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Published on: May 20, 2021, 1:30 p.m.
Qatar Airways flies back to safety
  • Qatar Airways is the first global carrier to operate Honeywell’s Ultraviolet (UV) Cabin System version 2.0, advancing its hygiene measures on board

By Suman Tarafdar

Qatar Airways has of late been in the news in India for shipping medical aid and equipment to the country free of charge from global suppliers. Its ‘air bubble’ arrangement continues to see it flying from a number of Indian cities. However, as much of the rest of the world is opening up, Qatar Airways is taking steps to expand its global network, notable at a time when IATA expects net airline industry losses of $47.7 billion in 2021.

By the middle of summer 2021, Qatar Airways plans to rebuild its network to more than 140 destinations including 23 in Africa, 14 in the Americas, 43 in Asia-Pacific, 43 in Europe and 19 in Middle East. “By continuing to fly throughout the pandemic, we have been able to build brand loyalty by offering our passengers the flexibility they need to suit their travel plans,” says Karthik Viswanathan, regional manager, Indian subcontinent, Qatar Airways. 

The airline continues to expand its network of destinations, offering more flights to international destinations than any other airline, Viswanathan points out. A WSJ report in April said Qatar Airways ‘had eclipsed Emirates as the world’s biggest long-haul carrier – for now’.

 India plans: still uncertain 

Viswanathan says the airline has plans in the pipeline for when scheduled flights restart to India, but says “it is far too early to discuss them as they will be heavily influenced by the travel trends at that time, consumer behaviour, airports and health protocols”.

Incidentally, reacting to reports that India could be looking at renegotiating bilateral foreign flying rights, Qatar Airways’ group CEO Akbar Al Baker in a recent interview said India should refrain from renegotiating bilateral foreign flying rights as this would be a violation of international regulations, and would also restrict the growth of the country’s aviation sector.  

In India, Qatar Airways currently operates return flights to Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Kozhikode, Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram. 

In April, the airline had announced its intention to transport 300 tonnes of aid cargo shipment to India, including PPE equipment, oxygen canisters, and other essential medical items, which was delivered via three of the airline’s Cargo Boeing 777 freighters on 3 May.

To its credit, Qatar Airways has been proactive in tackling the Covid-19 situation. “We repatriated people – when other airlines left their passengers stranded, we were there,” Al Baker recently said, pointing out that the airline was “very agile, resilient and business-focused”.

The airline became the first airline in the Middle East to trial the new health passports, offering a safer, secure and contactless experience for travellers, partnering with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on the IATA Travel Pass. In January, the airline became the first airline to achieve the 5-Star Covid-19 Airline Safety Rating by international air transport rating organisation, Skytrax. On 6 April, Qatar Airways operated the world’s first fully vaccinated flight, an indicator, perhaps, of the future of air travel.

“The sudden lockdown and market changes have impacted people and businesses all around the world, and we did face a unique set of challenges resulting from a more restrictive travel environment and subdued demand,” stresses Viswanathan. “In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the extraordinary circumstances, airlines needed to show resilience and adapt to the fast-evolving situation. Gaining the confidence of our customers was a task in itself and we had to stringently implement the most advanced safety and hygiene measures. The pandemic has accelerated the integration of contactless operations and digital transformation, which has been a key learning for us. Safety and hygiene have truly become pivotal. Customer preference has evolved and they are now more aware.”

  • Viswanathan: building brand loyalty

    Viswanathan: building brand loyalty

Hygiene and safety standards 

To all passengers, the airline offers protective kits including face shields, while large bottles of hand-sanitisers are placed in the galleys, and are available for both cabin crew and passengers. The cabin crew has been trained on how to minimise the chances of contracting or spreading the infection. They are thermally screened before the departure of flights and after their arrival, are quarantined and tested if any colleagues or passengers on a flight show any symptoms of infection or test positive for the virus. 

Additionally, Qatar Airways has received the ‘Diamond Standard in the global APEX Health Safety’ powered by SimpliFlying Covid-19 audit, which is the highest level attainable, following a meticulous assessment of the airline’s robust Covid-19 hygiene and safety standards.

Even entertainment has been made ‘safer’. Qatar Airways is also the first global airline to offer passengers 100 per cent Zero-Touch technology for its Oryx One in-flight entertainment system across the A350 fleet as part of the airline’s latest Covid-19 safety measures. The technology, introduced in partnership with the Thales AVANT IFE system, enables A350 passengers to pair their personal electronic devices (PEDs) with their seat-back IFE screen by connecting to ‘Oryx comms’ 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. 

“Qatar Airways is also set to become the first airline in Europe and the Middle East and North Africa region to offer passengers in Business and Economy the option to pair their Bluetooth headphones with the on-board seatback IFE system in all cabins on the Boeing 787-9 fleet,” adds Viswanathan.

Yes, flying may still have residual fears for many passengers; maybe success will inspire confidence. Independent data from OAG, the world’s leading provider of digital flight information, intelligence and analytics, reaffirmed that in March, Qatar Airways had emerged as the largest airline in the world in terms of Available Seat Kilometres (ASK), offering more global connectivity to its passengers than any other airline. There is increasing acknowledgment of the airline consistently leading the recovery of the aviation industry. When that benefit accrues to the badly impacted Indian aviation industry remains to be seen. 

  • With major presence in global football, Qatar Airways is a partner of the UEFA EURO 2021

    With major presence in global football, Qatar Airways is a partner of the UEFA EURO 2021

The football route to winning fans

For now, the words Qatar and football seem to be intertwined. As Qatar prepares for the FIFA World Cup to be held in Qatar in 2022, Qatar Airways’ association with football is well placed to align with the nation’s goals. Qatar Airways’ global football sponsorship portfolio includes Paris St Germain, AS Roma, Boca Juniors, FC Bayern München, KAS Eupen, Club Africain and Al Sadd SC.  

The airline is partnering with EURO 2020 for the 16th edition of the flagship UEFA Championship. “As the official airline of the tournament that is set to take place from 11 June to 11 July 2021, we strongly believe in sports playing a key role in connecting people,” says Karthik Viswanathan, Regional Manager, Indian subcontinent, Qatar Airways. 

“Sports plays an imperative role in bridging the gap and reuniting people, both physically and virtually and this is also the commitment of Qatar Airways – to reunite and provide the best services to our passengers,” elaborates Viswanathan. “Our extensive presence in football is an example of our goal to do things together and encourage passengers to take journeys that can be cherished forever. The power of sport to unite people is unrivalled, and this partnership is an excellent opportunity for us to witness the very best in European football. We are proud to be a catalyst in this journey. Additionally, the Qatar Airways brand will feature prominently across all digital platforms and stadiums set to host the 51 matches during the course of the summer tournament.”

The flagship championship will see the 24-team tournament played across 12 host cities including Amsterdam, Baku, Bilbao, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome and St Petersburg. Qatar Airways will serve all the host cities either directly or through airline partners. 

Qatar’s readiness to host the World Cup is evident all around us, points out Viswanathan. “As the official partner and the official airline of FIFA, we will also be heavily involved in the event. We will be activating the partnership on-ground across stadiums and fan zones in Qatar, ensuring we provide interactive and family-friendly activities for all fans.”

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