Friday, February 21, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Unexpected Flight Changes

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”  
- Winston Churchill 

Qatar Economy Cattle Car

I secured my flights for this adventure with AAdvantage miles I've earned from my work travel.  Flying 16 hours and 8,200 miles each way is not a coach-friendly flight and would be about as comfortable and relaxing as a prostate exam.  I managed to secure first and business class seats for every leg of the trip and booked them at the earliest possible date, which is 335 days prior to the flight.  Redeeming miles nearly a year early was a risky commitment, but Qatar Airways (American's code share partner) is known to offer the best business/first class experiences in international air travel and if I waited too late, the forward cabins would be full and I would be stuck in coach on an airline with whom I have no frequent flier status.  The aforementioned prostate exam would be more appealing by comparison.

Previous trip experiences have taught me to expect unsolicited changes to my reservations when I book so far in advance.  There are many reasons for this such as the airline reassigning aircraft with different seating layouts, changes in routes and schedules, etc.  Sometimes it's just a seat change to a new row.  Other times it's an hour or two difference in departure time.  I accept these facts a part of international travel.  Still, people who know me know I don't like travel surprises and those who have actually flown with me are painfully aware that I am anal about my itineraries.  The trick is to stay on top of it and check on the reservation occasionally, because the airlines typically don't proactively notify passengers when they make changes such as these to their flights.

Qsuite Couple Comfort
During a routine review of my reservation, I saw that the seats I had selected months ago had been changed from window to aisle.  This happened on my Qantas flight to Brisbane, the explanation for which was that another frequent flyer with actual Qantas status outranked my American Airlines AAdvantage status and thus, his seat selection took priority over mine. I can accept that, but some notice would have been nice. On both my overseas flights, there is a center column of two seats, but there are no middle seats in the forward cabins.  There are no bad seats in the forward cabin.  Still, I particularly prefer window seats on overseas flights not only for the view, but for the added privacy and also so my GPS tracker can "see" the satellites and plot my position in near real-time to my blog.  Leaving nothing to chance, I clicked on the seat selection link in hope of reclaiming a window assignment.  To my surprise, the entire layout of the forward cabin had changed dramatically.  With a little more research, I found out that the forward aircraft cabins for both my overseas flights had been upgraded with Qatar's Qsuites!  Major score!

My Qsuite - Solo Style (model not included)

I got lucky and managed to snag the last rear-facing window seats away from the galley and restrooms for both overseas legs of the trip and proceeded to research my airborne accommodations.  The online photos and videos look amazing and now I'm actually looking forward to the long flight.  The dual sleeping arrangement in the above photo is an example of how the center column suites can be configured for couples.  In fact, the center column is arranged in clusters of four suites with partitions that can be opened to allow for face-to-face conferences among all four seats.  This would be great for families, business groups, and I suppose for aspiring mile-high club members.  While my window suite is pretty posh, it's definitely not conducive to mile-high club activities.

The travel review site videos and descriptions I've surfed all illustrate five-star quality dining and cabin services; probably far more sophisticated than my palate will appreciate.  I've also read conflicting reports about the bar service and alcohol.  Qatar Airways adheres to Islamic law in their meal services, so I'm betting pork chops are off the menu.  I saw one video that illustrated a bar menu full of non-alcoholic "mocktails" and another that listed top shelf spirits, wine, and champagne.  I've never been much of a drinker and as part of my conditioning regimen, will have had no alcohol whatsoever since December, 2019 when I embark on this trip.  A good stiff drink (or ten) at 37,000 feet might be just what I need to decompress for a long flight.  I guess I'll see if that's available when I'm on board.

I'm feeling pretty good about my travel itinerary and how I've been able to wrangle things in my favor.  That said, rest assured I will be keeping tabs on "my" seats until my departure because (quoting Rick Derringer) "The airport giveth.  The airport taketh away."

Here's a short online review of Qatar's Qsuite cabin.