Last year, several airlines were forced to keep their aircraft on the ground amid the impact of the global health crisis. However, one carrier that kept flying across the continents was Qatar Airways. In an exclusive interview with Simple Flying, Group CEO Akbar Al Baker shared details of his company’s strategy following the rise of the pandemic.
Call of duty
Al Baker declares that his airline had the passenger in mind when implementing its strategy. Sadly, many members of the public couldn’t see immediate family members, were stuck away from their countries, or couldn’t make a living due to government restrictions imposed. Therefore, the operator felt that it was its responsibility to keep the public moving during the difficult time.
“Behind that strategy, quite frankly, is our passenger. We can never accept leaving our passengers stranded in such a trying time. It was our duty to make sure that we continue to fly and continue to keep our hub open in order to serve our asset, which is our passengers. Imagine if you are booked on airlines that you had confidence in and that they were your favorite airline that you had gold and silver membership cards with, and in March of last year, they abandoned you. You’re stranded far away from your homes,” Al Baker told Simple Flying.
“It was the duty of Qatar Airways to serve passengers of our airline and other airlines that abandoned them. Yes, we took a risk. We lost money. We gave $1.8 billion worth of refunds, without any question in a very quick manner, because we wanted people to know that Qatar Airways was there for them in good times and in bad times. And this is how we repatriated 3.1 million passengers.”
A new approach
With this strategy, tactics had to be implemented to ensure that operations run smoothly and safely. Ultimately, the carrier made sure that no risk was taken when it came to this aspect.
“First and foremost, we made sure that we placed a large PPE order for our crew. If you really saw our crew in the early days of the pandemic when people didn’t know what the effect of this virus was, we took the maximum precaution by giving them PPE that really look like spacesuits. It was very uncomfortable for them. But like I said, we always put the safety of our crew first when they are on a call of duty,” Al Baker added.
“And we also imposed very strict conditions on our passengers that they have to wear face masks, gloves, and sanitizers. All that was provided by the airline, and we were the first airline to also demand that people put on face shields. In the premium cabin, you’re already protected because we have the world-renowned seat, the Qsuite, which completely encloses you and gives you full privacy.”
Moreover, it’s important to note that millions of dollars were invested in high-tech solutions to increase health and safety on aircraft and at the airport. For instance, in the cabin, the airline started using Honeywell ultraviolet (UV) disinfecting systems to keep the interior clean. Then, on the ground, Hamad International Airport introduced disinfectant robots, which are fully autonomous mobile devices that eliminate the majority of harmful germs.
There have been transformations across the passenger journey. Contactless check-in and bag drops are now a mainstay at the airport. These processes reduce unnecessary touchpoints. Al Baker concludes that all these measures are in place for the protection of its passengers and staff members.
The repatriation efforts included bringing home 150,000 seafarers. These workers even had the Mariner Lounge dedicated to them. Across the spectrum, Qatar Airways covered great ground, even managing to expand in the process. Notably, in the United States, it has been building to now fly to 12 gateways in the country.
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The airline recognizes the importance of partnerships during these tough conditions. Thus, it made the most of its codeshares with the likes of American Airlines over the last year. It also welcomed the expansion of its agreement with JetBlue to bolster up its connections on the East Coast. Moreover, the firm has been highly vocal about the benefits of Alaska Airlines joining oneworld to further opportunities on the West Coast.
Finding a balance
Going forward, Qatar Airways has 150 destinations planned for this summer. The airline doesn’t guarantee that it will fill each plane, but it believes it’s important to continue keeping passengers connected. To try and balance the economics on the routes, the carrier is filling up the bellies of the planes well with cargo. Airfreight demand is at a high at the moment, and the operator has emerged to lead global cargo services.
Presently, the load factor on many services is 40%, but the airline tries to cover the operating costs with adequate cargo. Fuel-efficient aircraft are also crucial in this strategy. The airline’s 787s and A350s are valuable in this field. The carrier notes that its A380s are currently grounded due to inefficiencies. Load factors could be much lower with the superjumbo in the air, while there would be greater emissions.
Altogether, Qatar Airways has shown its determination to keep flying since the start of the global health crisis. There are glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel as the industry prepares for recovery. Nonetheless, it could take several years for passenger activity to return to 2019 levels. So, the carrier will continue to think out of the box in the next chapter.
What are your thoughts about Qatar Airways’ strategy? Let us know what you think in the comment section.