MUSCAT: Bennet Stephens, Qatar Airways' Vice President Sales for Gulf, Middle East, Levant and Caucasus region talks about the safety and hygiene measures the airlines has implemented during the COVID-19 crisis, its enhanced connectivity to key global destinations and much more.
What is the current schedule of Qatar Airways from Oman, and do you have any plans for increasing the number of flights?
Qatar Airways has resumed its services to Oman with two weekly flights from Muscat and another two weekly flights in codeshare with Oman Air. The first service touched down at Muscat International Airport on October 1, 2020.
The national carrier of Qatar has been flying to Oman since 2000, when it first began direct services to the Omani capital, Muscat. A codeshare agreement between Qatar Airways and Oman Air allows passengers from Oman to benefit from more options and enhanced connectivity to the most popular global destinations via Hamad International Airport.
How many cities/places Qatar Airways is connecting from Muscat via Doha, and are you connecting flights to the US and Europe?
Qatar Airways’ services to Oman provide a seamless connection from Oman to the US, Europe, Africa, and Levant regions. Passengers travelling from Muscat can now enjoy enhanced connectivity to many key global destinations across the airline’s expanding network including London, New York, Houston and Montreal via our award-winning hub, Hamad International Airport.
What types of safety and hygiene measures have you implemented? Tell us more about the UV cabin cleaning technology?
As one of the largest and most experienced global airlines throughout the COVID-19 crisis, travellers can rely on Qatar Airways to take them on your next journey safely. 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 is capable of inactivating various viruses and bacteria when properly applied.
Qatar Airways further increased its health and safety measures on board 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.
Face shields are distributed to the passengers at the airport to be worn when boarding and disembarking. Economy Class passengers are required to wear them on board, except when eating or drinking. Business Class passengers are asked to wear them at their discretion. For aircraft equipped with Qsuite, Qatar Airways’ award-winning business seat, Business Class customers are offered even greater privacy with sliding partitions and fully closing doors, and an option to display a ‘Do Not Disturb (DND)’ indicator if they wish to limit their interactions with cabin crew.
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.
Qatar Airways’ aircraft are regularly disinfected using cleaning products recommended by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Its aircraft feature the most advanced air filtration systems, equipped with industrial-size HEPA filters that remove 99.97 per cent of viral and bacterial contaminants from re-circulated air, providing the most effective protection against infection.
The linen and blankets offered onboard to 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.
In addition, HIA has implemented stringent cleaning procedures and applied social distancing measures throughout its terminals. All passenger touchpoints are sanitised 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.
How Qatar Airways is recovering from the COVID-induced downturn, and how many destinations are you planning to be flying to by the end of the year?
By the end of 2020, Qatar Airways plans to expand its network to more than 125 destinations including 20 in Africa, 11 in the Americas, 41 in Asia-Pacific, 38 in Europe and 15 in the Middle East. Many cities will be served with a strong schedule with daily or more frequencies. 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 has 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.
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.
How many cities Qatar Airways plans to connect by the end of 2020?
As indicated earlier, the expansion of the network to more than 125 destinations by the end of 2020 will include the following cities:
Accra (ACC), Addis Ababa (ADD), Algiers (ALG), Cape Town (CPT), Casablanca (CMN), Dar Es Salaam (DAR), Djibouti (JIB), Durban (DUR), Entebbe (EBB), Johannesburg (JNB), Kigali (KGL), Kilimanjaro (JRO), Lagos (LOS), Luanda (LAD), Maputo (MPM), Mogadishu (MGQ), Nairobi (NBO), Seychelles (SEZ), Tunis (TUN), Zanzibar (ZNZ)
Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Montreal (YUL), New York (JFK), Philadelphia (PHL), San Francisco (SFO), Sao Paulo (GRU), Washington D.C. (IAD)
Ahmedabad (AMD), Adelaide (ADL), Amritsar (ATQ), Auckland (AKL), Bangalore (BLR), Bangkok (BKK), Brisbane (BNE), Calicut (CCJ), Cebu (CEB), Chennai (MAA), Clark (CRK), Colombo (CMB), Dhaka (DAC), Guangzhou (CAN), Hanoi (HAN), Hong Kong (HKG), Ho Chi Minh City (SGN), Goa (GOI), Hyderabad (HYD), Islamabad (ISB), Jakarta (CGK), Karachi (KHI), Kathmandu (KTM), Kochi (COK), Kolkata (CCU), Kuala Lumpur (KUL), Lahore (LHE), Male (MLE), Manila (MNL), Melbourne (MEL), Mumbai (BOM), Nagpur (NAG), New Delhi (DEL), Perth (PER), Peshawar (PEW), Phuket (HKT), Seoul (ICN), Singapore (SIN), Sydney (SYD), Tokyo Narita (NRT), Trivandrum (TRV)
Amsterdam (AMS), Ankara (ESB), Athens (ATH), Baku (GYD), Barcelona (BCN), Belgrade (BEG), Berlin (BER/TXL), Brussels (BRU), Bucharest (OTP), Budapest (BUD), Copenhagen (CPH), Dublin (DUB), Edinburgh (EDI), Frankfurt (FRA), Helsinki (HEL), Istanbul (IST), Istanbul Sabiha (SAW), Kiev (KBP), Larnaca (LCA), London (LHR), London (LGW), Madrid (MAD), Manchester (MAN), Milan (MXP), Moscow (DME), Munich (MUC), Oslo (OSL), Paris (CDG), Prague (PRG), Rome (FCO), Sofia (SOF), Stockholm (ARN), Tbilisi (TBS), Vienna (VIE), Warsaw (WAW), Yerevan (EVN), Zagreb (ZAG), Zurich (ZRH)
Amman (AMM), Baghdad (BGW), Basra (BSR), Beirut (BEY), Erbil (EBL), Isfahan (IFN), Kuwait (KWI), Mashhad (MHD), Muscat (MCT), Najaf (NJF), Shiraz (SYZ), Sulaymaniyah (ISU), Tehran (IKA)
What are the policies and strategies that Qatar Airways implemented to support passengers throughout the challenging period?
At the onset of the current global situation, Qatar Airways focused on being agile, 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, as we continued to ensure the safest and most reliable experience for our passengers and resume flights to more destinations over the coming period.
To provide peace of mind when booking travel, Qatar Airways has extended its commitment to offering passengers flexible booking options, now available for all tickets issued before December 31. If passengers need to change their travel plans, they can hold their ticket value for two years, benefit from unlimited date changes, or exchange their ticket for a future travel voucher with 10 per cent extra value. If passengers have had their travel plans impacted by factors outside their control, they can change their destination – within the same continental region for Qatar Airways Privilege Club members or within the same country or a 500-mile radius for non-members, swap their ticket for Qmiles, or refund their ticket with no fees applied.
Qatar Airways has paid out over $1.4 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.
In the context of unprecedented numbers of refund requests as airlines and passengers navigate entry restrictions imposed by countries around the world to limit the spread of COVID-19, Qatar Airways has worked hard to process almost all refunds requested since March 2020 (96%). The airline is now processing all new refunds back to the original form of payment in less than 30 days.
QR has been quite resilient during these times and has repatriated a large number of people. What measures were taken to ensure that the airline continued to lead the recovery of the industry?
Qatar Airways continues to lead the recovery of International travel. Since the onset of the pandemic, while many airlines suspended their operations, Qatar Airways’ network has never fallen below 30 destinations with continuous services to five continents.
Qatar Airways operations are not dependent on any specific aircraft type. Due to COVID-19’s impact on travel demand, the airline has decided to ground its fleet of Airbus A380s as it is not commercially or environmentally justifiable to operate such a large aircraft in the current market. The airline’s fleet of 52 Airbus A350 and 30 Boeing 787 are the ideal choices for the most strategically important long-haul routes to Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific regions.
According to the latest IATA data, Qatar Airways has become the largest international carrier between April to July by fulfilling its mission of taking people home. This enabled the airline to accumulate unmatched experience in carrying passengers safely and reliably and uniquely positioned the airline to effectively rebuild its network. The carrier has stringently implemented the most advanced safety and hygiene measures onboard its aircraft and in Hamad International Airport.
Qatar Airways flew over 33 billion revenue passenger kilometres taking home over 2.3 million passengers on over 37,000 flights. The airline has also operated more than 400 charter flights across the world enabling it to stay up to date with the latest airport and national health procedures and maintain a finger on the pulse of global passenger flows, in particular in markets where it does not operate regularly scheduled flights.
What is your forecast for the winter travel period – do you expect to see an increase in travel?
While no airline can predict how the market will recover or future travel trends, our unrivalled experience accumulated by becoming the largest international carrier during this crisis uniquely positions us to provide the best flexible travel options to more global destinations than any other airline.
Tell us about your teachers’ campaign – what is the idea behind it? Are you working on other CSR initiatives?
On the occasion of World Teacher’s Day, Qatar Airways gave away 21,000 complimentary tickets to teachers to thank them for their vital work in educating young people worldwide during the challenges brought by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Teaching professionals from over 75 countries in which Qatar Airways currently operates were eligible for tickets. Teachers received one Economy Class return ticket to anywhere on Qatar Airways’ current network of more than100 destinations worldwide. Additionally, they received a voucher for 50 per cent off one future return ticket that they can use for themselves, a family member or a friend.
Last May, Qatar Airways also gave away 100,000 free tickets to frontline healthcare professionals worldwide as a way of thanking them for their work during the Covid-19 crisis.
Healthcare professionals from every country in the world were eligible for tickets. To ensure the application process is fair and transparent, each country received a daily allocation of tickets depending on its population size.
Healthcare professionals that received the promotion code were able to book up to two complimentary economy class return tickets on Qatar Airways operated flights – one for themselves and one for someone else – to anywhere on the airline’s global network. The tickets were fully flexible with an unlimited number of destination or date changes allowed without any fees. Fare and surcharges were waived on tickets, airport taxes apply.
Healthcare professionals also received a voucher with a 35 per cent discount to redeem at Qatar Duty Free retail outlets at Hamad International Airport (HIA) in Doha valid for use up to December 31 this year.
Furthermore, Qatar Airways, in cooperation with Qatar Charity (QC) and Ali Bin Ali Holding's Monoprix Qatar, launched an initiative through which citizens and residents of Qatar could donate essential supplies for the Lebanese people after the explosion that occurred in Beirut, and to Sudan in the wake of the devastating floods that swept the country.
The essential supplies, amounting to more than 200 tons of donations, were transported free of charge from Doha to Beirut and Khartoum by 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.
Do you have any sustainability-related policies, and how are you implementing them?
Qatar Airways Group has a strong record of industry leadership on sustainable operations. We take our responsibilities to care for the environment seriously and sustainability is at the forefront of our business planning across the group, this is why we have an average fleet age of less than five years, one of the youngest in the world.
Qatar Airways was the first airline in the Middle East to secure accreditation to the highest level in the IATA Environmental Assessment Programme. While its home and hub, Hamad International Airport, will be the first airport in the region to achieve a 4-star Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) rating as part of plans to expand its capacity to more than 53 million passengers annually by 2022.
Qatar Airways is one of the few global airlines to have never stopped flying throughout this crisis. The airline’s mix of modern fuel-efficient aircraft helped it to develop a sustainable and adapted solution, allowing it to continue flying routes with less overall demand as it has a variety of aircraft it can select from to offer the right capacity in each market. Due to COVID-19’s impact on travel demand, the airline has decided to ground its fleet of Airbus A380s as it is not commercially or environmentally justifiable to operate such a large aircraft in the current market.
Environmentally conscious passengers can travel with the reassurance that Qatar Airways continuously monitors the market to assess both passenger and cargo demand to ensure it operates the most efficient aircraft on each route. Finding the right balance between passenger and cargo demand has enabled the airline to continue operating its full fleet of Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 aircraft, helping take people home safely and providing reliable airfreight capacity to support global trade and the transport of essential medical and aid supplies.
While Qatar Airways has remained focused on its fundamental mission of taking people home and transporting essential aid to impacted regions, the airline has not forgotten its environmental responsibilities.
The airline’s internal benchmark compared the A380 to the A350 on routes from Doha to London, Guangzhou, Frankfurt, Paris, Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto and New York. On a typical one-way flight, the airline found the A350 aircraft saved a minimum of 16 tonnes of carbon dioxide per block hour compared to the A380. The analysis found that the A380 emitted over 80% more CO2 per block hour than the A350 on each of these routes. In the cases of Melbourne, New York and Toronto the A380 emitted 95% more CO2 per block hour with the A350 saving around 20 tonnes of CO2 per block hour.
Until passenger demand recovers to appropriate levels, Qatar Airways will continue to keep its A380 aircraft grounded, ensuring it only operates commercially and environmentally responsible aircraft.
Qatar Airways’ focus on sustainability also extends to its home and hub, Hamad International Airport (HIA), which was recently voted ‘Third Best Airport in the World’ and ‘Best Airport in the Middle East’ for the sixth year in a row. It recently announced plans to expand capacity to more than 53 million passengers annually by 2022, further positioning itself as the airport of choice in the region for savvy international travellers.
The terminal building will be the first airport in the MENA region to achieve a 4-star Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) rating, which was developed for rating green buildings and infrastructures. The terminal will also be a LEED Silver certified building, featuring a number of innovative energy efficiency measures.