Earlier today, Qatar Airways announced that it is ramping up its routes to the United States. The Doha-based carrier had a strong 2019, but the global health crisis forced it to adapt to a new climate. Now that demand is slowly picking up, the airline is on a mission to return to its previous levels of activity.
Time to build
Altogether, this expansion is part of the state-owned firm’s plan to rebuild. It is resuming globally, with over 170 weekly flights to more than 40 destinations. These services include flight resumptions to six of Qatar Airways’ 10 US gateways.
Earlier today, Simple Flying had the opportunity to speak with Eric Odone, Qatar Airways’ SVP of The Americas. He highlighted that, despite the downturn in activity, his company never stopped flying, as it operated throughout the pandemic. Instead, it had to adapt its program early on due to all the restrictions that were in place. Nonetheless, its liveries could still be seen in the skies.
Qatar Airways was soon contacted by embassies and governments about organizing charter and repatriation flights. Therefore, after 220 charter services and 160,000 passengers returned home to the US, it realized it was time to start growing again.
It didn’t take long for customers to snap up tickets for initial extra flights. The operator usually flies out of 13 gateways across the Americas. Now it is going back to eight airports, with six of them in the US. Odone is convinced that the carrier has the ability to do this already because it never stopped flying. He says that by staying active, Qatar Airways is the world’s largest airline.
An ever-changing situation
Earlier this week, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker admitted that it is difficult to tell precisely when traffic will return to 2019 levels. However, he said he doesn’t think it will be anywhere closer than the next 24 months.
Nonetheless, the firm has a plan to reach the levels that it saw before the health crisis. Currently, there is an increase in capacity on a daily basis. Additionally, the operator has been placing extra focus on its cargo operations in the current climate. So, it has a significant advantage in being able to balance revenues from both branches. Income from these services will go a long way during the rebuilding process. The company’s agility will play a crucial part in its direction over the next few years.
Ultimately, the operator is listening to the market and its customers. It is also communicating with its airline partners. By working alongside them, they can feed each other and ensure they have enough traffic flows required to return to pre-coronavirus levels.
Odone told Simple Flying the following:
“The reason we flew throughout the pandemic from Chicago and Dallas is because from there you can go anywhere in the US. Now we are introducing JFK, which has a strong American Airlines and JetBlue presence.”
He also states how the airline’s partners’ presence at other key hubs such as Boston and Los Angeles will also provide further success. Additionally, he is looking forward to Alaska Airlines joining oneworld in the future, as it will also strengthen the network. Altogether, he believes that all of Qatar Airways’ US gateways will grow over the next five years.
The businessman states that another part of its strategy is trying to reassure passengers and be transparent on its standard of hygiene. There are several new measures, such as onboard hand sanitizer, protective equipment for staff, and mandatory masks for passengers. Additionally, all of the carrier’s aircraft feature industrial-size HEPA filters that remove 99.97% of viral and bacterial contaminants from re-circulated air.
Qatar Airways is still showing its intent on delivering high-quality customer service. There will now be a tray service for food across the board, in a bid to minimize risk. However, the quality of the cuisine will remain the same.
Another part of the strategy is giving customers confidence when it comes to their bookings. The firm has a policy called Travel With Confidence, where people can amend their ticket as many times as they want, and they can change their destination as much as they please.
Furthermore, if they don’t want to travel, they can exchange their ticket for a travel voucher with an additional 10 percent value, which is valid for two years. Odone emphasizes that this can be used in the year that Qatar will host the World Cup.
Moreover, if passengers are frequent flyers, they can swap the ticket for miles. Ultimately, if the flight ends up being canceled, customers will get a full refund. So, the network plans, hygiene policy, and financial assurance will combine as part of Qatar Airways’ core strategy.
A positive approach
Odone is also confident that there will be a role for every aircraft type in the airline’s fleet in the future. Despite the Airbus A380 currently on the ground, the airline only holds 10 of them. Therefore, sooner or later, these should be called into action.
The fleet’s diversity will prove to be useful during the expansion process. The company has smaller aircraft to try out new routes, and as these operations succeed and expand, bigger aircraft can be introduced.
Odone concludes that because Qatar Airways was still flying throughout the crisis, it probably has more experience and feedback when it comes to viral safety than any other airline. During the downtime, it served 1.8 million passengers on over 15,000 flights. Therefore, it has shown its ability to adapt in the toughest of times and be ready for when demand returns.
What are your thoughts on Qatar Airways’ strategy as it expands its network? How do you see it progressing for the remainder of the year? Let us know what you think in the comment section.