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Flashy new airline brings ‘private living room’ suites, double beds to SFO

After years of expansion, airline growth at San Francisco International Airport hit a dry spell this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on air travel.

That’ll end next month when Qatar Airways operates its first regularly scheduled flights to SFO — the only international airline to launch a new flight to SFO in 2020. 

Although demand for air travel is nowhere near normal, Qatar Air’s new service will help restore a number of air links between the Bay Area and abroad, particularly for those who need to travel to the Middle East, South Asia or Africa.

Currently, entry to Qatar is limited to Qatari nationals and permanent residents until at least Dec. 31. Be sure to check the latest travel restrictions and requirements before you plan out your flights. Nonetheless, travelers can fly Qatar Airways to Doha and transfer to other international flights without such restrictions.

A very antiseptic but friendly welcome on board by cabin crew wearing special gowns, masks, gloves and goggles. SEE THE SLIDESHOW at the top of this post for an in-depth look!

A very antiseptic but friendly welcome on board by cabin crew wearing special gowns, masks, gloves and goggles. SEE THE SLIDESHOW at the top of this post for an in-depth look!

Tim Jue

With increased pessimism about the winter travel period, many airlines have suspended or canceled a growing number of international routes, leaving those who really need to get to other parts of the world with fewer options and higher airfares.

Enter Qatar’s new 16-hour, 8,061-mile flight between SFO and Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar (DOH). The service will operate four days a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Round-trip airfares between SFO and DOH start at $1,950 in economy and around $8,200 in business class.

The Oneworld Alliance member has remained bullish on air travel, particularly on flights to the United States. Its U.S. network includes Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Center business class seats on a Qatar Airways Airbus A350 like the one that will fly between San Francisco and Doha.

Center business class seats on a Qatar Airways Airbus A350 like the one that will fly between San Francisco and Doha.

Tim Jue

The airline recently provided SFGATE a look at its business and economy class products on its services out of LAX — the same products that will soon be on the planes operating from SFO. The carrier also showed off some of the health and safety changes made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the Airbus A350-900 it will fly to SFO, there are 36 business class seats (called Qsuites) and 247 economy class seats. Seats and bulkheads throughout the cabin are swathed in burgundy and gray — the corporate colors of the airline.

Frequent fliers have heralded the Qsuites as one of the nicest business class products in the skies. Qatar debuted the seat in 2017, and the airline has earned high accolades for it.

At bedtime, center business class Qsuite seats can be joined to create a fully flat double bed on the Qatar Airways Airbus A350 that will fly between San Francisco and Doha.

At bedtime, center business class Qsuite seats can be joined to create a fully flat double bed on the Qatar Airways Airbus A350 that will fly between San Francisco and Doha.

Tim Jue

Each suite comes with sliding privacy doors and a Do Not Disturb indicator — features that account for what the airline calls the “most spacious, fully private, comfortable and social distanced business class product in the sky.”

There are no set mealtimes in business class, enabling fliers to dine on demand. Staggered dining times can allow a passenger to unmask for meals after fellow fliers and mask back up.

Built-in NFC connectivity and HDMI ports allow customers to stream their own content on a big 21.5-inch touchscreen.

The suites are configured 1-2-1 across, with seats in every other row facing backwards. The center overhead bins have been removed, giving the business class cabin a more spacious feel (the side bins are able to accommodate all the carry-on up front).

Using what’s essentially a big brass key, the cabin crew can transform single suites located in the center of the business class cabin into a flying living room for couples or a family of four.

A quick turn of the key can raise and lower a center privacy divider between adjacent seats, transforming a single suite into a loveseat for two. At bedtime, both seats can be lowered into an adjoining fully flat bed. Qatar said it is the industry’s first-ever double bed in business class.

Flight attendants crank the special gold key that transforms seats into double beds on a Qatar Airways Airbus A350 similar to the one that will fly between San Francisco and Doha.

Flight attendants crank the special gold key that transforms seats into double beds on a Qatar Airways Airbus A350 similar to the one that will fly between San Francisco and Doha.

Tim Jue

More latches and switches can be unlocked to slide open a partition in front of the customer. That double seat can be converted into a four-top — a unique venue for a family dinner if you’re flying across from friends or loved ones. Qatar said the private room concept is also a first of its kind in the industry.

In economy class, seats are configured 3-3-3 across. With the exception of exit row and bulkhead seats, there are 31-32 inches of pitch. Seat widths are 16.9 to 17.4 inches across, depending on whether you have a seat that has a tray table located in the armrest.

Each seat comes with 31-32 inches of pitch, oversized seatback monitors loaded with entertainment, and a universal power port. SEE THE SLIDESHOW at the top of this post for an in-depth look!

Each seat comes with 31-32 inches of pitch, oversized seatback monitors loaded with entertainment, and a universal power port. SEE THE SLIDESHOW at the top of this post for an in-depth look!

Tim Jue

Seat-back monitors stream free in-flight entertainment and there are power ports at every seat. In-flight Wi-Fi is available for free to all passengers through January 2021.

Qatar said it has “stringently implemented the most advanced safety and hygiene measures” to keep fliers and crew members safe. Seats, lavatories and galleys are cleaned before flights.

In addition to masks, cabin crew also wear protective eyewear, disposable gloves and a PPE gown — reminiscent of what a dental hygienist would wear. A sash belt (burgundy-colored of course) and name tags on the gown give the protective coveralls less of a medical-grade vibe.

Mandatory masks hide the bright smiles from these Qatar Airways cabin crew members, but it's all part of the commitment the airline said it has to health and safety while on board. SEE THE SLIDESHOW at the top of this post for an in-depth look!

Mandatory masks hide the bright smiles from these Qatar Airways cabin crew members, but it’s all part of the commitment the airline said it has to health and safety while on board. SEE THE SLIDESHOW at the top of this post for an in-depth look!

Tim Jue

The airline is serious about passengers being considerate too: Facial coverings are mandatory for all fliers. On top of that, economy class passengers are required to wear a disposable plastic face shield except during eating and drinking.

Qatar places a free personal protective kit with masks, shields, sanitizer and a pair of gloves at each seat before boarding. Qsuite fliers get a 2-ounce tube of sanitizer as part of their welcome amenities.

The attention to hygiene extends to the airline’s hub in Doha. According to Qatar, passenger touch-points at DOH are being cleaned every 10 to 15 minutes. Gate areas are being sanitized after every flight departs.

Disclosure: Qatar Airways covered the cost of transportation and expenses for the author’s trip to Los Angeles to take an early look at the plane that will soon serve SFO. 

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