It feels like years ago at this point, but in the days before “social distancing” entered the global lexicon — just over a month ago — I went on vacation.
It was early March, as the coronavirus outbreak was spreading and getting worse, but before we knew anything that we know today. It was before the virus was running rampant through New York and the US at large — or at least, before hospitals began seeing a surge and before testing was available enough to confirm the spread. At the time, we thought nothing of concepts like flattening the curve and social distancing.
My wife and I had been planning a huge vacation to South Africa for more than a year. Even though travel is one of the most important things to both of us, and we’re lucky to have traveled a lot, this trip was going to be a special one, and a major item knocked off of our lifetime bucket lists.
So, based on what we knew at the time, we decided to leave for the trip, calculating a relatively low risk to us and others (again, this was before we knew what we know now). Part of our motivation was the fact that we’d invested a lot into the trip, compared to what we normally spend when traveling, it was nonrefundable, and since there were no travel bans and we were both healthy, our travel insurance would not cover anything if we canceled.
As part of the trip — really the impetus for it — we had booked our flights to and from South Africa in Qatar Airways’ business class using American Airlines miles. Qatar’s groundbreaking “QSuite” product has been widely acclaimed as the world’s best business class, and I was incredibly eager to try it.
Ultimately, we weren’t able to finish the two-week trip. After five days on the ground, the COVID-19 outbreak had dominated hearts and minds across the globe. The situation had gotten significantly worse in New York and the US, and so many airlines had canceled routes that we weren’t sure we’d be able to get home.
Then South African officials announced a new travel ban that included Americans. We had to get back to the states.
We booked an emergency flight home,and while we were disappointed we couldn’t finish our vacation, we’ve been working with our travel agent to get credits to use later for the parts we couldn’t enjoy. Now, we have a trip to look forward to once this pandemic is behind us.
I’ve been torn over filing a flight review while we’re all social distancing and none of us — aside from essential workers — can fly, even though the review is from a flight we took before this all began.
However, I decided that even while we stay distant from each other and watch the world as we know it change, possibly forever, it’s worth remembering what we have to look forward to when we emerge from this.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to fly with a ton of different airlines, in a ton of different seats and cabins, both for my job, and for fun. Based on my own past experiences, I can confidently say that Qatar’s business class is, indeed, unique, and deserving of the accolades it has received.
Here’s what it was like flying the world’s best business class on the Airbus A350-1000 from JFK in the days before the coronavirus outbreak reached pandemic proportions.