Monday, August 31, 2009

Losing Faith in my Favorite Airline

Qatar. I have a ticket to take a trip to the States. Because I want to make sure that I am not served chicken, beef or lamb for any of my meals, I request "vegetarian" meals. It is a long flight from Doha to Washington - 13 hours - you need to eat on the plane at some point. I do, anyway.

In Qatar's classification system, there are several different types of "vegetarian" meals available to choose from. Vegetarian Asian: free of meat, poultry, fish or shellfish. Vegetarian Lacto-ovo: free of meat, poultry, fish or shellfish. And, Vegetarian Non-Dairy: free of meat, poultry, fish, milk-dairy products [cheese, eggs, or honey]. Interestingly enough if I choose Vegetarian - any of the above - I get served the exact same thing every time I fly with Qatar. I am not really complaining [yeah, okay, so I am always complaining], because the egg-plant dish they serve is quite tasty. However, with the "vegetarian" status I don't get real butter or any of the good seafood items that are often available - like lobster bisque, or shrimp cocktail. I do eat seafood and shellfish. I just don't eat any poultry, beef or lamb. I will eat an occasional piece of pork though. [Qatar has never had a single pork item offered on its menu and I don't anticipate that they ever will, given that they are a middle-eastern company where most people practice a religion where eating pork is "haram," or very bad. Of course, drinking alcohol is supposed to be as "haram" as eating pork, but that doesn't seem to stop them from drinking.]

So, anyway, I sent the following e-mail to Qatar Airways Privilege Club - the mileage program - where I have Gold Card status:

"I would very much appreciate it if you could remove "vegetarian meal" status from my upcoming ticket [number provided]. I have changed my preferences to reflect seafood meal. The preferences for vegetarian do not include one to specifically say "no beef, no poultry" which are the foods I do not eat. [Somehow I always receive a non-dairy meal with this vegetarian choice and I DO eat dairy products.]"

This is the e-mail I got in response:

"Thank you for your email.

We wish to inform you that your meal preference is updated in your profile. Kindly contact your nearest Qatar Airways office to update the same in your Booking Reference (PNR)."

Joke. Has to be a joke. It is Ramadan. And you want me to try to find someone at the nearest Qatar Airways office that is actually working? Ha! There are six men that work there - I've spent several hours at a time there in the past getting our tickets to Greece and Turkey - and only one or two of them actually do any real work when it isn't Ramadan.

I responded with this e-mail:

"Is this not something you can do for me? I live in Saudi Arabia. It isn't like I can just jump in my car and drive downtown to the office, myself. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia and ex-pat women are not allowed to contract their own drivers. [And by the way - going to the office in Khobar is a joke. One man working and four sitting around playing on their mobile phones.] I have sent you the reference number and do not understand why you cannot access a computer to change this for me. I would not have bothered to contact the "Privilege Club Team" if I didn't think that I could get some assistance. I would like a manager to contact me, please. My telephone number is 555-5555. Thank you."

No response so far. We'll see. Chances are really really good that I will be eating another non-dairy meal and served egg-plant, again, on my upcoming flight to the States. Honestly, if I didn't like this particular flight - it cuts off about six hours, if not more, of travel time, as it goes direct from Doha [Qatar] to either Washington, D.C., New York City, or Houston - then I would probably be looking into another airline. I will say, however, that not only does this particular route cut quite a bit of time off the total travel time for me, but that with all but one exception the service Qatar provides, in-flight, has been impeccible! I'll update this post with their response to my e-mail once I receive it.


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  2. I had pretty much the same experience with NWA. I'm not a complete vegetarian, but I request the vegetarian option anyway because I want to avoid being served something gross. (I can't stand pork or beef and for some reason it's ALWAYS pork or beef...)

    I have gotten the same exact meal every time--some kind of gnocchi in red sauce with beans in it. It is completely vegan, and also halal (and comes marked as such when I get it)

    What these airlines do is have one 'catch-all' meal which is safe to serve to anyone who checks off one of the special meal options, so that way they don't have to think about making up many different options--or worry that they've brought the wrong option for the wrong person. Check off anything on the 'special list,' and it's vegan gnocchi for you. Qatar probably does things the same way.

    Also, for the record, airline vegan chocolate cake is disgusting. I would say it's like eating packing foam, but that would be an insult to the packing foam. I ended up whining some real dessert off the flight attendants.


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