Here’s Why Qatar Airways Scrapped Inflight Duty Free

Since the start of June, Qatar Airways has suspended inflight duty-free on its services. The airline’s CEO Akbar Al Baker has explained his company’s decision to make the switch.

Qatar 777
Qatar Airways recently decided to stop selling duty-free goods on its aircraft. Photo: Qatar Airways via Flickr

Economical sense

Speaking at The Trinity Forum in Doha, Al Baker shared how the decision made perfect business sense. Even though the operation of inflight duty-free seems that it can produce extra income for the carrier, the costs of keeping it going can outweigh the benefit.

“A lot of airlines do not realize that inflight duty-free is not a big revenue generator. People don’t realize that every kilo that we put on an airplane costs us fuel burn. The fuel burn that we sustain to carry duty-free is really not worth it,” Al Baker said.

The Trinity Forum - Akbar Al Baker
Akbar Al Baker shared his thoughts at the Trinity Forum in Doha. Photo: Qatar Airways via Flickr

Refocused approach 

Rather than splitting the focus between ground retail and inflight options, Al Baker feels that the airport is best suited to handling duty-free stock. Therefore, to support passengers on their purchases, a new website is being created. This website can be used to order goods, which can then be picked up at the gate that the passenger is passing through.

“In addition to this, we are creating additional space that can be used to enhance the passenger experience. The airport has good facilities and now we are working on a website where you will able to order digitally.

“We will then be able to deliver directly to the gate. So you don’t have to bother going through the duty-free catalog. I can say comfortably, that 50 percent of the time you don’t get what you want from inflight duty-free.

“It is limited and often disappoints people so it’s better that we don’t offer that, and we do it on the ground. They will be able to do it online and create new experiences with our duty-free.”

Hamad International Airport
Hamad International Airport works closely with Qatar Airways to handle the duty-free demand. Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikimedia Commons

Enhanced experience

Additionally, Al Baker is using digital technology to improve services when it comes to the inflight cuisine. Qatar Airways is making it easier for travelers to customize their food options.

”We will also make sure that passengers in the premium cabins will even be able to select the food that they want to eat at the time of booking.”

Qatar Airways Aircraft Landing
Qatar Airways is introducing new digital processes to improve the passenger experience. Photo: Qatar Airways via Flickr

An emerging trend

Qatar Airways isn’t alone in its decision to drop inflight duty-free on its operations. KLM first made the announcement of its plans to stop the service in March, this year. The airline cited changes in passenger behavior as a key reason for the move.

Meanwhile, Scandinavian Airlines also announced similar intentions during the summer. The carrier shared that additional efforts in sustainability contributed to the change in policy.

Furthermore, a pattern may be emerging heading into 2020 as airlines become more cautious of fuel efficiency. Ultimately, airline technology and airports will play an even greater role in earning revenue through duty-free.

What do you think of the decision of Qatar Airways to suspend inflight duty-free? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

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This is a bit off topic but I am reminded of an occasion quite a few years ago when I flew from London to Cairo on BA in first class. Just before the doors closed a famous Egyptian actress entered the plane with an assistant and sat across the aisle from me. When the duty free came round, she was asked if she would like to purchase anything. She said: “Yes. I want to buy every duty free item on the plane.” Her assistant produced a bag full of 50 pound notes. When we got to Cairo, she couldn’t get… Read more »


Agree with the move. I always prefer to browse at the Airport. However, if there is an exclusive trinket (eg Matchbox Plane) in the Airlines own paintscheme, I might be tempted.

Aw Kok Teng

Good decision after extensive research

Chris Loh

This is a great decision and I hope it becomes more of a trend! It’s one less thing for flight attendants to worry about, giving them more time to focus on passenger needs. Not only do airlines save on fuel burn by not carrying the items but think about the hundreds of Duty Free magazine/catalogues that fly on each plane.