Taking a flight in coach halfway around the world isn’t exactly a relaxing experience. You’re crammed into a small seat with no legroom, served middling food (if anything at all), and sleep is fitful at best. But there’s a new breed of luxury travel for those who can afford it, and we recently got a taste of it courtesy of Qatar Airways, which has been named the World’s Best Airline by Skytrax. There’s really nothing else like it.
At the invitation of the airline, I had the opportunity to board one of the airline’s 777s at JFK with other members of the press, and was treated to a meal in my seat. Well, you could call it a seat, but it’s actually more like a relaxation station: There’s an insane amount of legroom, the in-flight entertainment system has more than 1,000 programming options, and buttons on the armrest allow you to lie flat, adjust everything from the headrest to the footrests, and even get a massage. Pillows, blankets, slippers, and pajamas are provided as well, and each seat’s reading lamp is an actual lamp.
There’s no set mealtime in business class — if you want dinner at 3 a.m., they’ll bring it to you. Dishes are designed by chefs like Nobu Matsuhisa, and wine is selected by the airline’s in-house master of wine James Cluer, who gives every bottle special consideration (we taste wine differently inside a pressurized and dry airplane, so wines can’t be too high in alcohol and need to be full of flavor but not too tannic, he explained).
For those used to abysmal on-board culinary offerings (if you can even call them that), this meal was revelatory by comparison. It started with an amuse of lamb tikka on a risotto cake with mint chutney, which was followed with a refreshing pea and mint soup with crème fraîche (above). Appetizer options include a classic Arabic mezze platter of hummus, tabbouleh, and baba ganoush with pita or a tomato, feta, and Kalamata olive salad. I opted for the mezze platter, which was amply portioned and as good as what you’ll find in any high-end Middle Eastern restaurant. Up next was our choice of three mains: a broccoli, potato, and blue cheese tart with a tomato and black olive dressing; braised lamb shank with chickpea and saffron sauce, mashed potatoes, and roasted root vegetables; and Arabic-spiced prawns with machboos sauce and rice with fried onions and nuts. I ordered the lamb shank; while it could have been more tender, it was still extremely flavorful and far and away the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten on board an airplane. The meal concluded with a cheese course and finally a spot-on cardamom panna cotta with rhubarb and apple compote. The Champagne and wine were both free-flowing throughout the meal, as it would also be during the flight.
Not many people would look forward to a 12-and-a-half-hour flight, but if it happened to be in business class on Qatar Airways, I’d be all for it. It’s an insanely luxurious experience, and the level of care that they’ve put into every aspect of the experience, from the fabric in the pajamas to the wine selection to the restaurant-quality menu, is pretty astounding.