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Review: Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha Airport
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I was so excited to finally visit Qatar Airways’ Al Safwa First Class Lounge, given how delayed the opening was. The lounge finally opened in mid-October. I’ve reviewed the Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge in the past, which was the lounge that Qatar Airways was using for their first & business class passengers before the Al Safwa Lounge opened.
The drive from the St. Regis to the airport took about 30 minutes. Architecturally the airport is stunning even from the outside. I had the taxi driver drop me off at the first & business class check-in area, which is the first part of the terminal as you pull up.
Once inside there were Qatar Airways staff to point people either left towards the Al Mourjan business class check-in or right towards the Al Safwa first class check-in.
Keep in mind that what Qatar Airways categorizes as first class is sort of backwards. They consider the forward cabin on their short-haul flights within the Gulf to be first class, while those same seats on a longer flight are marketed as business class. So the Al Safwa first class facilities are for those traveling in the forward cabin within Gulf countries, or otherwise their longhaul first class passengers (which are extremely limited, as Qatar Airways is getting to the point where they only have first class on the A380).
The check-in facility is extremely impressive, as it consists exclusively of private sit-down check-in desks. So you can have a seat in a partitioned off area as you’re being checked in, or if you’re waiting for someone there are dozens of seats you can plop down on.
Past that is a dedicated immigration channel, where there was one agent working. Unfortunately my immigration experience took especially long, for reasons I described in a past post.
Once past immigration is a security checkpoint, where there was also no queue. It was a painless experience. I was impressed that just past that was an escalator which led directly into the Al Safwa Lounge — you don’t even have to enter the terminal, which is convenient.
At the entrance the agent scanned my first class boarding pass to Abu Dhabi, and pointed me left towards the lounge.
The lounge is stunningly minimalist. It’s roughly the same size as the Al Mourjan Lounge, but is clearly intended to service a lot fewer passengers. So it’s pretty obvious they have more space than they know what to do with.
As you enter there’s a super long hallway. I think the only way to describe it is as uninvitingly gorgeous. On one hand I love the design, on the other hand the lack of anything decorative makes it so sterile and devoid of character.
Even the display on the right side as you walk into the lounge has nothing on it (I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not).
After walking down a long hallway you’re in the center of the lounge, which is in a sort of triangular shape.
The centerpiece of the lounge is a huge water fixture — there’s a shallow “pond” in a display piece, and then a tube with water flowing down it from the ceiling.
On one side is tons of seating arranged in a similar fashion to the Al Mourjan Lounge. The seats are comfortable, though they’re arranged so symmetrically that it’s a rather uninviting setup, in my opinion.
On another side around the centerpiece were about a dozen comfortable leather chairs with ottomans. They’re intended to give you a private place to rest, though I found it sort of odd that they all faced a “U” shaped barrier. Personally I’d rather have a barrier behind me rather than in front of me.
Behind those private chairs were some more leather chairs on a carpet.
The other side of the lounge had even more seating, which was a bit more artistic. The chairs were more comfortable than they looked.
And then on the other side were another eight seats which seemed sort of random. I never thought it could be a negative, but this lounge almost has too much space. So much space that it’s awkwardly minimalist in terms of the furnishings.
Past those chairs was an “open air” section of the lounge, in the sense that it wasn’t “inside” the lounge, but rather shared a ceiling with the rest of the terminal. That area probably featured the most inviting seating, and was the part of the lounge which was most densely furnished.
As an introvert I do sort of love these chairs which face a wall and have back support so high that you can’t see anyone.
Outside there was a small drink station with soft drinks, water, and coffee.
Back inside the lounge and across from the water fixture was the main restaurant, which was large. As you might notice based on the above pictures, this lounge doesn’t seem to get especially full, which was perhaps most evident in the restaurant.
I was the only guest, and I’d say the restaurant was quite decently staffed. 😉
Within a minute of sitting down at a table I was offered a drink and the menu, which read as follows:
As you might expect, I had a glass of Krug, and shortly after being served it I was offered a cold towel, a bread basket with a choice of four accompaniments, and an amuse bouche.
For the starter I selected the cheese sambusak, which was tasty.
For the main course I had the salmon, which was also quite good.
Then for dessert I had the chocolate mousse cake, which was spectacular.
The service was extremely attentive (like, almost uncomfortably so), and the food was good, even restaurant quality. I wouldn’t say the food was especially gourmet, though, and in my opinion isn’t to the level of what you’d get in the Air France First Class Lounge Paris, Qantas First Class Lounge Sydney, or Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge Hong Kong.
The lounge also has a second dining area, which is more conducive to just having a snack. The seating is equally nice, and they also have a high-top table you can sit at, but the food selection is different.
Rather than there being a bar, this section has a sushi bar, salad buffet, and a sandwich station where you can order a custom made sandwich.
Later on shortly before my flight I had a pressed chicken sandwich, which was really tasty. I think they do a great job of offering two different dining experiences — I love how one restaurant is a la carte, while the other lets you point and choose what you want, and then they’ll serve it to you.
The lounge also has a dessert room closer to the entrance. As someone with a sweet tooth, that’s something I can get behind. 😉
I’ll let the pictures of the sweets speak for themselves. Given how empty this lounge was, though, I really wondered how often anyone ate anything here. Presumably it was all fresh, though I can’t even begin to imagine how much of it goes to waste.
Near the dessert room was a TV room, which was well done. It was dark and featured a huge TV with good sound quality. I hate when lounges just have TVs in the main lounge area as I find it takes away from the ambiance, so I appreciate that they have a proper TV room here.
There’s also a business center with a handful of impressive workstations. The desks have iMacs and feature comfy rolling chairs.
In the center of the business center is a display with newspapers and magazines.
There’s also a small duty free shop in the lounge, which didn’t seem to get much traffic.
In terms of other impressive features of the lounge, there are some nap rooms you can use. Some of the nap rooms even have two beds. Each nap room also has a TV, chair, desk, as well as a private shower and toilet inside it.
There seemed to be a good number of nap rooms and the bedding on them was great. Funny enough I think the nap rooms might just be nicer than the rooms at The Airport Hotel. So the next time I have a long layover in Doha I might just elect to spend the night in these nap rooms rather than paying for a hotel.
Now this is where the lounge gets really illogical. The lounge also has a spa, which is located back towards the entrance, off the long hallway. The spa has showers, a hot tub, and spa treatments. Except you have to pay for all those… including showers!
Below is the spa menu (sorry for the picture quality, but the only menu they had was on the iPad, so this was the best I could do). For what it’s worth, the conversion rate between USD and QAR is roughly 1 USD per 3.65 QAR.
I asked how much it would be just to use the hot tub. 200QAR, amazingly enough, or ~55USD. $55 to soak in a hot tub? Really???
I asked how much it would cost to shower in the spa. Also 200QAR. Again, $55 to shower, really? This was so backwards. You can get a day room with two beds, a desk, TV, and shower for free, but if you want to use the only other showers in the lounge, you’d have to pay to use them. That seems silly, since you’d think they wouldn’t want to force people to “waste” a day room just to shower.
I figured I’d book a 30 minute foot massage, which cost 340QAR, which is almost $100. That’s insane for a 30 minute foot massage, but at that point it seemed worth spending the extra 140QAR to get a foot massage, compared to just the cost of using a hot tub.
On the plus side, service in the spa was super attentive, almost too much so. I also got the sense that I was the first customer they had that day… or in a week… or since the lounge opened.
The spa had a nice relaxation room, though for me the first stop was the hot tub, where I soaked for about 30 minutes.
The hot tub was in a room with a private shower and toilet.
After that I headed into a private treatment room, where the Balinese masseuse was waiting for me. While the price of the treatment was ridiculous, it was also an incredible treatment. By far the best and most intense 30 minute foot massage I’ve ever had. The guy had magic hands.
On the way out of the spa he showed me some of the other treatment rooms, which looked quite impressive as well.
After an enjoyable time in the Al Safwa Lounge, I headed to my departure gate at around 7:15PM, for my 8:15PM departure. While you can access some gates directly through the lounge, mine wasn’t one of them.
I took the escalator down into the terminal, as it let out in the center part of the terminal, exactly opposite the Al Mourjan Lounge (and across from the seven million dollar teddy bear).
I was departing from gate E4, which was about a 10 minute walk away. The gate was at the far end of the concourse.
My boarding pass was scanned as I entered the partitioned off gate area, and within a few minutes boarding was announced, starting with first class.
The gate area was fairly full, though not packed given that the flight was operated by a Boeing 777-300ER.
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha bottom line
All things considered the Al Safwa Lounge is extremely impressive. But I’m sort of conflicted about it, and keep going back and forth as to whether it’s one of my favorite first class lounges in the world. I’ve had friends message me when they visited the lounge for the first time, and the initial reaction has almost consistently been “OMG this is possibly the best first class lounge in the world.” But the exuberance tends to diminish pretty quickly.
Architecturally the lounge is stunning, even if it’s extremely minimalist. In terms of design I’d say it’s in the same league as the Qantas First Class Lounge Sydney and Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge Hong Kong.
The food in the lounge is great, though perhaps not quite to the level of some other top lounges.
The nap rooms are the best of any lounge in the world, so they get huge kudos for that.
The spa is quite nice, though I think they’re really missing the mark by not offering complimentary treatments. The issue is that most people don’t have 60 minutes for a massage before a flight (whether paid or free), so I think they should focus more on short treatments. And for short treatments it just seems to make more sense to offer complimentary treatments. It’s what most other airlines do, and there’s a reason for that.
So all things considered, where do I rank this lounge and overall ground experience? I’d say slightly below the Air France First Class Lounge Paris, Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge Hong Kong, Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt, Qantas First Class Lounge Sydney, and Thai Airways First Class Lounge Bangkok. So it’s definitely in the top 10, though not quite in the top five.
If they stopped charging for showers aside from the nap rooms and offered complimentary spa treatments, I think it would deserve a spot in the top five.
What do you make of the Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha?