The final leg of our journey to the Maldives would take place onboard a unique “hybrid” First Class experience between Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific, from Doha to Malé.
Qatar Airways 777 First Class – Booking
For much of 2022, Qatar Airways is operating a handful of Boeing 777 planes leased from Cathay Pacific on their routes from Doha to Malé and Hong Kong.
This comes at a time when the Doha-based carrier is facing an aircraft shortage due to the groundings of their Airbus A350s, while its Hong Kong-based counterpart is running a leaner operation due to ongoing travel restrictions.
Given the short-term nature of this lease, Qatar Airways hasn’t refurbished any of the interiors, which means that the First Class cabin on these routes is a carbon copy of what you’ll find on Cathay Pacific First Class – making for a crazy crossover of an aviation experience that I was eager to seek out.
I booked this flight for 50,500 Avios in First Class from Doha to Malé, plus about $150 in taxes and fees.
I could’ve gotten a better deal by booking this flight on the same reservation as my previous flight in business class from Montreal to Doha; however, by the time it was possible to do so because Qatar Airways had joined Avios, I had already locked in the availability and thus didn’t want to risk cancelling and rebooking.
Qatar Airways 777 First Class – Ground Experience
Since we’d be travelling in First Class out of Doha, we had access to the stunning Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge for our six-hour layover.
Widely considered one of the best First Class lounges in the world, the Al Safwa Lounge is a luxury haven to say the least.
The museum-like interiors, reminiscent of ancient temples from the region, feature grandiose corridors with soaring ceilings and sandstone-coloured walls.
The minimalist architecture certainly takes you through a visual journey as you indulge in the lounge’s various forms of relaxation. Luxurious features are dotted all around, such as a grand water fountain, fine art installations, and artifacts from the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.
Additionally, the lounge boasts delectable cuisine and state-of-the-art amenities, including private nap rooms and a luxury spa – complete with a Jacuzzi that you can book all to yourself.
We spent the first few hours of our time in the lounge enjoying an à la carte dinner, and then sipping on some drinks at the bar.
When we weren’t dining or drinking, we spent our time resting in our private room. First Class passengers can put in a request for the private rooms, but they are limited to a first-come, first-served basis. These exclusive private rooms also come with private bathrooms and showers.
Just before our flight was ready to board, we took advantage of one of the lounge’s most outlandish amenities: the jacuzzi. Indeed, immersing yourself in steaming-hot water and being swallowed up by bubbles before a flight is certainly something you won’t find every day in an airport lounge.
I still consider the Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge to be one of the best airport lounges in the world, and truly relished every minute we spent here.
Qatar Airways 777 First Class – Cabin
This aircraft was one of the four Boeing 777s leased by Qatar Airways from Cathay Pacific, and as we boarded the First Class cabin, I was struck with amazement as I stepped into all-too-familiar surroundings despite technically experiencing a brand-new product.
The seat shells and seat hardware are exactly the same as Cathay Pacific had left them, even down to the three-piece art display on the wall.
The only notable difference was that the seat finishes had been replaced with Qatar Airways’s signature burgundy, with an extra throw pillow waiting at each seat for good measure.
Of course, the cabin configuration matches that of Cathay Pacific First Class, with six reverse herringbone seats arranged in a 1-1-1 configuration across two rows.
While these suites are exceedingly spacious, it’s worth noting that they offer less privacy than you’ll find on Qatar Airways Qsuites, which is technically a lower class of service (business class vs. First Class).
This tends to be a theme across Qatar Airways as a whole, with the airline’s other flagship First Class product on the A380 also falling short of their lofty business class product in some ways.
We selected Seats 1D and 1K for this flight, opposite each other across the aisle. It’s worth noting that Seats 1A and 2A have their own private aisle and could also be a great choice for those travelling together, as you’ll have the entire port-side aisle to yourself.
Meanwhile, for solo travellers, either of the “A” seats would provide the most privacy.
We happened to be the only two passengers in the First Class cabin this evening.
Indeed, I assume there aren’t too many people paying cash for First Class on these Qatar Airways 777s leased from Cathay Pacific – on both this flight and the return journey, my party happened to be the sole occupants of the cabin (i.e., the two of us on tonight’s flight, and my own party of one on the return).
Thus, if you can snag a booking on points (there tends to be two First Class award seats per flight), there’s a high chance you’ll find yourself in a relatively empty cabin.
Qatar Airways 777 First Class – Seat
The individual seats are incredibly spacious, substantially wider than your average First Class seat. The space that’s traditionally used for an aisle-side armrest is instead cleared to make more room for the seat itself.
At the front of the seat, there’s a multi-functional ottoman which serves as a footrest and a buddy seat should you wish to dine face-to-face. It also becomes part of the bed when the seat is in lie-flat mode.
Drawing our attention to the right of the ottoman, you’ll notice the USB and power outlets are conveniently placed within arm’s reach.
Further right, you’ll find a console with plenty of surface space. This console is also home to LCD seat controls and an entertainment controller.
On the small entertainment screen next to the controls, there’s a small oddity with some conflicting branding going on: the screen still reads “Cathay Pacific”!
The only other notable trace of Cathay Pacific’s ownership of these planes? A flower holder on the wall, which usually comes with a fresh flower when flying Cathay Pacific First Class. However, Qatar Airways has decided to simply leave the holder empty, and I do wish they went the full distance and added a Middle East-inspired flower or something like that.
Turning back to the seat console, just below the controls is a smaller storage compartment, with enough room for storing some knick-knacks.
Then, the inside of the seat console houses a large tray table. The hefty wooden piece can be pulled out and folded down into place.
On each side of your shoulder is a reading light, while on your left-hand side is the literature pocket.
At the front of the seat, the seat shell is home to the in-flight entertainment screen. Unlike the small screen, this one is indeed programmed with Qatar Airways in-flight entertainment – though an older software compared to Qatar Airways’s “Oryx One” system that you’ll find on Qsuites.
The monitor is mobile and can slide out into the middle of your suite for optimal viewing.
Just below the monitor, there’s some additional storage space.
Finally, right by the aisle is a large storage cabinet housed within the seat shell, big enough to hang your garments and store your carry-on luggage (note that the First Class cabin has no overhead storage, but the crew has an extra storage unit in the galley if your item doesn’t fit in here).
Needless to say, I was pretty blown away by the hybrid “Qatar Pacific” cabin that I found myself in, and I couldn’t help myself from grinning ear-to-ear as the first glass of Krug 2004 champagne was brought forth.
Qatar Airways 777 First Class – Amenities
Beverage service began with an Arabic coffee and Krug 2004 Champagne — a staple when flying on board Qatar Airways First Class, a particularly enjoyable vintage by one of the world’s great Champagne houses, and one of the most expensive bottles served in the sky.
Naturally, we indulged in a few glasses prior to takeoff, and as the sole passengers tonight, we had no intention of letting the bottle go to waste over the next few hours.
The pre-departure drink service was served with mixed olives and cheese, a welcome Middle Eastern twist on the mixed warm nuts that you’d normally be snacking on when perched in this particular suite with Cathay Pacific.
A burgundy blanket and The White Company pajamas were also provided prior to departure as part of the overall amenities.
I then decided to inspect the amenity kit curated by luxury French fragrance brand Diptyque. There are separate kits for men and women: mine was presented in a stylish black leather bag, while Jessy received a beige leather bag instead.
Inside the kit, you’ll find lip balm, face cream, lotion, and a small bottle of cologne – largely the same contents as you’ll find in Qsuites business class, just packaged in a nicer leather exterior. I’d say this is another example of Qatar Airways’s strength in business class taking the shine away from First Class to some extent.
Lastly, after unravelling the amenity kit and accepting a top-up of Krug 2004 from the crew, I perused the in-flight menu to choose my meals for the journey.
Even though this was an overnight flight departing at 1am, I had every intention of staying up to maximize the experience – I could always catch up on sleep from the comfort of our outdoor deck in the Maldives!
Qatar Airways 777 First Class – Meal Service
The dining menu for this flight read as follows:
And the drinks list read as follows:
I must say I was quite impressed by the food and drink offerings on this relatively short four-hour journey. But then again, that’s very much the ethos here on Qatar Airways, where even a one-hour regional flight would get treated to a full meal service.
As we took off over the Indian Ocean and began to cruise, I asked the flight attendants to prepare my table so that Jessy and I could dine face-to-face.
Breaking bread with a loved one is always a unique pleasure when flying First Class, and it’s something I’ll always associate in my mind with Cathay Pacific in particular – even if their cabin was dressed in burgundy on this particular night.
However, it took the crew a while to figure out how to install the table extension, which is necessary to lengthen the tray table and fit two people’s meals. This was perhaps due to some inexperience with this particular First Class product – but alas, the table was eventually prepared, and Jessy stepped over to join me for dinner.
Meal service began with a much-anticipated ritual: the caviar presentation. This caviar spread was served with balik-style salmon along with traditional accompaniments, including a bowl of soft blinis and melba toast.
This would be my first experience combining both caviar and salmon on the same plate. We dug in with the customary mother-of-pearl spoons, surrendering to the powerful flavours of the sea as the delicate pearls melded together with the rich cuts of salmon – all of which was enhanced by another glass of Krug 2004.
Following the caviar, I decided to try the lentil soup as a second appetizer. I finished every drop of the soup, savouring its creamy texture and earthy flavours, and it was soon cleared away to make room for the main course.
Since we were feeling pretty full at this point, having already eaten in the lounge earlier, we opted to share the main course: Qatar-grown chicken, done two ways.
The chicken was juicy and tender, served alongside soft and buttery veggies. I relished the cajun flavours of the drumstick, but since I’m not a big fan of mushrooms, I handed the stuffed breast over to Jessy.
The meal presentation is one area where the Qatar Airways First Class experience is very much an evolution of what you’ll find on Qsuites business class.
The thought and detail placed into the presentation is meticulous, with elevated plating and dishware – along with the airline’s signature little details, like customizable olive oil – incorporated throughout the meal.
To conclude the meal service, I enjoyed some black tea, followed by a rather creative dessert: a poached pear with sweet and creamy mascarpone cheese on the inside.
The dessert was decorated with berries and pecans and drizzled with honey, concluding yet another memorable meal in the sky on the sweetest of notes.
Qatar Airways 777 First Class – Bed
Feeling downright stuffed at this point, and nursing a healthy buzz from the Krug 2004, I headed to the restroom to freshen up. Of course, here on the Qatar Airways 777, the First Class restrooms are identical to those of Cathay Pacific’s 777s.
The restrooms feature beautiful wood panelling and a raised contemporary sink, stocked with Qatar Airways Diptyque amenities. There’s enough space to change into your evening attire, with a small bench in the back that can be conveniently lowered.
As I headed back to my seat, I asked the crew to do some turndown service over in Seat 2K behind me, and they happily obliged.
When in lie-flat mode, the bed becomes extremely spacious and long. The upper portion of the bed is widened by the lack of an armrest on the left-hand side of the seat, giving you lots of room to roll around in your sleep.
Jessy relaxed in her bed and watched movies until she fell asleep for a bit.
Meanwhile, I simply laid down and rested in the comfort of my bed for a while, but since there wasn’t much time left in the duration of the flight, I decided to do the only sensible thing after having indulged in a full four-course dinner: eat breakfast.
Qatar Airways 777 First Class – Breakfast
I kicked things off with a bowl of cereal, which is always a fun and slightly amusing experience on Qatar Airways business class or First Class. For the little kid in me, there’s nothing like watching the morning glow of the sunrise peeking over the Indian Ocean from 35,000 feet while slurping down a bowl of frosted flakes.
The small touches of detail, like the bottle of milk provided with the cereal, continued to impress.
Following the cereal, I had a delicious omelette and a cappuccino, which served the dual purposes of absorbing the liquor in my system while giving me a much-needed energy boost for our impending arrival into paradise.
This Qatar Airways–Cathay Pacific “hybrid” First Class experience is truly something unique, especially for aviation geeks who’d appreciate a limited-time opportunity to fly in a cabin like this.
It’s not too often that you get to sample a little bit of the First Class offerings of two of the world’s leading airlines at the same time. On this particular flight, Cathay Pacific’s unmistakable cabin, interwoven with touches of Qatar Airways signature branding and service, certainly lived up to the hype in every way.
This leasing arrangement is currently scheduled to run through late October 2022, and I’d certainly recommend giving it a try yourself if you’re headed down to the Maldives within that time period.
Indeed, our touchdown in Malé would signal a return to this Indian Ocean paradise two years after our first visit. We were eagerly anticipating the rest of the trip, and I couldn’t have imagined a better way to arrive in style.