Trade Talk: Jared Lee of Qatar Airways

The airline’s Vice President of Sales for South East Asia and South Asia Subcontinent tells us about changes to the inflight experience, Covid-19 testing, and what the company plans to do with its A380s.

Photo courtesy of Jared Lee, Qatar Airways

First of all, which Qatar Airways destinations or routes are seeing the strongest recovery in passenger numbers so far?

The traffic for recently resumed destinations are still slowly recovering across the network given that immigration restrictions are still in place globally. However, we do see very high demand for some of our key routes due to repatriation needs—flights between Doha and Australia, France, Germany, India, the United States, and the U.K. have the highest passenger numbers so far. Qatar Airways’ mission is to be the most reliable airline, and we’ve flown home over two million people worldwide since the pandemic started.

 

Qatar Airways is one of the few airlines flying to the Maldives, which reopened to visitors in July. How has demand been for flights between Doha and Male?

We certainly see that the demand is slowly but surely returning, but it obviously can’t be compared to the pre-Covid period. Some of that demand is from travelers who would put up with quarantine just to enjoy a holiday.

 

What is Qatar Airways’ overall strategy for rebuilding its global network?

Qatar Airways will gradually reinstate destinations and additional frequencies in line with the expected relaxation of entry restrictions around the world, with a focus on key global destinations and partner hubs. We have recently reinstated flights to London Gatwick, Lisbon, Adelaide, Houston, and Philadelphia, among other places. Having effectively and quickly rebuilt our network to more than 550 weekly flights to over 85 destinations across six continents shows our steadfast commitment to bring people home safely during this period.

Here in Southeast Asia, we have just reinstated flights to Hanoi this week. We have also increased frequencies to many destinations like Cebu and Clark—both served with daily flights from Doha—and Jakarta, which has had 14 weekly flights since the middle of August.

 

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, some carriers are retiring their Airbus A380s and Boeings 747s ahead of schedule. Are there plans to simplify Qatar Airways’ fleet? And what about the A380s?

We are currently utilizing 30 Boeing 787 and 49 Airbus A350 aircraft as they are a much better fit for current global demand levels as well as being more environmentally friendly. Boeing 787 aircraft provide appropriate capacity on routes in Europe while the markets recover—they can carry up to 254 passengers with 22 seats in business class and 232 in economy.

Meanwhile, the A350 is the aircraft of choice for the more strategically important long-haul routes to the Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific regions. We have compared the A380 to the A350 on certain routes and have found that A350s consumed 20 tonnes less of CO2 per block hour on certain routes than the A380. Until passenger demand recovers to appropriate levels, we will continue to keep our A380s grounded, ensuring that we only operate commercially and environmentally responsible aircraft.

A Qatar Airways Airbus A350-100 aircraft flies past downtown Doha. (Photo: Qatar Airways)

Qatar Airways currently offers what may be the most generous and flexible booking policies in the industry. What can customers do if they need to reroute or postpone their flights?

We are allowing unlimited date changes and passengers can change their destination as often as they need if it is within 5,000 miles of the original one. There will be no charges for any fare differences for travel completed before December 31, 2020, after which fare rules will apply. All tickets booked for travel up to December 31, 2020 will be valid for two years from the date of issuance.

Alternatively, Qatar Airways’ passengers can swap their tickets for Qmiles to use however they like, or to exchange it for a travel voucher with 10 percent additional value, also valid for two years. Further options include refunding tickets via the original form of payment if the flights get cancelled, or in the form of a travel voucher. This is our way of being agile and customer-centric and the reason why our passengers can trust us to be a reliable airline.

 

What can customers in all cabin classes expect from the modified meal services? Has Quisine been temporarily suspended?

Meals have certainly been adapted and altered to adhere to the strictest hygiene standards to safeguard the health of our passengers. For instance, business-class meals will be served on a tray instead of a table setup, and a cutlery wrap will be offered to passengers as an alternative to individual cutlery service, in an effort to reduce contact between crew and passengers. We have also introduced single-use menu cards and sealed refreshing wipes. Quisine meals are still available and in Economy Class, all meals and cutlery are served sealed as usual, though menu cards have been temporarily discontinued to minimize touchpoints.

An inflight protective kit is distributed to all Qatar Airways passengers. (Photo: Qatar Airways)

What is Qatar Airways’ policy on face masks and face shields? And are middle seats being blocked to promote social distancing?

Passengers are required to wear face coverings inflight and we are now providing them with PPE kits that include a face mask, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizer. They are given a face shield—available in adult and children sizes—when they check in at Hamad International Airport and at boarding gates in our destinations worldwide. Business-class passengers are also offered a 75ml tube of sanitizer gel.

Economy-class travelers must wear their face shield in addition to their mask or facial covering throughout the flight, except when they are served their meals or drinks. Business-class customers are asked to wear their face shield and mask on board at their own discretion, as they enjoy more space and privacy.

While it is not practical to keep the middle seat vacant for economic and logistical reasons, strong awareness campaigns and good hygiene measures can help reassure passengers in the air and on the ground during their travels.

 

Certain airlines now require all their passengers to get tested even if it isn’t mandatory at their final destination. What is Qatar Airways’ policy on Covid-19 testing?

Currently, passengers traveling from Bangladesh, Brazil, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka are required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 96 hours prior to their flights. They have to be from laboratories approved by Qatar Airways and paid for by the passengers. Test will also be required for passengers traveling from Armenia, India, Nepal, Nigeria, and Russia once routes to these countries have resumed.

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