READ MORE FROM THIS TRIP
Introduction: From Cold To Hot and Checking The #1 Country Off of My Bucketlist
• Review: Plaza Premium Lounge (Toronto Airport)
• Review: Air France / KLM Lounge (Toronto Airport)
• Review: Air France A350 (Business Class); Toronto – Paris
• Review: Air France A320 (Business Class); Paris – Stockholm
• Review: The Generator Hostel (Stockholm)
• Review: Norrsken Lounge (Stockholm Arlanda)
• Review: Menzies Executive Lounge (Stockholm Arlanda)
• Review: American Express Lounge by Pontus (Stockholm Arlanda)
• Review: Stockholm Arlanda Lounge (Stockholm Arlanda)
• Review: Qatar Airways A350-1000 “QSuites” (Business Class)
• Review: Four Points By Sheraton Doha
• Review: The Westin Doha Resort and Spa
• Review: Al Safwa First Class Lounge (Doha)
To say that I was excited for this next experience (…and flight…and destination) would be an understatement. I was so excited that I barely slept the night before.
The drive from the Westin Hotel to the airport took about 20 minutes. Doha Hamad International Airport is architecturally stunning (inside and outside). I returned my rental car and headed for the designated first & business class check-in area located at the beginning of the terminal.
HOW I ACCESSED THE LOUNGE
Here is the interesting part…I would be flying from Doha, Qatar to Muscat, Oman. This is a short flight (1.5 hours) but within the Gulf region Qatar categorizes the forward cabin to be first class (while those same seats on a longhaul flight are considered business class). In other words, my business class seat was considered first class and thus granted access to Al Safwa lounge.
The only passengers that have access to this lounge are longhaul first class passengers which is extremely limited as Qatar Airways is fazing out their first class cabins.
I redeemed 24,000 British Airways Avios and $72. However, I had taken advantage of a 40% Amex transfer bonus, transferring only 18,000 miles total for this redemption.
I also had access to the Al Mourjan Business Class lounge because of the business class ticket but given this would be my first time experiencing a first class lounge, I decided to spend all of my time in Al Safwa.
Buying Access To Al Safwa Lounge
Since the summer of 2017, Qatar (the country) has been experiencing a Gulf Blockade which has, essentially, decimated the amount of first class passengers transiting through Doha.
To generate more revenue, Qatar Airlines began selling access to Al Safwa First Class lounge at the beginning of 2019. When the program first began, it cost QAR250 (~$67USD). However, in June 2019, they raised the price to QAR600 (~$165USD).
NOTE: You can only purchase access if traveling in Qatar Airways business class (both cash and award tickets count). So, if you’re transiting Doha in business class, and have a lot of money to spare, this could be an option for you.
Al Safwa First Class Review
The check-in area is extremely impressive. As I entered the front door of the airport, I was immediately welcomed by an attendant and directed to the check-in desks just beyond the wall on the right side.
Once I walked past the wall, there were several partitioned sit-down check-in desks and several dozen comfortable leather chairs that you could use if you were, perhaps, waiting for someone.
Again, I was welcomed by an agent and invited to check-in at the desk.
Within seconds, another agent approached and offered a cool towel.
The check-in agent asked basic questions and scanned my passport. He then asked if I had a visa because my destination was Oman. I had not purchased a visa because Qatar and Oman have a special agreement (…i think). (Spoiler: This becomes a huge problem later). However, I was able to check-in and the whole process took less than 3 minutes.
Once I departed from the private desks, I passed through an immigration checkpoint for business and first class passengers where there was one agent working. Unfortunately, my immigration experience took a bit longer, for reasons I described in this post. Otherwise, it was a rather painless experience.
To give perspective for those that find themselves taking a photo with the Lamp Bear, the escalator leading to the Al Safwa Lounge is directly under the “2022” (to the right of the bear).
I took this escalator directly to the Al Safwa First Class Lounge.
At reception, the attendant scanned by boarding pass and welcomed me into the lounge which is located to the right. The process was completed in seconds.
The first aspect that I noticed about the lounge is how amazingly minimalist it is.
As you look through the following photos, you may become disoriented because the hallways tend to look the same. The easiest way to describe the the lounge layout is a “plus (+) sign.” To help with orientation, I will make clock references to correlate with the plus sign.
For example, I entered the lounge at 6 o’clock (or the bottom of the plus sign).
Immediately to the left was a business center with a handful of simple workstations. The desks had iMacs and featured comfy rolling chairs. The center also featured a display with newspapers and magazines, an aspect that you will see throughout the lounge.
Directly, across the hall from the business center is a small duty free shop. There were no passengers in the shop and I assume this is because there are very few passengers flying first class.
As I continued walking down the long hallway, I came to the center of the clock (or the middle of the plus sign), I turned right and headed towards 3 o’clock. Again, another long hallway…
Just beyond the plant (right hand side of the photo) was the entrance to what I call the “Dessert Room.” An attendant had just cleared some dessert for the counter on the right side as I entered the room. I was unsure if she was clearing all of the desserts, so I quickly took a photo of the remaining food.
As someone who loves desserts, this is a great idea. However, given how exclusive and few passengers have access to this lounge, I wondered how much of these treats went into the garbage every night.
There was a door at the back of the “Dessert Room” labeled “Family Area.” There were a number of partitioned, dark rooms with comfortable leather chairs, and a TV in each room. As you can see, there was no one in this area.
Across the hall from the “dessert room” entrance was the entrance to a few prayer rooms.
Continuing down the hallway (and next to the prayer room), various artifacts were on display in glass cases. There was no information describing the pieces but I thought it was quite odd, because all of a sudden it made me feel like I was in a museum.
It’s difficult to see (and imagine), but opposite the artifacts, there was a huge waterfall. The picture does not capture the water or how big this wall actually is but the dark brown wall had water constantly trickling down it.
The next entrance on the left was a spa/quiet area.
I was quickly welcomed by the attendant in the spa. She was very attentive and offered a leather-bound book that included all the spa service prices (pictured below). For what it’s worth, the conversion rate between USD and QAR is roughly 1 USD per 3.65 QAR. For simplicity, if you divide the displayed QAR prices by 4, you’ll have the price in USD. For example, QAR400 = ~$100USD.
The prices were a bit expensive for my taste but again we’re in a First Class lounge so I trust there are clientele that frequent the lounge who will (and do) pay for it.
I found one thing illogical with the spa/quiet area. I really wanted to take shower before I boarded my plane. I knew the quiet area had individual rooms with beds and showers, however, they were all occupied during my visit so I was not able to obtain photos.
I inquired how how much it would cost to shower in the spa and was quoted QAR200 (~$50). Yikes! $50 to take a shower??
But if I’m putting the pieces together correctly, I could get quiet room with a bed, desk, TV, and shower for free. But if I wanted to use the only other showers in the lounge, I’d have to pay for them? I would think they would prefer I not reserve and “waste” a room just to shower when others could be using it to actually rest, right??
Anyway, directly beside the spa/quiet area was a baggage area where you could, obviously, store your baggage while you do other activities.
Across the hall from the spa (and the next entrance on the right hand side) was the “Game Room.” I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…
…and yes, that is a race care simulator (with two tv monitors) in a lounge.
As I departed the game room, there was another display of newspapers and magazines.
At this point, I had explored everything in this ‘wing’ of the lounge. As I departed the “game room” and returned to the center of the clock, this was my view…
I think this photo gives a great scale of how big this lounge was.
As I returned to the center of the clock, I turned to the right (now heading towards 12 o’clock), where I found several sets of comfortable chairs and departure display monitors.
Just beyond the seating was a dining area, which featured a sushi bar, a salad buffet, and a sandwich station. The area had a high-top table and several tables with live orchids but was more conducive to just having a snack.
As far as the sandwich station, my options included a cheese selection, sun dried tomatoes, black and green olives…
…grilled zucchini, grilled eggplant, mozzarella cheese, braised lamb shank…
…fish terrine with apple chutney…
…smoked salmon, grilled chicken breast, and roast beef…
I ate quite a bit of the grilled zucchini and eggplant and it was delicious!
As I returned to the center of the clock, I turned right (heading towards 9 o’clock) where I found the centerpiece of the lounge – a huge water fixture with a shallow “pond” at the foot of the display.
I think this photo also shows how large the lounge is with the vaulted ceilings.
To the left of the water centerpiece were about a dozen comfortable leather chairs with ottomans.
Just beyond the centerpiece and leather chairs were another 10 high-back seats in pods and the entrance to the main restaurant. The pods were rather secluded but featured an iPad, and a rack for your jacket.
For the few hours that I spent in this lounge, I spent the majority of my time in the pods writing this blog.
I also captured the view from the pods gazing back at the centerpiece.
Again, next to the centerpiece was the large main restaurant.
As you may have noticed based on the above pictures, this lounge doesn’t seem to get particularly full, which was most evident in the restaurant. I was one of, perhaps, 5 people in the entire restaurant. However, I counted about 10 restaurant staff so there was a lot of customer service.
Upon sitting down at my seat, I noticed that all the tables again featured live orchids…
Within a minute of sitting down at a table I was offered a cool towel, a refreshing drink, bread, amuse bouche, and the menu. I think it’s fair to say that no one does refreshing drinks better than Qatar.
The menu read as follows (in English and Arabic):
I was stuffed from the zucchini and eggplant but I ordered the “Chilli Prawns” with fresh red chilli and scallions…
For the main course, I order the “Grilled Salmon Steak” accompanied with olive mash potatoes, with steamed vegetables and lemongrass sauce.
And for the dessert, I ordered the Umm Ali. It’s been many years since I’ve had Umm Ali but I highly recommend it if you have the opportunity to order it.
Additionally, there was a good selection of wine to accompany the meal including So Jennie Paris Premium and Laurent Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut.
PRO-TIP: They also have Krug available but you have to request it.
In the back of the restaurant, there are additional tables and seating. I think the lounge did a great job of offering two different dining experiences — one restaurant that is a la carte, and the other more restaurant style where you point and choose and then it is served to you.
After an enjoyable time in the Al Safwa Lounge, I headed to my departure gate at around 6:30PM, for my 7:40PM 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.
I quickly took a picture with the “Lamp Bear” by Urs Fischer…
…and headed for my gate C4, which was less than a 2 minute walk away.
On my way to the gate, I also took a picture of a media center that has complimentary mac computers for anyone to use. They have many of these throughout the airport.
The airport also has various art installations including “The Playground” by Tom Otterness.
I continued walking to C4 where my boarding pass was scanned as I entered the sterile departures gate area, and within a few minutes boarding was announced, starting with first class.
Al Safwa was impressive! The architectural design of the lounge was stunning (I’m a big fan of the minimalist feel), service was extremely attentive and the food was restaurant quality. Obviously, this is my favorite First Class Lounge because it’s the only First Class Lounge I’ve ever visited.
The experience encouraged me to visit the Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge in Hong Kong, the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, the Air France First Class Lounge in Paris, and the Qantas First Class Lounge in Sydney as I’ve heard they are phenomenal examples of what a First Class Lounge experience should be.
One criticism I have concerns the illogical spa shower situation. I hope that the lounge has considered the benefits (and drawbacks) of complimentary spa services vs. paid services. I think the spa could be missing a great opportunity by not offering complimentary services.
Understandably, it’s a business and a paying customer contributes to the bottom-line. However, most people don’t have 60 minutes for a massage before a flight. Additionally, a first class passenger (whether paid or on an award ticket), should not have to shell out additional money.
Qatar charges just over $1000+ one-way for a business class (aka First Class) seat between Doha and Muscat. It’s hard for me to believe they are losing money when very few people have access to the lounge. But imagine what impression it would make if short treatments (i.e. 30 minutes or less) were complimentary or all treatments were complimentary. This strategy may increase the number of revenue passengers that utilize the lounge thus increasing the bottom line.
Have you ever visited the Al Safwa First Class Lounge in Doha? What was your experience?