This is Part 4 of my Dubai Marathon trip report. This will focus on the delights of entering/leaving Sri Lanka, the Araliya lounge at the airport and flying Qatar Airways Business Class (make sure you read the bottom portion as well about my arrival in Qatar!).
Entering Sri Lanka – and then coming right back
As I mentioned in the previous post, I had some problems getting to stay for the night where I was supposed to. It turned out, my problems were not solved there. When I headed downstairs the next morning, I went up to the immigration officials to get my passport stamped again so I could go out, check-in for my next flight, and then come back into the airport. When I got to the counter, the official kept trying to tell me it was not possible to do what I was trying to do. He didn’t seem to care to listen to me explain that I had a transit visa (all he had to do was run my passport to see that) and the stamp that had been given to me the night before had not actually used that visa. The official the night before had said it was just a temporary stamp and I would get the real on the next morning. This official that I was talking to now kept telling me that I had to get a new one because I could only use the other one once. After going back and forth for a bit, he began to get frustrated and kept asking, “how much money do you have?” I told him that was not relevant (actually, for entry into most countries I have visited, one of the entry requirements is that you have proof of enough funds to cover your visit – I have never had to produce that proof. In this case, it really wasn’t relevant since I was not planning on staying in the country and, in fact, was leaving in 3 hours). He kept asking me, I would say I had enough for water and food until I departed. I showed him my next itinerary but he didn’t care about that. Finally, my slow, tired mind caught what he was basically saying – he wanted money to fix the problem. At the same time, he told me could fix it all for $20. If I gave him the $20, he would take care of it. Because you really can’t argue too much when you have a flight leaving shortly, I gave him $20 which he slipped in his pocket and stamped my passport. Finally, I was entering Sri Lanka!
Within a matter of minutes of leaving the arrival portion of the airport, I headed back in towards departures to leave Sri Lanka. When the check-in counter for Qatar Airways opened, I went up to get in line. People had been standing in line for about 30 minutes before it even opened and the line was already quite long. When I got closer, I saw the line for First/Business Class and that there was no one in it. Since, I was holding a First Class ticket to Doha, Qatar, I went to that agent.
As a sidebar, one of the great advantages to having elite status or flying in a premium cabin is the separate line at check-in that is available for you. I have bene in check-in lines for general customers that have been over an hour long. To be able to walk up, get my ticket, and head for the gate area within 5 minutes is a really nice time saving advantage!
This was the start of my second ticket that takes advantage of the fact that I was leaving from Colombo. The first segment was with Qatar Airways with the first portion in Business Class and the second portion had been listed as First Class. The funny part was that the second flight only had a business class cabin and economy cabin – no first class cabin. So when the agent asked if I was flying in first class to Dubai, I told him I was because that is what my itinerary said. It turned out, I was happy that it had booked me that way because of the access it gave me to the First Class Lounge in Doha.
The agent gave me my tickets, lounge invitation for the Araliya Lounge in Colombo and put it all in a specially-colored ticket envelope the designated me for transfer to the Premium Terminal in Doha. I took my stuff and headed back into the airport through the passport control area. The officer there didn’t even ask me about why I had only entered Sri Lanka for 2 hours. 🙂
As I walked through the terminal towards the lounge, I noticed what a really nice airport it is. I had come down that way the night before but I wasn’t really paying attention to the area at the time. This time, I noticed there were a few different lounges, some very fine shops and the gates that had the security areas to enter.
Araliya Lounge – Colombo Airport
I arrived at Araliya Lounge not really expecting that much. I thought it would be just a small area with a few chairs and a coffee machine (not unlike a doctor’s office). To my surprise, it was much more than that. The chairs in there were some of the nicest chairs I have found in the few lounges I have been in. They had a nice layout of food and refreshments as well. Since I was running a race the next day, I didn’t want to tempt my stomach with any of the new food so I stuck with toast and jelly and some water. They had bottles of water available (thank you!) and cans of soda in addition to the other varieties of drinks. The bathrooms were very clean and neat. Overall, it was a nice lounge experience. Unlike what blogger Ben at One Mile At A Time experienced during his time there, the internet during my visit was exceptionally fast. It was well above cable speeds and the uploads speeds were very high. This was good because I had some work to do uploading and transferring some things and this gave me a good opportunity to do that.
All in all, I would say the lounge exceeded my expectations for it. Plus, it filled what I look for in a nice lounge – quiet, ability to work, nice food, plentiful seating, good interent.
Qatar Airways Business Class
Not sure how long the security would take at the gate, I went over there with plenty of time before my departure. It turns out, it really wasn’t that careful of a security area. I did not have to take anything out of my bag and I didn’t have to take anything off me. Just a quick walk through and all set. I settled in for a little bit on the sitting area at the gate as we waited for our flight. As we were waiting, I heard my name called to come to the counter. I wasn’t feeling too good about that based on my ticket. I thought this is where they would tell me that I owed them $8,000 or something like that. 🙂 It turns out, my seat was not working properly and they asked if I wouldn’t mind sitting in the first row instead of the second row. I normally do not like bulkhead seats but she said there was no one next to me, so no problem. Shortly after that, we started boarding.
Qatar Airways Flight #301
Colombo, Sri Lanka (CMB) – Doha, Qatar (DOH)
Departure 9:10AM (IST) / Arrival 11:45AM (AST)
Length of flight – 4 hours and 45 minutes
Plane – Airbus A321 / Seat 1B (Business Class)
I had really been looking to flying on Qatar Airways since I had heard so much about them. They call themselves the “World’s 5-Star Airline” and are owned by the government of Qatar (which is the world’s richest country per capita) so they really try to go all out. It was definitely one of the nicest Airbus 321s that I have been on and service was excellent. I wish I could have experienced a longer flight with them to see what their international first class is like. If this flight was any indication, I am sure it too is stellar.
It turns out that there were only 3 of us in business class that morning so the flight attendant made the back seat to be my “reclining spot” while she served my meal and drinks in row 1. That was very thoughtful and I did sleep very well after eating. The food was very good (how can you not like an airline meal that starts with a fruit smoothie? 🙂
Here was the menu:
To ReviveStrawberry Smoothie Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
To CommenceSelection of seasonal fruits (with yogurt) Breakfast plate of smoked chicken and cream cheese crostini (with thai chili sauce) Breakfast plate of sliced edam and cream cheese (with cucumber and prunes salad)
To FollowVegetable Frittata Sri Lankan Fish Curry Blueberry Pancake
Bakery BasketCroissant, Banana Muffin, Apricot Danish, Brown and White Toast
I had the smoked chicken as my starter and the blueberry pancakes for the main course. The chicken was excellent (as were the sides) and the pancakes, while not what you would get a IHOP, were also very good. For a business class flight, I was more than satisfied with the quality and portions. The flight attendants kept offering quite a bit of food so I was definitely cared for in the food department!
Arriving in Qatar
Doha from the air looked like most other Middle Eastern countries – huge stretches of sand-colored ground as far as you could see. There were some large and beautiful buildings around as well, but the desert really sticks out to you. We were coming in for a landing when something happened that I have never had happen to me before. We were not far from the ground when I heard the plane’s engines increase the RPMs quickly. I looked out my window because I knew something was not right. Sure enough, we did the commercial equivalent of a “touch-and-go” as we took off again just before touching down. We were somewhat pushed back by the thrust of aborted landing but I did look out and see a plane that had been coming from another direction that we would have most likely hit had we kept going. We went back up and began to slowly circle back again before the captain came on and said, in a very calm voice, that the tower had asked them to pull back up and come around again for a landing. Yes, I can just imagine the tower “asking” them to do that – before a collision occurred! Fortunately, we made it back down again safely. I never had that happen before, never imagined my being so close to something like that, and now really hope it never happens again!
I was going to continue covering the trip with my report on the Premium Terminal in Doha, the First Class Lounge in the terminal, and my next flight to Dubai, but this post already got too long so I will continue this tomorrow! Thanks for reading!