Thursday, April 6, 2023

India Work Trip 2022 ✈ Journey to Kolkata | Qatar QSuite

In the last 2 months of 2022, I was given the opportunity to travel to India for a work secondment. I signed up to travel to India without any expectations, but the entire experienced turned out way better than I expected, all thanks to the warm hospitality I received throughout my stay in Kolkata.

Pre-departure Preparation
My original plan was to be in India for 3 months, with a scheduled start date of 26 Sept 2022. However, due to significant delays in my India employment visa process, my secondment was cut short to 2 months instead. Our company's contractor who helped with the visa application process informed me that the visa process should take about 2 weeks. However, mine ended up taking 4 weeks, which would have been even longer if I hadn't stepped in and took matters into my own hands. The main problem was that there were too many parties involved in the visa process - our company's immigration contractor, visa agent, India Consulate's outsourced service provider, and the India Consulate in Atlanta. This delay resulted in a whole lot of stress and frustration. It not only impacted the start date of my secondment (which also had a huge financial impact), it also almost cost us our Greece trip. 

I called the India Consulate in Atlanta's emergency number to check on the status of my visa, and explained that I needed my passport back urgently for an international trip. The Consulate staff asked me to go to the Consulate the next day to pick it up, but didn't tell me if my visa was processed yet. At that point, I wasn't really bothered if my visa was ready or not, I just wanted my passport back. I drove 4 hours each way to Atlanta on 12 Oct 2022 (2 days before our flight to Greece), to retrieve the passport myself. I arrived at the India Consulate in Atlanta around 10.15am and successfully got my passport by 10.35am. Best of all, I got my visa too!!! Phew...what a huge relief!!

My original plan was to fly from India to meet up with hubby in Greece. However, since my start date was delayed, I changed my plan to fly from US-Greece-US with hubby. Fortunately, I had double booked my flights to Greece (one from India and one from US), and was able to easily cancel the flight from India for free. Gotta love airline miles for all these flexibility. =) 

To add more excitement to my travels, I booked my flight to depart from US to India on the day after we return from Greece. So I was traveling non-stop for 4 days across 3 continents...Santorini-London-US-Doha-Kolkata. As we got home from Greece at 9pm on Saturday, and my flight to India departs at 1pm the next day, I had less than 24 hours at home. As such, I had my luggage already packed before we left for Greece. In fact, my luggage had been packed for more than a month as I was ready to depart as soon as I received my visa. For this 2 month trip, I packed enough work clothes for 2 weeks (these work clothes have been hibernating for 2.5 years), Covid essentials, personal care products, and also stuffs to bring back to Malaysia as I was planning to make a trip back home to Malaysia from India. Another pre-departure to-do's was getting all the necessary vaccination shots. I had 5 shots within the span of 3 weeks. 

23-25 October 2022 (Sunday-Tuesday): Huntsville - Dallas - Doha - Kolkata

Hubby dropped me off at the airport at 11.30am. As I was gonna be gone and not cooking for 2 months, we made sure our freezer was well-stocked with food for hubby to!!

In addition to the baggage allowance of 2 bags (50 lbs each), the company also reimburses excess baggage of up to 70lbs but I didn't need it.

1st flight: First class seat on this 2 hours flight from Huntsville - Dallas at 1.09pm. 

Landed in Dallas on time at 3pm and had a 3.5 hours transit. I went over to the boarding gate to get my travel documents validated first before heading over to the American Airlines Flagship Lounge, which I had access to with my Business Class ticket.  This lounge is pretty big and the buffet options are quite extensive. There was also a Quiet Room with some lounge chairs.

My first ever international Business Class flight!! Qatar Airways QSuite is one of the world's best business class, and I've been eyeing it for awhile so I was super excited to finally have the opportunity to try it out on my 15 hours flight from Dallas to Doha. I booked this flight 10 days before departure date, so you can guess how much this ticket cost. =P

The flight was scheduled to depart at 6.50pm but boarding didn't start until 6.15pm. Usually, I'd wait to board last but for this flight, I made sure that I boarded as soon as I could so that I can maximize my time in this amazing seat and take as many photos as I want. As I booked this flight via AA code share, I wasn't able to select the seats in advance on Qatar's website. I was hoping to get the window seat (A or K) but they were all full so I got 12J instead. It's still a window seat so I'm not complaining. 

The seat had 2 pillows, a super comfy blanket, Diptyque amenity kit, World Cup pajamas and a noise-cancelling headphone. I was a lil' disappointed that the amenity kit came in a box instead of a pouch...first world problem I know. =P

The TV is touchscreen but there is also a handheld controller for easy access. There's also an option to pay for in-flight internet which costs $10 for the entire flight but the connection wasn't very stable. 

The reason why Qatar QSuite is one of the world's best business class is because of the sliding door, providing complete privacy for each seat, which is even better than some of the First Class seats for other airlines. Full disclosure, I took a lot of photos, videos, and selfies throughout the flight. Pardon my over-excitement and!! =P Even though masks are no longer required in-flight, I wore it on the entire flight purely based on my own personal preference. 

Door closed for total privacy. As much as I'd like to 'turn left' when boarding the plane, I was actually glad to turn right to this mini business class cabin with only 8 seats. 2 of the middle seats were empty so this cabin felt very private and quiet. The cabin crew served the signature welcome drink - lemon mint before takeoff.

Changed into this baggy pajamas shortly after we reached cruising altitude. I got S (the smallest size available) and the t-shirt was still too big on me. They were giving the World Cup version in 2022 but I'd prefer the original version. I guess this is a good momento for my first ever Biz Class flight in 2022.

Food and drinks menu. One thing special about Qatar Airways meal service is the dine on-demand a la carte menu. That means I could dine at any time I want, in any order, and choose anything from the menu. I ordered the roasted red pepper and tomato soup, and prawn biryani for dinner. 

The ambience in the flight was totally making me feel ready for bed so I requested the cabin crew to help set up my fully lie-flat bed with a bed padding. My bed in the air was super comfy and spacious with plenty of leg space even after laying down completely flat. Benefit of being!

Woke up after a good solid 6 hours of sleep. I intentionally didn't want to sleep too long as I wanted to enjoy the flight and take more photos and! It was actually very dark in the cabin so I opened my window for some natural light. The crew saw me with my gimbal and asked if I'm a!! I upload videos on YouTube but definitely NOT a!

I had plans on getting so much photo/video editing done for my Bora Bora and Greece trips on this long 15-hour flight but I ended up taking even more photos and videos instead. =.=

Guess what I ordered for breakfast? Corn Flakes and Strawberry Smoothie. This was a very 'expensive' Corn Flakes....hahahah! After breakfast, I ordered the hot buffalo chicken wings with tortilla chips from the Light options menu.

Wrapping up my fancy dining experience in the air with champagne and chocolates.

Ok....few more photos with a more normal lighting before we land. 

Sunset from the flight and approaching Doha at 5.10pm. 

14.5 hours flew by quickly and this was the one time I wished the flight was longer but we landed in Doha 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Goodbye QSuite....thanks for the wonderful experience! =D

I was worried about my short 50 minutes transit in Doha but turned out I had plenty of time. We landed 30 minutes earlier, deboarded via a jetbridge (no need to take a bus), and the gate for my next flight was just a few gates away. Too bad I didn't have enough time to visit the lounge. For the flight from Doha to Kolkata, business class passengers were asked to wait at the 2nd floor of the boarding gate, which was empty and a lot quieter.

Flight #3 was a shorter 5hr 15min flight from Doha to Kolkata at 6.35pm. Boarded the flight at 6pm and contrary to the earlier flight, the crew on this flight was more sensitive about me taking videos in the flight due to crew and passengers privacy, which I understand. This flight is a normal 1-2-1 business class layout and my seat was a window seat, 5A. Even though there's no door for this seat, it was still very comfortable and spacious. There was so much leg space I couldn't even reach the footwell without reclining.

Champagne for welcome drink before takeoff.

Food and drink menu on this flight is not as extensive as the previous flight bu still plenty of options to choose from. I ordered the soup of the day, seared curry scallops and prawns, and grilled spiced jumbo prawns.

This seat was also a lay-flat seat and I passed out for a good 3 hours after dinner. 

The approach into Kolkata was very cool as the entire city was lit up in colorful lights for Diwali night. Spotted a few fireworks from the air. We landed in Kolkata at 1.55am, 25 min ahead of schedule. 

That's all for my very first business class experience. I am well aware that I can only afford economy class so I'm very thankful and grateful for this opportunity to travel in business class. I've certainly enjoyed this experience! Follow along for more updates from India.  

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