Looking back on 2019, I was able to enjoy the comforts of several outstanding first-class airline lounges. The list includes Qantas First lounges in Sydney and Los Angeles, Cathay Pacific Pier and Wing lounges in Hong Kong, the Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge in Kuala Lumpur, British Airways’ First lounge in New York (JFK), the Air China Terminal 2 first class lounge in Beijing (PEK), and the ANA First Lounge in Tokyo (HND). But the best by far is Qatar Airways’ Al Safwa First Lounge at Al Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Doha, Qatar.
The Al Safwa lounge is one lounge I once thought I’d never have access to. Except for ANA when I was actually flying first class, access to the other first class lounges was by virtue of Emerald status with the Oneworld airline alliance. The really nice thing about being Emerald is having access to first class lounges of Oneworld airlines irrespective of the class of service flown. The sole exception is the Al Safwa lounge. Qatar Airways limited access to first class passengers only. Last year, Qatar changed this policy.
For the first time Qatar business class passengers were allowed to buy access. The reason for the policy change seems twofold. First, it takes pressure off its superb but normally crowded Al Mourjan business class lounge. Second, it generates a bit of income from a grossly underutilized resource while the airline struggles with a boycott by some of its Gulf neighbors.
When I visited in May 2019 Qatar charged 250 QAR (about $69)! The full review is here. Buying access if you can is a no brainer at that price. Later Qatar raised the cost to close to $175 per person for up to six hours. Qatar’s website currently requires entering a booking reference to see the admission price. Even if it is still around $175, depending on the length of stay, that can still be a good deal considering the excellent a la carte restaurant with $200 bottles of wine.
Al Safwa First Lounge
A good airline lounge in an international airport must have at a minimum comfortable seating, bathrooms, showers, WiFi, reading materials, a business center, food, beverages including alcohol, and agents who can handle airline issues. All of the first class lounges I visited last year meet and exceed those requirements with elegance and style. Al Safwa sets standards that are almost ridiculous. The photos below provide an idea of how over the top this lounge is.
Al Safwa has the look and feel of a museum. In fact, the look is inspired by I. M. Pei’s design for the Doha Museum of Islamic Art which loans artifacts for display in the lounge.
I saw only three or four other guests. Staff outnumber guests by a wide margin. They seem more like docents than wait staff.
Passengers are usually on the Seafood Diet — that is see food and eat it 🙂 Even though on most international flights a meal service is the first order of business after takeoff, airport lounges go out of their way to meet our expectations for being fed. The restaurant seats 250. I doubt there are ever more than a handful here at once.
My layover was only two hours. I ordered just an omelet and apple juice to have as much time as possible to explore the lounge.
Security is handled at the gate at DOH. Al Safwa guests have a private security area and direct access to most gates without entering the terminal.
Private rest areas are the size of a hotel suite.
Al Safwa is truly one of the best airline lounges in the world. It is mind boggling that Qatar was only charging $69 for access, but I feel very fortunate to have been able to take advantage of the offer. The level of luxury is above what I’m used to. In fact I felt like I was crashing the party. How much would you pay to access the Al Safwa lounge for a few hours?