DOHA — I climbed off Qatar Airways’ new A350-900 XWB jet airliner at Hamad International Airport after a 12-hour, 6,500-mile flight from Boston and performed a systems check — on myself.
Fatigue level: Minimal. Headache: None detected. Skin texture: Normal. I’ve been on long-haul flights when this post-runway evaluation has been far less successful. On those trips I’ve experienced a skin texture I would classify as “elderly iguana in a tanning bed” and a headache level of “jack hammer at a Kid Rock concert.” I’m not going to point fingers at the offending airlines because I don’t want to end up on a no-fly list for cranky passengers with post-flight cowlicks.
I was disembarking from Airbus’s sparkling new A350 XWB and running through my body diagnostics because Qatar is contending passengers will experience less jet lag on the plane. They even dared to use the word “refreshed.” Yes, I also read that statement with some skepticism. Jet lag is as integral to international travel as long lines at passport control or your seat mate snoring loudly and drooling on your shoulder.
Qatar Airways, the first airline to take delivery of the A350 XWB, introduced direct flights from Boston to Doha in March. The A350 is Airbus’s highly-anticipated challenger to Boeing’s popular 787 Dreamliner. Its debut comes with some lofty expectations.
After hearing about the A350 through its many stages of development, I was itching for a test drive. I planned a 48-hour jaunt to Doha to conduct this thoroughly unscientific and highly personal investigation. I was anxious to check out the design of the cabin, but I was also determined to see if I would feel the effects of taking back-to-back 12-hour flights.
The A350-900 was designed with features to trick your body into thinking that it’s not cruising at an altitude of 35,000 feet. Its Rolls-Royce-built engines are 25 percent quieter than previous Airbus planes. It’s equipped with LED mood lighting designed to mimic the time of day and destination. There is a high-pressure air management system that filters in fresh air every few minutes rather than recirculating cabin air. A powerful humidifier counters dryness.
“The A350 takes advantage of many of the same innovations used on the Boeing 787, not only in its high-tech mechanical architecture, but also in its passenger-friendly cabin,” author, pilot, and blogger Patrick Smith told me after my flight. “As with the 787, there’s a soothing, almost organic aesthetic to the way the seats, bulkheads, and sidewalls are sculpted.”
Like the Dreamliner, the interior is designed with more headroom to make the plane feel less bunker-like. There are additional features to enjoy at the front of the cabin for those of you with thick wallets, lots of airline miles (Qatar is part of the Oneworld alliance), and a constant hankering for bubbly. There are window blinds that allow you to cleverly filter and control the amount of light coming into your cabin.
There are other amenities in business not found in economy, such as a gorgeous circular mid-century-influenced self-serve champagne bar, flatbed seats, 17-inch flat-screen TVs, and three-course meals.
When I returned to Boston, I didn’t exactly feel refreshed, but I didn’t feel haggard. I found the cabin noticeably quieter than on other flights I’ve taken. But jet lag is another matter. According to the National Sleep Foundation, jet lag is the result of crossing multiple time zones. The time difference plays with our natural sleep cycle. Unless the A350 XWB also came with a built-in time machine, it would be impossible to completely eliminate jet lag from any flight, but I’ll happily stand up and heartily applaud the effort. When I got home, I dropped onto my bed and immediately fell asleep.
Jet lag aside, I can report that the A350 XWB is a worthy challenger to the Dreamliner, and in many ways offers a superior experience. Its unique up-turned wings and fuel efficiency make the flight an even more appealing option. Qatar was the first to fly these planes in the United States, but airlines such as Finnair, TAM Airlines, and Singapore Airlines are now using the A350. So far Airbus has received more than 770 orders for the plane, so it’s likely that you’ll be flying one in the near future and hopefully no longer feeling like a baked iguana with a splitting headache by the end of your flight.