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Qatar Airways: One of most challenging years in aviation history

Qatar Airways reflects on an extraordinary year in 2020

Qatar Airways: One of most challenging years in aviation history

At the close of an extraordinary year and one of the most challenging in the history of aviation, Qatar Airways reflects on its achievements in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, said: “This year has been unlike any other, with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting people and businesses all around the world. Aviation has been one of the most affected industries, with a unique set of challenges resulting from a more restrictive travel environment and subdued demand.

“However, at Qatar Airways we have never shied away from a challenge and I am immensely proud of our response. Firstly, we never stopped flying throughout the pandemic, fulfilling our mission of taking stranded passengers home on scheduled and charter flights. We were able to do this thanks to our varied fleet of modern, fuel-efficient aircraft that allows us to respond quickly to market changes, as well as the incredible efforts of our staff.

“Our fleet has also allowed us to rebuild our network from our lowest point in May, when we served 33 destinations, to over 110 destinations today and 129 by the end of March 2021. We have even launched seven new destinations during the pandemic to meet demand so that passengers can travel with an airline they can rely on.

“We have led the industry in the implementation of new and robust safety measures to ensure that passengers are safe when travelling with us on board and on the ground. But unlike some of our competitors, we have continued to invest in the passenger experience both on board and at Hamad International Airport.

“Looking ahead, we expect the global travel and tourism industry to continue to gradually recover. Developments to roll out a vaccine worldwide look promising, giving us greater confidence particularly as we look to the second half of 2021. Much work has been done by the hospitality industry in Qatar to ensure that visitors can enjoy a safe visit when its borders open and I believe that travellers will be eager to see what we have to offer, especially as interest in Qatar will grow in the run up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar.”

Qatar Airways’ key achievements in 2020 include:


Taking people home

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the national carrier of the State of Qatar remained focused on its fundamental mission of taking people home. The airline’s network never fell below 33 destinations and it continued to fly to key cities including Amsterdam, Dallas-Fort Worth, London, Montréal, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo. As a result, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Qatar Airways became the largest international carrier in between April and July, accounting for 17.8% of global international passenger traffic in April.

During the pandemic, the carrier has taken home over 3.1 million passengers and worked closely with governments and companies around the world to operate over 470 charters and extra sector flights. The airline’s efforts provided a lifeline to those in certain industries such as seafarers, with the airline repatriating over 150,000.

Qatar Airways’ repatriation work saw the airline fly to destinations not previously part of its network, including Antananarivo, Bogotá, Bridgetown, Havana, Juba, Laâyoune, Lomé, Maun, Ougadougou, Port-of-Spain, and Port Moresby.


An adaptable and state-of-the-art fleet

Qatar Airways was able to continue flying throughout the pandemic thanks to its varied fleet of modern, fuel-efficient aircraft that has allowed it to offer the right passenger and cargo capacity in each market as its operations are not dependent on any specific aircraft type. Instead, the airline’s fleet of 52 Airbus A350 and 30 Boeing 787 are the ideal choice for the most strategically important long-haul routes to Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific regions. In the last few months of 2020, Qatar Airways took delivery of three Airbus A350-1000s, reaffirming its position as the largest operator of Airbus A350 aircraft with an average age of 2.6 years. All three were fitted with the airline’s multi award-winning Business Class seat, Qsuite.


New safety measures


As the largest airline flying consistently throughout the pandemic, Qatar Airways accumulated unrivalled experience of how to safely and reliably carry passengers during these uncertain times.

Qatar Airways stringently implemented the most advanced safety and hygiene measures, including the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for cabin crew and a complimentary protective kit and disposable face shields for passengers.

Additionally, among other enhanced hygiene measures, the airline was the first international carrier to deploy Honeywell’s Ultraviolet (UV) Cabin System, operated by Qatar Aviation Services, further advancing its hygiene measures on board.


Leading the recovery of global travel

In May, Qatar Airways’ network had fallen to 33 destinations at the height of the pandemic and travel restrictions worldwide. From then, the airline gradually rebuilt its network in line with global travel demand to reach 110 destinations by the end of the year. Not only did Qatar Airways work to rebuild its pre-pandemic network, it also added seven new destinations: Abuja, Nigeria; Accra, Ghana; Brisbane, Australia; Cebu, Philippines, Luanda, Angola; San Francisco, USA; and Seattle, USA (starting 15 March 2021). 

In order to ensure passengers have the confidence to book travel in a less predictable climate, Qatar Airways offered some of the most flexible booking policies in the market, offering a range of options including two year ticket validity, unlimited date changes, the exchange of tickets for a future travel voucher with increased value, and unlimited destination changes. Qatar Airways was also committed to honoring passenger refunds, paying out over USD $1.65 billion. The airline recently announced that it will offer passengers unlimited date changes and fee-free refunds for all tickets issued by Qatar Airways through to 30 April 2021 for travel completed by 31 December 2021

Qatar Airways has also persevered in our ambition to forge strategic alliances across the globe and agreed several new partnerships in 2020, including with American Airlines, Air Canada, and Alaska Airlines.


Continued investment in customer experience

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 the best in the world. In August, we announced major updates and new features to our mobile application and in September we celebrated the 100th aircraft in our fleet to be fitted with ‘Super Wi-Fi’, becoming the airline offering the largest number of aircraft in Asia equipped with high-speed broadband.

On board, the airline has continued to deliver its full dining experience, comfort amenities and award-winning service, with enhanced safety measures. In Business Class, the airline’s Dine-on-Demand service is now presented fully covered on a tray with our beverage selection. In Economy Class, Qatar Airways’ full dining experience ‘Quisine’ is available, with food and cutlery served completely sealed as usual on a tray. In October, Qatar Airways introduced its first vegan range of gourmet dishes for premium customers. It also continued to surprise and delight customers with limited edition menus and special touches for key celebrations of Eid, Thanksgiving, Qatar National Day, and the festive season.

Qatar Airways has enhanced the dining concept at Al Mourjan Lounge at Hamad International Airport (HIA) to include a superior a la carte menu, freshly prepared sushi, a self-service cold buffet and a fully assisted hot buffet. It also established the Mariner Lounge – a dedicated space for seafarers to relax in comfort while in transit – in recognition of their vital role in keeping the global economy moving.

Importantly, we have made major improvements to Qatar Airways Privilege Club, as part of a transformation of our loyalty programme to provide more and better rewards to its members. In August, Qatar Airways Privilege Club revised its Qmiles policy – when a member earns or spends Qmiles, their balance will be valid for a further 36 months – and also removed booking fees for award flights. More significantly, in November, Privilege Club cut the number of Qmiles required to book award flights by up to 49 per cent and also launched Student Club – a new programme that offers a range of unrivalled benefits curated for students to support them throughout their educational journey.


Hamad International Airport

In response to COVID-19, HIA has implemented stringent cleaning procedures and applied social distancing measures throughout its terminal. Passenger touchpoints are sanitized frequently and boarding gates and bus gate counters are cleaned after each flight. In addition, hand sanitizers are provided at key airport touchpoints. The airport acquired and implemented the latest technologies to optimise passenger and employee safety including using disinfectant robots, advanced thermal screening helmets and UV disinfection tunnels for checked-in luggage.

HIA also continued work on its ambitious expansion project – it is on track to increase its capacity to more than 53 million passengers annually by 2022 by adding more space and functionality to the airport in an exciting passenger-centric design.

Qatar Duty Free (QDF) was proud to mark its 20 year anniversary and, with footfall at the airport quieter than usual during the pandemic, accelerated plans to remodel its core duty free store located in the South Node.  QDF also opened a new beauty concept store, a multi-brand women’s fashion store and two pop-up stores – Penhaligon’s and Carolina Herrera – as well as launching a stunning Hublot boutique and the first Loro Piana travel retail boutique in the Middle East at Hamad International Airport. 


Sustainability

While Qatar Airways remained focused on its fundamental mission of taking people home and transporting essential aid to impacted regions, the airline has not forgotten its environmental responsibilities. The airline grounded its fleet of Airbus A380s as it is not environmentally justifiable to operate such a large, four-engine aircraft in the current market. The airline’s internal benchmark compared the A380 to the A350 on routes from Doha to London, Guangzhou, Frankfurt, Paris, Melbourne, Sydney and New York. On a typical one-way flight, the airline found the A350 aircraft saved a minimum of 16 tonnes of carbon dioxide per block hour compared to the A380. The analysis found that the A380 emitted over 80% more CO2 per block hour than the A350 on each of these routes. In the cases of Melbourne and New York the A380 emitted 95% more CO2 per block hour with the A350 saving around 20 tonnes of CO2 per block hour.

Qatar Airways also launched a new programme that enables passengers to voluntarily offset the carbon emissions associated with their journey at the point of booking their ticket. The airline along with its oneworld alliance members also committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, becoming the first global airline alliance to unite behind a common target to achieve carbon neutrality.


Sponsorships and CSR

Qatar Airways’ ambition to bring people together through the power of sport and to support the communities in which we operate continued in 2020 despite the challenges. In November, Qatar Airways marked two years to go until the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. As official FIFA partner and the airline that will be flying millions of football fans to Qatar for the tournament, the airline unveiled a specially-branded Boeing 777 aircraft painted in FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ livery.

In terms of our corporate social responsibility efforts, this year our focus has been on COVID-19 relief as well as emergency aid. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Qatar Airways Cargo sent five freighters to China carrying approximately 300 tonnes of medical supplies donated by the airline to support coronavirus relief efforts. Additionally, in an acknowledgement of gratitude to those who have played key roles throughout the pandemic, Qatar Airways gave away 100,000 complimentary return tickets to healthcare workers and 21,000 to teachers around the world.

To support the people of Lebanon and Sudan following tragic disasters in those countries, Qatar Airways partnered with Qatar Charity and Monoprix Qatar – a member of Ali Bin Ali Holding – to deliver an aid programme that enabled citizens and residents of Qatar to donate almost 200 tonnes of food and other essential supplies and transport them on Qatar Airways Cargo.


Qatar Airways Cargo

Having risen to number one position in 2019, the cargo carrier continued strongly throughout a challenging year, demonstrating its leadership and even growing its market share during the pandemic. Qatar Airways Cargo commenced 2020 by launching freighters to Campinas (Brazil), Santiago (Chile), Bogotá (Colombia) and Osaka (Japan). The airline was also awarded ‘International Cargo Airline of the Year’ at the STAT Trade Times awards event, recognising its leadership and innovation.

The freight division has remained agile, innovative and resilient during the pandemic, more than tripling its cargo flights from 60 to 180-200 flights daily to support global supply chains. It operated more than 500 charters of cargo to impacted regions. Working closely with governments and NGOs, Qatar Airways Cargo also transported over 250,000 tonnes of medical and aid supplies globally on both scheduled and charter services.

The carrier introduced its sustainability project WeQare and launched Chapter 1, offering one million kilos of free cargo for its customers to allocate to charities of their choice. 

To ensure continuity of global trade, passenger freighters and mini freighters were launched to several destinations globally. Boeing 777 freighters commenced to new destinations such as Melbourne, Perth and Harstad-Narvik while belly-hold cargo flights were introduced to six destinations.

Strengthening its QR Pharma product offering, the carrier added new sustainable Skycell containers to its range of active containers and, along with its ground handling partner Qatar Aviation Services Cargo, was awarded IATA’s CEIV Pharma certification for pharma operations and handling at its Doha hub.


Awards and achievements

The Qatar Airways Group continued its enviable record of winning awards with a host of accolades during the year. Qatar Airways won an impressive five prizes at the 2020 Business Traveller Awards and was named ‘Best Airline’ as well as winning in the ‘Best Long-Haul Carrier’, ‘Best Business Class’ and ‘Best Middle Eastern Airline’ categories. The airline also triumphed in the ‘Best Inflight Food and Beverage’ category.

The annual Trip Advisor awards gave more cause for celebration with the airline picking up four more prizes, namely ‘Middle East Best Airline’, ‘Middle East Best Major Airline’, ‘Middle East Best Business Class’, and ‘Middle East Best Regional Business Class’.

In the Global Traveller Leisure Lifestyle Awards, Qatar Airways received the ‘Special Achievement for Outstanding Innovations’ award for its Qsuite Business Class seat.  The airline also received the Airline Passenger Experience Association’s (APEX) 2021 Five Star Global Official Airline Rating™.

HIA reached new heights as it was ranked ‘Third Best Airport in the World’ in May by the Skytrax World Airport Awards 2020, moving up one place from its position the previous year. It retained its title of ‘Best Airport in the Middle East’ by Skytrax for the sixth year. It also became the first airport in the Middle East and Asia to be awarded a 5-Star COVID-19 Airport Safety Rating by Skytrax.

The airport, along with Qatar Duty Free, was voted ‘Best Airport for Millennials’ and ‘Best Airport Retail Environment’ at the Travel Retail Awards 2020. In December, the airport become the first in the Middle East and Asia to be awarded a 5-Star COVID-19 Airport Safety Rating by Skytrax – a testament to its work in the rapid and robust implementation of new safety measures. HIA was also voted ‘Best Airport in the Middle East’ for the fourth consecutive year by Global Traveler’s GT Tested Reader Survey Awards.


Supporting Qatar’s COVID-19 recovery

The Qatar Airways Group also played a wider role in supporting the State of Qatar’s successful efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 within the country, working closely with the local authorities including the Ministry of Public Health.

In June, Qatar Airways Holidays in partnership with Discover Qatar launched hotel packages for returning residents to complete quarantine requirements, ensuring safety and comfort at all times. In order to support the local hospitality industry while Qatar is closed to tourists, Discover Qatar launched a range of staycation packages in July in partnership with local hotels. Additionally, in November Qatar Airways Holidays developed and launched safe ‘Travel Bubble Holidays’ for Qatari citizens and residents to travel to the Maldives for a holiday in complete comfort and safety, with a range of special measures in place.

It has also invested in new products and services that will be ready for when the country reopens to visitors and global tourism recovers. In December, Discover Qatar announced the launch of its very first expedition cruise series around Qatar’s coastline, providing a unique opportunity to observe the largest gathering of the world’s largest living fish – the Whale Shark. A short cruise season will start in March 2021 and run for seven weeks. Also in December, Qatar Airways Holidays in a new global partnership with TUI, launched the first phase of a new proposition in Asia-Pacific markets, which enables customers to add hotels, transfers and activities to their Qatar Airways booking via the airline’s website, the first in a series of new services that will be rolled out in 2021.

A multiple award-winning airline, Qatar Airways was named ‘World’s Best Airline’ by the 2019 World Airline Awards, managed by the international air transport rating organisation Skytrax. It was also named ‘Best Airline in the Middle East’, ‘World’s Best Business Class’, and ‘Best Business Class Seat’, in recognition of its ground-breaking Business Class experience, Qsuite. It is the only airline to have been awarded the coveted ‘Skytrax Airline of the Year’ title, which is recognised as the pinnacle of excellence in the airline industry, five times. 

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