We found a great offer to fly from Sofia to Shanghai in Qatar Airways business class. This was an opportunity for us to assess if Sofia was a good hub to pick up a European flight deal from in the future. How much should you pay for a business class flight? Read our blog here.
Due to the distance, the flight was also considered long-haul, which meant we got 140 tier points. Great if you’re doing a tier points run like we were. As you’d expect from Qatar Airways the service was wonderful, however, we would probably not fly from Sofia again, as other Scandinavian Airports offer similar deals and you get more for your money. Read about the best European airports to fly from and how to bag a deal from one of these airports in an upcoming blog.
In this blog, we review our experience of flying from Sofia to Doha in Qatar Airways business class. Due to the eight hour lay over in Doha before our flight to Shanghai, we also had the pleasure of using the Oryx Hotel. Our review from Doha to Shanghai is available here.
Flight No: QR228
From/To: Sofia (SOF) to Doha (DOH)
Final destination: Shanghai Pudong International (PVG)
Departure time: 13:00
Ticket Class: Business Class / Class I
Seat: 1A and 1C
Flight time: 5 hour 30 minutes
OneWorld Tier Points: 140
Check-in & Fast Track
Sofia International Airport is a fairly small airport with two terminals. There is a dedicated business check-in desk, which was also open to One World Emerald and Sapphire members. When we arrived there was no queue. Although Qatar Airways outsource their on-the-ground support, there was a manager employed by the airline supervising the check-in process. We suspected that this was down to maintaining their high standards. A nice touch as we had a rather rude ground handling agent during check-in at Oslo Airport on a previous Qatar Airways business class journey.
After check-in, we went through to air side; there were no fast track lanes at Sofia airport and everyone merged into several queues for the security baggage checks. After this we were met with more queues at passport control. It’s not the best fast track experience even with low passenger numbers at the airport, there seemed to be quite a lot of queuing. Once you’re through the passport control, you’re met with a couple of shops selling the usual things you’d expect (perfume, alcohol, bags, etc…)
There are three lounges at Sofia Airport, and Qatar Airways utilises the ASPIRE lounge. The lounge was sufficient, with a good selection of self serviced beverages (no champagne, but they have Prosecco) and nibbles. There are no shower facilities, and the toilets are opposite the lounge. OK but nothing to write about.
Boarding wasn’t as organised as other airports. There was one air-bridge to get on the plane. Boarding onto the flight was done by class and was also available for people with One World Emerald status (British Airways Executive Gold Status). On this occasion, they made the announcement when the plane wasn’t ready, so they checked our documents and kept us waiting in another area closer to the gate before boarding commenced. The boarding process could be smoother but as it was a short wait, there was nothing to complain about.
If you find that they have already boarded the business passengers, and economy boarding had already begun when you got to the gate (as you’re enjoying a drink or two at the lounge), I would show your ticket, miss the queues and go to the front to board. Most airports have designated first/business class lanes but smaller airports like Sofia only has one entrance which can sometimes feel like a free-for-all.
Onboard welcome and pre takeoff
We knew we were on board a Qatar Airways flight, as from the moment we got on, the cabin crew greeted us politely and they put their customer service training into action. The flight attendant showed us to our seat even though we were sitting in 1A and 1C, which was literally four steps away form the entrance of the A320. They showed us to our seats anyway to help us with our baggage and created a pleasurable onboard welcome. Once we were settled in our seats, the on board manager came to introduce herself and asked if we would like a welcome drink and a hot or cold towel. Champagne please.
After our drink, we got the lovely wine list and menu for the onboard dining pre takeoff.
We believe you can always tell how good the service is going to be by the timing you receive your on-board wine list and menu. For more experienced cabin crew, they manage to do all their pre take-off tasks, come say hello, offer you a pre-flight drink, pyjamas (if you’re travelling on a night flight) and give you a menu all before take-off. Sometimes, they even manage to take your order before you fly. I appreciate it is dependent on the time on the ground, number of passengers etc… but we’ve experienced business class flight where they forget about you and you won’t see the them again after seatbelt sign comes off. For the very best cabin crew, you’ll get all the above AND get offered a second drink. This usually only happens when we have travelled in First Class.
There are two classes on the A320 flight; business and economy. With 12 business class seats and 132 in economy. For more information about the seats visit SeatGuru SeatMap here.
Qatar Airways has two configurations for their A320, which makes a big difference if you’re travelling in business class. We travelled on the plane with the recliner seat configuration so it didn’t have fully flat beds. But considering the flight from Sofia to Doha was fairly short, it was manageable. Of course, we would’ve preferred fully flat beds.
Even on this short flight, Qatar Airways gave us an amenity kit with the usual goodies inside. Unlike the usual Bric kits you get on larger planes, the shorter flight meant that you got a Nappa Dori little bag. The only consolation was that everything inside the bag was the same. Inside the kit, we got an eye mask, socks, facial hydrating mist, lip balm, and anti ageing moisturiser.
See the picture above for the recliner seat. It is not a fully lie flat bed, and reclines to ~45 degrees. In business the configuration is 2-2. We sat in the front row, as we thought it was the best seat in the cabin. There are no passengers in front of you to encroach on your space when they recline. However, this is a matter of preference. The only thing to look out for is that once you have your dining table out, you’re pretty much stuck in your seat until service is over. This is exacerbated if you don’t know the person next to you, as you’ll have to climb over his or her leg to get to the toilets.
The In-flight Entertainment (IFE) system was tucked under the seat. It had a wide selection of films, TV shows and music. The only thing to say about the IFE is its awkward position when we had our meal. The screen got in the way, so we had to be careful with our drinks. I’m sure accidents are fairly frequent in the seat during meal service.
Typical on most Qatar Airways Business Class flights, the number of different wines you get on board is the same. We got a choice of two types of champagne (Brut and Rose), three whites (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and a Discovery Austrian Gruner Veltliner), three reds (Bordeaux, Shiraz and a Discovery Chilean Carmenere), a desert wine and port. We usually try our best to taste all the wines and in this case asked the cabin crew about how to pair the wine with our food. If you’re feeling up to it, why not ask the cabin crew for a wine tasting in the air? It’s a great way to taste the different types of wine.
The food selection on Qatar Airways was very good. See the picture of the choice above. The service was timely and as you’d expect from Qatar Airways, attentive. The great thing about travelling business with Qatar is the three-course meal service; some other business class products (e.g. Malaysia Airlines and DeltaOne) will serve all three courses on one tray, diminishing the experience of inflight dining. If you’re not feeling full after the flight, then the crew aren’t doing their jobs!
We arrived into Doha filled with pleasure as we know there were many treasures at the airport waiting for us.
The Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge is brilliant, which we will review separately and share tips on what we have discovered for getting most out of the lounge. Having used Doha as a hub multiple times, and some for long periods of time we know the lounge pretty well!
If you have a long lay over in Doha (more than eight hours and your connection is the fastest route to your final destination) you can make use of the five star Oryx Hotel about 20 minutes from the airport. There is also a hotel at the airport but this is usually booked up, so you’ll have to pay a fee to use it. The hotel was a wonderful pit stop, so don’t worry about a long lay-over in Doha if you have the time. Consider this as a perk.
Once we got our hotel voucher from the transfer desk, we used the separate immigration gate for business and first class passengers. It’s very quiet, and it will get you through to the pre-organised shuttle to the hotel in less than 10 minutes.
Yes to Qatar Airways, as they never fail to impress. Due to the consistent Qatar Airways service, it made the flight from Sofia to Doha another pleasant experience. However, having experienced flying from Sofia to Doha, we would probably not do this again. Flying from a Scandinavian airport to Doha is better as you’ll get larger planes (usually the B787 or A350 with fully lie flat beds), better lounges and it’s easier to get to from London/UK (and other major European airports) compared to Sofia. All of these for pretty much the same price.
Our tip is to fly from Oslo, Gothenburg or Stockholm if you can find a Qatar Airways business class deal as you get a lot more for your money.