Qatar Airways have just taken the crown as the most difficult airline we have ever travelled with. Poor weather, delays and unavoidable inconveniences aside, poor service from ground staff, the flight crew and customer service via email just made the whole experience difficult. Our experience traveling from Guangzhou to Manchester was like one of those travel horror stories you see on TV. Add two young children into the mix and it was enough to make me think twice before flying with Qatar again.
Six Hours on the Tarmac with No Information
We arrived at the airport 3 hours early as is our usual practice and settled at the gate with plenty of time before the flight. We were flying at 0115 and were more than pleased when we were ushered forward to board at 1215. We were a little worried about our seats as, having booked 3 months in advance and chosen the perfect seats for our family of 4, we were told when we checked in that we had been moved. The lady that checked us in couldn’t tell us why we had been moved though and didn’t seem particularly bothered.
We settled into our seats a few minutes later, buckled up and got ready for the 18 hour flight back to the UK.
We had been on the plane for an hour and 15 minutes when the pilot said there would be a 30 minute delay in taking off. We weren’t told the reason why and assumed it was just air traffic control. This, however, was the start of a long period of waiting, stuck in our seats, entertaining a 3 year old and a 6 year old and being given no information whatsoever.
At 0300, 2 hour and 45 minutes after we boarded, we were told we would be taking off shortly. As we still had not been informed of the reason for the delay, I sent a message to my friend who was flying Emirates out of Guangzhou, also to Manchester, but had been due to take off an hour before us. He replied that they had also been delayed but were currently taxiing to the runway and were about to take off. I asked if they had been told why there had been a delay and he said it was apparently because of weather. Still no information from Qatar Airways though.
Having received a message from my friend just before the Emirates flight took off I calculated that we would probably be another hour if there flight had only just taken off. So, we sat and waited.
At 0430, 4 hours and 15 minutes after we had boarded, the pilot asked the cabin grew to disarm the doors. Still no information about why we were still on the ground though. Getting concerned about connecting flights in Doha, I asked a member of the cabin crew what the situation was…and she laughed. ‘We only know as much as you do’. This seemed to be the stock response as I heard similar replies to other passengers. I very much got the impression from the excited chatter between members of the cabin crew that they were just looking forward to the potential of a couple of hours off and a night in a hotel which would be the result of a cancelled flight.
One hour later, at 0530, 5 hours and 15 minutes after we boarded, it was announced that the flight had been cancelled and we would disembark shortly. STILL no reason or information had been given to the passengers.
It took another hour for them to open the doors of the aircraft and a further 2 hours to get back through immigration and to the hotel they were accommodating us in. So, almost 12 hours after arriving at the airport, we were still in Guangzhou. Amazingly, we spent 6 hours on the plane. I thought there were laws to prevent that kind of thing happening?
Disembarking the plane, we were confronted with chaos. A single Qatar Airways employ was tasked with giving details to every passenger that was on the flight.
We approached with our children and were told that as we were a family we should sit on the benches to the right of the gate. We assumed that this meant that something had been arranged for people with children but sadly not. After waiting for 45 minutes it became clear that he had just asked us to sit by the gate so that he didn’t have to deal with us.
When we approached him almost an hour later to confirm that families should be sat by the gate he just told us to follow everybody else to immigration so all that had happened is he had placed us somewhere that he could ignore us and ensured we were at the back of the immigration queue, bus queue and check in queue at the hotel.
All forms of priority for families were abandoned once we got off the plane and we were left with 2 tired, crying young children in the melee of people scrambling to get their passports stamped and get onto hotel buses whilst a single member of staff stood by and watched, unable to do anything to help but not trying to help either.
Again, it took 2 hours to leave the airport.
Good East Hostel/Hotel
To be fair to the staff at the hostel/hotel that Qatar sent us to, they were very quick, very professional and were clearly used to handling airline’s mess. Although it should be noted that no Qatar staff at all accompanied us to the hotel. The crew, presumably, were accommodated somewhere much nicer.
We were told to go to our rooms (2 single beds for a family of 4) and expect a phone call to tell us when we should return to the airport. We did this although after 5 hours we hadn’t heard anything so I went to the front desk to ask for an update.
Sure enough, the front desk had the flight information, but had I sat in my room waiting for the phone call I am sure we would have missed out flight.
We were told to arrive at the airport to take the 1935 flight to Doha. This flight was 18 hours after our scheduled flight.
However, when we arrived, the information board informed us that the 1935 flight had been cancelled. We asked for clarification at the information counter and they told us that there wasn’t a 1935 flight, we must mean the 0135 flight the following day.
Here began a long string of conflicting information from the ground staff (who told us the flight we had arrived for didn’t exist) and the people from Qatar on the phone (who told us to queue up at a completely empty, unstaffed counter and wait for people to appear).
With little else to do, we queued at the counter and slowly but surely, other delayed passengers began to join us. Everybody was on the phone to Qatar and everybody was being given different information.
Again, nobody from Qatar Airways could be found on the ground.
Eventually somebody arrived and we were told that only flights to Doha could check in. People with connecting onward flights had to go to a special desk to have their tickets changed and so the scrum began as everybody ran to the special desk with no staff to supervise and tickets being issued on a first come first served basis as people threw their passports across the counter or thrust them into the Qatar staff’s hands.
With 2 young children, it was a scary experience.
Our connection in Doha was supposed to be 3 hours; a perfect time to walk to our gate and account for any small delays. With the new flight, our connection was 9 hours, a nightmare wait after having already been traveling for more than 25 hours.
When we arrived in Doha we were met at the gate by a member of the Qatar Airways ground crew who told us that we would be put up in a hotel because our connection was so long and the change was not our fault. Great, I thought, just what we wanted. We could have a nap and a shower, the children could relax and we’d all be almost human by the time our flight to Manchester came around.
Sadly, I had forgotten that I was not allowed to leave the airport.
As I am due to start work in Qatar in August, I have a work visa in process which is tied to my passport. I have been told that the system works by activating the visa once your passport is detected at immigration/arrivals. You then carry out the application process once you are inside the country. If you leave the country before the application process is complete, your visa is cancelled. Whatever the case, my employer told me before we travelled that under no circumstances was I to pass through immigration and enter Qatar until the end of August. And as the hotel was in downtown Doha, I couldn’t go.
This then is where my biggest issue with Qatar Airways lies. Having explained this to the ground staff, they seemed understanding and said they would check with the Airport Hotel which is air side (next to the boarding gates, so no immigration). Unfortunately, when they returned, they advised that the rooms allocated to Qatar Airways were full. However, they advised that if I paid for the room myself (GBP212) they would give me an email address I could use to explain the situation and get my money reimbursed.
We happily did this and the hotel was nice; just what we needed after such a long time in airports/hostels/planes. We all had a shower and a nap and were feeling ready for our onward flight.
Since arriving home, however, Qatar Airways have replied to my request for reimbursement and have informed me that they cannot honor their ground staff’s promise of reimbursement. As with the flight, they haven’t given a reason why, they have just stated that they ‘are sure I will understand’. I’m not sure what there is to understand? Perhaps the fact that 48 hours of poor service has now been topped off by the ground crew lying to me?
So we arrived home 51 hours after starting our journey. No apologies given and GBP250 lighter due to meals and accommodation which were not reimbursed.
As Qatar Airways said in their email to me, I understand that weather causes delays, I completely understand that it can’t be avoided. But what can be avoided is the total absence of any kind of customer service that we experienced during this horrendous journey. In fact, whilst weather is unavoidable, here are somethings Qatar Airways could have avoided:
- 6 hours waiting on a plane with no information whatsoever
- Flight staff who laugh at queries and can only answer with ‘I know as much as you’
- 1 person dealing with hundreds of people disembarking a cancelled flight
- Telling families to sit in a certain area and then ignoring them for an hour
- No priority for families or people with disabilities when leaving the airport (it was chaos, see photograph)
- Accommodating 4 people in a room with 2 single beds
- No Qatar staff present whatsoever at the airport when returning
- Telling passengers to pay for their own accommodation and promising reimbursement and then refusing to honor that promise
Best airline in the world? I’m not so sure.
Update: Two years on, and now actually living in Qatar, and I can confirm that we have still not flown with Qatar Airways since this experience.