Review of the Al Safwa First Class lounge at Hamad Airport, Doha – an architectural masterpiece

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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.

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.

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. 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!

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. JamesWag says:

    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.

  7. JamesWag says:

    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”.

  8. JamesWag says:

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

  9. 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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