The Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge has been open for a few months and has helped the Middle East carrier to cement its premium image. Last week I had the chance to test out the Al Safwa Lounge and compare it with the Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge.
Of course my level of expectation was with the Lufthansa First Class Terminal – the place that serves the best breakfast food of any lounge on the planet.
The Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Lounge is located right above transfer security when you arrive on a connecting flight into Doha Airport. My flight came in from Bahrain at 4PM and at the time there was nobody at the security lines. Just take the elevator behind security and you are right at the lounge.
There were no ‘lounge dragons’ (who usually block you from using the escalators already) that day. Just a quick boarding pass scan and we were waived off to the lounge.
The first impression was intense. It felt more like a mausoleum or a religious building. The ceilings are at least 200 feet off the ground in the main hall and the space is all white sandstone that looks more like marble.
There is no doubt that this place is supposed to feel luxurious (it does) but it’s also quite intimidating. There is no understated luxury here – it is ‘in your face’; only the golden doors are missing.
There is a huge spa which we toured, but treatments are expensive, with a one-hour massage coming in at $160. The spa attendant said 4 to 5 massages are booked at every ‘shift’ right now.
We walked on to the private rooms which are excellent ‘hotel rooms’ without windows. They look very well done – it’s just that they are so far inside the bowels of the building that the air circulation is bad and my eyes were weary just by taking a tour.
There is also a ‘family section’ that has a fully-equipped games room / arcade that would make any kid happy. There was nobody there when we visited, though.
In fact, the whole lounge was pretty empty this November Friday, even at rush hour, 6-8PM. The space is massive and Qatar Airways only has a certain number of first class seats. Only ticketed passengers flying on Qatar Airways planes in first class are eligible to use the lounge.
We walked over to the restaurant and started studying the impressive menus. There was an excellent sparkling rose on offer and the drinks list left nothing to be desired (well, maybe some IPAs would have been cool). The dining room looks stylish and service is incredibly attentive.
However, the issues started with the food. It all sounded very good; we ordered the prawns and a Thai sour soup as starters. Both were terrible – much worse than what you’d see on a business class flight.
We asked the restaurant manager why the food was so salty and ‘old’. He replied that there is NO kitchen in the lounge and that the ‘chef’ is left to opening airplane catering packaging to reheat and that there is nothing that can be done fresh. I was flabbergasted – such a massive investment into a first class lounge, but no fresh food?
We tried some of the main courses (there is no limit to what you can order) and they were equally disappointing. It’s OK airplane food which I’d eat it if was hungry, but it’s certainly not restaurant food. The lounge would never be able to sell its food in a city like San Francisco.
The lounge has no dedicated WiFi and uses the terribly slow airport WiFi as backend. I mentioned that in my review of the Oryx Lounge at Doha Airport, too.
Rather disappointed, we walked over to the business class lounge (where we maddeningly had our boarding passes inspected several times by the lounge attendants).
While the food is similar, there are just so many options on display on the main buffet. We got the impression that it is better quality and more fresh (just because more people eat there). The business class lounge has more occupied seats, but wasn’t crowded at 8PM (typically the start of rush hour).
There is an option to board through the lounge. We did just that and in typical Qatar fashion we got bossed around for 15 minutes by endless boarding pass checks and confusion about where to go. This is a simple process in theory, but it’s made so unpleasant that next time I’d much rather walk over to my gate.
In summary, the Al Safwa First Lounge at Doha Airport isn’t much of an improvement on the Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge. Granted, the business class lounge is an impressive feat and hard to beat, so unless you need to sleep a night in a badly air circulated ‘hotel room coffin’, there is no need to go up to the first class lounge. I found it disappointing to not see better food or improved WiFi at a first class lounge and feel there is no need to go back.