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Words cannot even fathom the veracity of how the coronavirus pandemic decimated the airline industry. The lockdowns and stay-at-home restrictions seem to have brought the airlines into obsolescence.
Some airlines were left with no choice but to raise the white flag; they either went bankrupt or sought a bailout from the government. However, here is a story of an airline that embraced the change and immediately adapted to the “new normal” while keeping the mission of “connecting families” at its core.
Travel Daily had a chat with Bennet Stephens, Vice President Sales for Gulf, Middle East, Levant and Caucasus region about the measures Qatar Airways took on the height of the health crisis.
With his more than three decades of aviation experience, Stephens served as Regional Manager for various airlines such as Malaysia Airlines, Oman Air, and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Prior to his current role of VP of Sales for the Gulf, Middle East, Levant and Caucasus region, he was head of the Africa Region in Qatar Airways.
Travel Daily (TD): During a time that airlines are shutting down routes, why is Qatar Airways adamant in opening/adding routes and regions?
Bennet Stephens (BS): Our focus throughout the rebuild of our network is not only on restarting destinations but also operating as many frequencies as possible to provide our passengers with the flexibility to travel when they want. Furthermore, Qatar Airways continues to launch new destinations during the pandemic.
Recently, the airline introduced flights to Seattle (SEA). Seattle is the seventh new destination (Abuja, Accra, Cebu, San Francisco, Seattle, Luanda and Botswana. Seattle is the second in the US to be added by Qatar Airways since the start of the pandemic. Seattle also marks the airline’s eleventh US gateway, surpassing the number of destinations it operated in the US pre-COVID-19.
Our focus throughout the rebuild of our network is not only on restarting destinations but also operating as many frequencies as possible.
Kicking off 2021 by expanding its West Coast footprint comes as the airline continues rapidly rebuilding – and expanding its network across the globe. This also includes the recent expansion of its Africa network with an increase of frequencies to Cape Town, Casablanca, Durban, Johannesburg, Maputo, and Tunis.
Qatar Airways’ expansion comes as part of its efforts to allow passengers to enjoy seamless connections via the Best Airport in the Middle East, Hamad International airport with the widest network of destinations in Africa, Asia-Pacific, South Asia, and the Middle East.
QR expanding network
As a leading global connector, Qatar Airways currently operates to more than 130 destinations across the globe. By the end of March 2021, Qatar Airways plans to rebuild its network to over 130 destinations. Many cities will be served with a strong schedule with daily or more frequencies.
Many cities will be served with daily or more frequencies of flights to the destination. As the airline’s network rebuild continues, it will remain focused on providing seamless, safe, and reliable connectivity to its millions of passengers and ensuring the airline continues to earn the trust of passengers every time they choose to fly with Qatar Airways.
The airline’s strategic investment in a variety of fuel-efficient twin-engine aircraft has enabled it to continue flying, perfectly positioning the carrier to lead the sustainable recovery of international travel, and giving the airline the flexibility to maintain and rebuild its network sustainably by operating the right-sized aircraft to offer reliable capacity in each market.
More people rely on Qatar Airways for international travel than any other airline during this crisis as we continue to ensure the safest and most reliable experience for our passengers and resume flights to more destinations over the coming period.
Looking ahead, the airline’s resilience and commitment to providing connectivity have also seen it launch several new destinations since the start of the pandemic in addition to the resumptions of its services to a number of destinations.
Investing in customer experience
Additionally, Qatar Airways’ Business Class passengers on aircraft equipped with Qsuite can enjoy the enhanced privacy this award-winning business seat provides, including sliding doors and the option to use a ‘Do Not Disturb (DND)’ indicator. Qsuite is available on flights to more than 45 destinations including Frankfurt, Kuala Lumpur, London, and New York.
Furthermore, Qatar Airways’ Privilege Club will extend its valued members’ tier status in recognition that travel plans continue to be impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative will extend members’ tier status until 31 December 2021 and applies to our Silver, Gold and Platinum members whose tier is due to end this year and have not earned enough Qpoints to retain it.
This announcement also follows recent news that Qatar Airways will offer all passengers unlimited date changes and free refunds for tickets issued before 30 April 2021 for travel completed by 31 December 2021. Privilege Club members can therefore benefit from flexible booking policies that will allow them to change their plans with ease if they need to while retaining their current, hard-earned tier status and enjoying the unique benefits associated with it.
TD: In the time when most airlines (even the biggest airlines) are struggling, what is Qatar Airways doing differently to secure and diversify its business?
BS: At the onset on the current global situation, Qatar Airways focused on being flexible and bringing in customer-centric policies and procedures. As more and more people relied on Qatar Airways for international travel than any other airline during this crisis, we continued to ensure the safest and most reliable experience for our passengers and resume flights to more destinations over the coming period.
Qatar Airways focused on being flexible and bringing in customer-centric policies and procedures.
The airline’s strategic investment in a variety of fuel-efficient twin-engine aircraft has enabled it to continue flying, perfectly positioning the carrier to lead the sustainable recovery of international travel and giving the airline the flexibility to maintain and rebuild its network by operating the right-sized aircraft to offer reliable capacity in each market.
Qatar Airways has paid out over USD1.6 billion in refunds to almost 600,000 passengers since March, demonstrating its commitment to honouring its obligations to passengers who need to change their plans due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global travel.
TD: With health and safety are paramount in flying nowadays, how Qatar Airways ensure safety onboard?
BS: As one of the largest and most experienced global airlines continuing to fly throughout the COVID-19 crisis, travellers can rely on Qatar Airways to take them to their next journey safely ensuring that our safety and hygiene measures are of the highest standard, with new health and safety compliant procedures implemented throughout the customers’ journey, from check-in through to arrival at their destination.
Travellers can rely on Qatar Airways to take them to their next journey safely.
Award-winning airline when it comes to safety
Qatar Airways has become the first global airline in the world to achieve the prestigious 5-Star COVID-19 Airline Safety Rating by the International air transport rating organisation, Skytrax. This follows Hamad International airport’s recent success as the first airport in the Middle East and Asia to be awarded a Skytrax 5-Star COVID-19 Airport Safety Rating. This recognition provides assurance to passengers across the world that the airline’s health and safety standards are subject to the highest possible standards of professional, independent scrutiny and assessment.
Qatar Airways is also proud to have achieved Diamond Standard in the Airline Passenger Experience Association’s (APEX) Health Safety Powered by SimpliFlying audit. The ‘Diamond Standard’ status, which is the highest level attainable, was announced by APEX and global aviation marketing consultancy, SimpliFlying, following a meticulous assessment of the airline’s robust COVID-19 hygiene and safety standards.
Furthermore, Qatar Airways has recently become the first global airline to offer passengers 100% Zero-Touch technology for its award-winning Oryx One in-flight entertainment system across the A350 fleet as part of the airline’s latest COVID-19 safety measures. The Zero-Touch technology, introduced in partnership with the Thales AVANT IFE system, will enable A350 passengers to pair their personal electronic devices (PEDs) with their seat-back IFE screen by connecting to ‘Oryxcomms’ Wi-Fi and simply scanning a QR code displayed on the screen. They can then use their PEDs to navigate and enjoy more than 4,000 options on offer through the airline’s award-winning Oryx One in-flight entertainment system, limiting the frequency of on board surface contact and providing greater peace of mind throughout the duration of their journey.
Be protected from check-in to arrival
We continue to ensure that our safety and hygiene measures are of the highest standard, with new health and safety compliant procedures implemented throughout the customers’ journey, from check in to arrival at their destination.
Qatar Airways became the first global carrier to operate Honeywell’s Ultraviolet (UV) Cabin System, further advancing its hygiene measures onboard. In clinical tests, UV light has been shown to be capable of inactivating various viruses and bacteria when properly applied.
Qatar Airways further increased its health and safety measures onboard by introducing new personal protective equipment (PPE) for customers and cabin crew. The cabin crew wear a disposable protective gown which is worn over their uniforms, in addition to safety glasses, gloves and a mask.
Onboard, all Qatar Airways passengers are provided with a complimentary protective kit. Inside a Ziplock pouch, a single-use face mask, large disposable powder-free gloves, and an alcohol-based hand sanitiser gel are offered.
Parents flying with children over two years of age are requested to advise them to keep wearing their PPE throughout the journey.
Business Class meals are served covered on a tray instead of a table set up, and a cutlery wrap is offered to passengers as an alternative to individual cutlery service, to minimise contact between crew and passengers. Qatar Airways has also introduced single-use menu cards and sealed refreshing wipes. Economy Class meals and cutlery are served sealed as usual, and menu cards have been temporarily discontinued. All social areas onboard the aircraft have been closed adhering to social distancing measures.
In addition, HIA has implemented stringent cleaning procedures and applied social distancing measures throughout its terminals. All passenger touchpoints are sanitized every 10-15 minutes and every boarding gate and bus gate counter is cleaned after each flight. In addition, hand sanitisers are provided at immigration and security screening points. HIA has also introduced UV-C disinfectant robots which are fully autonomous mobile devices emitting concentrated UV-C light and are deployed in high passenger flow areas to reduce the spread of pathogens. All arrivals and departures passengers will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Advanced thermal screening helmets are also used, equipped with infrared thermal imaging and artificial intelligence.
Safety measure even when you’re not looking
Qatar Airways’ aircraft are regularly disinfected using cleaning products recommended by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Its aircraft feature the most advanced air filtration systems, equipped with industrial-size HEPA filters that remove 99.97% of viral and bacterial contaminants from re-circulated air, providing the most effective protection against infection.
The linen and blankets offered onboard continue to be washed, dried, and pressed at microbial lethal temperatures, while its headsets are rigorously sanitised after each flight. These items are then sealed into individual packaging by staff wearing hygienic disposable gloves.
Cabin crew have received training on how to minimise their chances of contracting or spreading the infection, are thermally screened before the departure of flights and after their arrival and are quarantined and tested if any colleagues or passengers on a flight shows any symptoms of infection or test positive for the virus.
Qatar Airways targets becoming the first airline in the Middle East to begin trialling the innovative new IATA Travel Pass ‘Digital Passport’ mobile app, in partnership with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), from Mid-March 2021. The trial will play an important role in the airline’s vision to have a more contactless, secure and seamless travel experience for its passengers.
The first phase of trials of the ‘Digital Passport’ will be rolled out on the airline’s Doha to Istanbul route, enabling passengers to receive COVID-19 test results and verify they are eligible to undertake their journey. It will also allow travellers to safely and securely share their verified ‘OK to Travel’ status with the airline and other stakeholders, even before their arrival at the airport.
IATA Travel Pass will also provide up-to-date information on COVID-19 health regulations helping travellers to ensure they meet the latest government entry requirements of their destination country.
TD: How Qatar Cargo became instrumental in transporting medical supplies during the height of the pandemic?
BS: As part of our corporate social responsibility efforts, this year our focus has been on COVID-19 relief as well as emergency aid.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Qatar Airways Cargo sent five freighters to China carrying approximately 300 tonnes of medical supplies donated by the airline to support coronavirus relief efforts.
As part of our corporate social responsibility efforts, this year our focus has been on COVID-19 relief as well as emergency aid.
To support the people of Lebanon and Sudan following tragic disasters, Qatar Airways partnered with Qatar Charity and Monoprix Qatar – a member of Ali Bin Ali Holding – to deliver an aid programme that enabled citizens and residents of Qatar to donate almost 200 tonnes of food and other essential supplies and transport them on Qatar Airways Cargo.
Over the past few months, the cargo carrier has worked closely with governments and NGOs to transport over 250,000 tonnes of medical and aid supplies to impacted regions around the world on both scheduled and charter services. This equates to roughly 2,500 fully loaded Boeing 777 freighters.
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