The official airline of major football tournaments, Euro 2020 and World Cup 2022, Qatar Airways has piloted enhanced safety measures that promise to keep it flying high.
Qatar Airways became the first airline in the Middle East to trial the new health passport, offering safety protocols that ensure a secure and contactless experience for travellers, partnering with the International Air Transport Association on the IATA Travel Pass.
In January 2021, the airline became the first to achieve the 5-Star COVID-19 Airline Safety Rating by the international air transport rating organisation, Skytrax. On April 6, Qatar Airways operated the world’s first fully vaccinated flight. Perhaps an indicator of the future of air travel.
The pandemic has turned the world and its economy upside down and the aviation sector has been one of the worst affected. An airline that continued operating throughout the pandemic, Qatar Airways is now seen to be leading the recovery of the aviation industry.
Karthik Viswanathan, Regional Manager – Indian subcontinent, Qatar Airways, highlights the ways in which the airline has been tackling the crisis, its India plans, and what its long-time association with football – including the upcoming partnership for Euro 2020 and the fast-approaching World Cup 2022 – means for the airline.
Excerpts from the interview…
Congratulations on the partnership with UEFA Euro 2020. In what ways will the partnership be expressed on the ground?
It is a proud moment for us as we partner as the official airline for UEFA Euro 2020, the 16th edition of the flagship UEFA Championship, which is set to take place from June 11 to July 11, 2021. We strongly believe in sports playing a key role in connecting people.
The flagship championship will see the 24-team tournament celebrated across 12 host cities including Amsterdam, Baku, Bilbao, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome and St. Petersburg. Qatar Airways will serve all the host cities either directly or through airline partners.
This alliance illustrates our commitment to Europe and accentuates our growing sports partnership portfolio, with the likes of FIFA, CONMEBOL, Paris Saint-Germain, AS Roma, Boca Juniors, FC Bayern München, K.A.S. Eupen and Al Sadd SC well placed in the carrier’s global football sponsorship portfolio, further aligning with the national vision of Qatar. We will also be activating the partnership on-ground across stadiums and fan zones in Qatar, ensuring we provide interactive and family-friendly activities for all fans.
As Qatar Airways already has an extensive presence in football, especially in Europe, how will this partnership further the airline’s brand popularity?
As I mentioned, sports play an imperative role in bridging the gap and reuniting people, both physically and virtually. The power of sport to unite people is unrivalled, and this partnership with UEFA EURO 2020™ is an excellent opportunity for us to witness the very best in European football. Additionally, the Qatar Airways brand will feature prominently across all digital platforms and stadiums set to host the 51 matches during the course of the summer tournament.
How many European and global destinations is the airline presently flying to? Given that lockdowns are imposed at short notice, what are the challenges in operating in this scenario?
By continuing to fly throughout the pandemic, we have been able to build brand loyalty by offering our passengers the flexibility they need to suit their travel plans. Qatar Airways continues to expand its network of destinations, offering more flights to international ones.
By the middle of summer 2021, Qatar Airways plans to rebuild its network to more than 140 destinations including 23 in Africa, 14 in the Americas, 43 in Asia-Pacific, 43 in Europe, and 19 in the Middle East. Many cities will be served with a strong schedule, with daily or more frequencies.
The sudden lockdown and market changes have impacted people and businesses all around the world, and we did face a unique set of challenges resulting from a more restrictive travel environment and subdued demand. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the extraordinary circumstances, airlines needed to show resilience and adapt to the fast-evolving situation. Gaining the confidence of our customers was a task in itself and we had to stringently implement the most advanced safety and hygiene measures. We remained focused on our fundamental mission of taking people home and transporting essential aid to impacted regions, while also advocating environmental responsibilities.
Given the Black Swan year that 2020 was, by how much were occupancy and revenue down for 2020-21? What have been some of the major learnings from the disruption in services?
Despite the economic impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry, Qatar Airways continued to invest in its products and services to ensure that its customer experience remains unparalleled and the best in the world. The industry will most likely see some long-term changes, but it is far too early to anticipate what changes will remain permanent.
That said, the pandemic has accelerated the integration of contactless operations and digital transformation, which has been a key learning for us. Safety and hygiene have truly become pivotal. Customer preference has evolved and they are now more aware. To ensure that the travel experience and safety of our passengers is not compromised, Qatar Airways is proud to announce our partnership with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on the IATA Travel Pass.
As the winner of several accolades for safety, especially during Covid-19 times, what are some of the most important steps Qatar Airways has taken to ensure safety?
As aviation faces its greatest challenge, Qatar Airways remains committed to ensuring confidence among travellers. Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, we have applied the highest standards of safety and hygiene on board and on the ground at all times. Qatar Airways is the first global airline in the world to achieve the prestigious 5-star COVID-19 Airline Safety Rating by Skytrax. This follows Hamad International Airport’s recent success as the first and only airport in the Middle East and Asia to be awarded a Skytrax 5-Star COVID-19 Airport Safety Rating. These recognitions assure passengers across the world that airline health and safety standards are subject to the highest possible standards of professional, independent scrutiny and assessment.
We have been offering face shields, protective kits to all passengers and large bottles of hand sanitisers are placed in the galleys, and are available to both cabin crew and passengers. The cabin crew has been trained on how to minimise the chances of contracting or spreading the infection. They are thermally screened before the departure of flights and after their arrival, are quarantined and tested if any colleagues or passengers on a flight show any symptoms of infection or test positive for the virus.
Additionally, Qatar Airways has received the Diamond Standard in the global APEX Health Safety audit powered by SimpliFlying COVID-19, which is the highest level attainable, following a meticulous assessment of the airline’s robust COVID-19 hygiene and safety standards.
We are also pleased to announce that Qatar Airways is the first global airline to offer passengers 100 per cent Zero-Touch technology for its award-winning Oryx One in-flight entertainment system across the A350 fleet as part of the airline’s latest COVID-19 safety measures.
The Zero-Touch technology, introduced in partnership with the Thales AVANT IFE system, will enable A350 passengers to pair their personal electronic devices (PEDs) with their seat-back IFE screen by connecting to ‘Oryxcomms’ Wi-Fi and simply scanning a QR code displayed on the screen. They can then use their PEDs to navigate and enjoy more than 4,000 options on offer through the airline’s award-winning Oryx One in-flight entertainment system, limiting the frequency of on-board surface contact and providing greater peace of mind throughout their journey.
Qatar Airways os also set to become the first airline in Europe and the Middle East and North Africa region to offer passengers in Business and Economy the option to pair their Bluetooth headphones with the onboard seatback IFE system in all cabins on the Boeing 787-9 fleet.
Once international scheduled operations restart in India, are there any changes planned by the airline – in destinations, regulations, aircraft, etc?
We do have plans in the pipeline, but it is far too early to discuss them as they will be heavily influenced by the travel trends at that time, consumer behaviour, airports, and health protocols.
Meanwhile, we are investing in products and services to ensure that our customer experience remains unparalleled, and we are able to navigate operations without disruption, and we will indeed continue to expand and increase the reach of our flights.