Qatar Airways continued to fly where others would not, and as such, its crew had to enter some risky areas where COVID infection was rife. To keep crews safe, the airline decked them out in full-body PPE, something CEO Akbar Al Baker likens to a ‘spacesuit’.
Keeping crews safe
When airlines all over the world were grounding their fleets, mothballing aircraft and laying off crew, Qatar Airways continued to fly. With passenger demand at a historical low, the airline focussed instead on providing vital repatriation services, as well as moving much-needed shipments of medical supplies and other cargo around the world.
Operating so many repatriation flights often meant flying into nations that were considered unsafe, or had a higher risk of virus transmission. From an operational side, these were tough missions to manage. At the time, little was understood about the way the virus was transmitted or the danger it posed.
Speaking exclusively to Simple Flying, Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker explained that the airline took no risks with its crew. He said,
“First and foremost, we made sure that we put in 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 was the effect of this virus, we took the maximum precaution by giving them PPE that really looked like spacesuits.”
The crews operating these flights were indeed kitted out from head to toe in PPE. Equipment included full bodysuits with hoods, gloves, a mask and eye shields too. For the crew, it wasn’t the most comfortable experience, but was necessary to keep them safe. Al Baker noted,
“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.”
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Putting passengers first, too
As well as keeping crews as safe as possible, Qatar was committed to maintaining safety for passengers it was flying, too. Al Baker explained how the airline wasn’t afraid to put in place strict requirements for its passengers in order to keep them safe. He said,
“We also imposed very strict conditions on our passengers that they have to wear face masks, gloves, sanitizers – all that was provided by the airline. We were the first airline to also demand that people put on face shields.”
All passengers travelling with #QatarAirways will receive a single-use face mask and shield to wear throughout their journey, from the moment they arrive at our boarding gate until they arrive safely at their final destination. #TravelWithConfidence #QatarAirways pic.twitter.com/0fxSYvSgwa
— Qatar Airways (@qatarairways) August 22, 2020
The airline did not mandate face shields in business class, although they would still be provided to every passenger. Rather, the airline said they could be removed ‘at their discretion, given the level of separation and privacy available in the premium cabin.
In addition to keeping passengers safe, Qatar leveraged the available technology to protect and sanitise its airport and aircraft. Al Baker explained,
“We invested millions of dollars in state of the art equipment to protect our airport, and our aeroplanes. For example, we were the first airline to introduce the ultraviolet disinfection systems from an American manufacturer. We also introduced UV robots at the airport. We introduced contactless check-in, and boarding processes. Everything that was important to do for the protection of our passengers and our crew, we did it.”
Qatar has been disinfecting aircraft cabins with the Honeywell system since September last year. It was the first airline to put this into practice and continues its rollout of the system today. By April 2021, Qatar Airways was using 17 units to disinfect aircraft on the ground at Hamad, and recently became the launch customer for the new and upgraded version of the technology.
UV robots patrol Hamad International, disinfecting high-touch areas and intelligently avoiding collisions with people and objects. You can see the robots in action in the video below:
What do you think of Qatar’s efforts to keep everyone safe in the pandemic?