say no to a drink! The Champagne was a choice between Krug (finally I would be able to sample it!) and Billecart-Salmon Rosé and I had already made up my mind. But, shortly afterwards Jenni came by and she had a very apologetic look on her face as she told me they didn’t have any Krug on this flight…
Dammit! Oh well, bubbles are bubbles I thought to myself, and I told her I would go for the Billecart-Salmon instead. A choice I didn’t regret because it tasted great! I will certainly get some bottles of this for myself to open on a special occasion.
The moment that my glass was half empty or when I glanced into the aisle, one of the pursers would come up to me and ask: “Would you like another glass of champagne Mr Jansen?”. Now who am I to say no? After a few glasses, Jenni walked by, smiled and walked on. “Hang on” I thought, but a couple of seconds later I heard the next bottle pop! There is nothing like a steady flow of champagne, I was loving it!
I worked up quite an appetite after several glasses of champagne and as if telepathic, Jenni showed and asked if I had chosen my dinner. Oh definitely, because I would be having caviar for the first time in my life.
For the main course, I decided to go with the marinated lamb with cherry tomato, Kalamata olive and basil sauce, followed by a cheese plate and a warm chocolate tarte with raspberry coulis for dessert.
I didn’t pick any wine with my meals and instead continued to drink champagne as it felt so good to be spoiled. The taste of champagne went very well with the caviar and everything that came with it: egg white, egg yolk, onions, cream and melba toast. Oh what joy! I emptied the tiny jar in no time…
The nice thing about the meal service was that the crew gave me sufficient time between every course. They politely came around to ask me if I was ready for the main course and a couple of minutes after I was able to smell the delicious lamb dish before it got served. While I am perhaps guilty of overstating just how good everything was as it was my first time in a first class cabin, it really was truly delicious food.
Indeed, the main course tasted so good I was half-tempted to lick my plate, which I didn’t do of course. After another round of champagne I requested the cheese plate to be served. Mohammed asked me if I wanted a glass of dessert wine or port with it, but I passed and …you’ve guessed it, requested another glass of pink bubbles.
The cheese plate was of the same quality as the previous courses and as soon as I finished my last piece of cheese, I also finished my glass of champagne. As soon as I put my glass down, Mohammed was standing next to me: “Mr Jansen, another glass of champagne?” as he pointed to my empty glass. The grin on my face gave away the answer to his question.
About ten minutes after that Jenni came by to check on me and asked if I still had room for dessert, absolutely!
In Flight Entertainment
The in flight entertainment system worked pretty well, even though I didn’t mess around with it too much to begin with – I was simply trying to enjoy all that was being offered to me on my flight (not least the champagne…). I did switch to the nose wheel camera during take off, something I’ve always enjoyed.
You notice that the plane starts to pick up speed, but it keeps going and going and at a certain point you’re even able to see the end of the runway. It makes you start to think that it’s time to hit the sky before it’s too late! Even though the A380 is a huge plane, it’s extremely quiet on take off.
Later on I picked a movie which I had wanted to see for a long time already, but never got round to seeing. This was The Revenant with Leonardo Di Caprio: a great movie and I simply paused it whenever the crew came by to ask me or bring me something.
The only minor downside was that towards the end of the flight the movie stream started to struggle a bit and sometimes jumped back a couple of minutes. It was like I was having flashbacks or was it the champagne playing tricks on my mind? Possibly.
On a plane the size of the A380, the engineers had enough room to put in an almost full size bathroom. Not a tiny room where you need to squeeze into to freshen up, but a nice bathroom where even someone like myself (I’m 6’5) can stand up without any issues. I could even lay myself on the floor and stretch myself out completely if I had wanted to do so. You’ll be reassured to hear that I didn’t.
The bathroom was designed really well and they also had the same kind of lighting as in the first class cabin, which gave you the feeling that the design was really well thought through.
The crew members probably thought that I hadn’t had enough champagne yet because after Mohammed provided me with another glass o, he told me about the bar which was located behind the business class area. He suggested I take my glass down to the bar.
So I walked through the business class cabin, where almost everyone was sleeping and arrived at the bar where I was welcomed by Margaret. There was only one other passenger in the bar, but he wasn’t very talkative. He was more worried and obsessed that his hair looked right when taking selfie after selfie… Judging by the look on his face, I think he had a few too many cocktails and moments after I had arrived he struggled to get back to his seat in first class.
Margaret asked me if I wanted anything to snack on and I requested some warm nuts. I noticed a fruit basket on top of the bar as well, and so I continued with some grapes. In the meantime my glass was empty again and Margaret noticed this as well.
“The Billecart-Salmon Rosé is really good, isn’t it?” she asked me, “They told me you were drinking the rosé so I put a new bottle here in the ice bucket.”. I just smiled and told her I had had my fair share of it, but before I could even say another word she had already popped the new bottle and my glass got a(nother) refill. At the same time an Australian man walked into the bar and we started talking.
It turned out that he was a Qatar Airways pilot that flew the A350 and was on his way back to Doha for a couple of days off. A really nice guy actually and as we started talking about the world of frequent flying, he got really interested as to how I booked all my flights with miles.
He was drinking red wine but he switched to Johnny Walker Blue Label. I stuck with the champagne – I was on a mission to finish that bottle of Billecart-Salmon! I had completely lost count of the number of glasses I had so far but in the end I managed to empty the bottle… Margaret asked me if I was in the mood for something else, so I asked her which whiskies and/or bourbons she had. “Well we have Johnny Walker Blue Label, Jack D…”
“Double Jack Daniels without ice for me please!”, all this flying will turn me into an alcoholic I thought to myself. Our conversation was then interrupted by an announcement from the captain that he had started the descent towards Doha, so I headed back to my seat and watched the last part of the film.
Al Safwa First Class Lounge
As soon as the plane stopped at the gate Jenni came up to me with my sweater and hand luggage. “Did you enjoy your flight with us today Mr Jansen?”. My response didn’t disappoint – without a doubt it was my best flight experience ever! I thanked all the crew members and got off the mighty A380 and to my surprise there was another staff member of Qatar Airways standing there with my name on a small sign.
I introduced myself and she asked me to follow her… To where and for what? Well apparently she would fast track me through immigration and security and would then show me the way to the Al Safwa First Class lounge. “Would you like to go there?” she asked to which I replied “Does my smile give away my answer?”, but she stayed all serious and probably didn’t get my sense of humour. Within minutes I was at the entrance to this huge lounge…
Holy moly what a place! This lounge is ridiculously big in size, it makes you wonder how much money was spent building it. Anyway I didn’t complain because it was an additional treat after my first class adventure. You will be granted access to the Al Safwa First Class lounge when your arriving flight has a duration of more than 5 hours.
It was very quiet in the lounge as there were very few people and I picked a spot where I had a nice overview of the lounge and bar. Like on the plane, all the staff members here were very friendly and soon enough one of them came up to me and asked me what I wanted to drink. Should I or shouldn’t I? Oh I guess another glass of champagne won’t hurt… balanced out by a glass of fresh orange juice to get some vitamin C into my system.
Oh as if I didn’t have enough to eat on the plane yet, I still had an appetite so I requested the food menu.
I had no sense of time, but was in the mood for a good steak, even though it turned out to be just after midnight, the kitchen was fully operational, and I got a steak that was cooked to perfection, followed by some more champagne and a dessert…
I spend the remaining time in the adjacent smoking lounge, headphones on with some feel-good music, more champagne and a grin on my face that went from ear to ear!
The main conclusion is that this was a truly fantastic, unique experience. Thank you air miles! I would simply never have been able to do this if I was required to pay full price for a first class flight. I’m actually very glad that I got to know the world of frequent flying a few years ago, as this allowed me to take this flight for a fraction of the price.
The only downside, of course, is the raising of expectations that flights like this lead to. Suddenly, even Business Class flying can seem mundane by comparison. While it’s of course not realistic for me to expect to turn into a permanent fixture in first class long-haul, rest assured that I’ll be working my air miles hard to spend as many long haul flights in first class as I can: time just flies by and, in this level of luxury, you practically forget you’re on a plane!