The current period may be one of the most challenging in the history of the aviation industry but airlines have been keeping their eyes on how they can emerge stronger. Besides working on new technologies and putting new safety and sanitation processes into place to bring peace of mind to travellers, many airlines have also stepped forward in various ways to do their part for the community, providing assistance in the fight towards the COVID-19 pandemic.
FCM’s Greg Watson, Supplier Relations Manager for Southeast Asia sat down with Qatar Airway’s Vice President for Southeast Asia, Jared Lee to chat about the airline recovery journey, what the traveller experience might be post pandemic and how they have supported communities over the last few months.
1. The pandemic has obviously had a huge impact on our industry especially the airline business. Can you tell us a little bit about the impact it has had on Qatar Airways and its people during this time?
The pandemic definitely has had a huge impact on the aviation industry. While many airlines have suspended operations, Qatar Airways is one of the very few airlines that has remained operational during this period. In fact, our mission during this difficult period is to take people home safely and so far, we’ve organised over 200 dedicated charter flights around the world, working closely with various government bodies and embassies to help bring people home safely. We’ve worked with embassies around the world including the ones in France, Germany, Ireland, Canada, UK and the US, and we’ve repatriated over 1.5 million passengers since mid-February. So you can say that Qatar Airways has been the only lifeline for many people to get back home during this period.
Like all airlines, our flight schedules are obviously restricted and greatly reduced due to border restrictions worldwide. However, we’re currently still operating to over 30 destinations with about 150 flights per week.
2. Can you share some of the efforts Qatar Airways has made during this period to support the industry/communities you serve and your staff?
Qatar Airways has volunteered free air cargo transportation for medical relief aid organised by Chinese Embassies and Consulates worldwide to fight the coronavirus emergency. The airlines delivered the first batch of critical medical relief aid to Shanghai on 2 February and the shipment included 100,000 medical-grade N95 respiratory masks and 2,700 medical-grade disposable latex gloves, providing essential protection to healthcare professionals working around the clock at hospitals in Hubei Province, the epicentre of the virus.
Additionally, five Qatar Airways Cargo freighters departed for China on 21 February, carrying approximately 300 tonnes of medical supplies donated by the airline to support the coronavirus relief efforts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
In the last few months, Qatar Airways transported over 175,000 tonnes of medical and aid supplies around the globe. This equates to about 1750 fully loaded Boeing 777 cargo freighters.
Qatar Airways also received numerous requests from various governments to help repatriate their citizens. In March as part of a cooperation with Australian authorities, we temporarily increase our frequencies to/from Sydney to three daily flights, Melbourne and Perth to two daily flights respectively as well. At the request of the EU delegation in Australia to repatriate their citizens from Brisbane, Qatar Airways started operating one daily flight to/from Brisbane. Now, we are operating a 3-times weekly flight to Brisbane. We received numerous appreciation notes from governments, notably US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and individual passengers through these efforts.
In May, Qatar Airways gave out 100,000 free air tickets globally to show our appreciation to medical front-liner healthcare professionals for the hard work they have put in during the COVID-19 period. This has been so well received and we’re very happy to play a part in showing our gratitude to these healthcare heroes.
3. Travellers are definitely anxious about returning to travel. Moving forward, how will this pandemic impact the way your customers travel in the immediate future and potential long-term as well? (e.g precautions/safety measures)
We are taking all measures possible to ensure the safety of our staff and passengers during this time. We apply the highest standards of cleanliness for our aircraft with strict bio-security screening of our crew, thorough aircraft disinfection processes, advanced air filter systems and best-in-class cleaning standards at Hamad International Airport.
We are also putting social distancing measures into place where possible, especially on flights with lighter loads. Distancing is also implemented during the boarding process, ensuring passengers are allocated seats far apart from each other. Passengers are now required to wear a face mask while flying and we recommend that they bring their own for better fit and comfort purposes. Large bottles of hand sanitizers are placed in the galleys and made available for both cabin crew and passengers.
In addition, Qatar Airways’ cabin crew now wears the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit over their uniforms, in addition to safety glasses, gloves and a mask. Our cabin crew have received training on how to minimize their chances of contracting or spreading the infection, are thermally screened before the departure of flights and after their arrival. They would be quarantined and tested if any colleagues or passengers on a flight shows any symptoms of infection or test positive for the virus.
Business Class meals will be served on a tray instead of a table set up, and a cutlery wrap will be offered to passengers as an alternative to individual cutlery service, in an effort to reduce contact between the crew and the passengers. In Economy Class, all meals and cutlery are served sealed as usual. Additionally, passengers flying Business Class can avail of the enhanced privacy that Qsuites provide. This includes sliding privacy partitions and fully closing doors to create a private sanctuary. Passengers can also opt for the ‘Do Not Disturb (DND)’ indicator in their private suite, if they wish to limit their interactions with the cabin crew.
4. Things are changing so fluidly - How are you keeping your staff and customers up to date with changes and updates?
We are constantly informing our staff with changes and updates internally and our customers can also stay up-to-date via our COVID-19 webpage https://www.qatarairways.com/en/travel-alerts/COVID-19-update.html.
5. What is Qatar Airway’s plan and outlook in the immediate short term?
Currently the airline continues to operate flights to more than 30 destinations around the world. Qatar Airways will gradually reinstate suspended destinations and additional frequencies in line with expected relaxation of border restrictions around the world with a focus on key global destinations and partner hubs. By the end of June, the goal is to have 80 destinations on the schedule including 33 in Asia, 23 in Europe, 20 in Middle East/Africa and four in the Americas.
The gradual expansion will focus on strengthening connections between the airline’s hub in Doha with the global hubs of its partner airlines around the world including London, Chicago, Dallas and Hong Kong, as well as reopening major business and leisure destinations such as Madrid and Mumbai.