Review of the Al Safwa First Class lounge at Hamad Airport, Doha – one of the most impressive structures of our time

This is a continuation of my recent Middle East trip report.  Regular readers will remember that I spent the night in The Airport Hotel inside Doha’s Hamad International Airport.

This is my review of the new Al Safwa First Class Lounge at Hamad International Airport, Doha in Qatar.  I cannot think of a better way to end HFP for 2015.

My Qatar Airways flight to Paris departed at 7.55am.  I was up early in order to head over to the new Al Safwa Qatar Airways First Class lounge.  This lounge gained almost mythical status over its long-delayed construction period – a local rumour is that the project was abandoned and restarted half way through because it wasn’t seen as impressive enough!

Despite opening in October, I very nearly missed out.  A rare Qatari thunder storm – just a few days before my visit – highlighted defects in the roof and the lounge was flooded!  Luckily it was open again on the day I arrived.

Writing about this lounge is relatively pointless.  It is far better to look at the photographs:

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar

and (note the water flowing down from the ceiling):

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar

and

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar

and

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar

and

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar

and

Al7

and

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar

This is the main restaurant and bar.  I had breakfast there, meeting up – by coincidence – with the guy who moderates the Qatar Airways forum on Flyertalk.

My eggs benedict and waffle were perfectly OK although, to be honest, it could have been better.  The general view of people who have eaten there at other times of the day is that Qatar has not yet got the restaurant running as well as it could.

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar

Those with families are encouraged to use a separate family buffet in another part of the lounge which is, laughably, better catered than 90% of airline lounges I’ve visited:

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar Little kids will be kept busy:

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar

and

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar

With a video game arcade for bigger kids:

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar

This made me laugh:

Review of Al Safwa First Class Lounge, Hamad Airport, Doha, Qatar

…. because the room inside is the only spartanly furnished place in the whole lounge!  It is like a hospital waiting room!

There is a lot more to it.  There is a luxury spa (not free).  There is an exclusive duty free shop.  There are a number of ‘quiet rooms’ which are effectively private hotel rooms with a shower – some people use these overnight if they are available (they cannot be reserved).  It goes on and on.

Listing the facilities is a bit beside the point though.  It isn’t about the facilities.  It is about being inside one of the most architecturally significant interiors of recent years.  It is about the feeling of being pretty much alone (very few people qualify to use the lounge) in a space which is purposely huge.  It is about showing you that the axis of influence in the world is tilting away from the US and Western Europe.

The achitects have clearly used the cathedral as their model.  Most cathedrals are designed, in some way, to cower you into feeling the power of the spirit.  This is a secular, 21st century interpretation.  Take a look at the top photograph again.  Look at how small the man is compared to the ceiling.

Go in, get a glass of Krug and walk around.  It is a feeling you won’t have had for a while.

How do I get in?

There are only two ways to gain access:

with a First Class boarding pass for a Qatar Airways or oneworld flight (this includes British Airways)

or

with a First Class boarding pass from your previous flight, as long as that flight was over five hours long – which essentially means incoming passengers from London, Paris or Bangkok only.  No other 5+ hour routes have an F cabin.

British Airways Gold card holders or equivalents may NOT access the lounge.

Oddly, you CAN get in if you are booked on a regional Qatar Airways flight in First Class (eg Doha to Abu Dhabi).  Booking one of these flights for 18,000 Avios one-way may be the cheapest way to gain access.

The lounge is, oddly, not yet featured on the Qatar website.  The page on the business class Al Mourjan lounge is here and I reviewed the Al Mourjan lounge here.

Conclusion

I did two things on this trip which are, indisputably, now on the ‘top 10 airline things in the world you need to do’.  The first was the Etihad A380 First Class Apartment which I reviewed here.  The second was visiting the Al Safwa lounge in Doha.  If you can find a way of working either of these into your upcoming trips, you won’t regret it.

In the next part of this report, I will look at the Qatar Airways A380 First Class service between Doha and Paris.

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Comments

  1. I’m looking forward to your report on the First class cabin on the A380 Rob. I popped into the flat class cabin to take a look when I flew it in Business on Christmas Day DOH-BKK. It looked very nice. I was actually surprised the cabin crew let me in after asking them.

  2. It all looks very nice, but QR need to work out how to better chill their Krug – we were served it a few weeks back on our flight and it was barely cooler than room temperature. IMHO, if you’re going to drink any champagne, the cooler the better – ours comes out of the fridge and into the freezer for 30 mins before ‘quaffing’ …. modern world problems!

    • Some might dispute that – it’s not exactly vodka lol. By over-chilling it, you lose floral notes. I would agree that a couple of degrees cooler than is normal for white wine will make it crisper and make you appreciate the bubbles a little more. This guy says 8-10C but I do agree that Champagne seems a bit more refined when it’s about 5-6C (he does make the obvious point that the cooler the temperature, the more you will mask the wine’s character):

      The temperature at which a wine is served is important, and it is worth spending a few moments thinking about it. The old adage of serving white wines chilled and red wines at room temperature is a useful starting point, although not nearly detailed enough. A wine served a little too cold or a little too warm can lose an awful lot of character, particularly with respect to aroma.

      Cellar ThermometerMost domestic refrigerators maintain their internal environment at about 4ºC, which is far too cold for most white wines. Champagne and dry white wines of quality are best served at a temperature between 8ºC and 10ºC (sometimes even a little higher), which is very close to the temperature in many underground cellars for much of the year. Many whites, therefore, are best served straight from the cellar, but for the majority whose homes do not possess such a feature, a bare hour or so in the fridge door will do fine here. Inexpensive white wines, cheaper sparkling wines and sweet white wines are best a little colder, perhaps 4ºC to 8ºC, so two hours or so should bring these bottles down to a reasonable temperature.
      http://www.thewinedoctor.com/advisory/openservetemperature.shtml

      • I find that a bad red can be drinkable if chilled. That said I’m no wine guru.

        • guesswho2000 says:

          No wine guru either, but I find a chilled red wine is actually really nice! A recent trip in the wine region of South Australia really opened my eyes! Going very OT here, so to bring it back on track, the flight to Australia was in First, booked with AA miles 😉

      • Lady London says:

        + 1.
        If you drink your champagne too chilled you would miss the subtleties of the best ones.

        Having said that, as referred to by other posters there are many other wines that one would definitely want to drink chilled… for whatever reason.

        Don’t laugh but Coca Cola varies from country and I’ve found I miss some of the subtleties of my Coca Cola if it’s too chilled too…

  3. Erico1875 says:

    From the pictures, the place looks completely soulless!

    • It is a bit like saying you think St Pauls Cathedral is a bit soulless ….. when you are there it has an impact which the photos do not fully give off.

  4. Also, it would appear that it is only for Qatar F passengers. Having left Doha last night being a BA F passenger did not qualify me for entry. This seems to be a pretty clear message across QR employees having also asked on my arrival in Doha a day earlier.

    • Russell Evans says:

      I would echo Ollie’s comments. In my desperation to get in on a BA F ticket I even took the escalator to the front desk where I was denied entry and had to do a walk of shame down to the “Qatar Airways First Class Lounge”. They don’t even allow you in Al Mourjan!

      • BA F pax are meant to be allowed access but there does, according to reports, appear to be issues ….

        • The flyertalk thread on the QR sub-forum on this lounge is confused regarding access for non QR “guests”, though the bit in capitals in the Post#1 which says QR F only is a clear concern …. and the QR website (as Raffles mentions) doesn’t even cover this lounge! Without a trusty printout of the written and published access rules I’d be very wary of booking through here with any expectation of visiting this new Lounge

        • Russell Evans says:

          The statement which was on the OW website has been removed. It did used to say:
          Qatar Airways Al Safwa Lounge
          Location details: Main Terminal, 3rd floor.
          Opening hours: Daily: 24 hours
          Notes: Qatar Airways Al Safwa Lounge opened on 22nd October 2015. This lounge is only available to customers traveling in First Class on Qatar Airways or other oneworld member flights. Guests are not permitted.
          Despite quoting this upon arrival at the Lounge desk on 21st November my wife and I were not allowed in.

      • guesswho2000 says:

        Really, I used the Al Mourjan earlier this year flying in Y as a Oneworld Sapphire. They allowed my non-status OH in too. Rules must have changed!

  5. These lounges are very impressive but wait till you see the next First Class and Business Class lounges designed for the airport expansion by F+P.

  6. OT the Iberia Groupon avios have started to post. Only problem is only 36k out of the 60k posted any one else having a similar experience.

  7. It’s not clear from the photos just what is supposed to be ‘architecturally significant’ about this lounge. It’s huge, yes, and sparsely occupied, but that doesn’t make it of any architectural importance. It looks to me like a quieter version of the Al Mourjan lounge, which was soulless in the extreme – and completely lacking in architectural significance.
    But maybe the real effect is only gained from being there in person. I think there are probably other must-do things on my list ahead of a visit there, however.

    • Well indeed, a slight drift into hyperbole on this one I think. However, I guess it is fair to say that in terms of a statement of intent by an airline to the airline/frequent flyer communities it is certainly a significant place (perhaps not quite as much to the wider world who have better things to worry about…!)

      Nice review Raffles, thanks for the detailed pictures.

      • The other thing you don’t see from the pics is the quality of the materials. This is real ‘no expense spared’ territory. Those cream walls are marble.

        • This simply looks like an(other) example of people not realising that less is so often more.

  8. I have a F ticket on QR to Dubai from Cape Town. (Business for the first leg to Doha and F for second leg to Dubai). Arriving at midnight leaving at 2am. If I read your article correctly I will get access? Do you know if it is open at that time of night? Hopefully Looking forward to the visit.

    • Yes you get access prior to your flight to Dubai but not the other way around. It is open 24 hours.

  9. I’m flying First with Qatar in April through Doha, so can’t wait to check this lounge out…my only concern is that I won’t have enough time to appreciate everything in it!

  10. I know it’s not really fair to judge the lounge on photos alone, but it just doesn’t appeal to me. I can appreciate the grandeur of the space, but it just looks empty, clinical and soulless. It doesn’t look like somewhere I’d like to spend much time in. I have no plans to fly First on QR anytime soon, but I could quite imagine that if I did I’d have a look round the Al Safwa lounge and then maybe retreat to the Al Mourjan lounge.

    It’s interesting that Cathay Pacific have gone in completely the other direction with their new First lounge (The Pier) – which is deliberately cosy and residential.

    In the Al Mourjan lounge I find the staff (whilst excellent and just doing their job) are a bit over the top which can make the experience a little awkward. For example when I use the bathroom stall they actively wait outside the stall so that they can pounce the moment I am finished to clean it, and when I was there last the guy stood there and activated the tap sensors whilst I washed my hands. I can only imagine what it’s like in the First lounge!

    • Lady London says:

      @Steve I spilled my coffee everywhere when I saw your comment that you can only imagine what it’s like in the First Lounge and wondered what further service they could offer !

  11. We got some excellently priced QR business class flights in the flash sale last month for an Easter holiday in Oman. We will be flying from CDG to MCT via DOH and the regional flight from Doha to Muscat is classed as first – so we get to see the Al Safwa lounge on the outbound journey.

    I’ve been devouring the various reports and photo studies of the lounge and it looks like this will be one of the highlights of the trip since we will arrive at 23:30 and fly out next morning at 7:30.

    For Tim’s benefit I’ll draw up a detailed tick list of all the items to be appreciated!

  12. Is there any way to upgrade sectors on Qatar? We’re flying business class AMS to BKK in a couple of months. If we could upgrade our return BKK to DOH flight that would get us in for our 8 and a half hour overnight stop.

  13. If it’s soul you are looking for, try an airport prayer room, not a lounge. Or even closer, within your own hearts.

  14. Gutted it wasn’t open in April when I flew your exact route rob. Oh well I suffered and endured several hours in the business lounge and after being told they don’t have Krug but tattinger rose I felt compelled to complain ( joking)……then I sat back ate a delicious meal, drank some more champagne experienced every part of the lounge from full restaurant waiter service to kids room with our toddler, to the bar at the far end that you can get any kind of deli variety foods to the computer pods to the buggy and staff wanting to offer anything they could find to our son, to the waterfall……you get it……it actually felt like first class service so to see this is even more amazing……Qatar are fast becoming number one in my book.

  15. I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that the nanny room is literally the place where you send your kids nanny to wait while you enjoy the lounge so she doesn’t get any ideas above her station.

    • That is exactly what it is – but I didn’t feel happy writing that!

      For clarity, we have a full equality policy in our house – if we fly business, the nanny flies business! None of this ‘stick her down the back with the kids whilst the parents wallow in First’ nonsense for us!

    • Chris Rasteiro says:

      21st century lounge with 19th century ‘upstairs/downstairs’ attitude!

  16. Totally off topic but the Alitalia (Star Alliance) status march to BA (or other OW allince partners) seems to run until Jan 31st according to their site;
    http://www.alitalia.com/gb_en/millemiglia/promo-millemiglia/promo-status-match.html

    Useful for those of us who are after a status match in the early New Year given Qatar’s Globetrotter promotion providing a tier upgrade. So golds become platinums (in my case) so should get a higher lever with *A.

  17. And I’m one of the unlucky suckers who had upfraded to First to try out the Al Safwa only to be told it was shut for a few days of maintenance when I got there.
    Was very, very unhappy as the lounge truly was the only reason I upgraded.
    No one contacted me about it or told me about it at time of upgrade despite me specifically asking if I could use the Al Safwa lounge.
    Of course Qatar Customer Service (or as it should be called DisService) couldn’t care less. Waste or QR Credits.
    Bar Stewards.
    I want a refund so I can experience the full first class product, not just a little but of it. Of course no chance !!
    That customer disservice team just seems to exist to say “Unlucky, Sucker”.

  18. Do you not also gain access with Qatar’s Platinum status no matter what class you fly as long as it’s with Qatar ?

  19. I’m travelling through DOH in May and mad as it may sound, i may get an 1st class ticket on avios to BAH, just to be able to go and use it for the 7 odd or so hours i have at DOH

    does anyone know if i did that whether it would bugger up my onward flight, also booked on avios?

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