To suffer from a fear of flying is not a pleasant experience. Reason disappears and the cold sweats begin when one just books a ticket. There are sleepless nights before the day of departure and sickening anxiety and exhaustion during take off. I have it every time I travel, but I will not let it stop me. I SHALL travel – just like friends, family and most of the rational population. “How can you have a fear of flying, you travel so much?” I often hear. It is pure determination that gets me on board that aircraft – the WILL to experience new places.
There was, therefore, no doubt that I would travel to Singapore to visit a family friend who had moved there nine months ago. A new part of the world – a place that I may never again experience.
For over two weeks I searched for a ticket, and finally my computer, tired of the endless searches I imagine, displayed an advert that caught my attention: “Qatar Airways exclusive offers on flights to Singapore.” Quickly I found a cheap Economy Class ticket – but also a relatively cheap ticket in Business Blass that was within my travel budget of 10,000SEK (£900). Why not?
The ticket was booked in business class. Oslo-Doha-Singapore, 5th March 2016, with a return on 16th March. My pulse rate elevated – I already regretted the purchase…
At the airport:
I arrived at the airport safely with NSB (Norwegian State Railways) and went straight to Qatar’s check-in. The check-in was on the complete opposite side to the train line at Oslo airport, so there was what felt like a very long walk through the airport.
Laid in front of Qatar’s Business check-in was a burgundy mat, while a smiling attendant behind the counter welcomed me. Check-in went very quickly, but my boarding pass that I had printed out myself was not clear enough – the fast-track machines at security control had trouble reading the home-printed boarding passes. I received a new one in a burgundy envelope. This burgundy-red envelope would prove to separate me in Business Class from “the others”.
To my delight, security control at ‘OSL’ went rather swiftly thanks to the fast track. Indeed, it is good to see that safety is taken seriously, but it can be somewhat of a stressor. In the regular queue, with many grumpy travellers who all want to pass thorough as quickly as possible, the atmosphere can become more stressful than necessary. In the fast track, however, I was through in a flash without queuing.
I am very fond of people, but when terror takes a little over, large numbers of people can present a slight problem. I headed straight towards OSL-Lounge in order to escape the swarm of passengers in OSL’s departure hall. I had recently attended a course on dealing with a fear of flying, and I was advised that Saturday is one of the quietest days at airports. Not this Saturday. OSL-Lounge, however, proved to be a relaxing experience. I did not test anything other than a comfortable chair in a corner. My visit to the lounge gave me the tranquility I required barely an hour before my departure.
Not long after and it was time to find my way to the gate, with the new F-number. First through passport control and then into my very own queue – there was nobody else in Business who would be passing through the gate with me at that time. The walk to the aircraft was unnerving, but the smiling crew helped me through it.
Aboard the aircraft it felt unusual to turn left instead of right. It was the purser himself who showed me the way to my seat, 4A. He thought I was going to Perth and I was quick to inform him that I was going to Singapore. Champagne was served almost immediately. Business was only half full in the one-and-a-half-year-old Boeing 787 aircraft, while Economy was almost to capacity. Boarding went speedily and “Customers all aboard” was announced ten minutes before the scheduled departure time. Nevertheless, take off was delayed for 15 minutes because of “flight slot.”
Seat, comfort and entertainment system:
Not until after take off did I concentrate more on my surroundings. By then my nerves had calmed down somewhat and we were well underway.My seat in the Dreamliner was extremely comfortable. I sat in something resembling an enormous egg, with seats that could be reclined into a fully-flat bed. Various settings gave me the option to sit with my legs outstretched or down, and there was lots of storage space and various compartments. The menus for food and wine were soon ready for inspection.
A fairly large screen (15 inches?) showed a loop of the different films and games available. I noticed the latest James Bond movie, Spectre, along with a number of other recent films. Meanwhile, they had a number of ‘old’ classics such as Star Wars and Harry Potter. A fairly wide selection. Some classic games were also available and everything was controlled via an android gadget that resembled a smart phone.
A map was also viewable (an interesting feature of the map of the Doha to Singapore route was that the Airbus A350 aircraft had cameras attached to the tail facing forward, backward and downward). Noise cancelling earphones were also in the seat – the kind that encircles the entire ear. My first pair was not working, but the staff apologised and acquired a new pair within minutes.
Many people have read about the Dreamliner’s LED mood lighting system. This was utilised throughout the flight. It was also a fairly quiet aircraft, which made the flight, yes, comfortable! I never thought I would ever write such a thing about a flight, but just being able to lie down and stretch out was a huge plus.
The crew was benevolent and understanding. A la Carte food was served at my request and the crew were extra attentive to me when the aircraft experienced turbulence. It was appreciated. The crew obviously had the rest of the passengers to tend to, but everything went like clockwork.
Since there were so few of us in Business, it appeared as though the crew were keeping an eye on when the toilets were in use – after each passenger walked out of the lavatory, the crew made it clear to the next passenger that it was now vacant. Toilets were quite large, considering they were aircraft-toilet – they even had a window.
I did not sleep during this leg of the trip as it was a day flight. It went smoothly since there were was such a wide selection of films and TV series to choose from. On offer were films from Hollywood, Bollywood as well as Arab productions – new and older movies.
Lounge during the stopover
Business passengers had their own bus from the aircraft to the airport. This was only half full when we drove off after two fatigued Australian passengers from Economy were refused aboard and had to wait for a regular bus.
The business lounge in Doha was airy and quiet. It is located on the second floor of the shopping area and was a good alternative to bustle below. Flights were announced over the speakers and there were screens in strategic locations throughout the lounge. The cafe was located behind a separate glass wall, where the talk was a little louder. Here you can order salads, sandwiches and drinks – both with and without alcohol. The food is served to the table. The cafe was just a small part of the lounge – there was also a prayer room, a place for guests to lie down and a business centre.
One thing I should note: The restrooms in the lounge were a special experience in themselves. There was a host who welcomed at the entrance and proceeded to show me to the nearest available restroom. They then went into the cubicle and washed the seat while I watched and waited until everything was ready. Afterwards, I washed my hands and the host again approached with bath towels. I thanked him and bowed, and he thanked me and bowed back.
The trip continues
The continuation on to Singapore from Doha is clearly a more major route that the route from Oslo, and this is reflected in the aircraft deployed on the route – an Airbus 350-900, which was chock-full. My seat was right near the main entrance to the aircraft, where everyone boarded.
All passengers, therefore, had to pass my seat, 7A, which did not bother me at first, but did cause some stress prior to the aircraft departing. I tried to accommodate a seat further back later in the flight, but the aircraft was full. (I was prepared for this, however, as I expected that there would be a lot of people and minimal vacant seats).
I was provided with pyjamas in addition to the amenities we were given on the Dreamliner, which I was actually encouraged to take with me.
It was a good experience to fly business with Qatar. The tranquil atmosphere was a big part of it. The whole operation was professional and friendly. The new aircraft also helped. The year-and-a-half-old Boeing 787 from Oslo to Doha was the oldest I sat in during the trip.
How can I now fly in Economy again? This was indeed on my mind when I landed in Oslo after my holiday in Singapore. My experience on the way back was quite similar to my outward journey and I have only positive things to say about Qatar Airways.
Two days later I flew to London in Economy with Norwegian (Norwegian Air International) and I quickly fell back into my old mindset – stressed with an acute fear of flying.
Could Business Class perhaps be a solution? A pretty pricey solution?
Eigil Kittang Ramstad, business traveller with a fear of flying.