As the global Covid-19 pandemic grounded thousands of flights and flattened the travel industry, one of the Middle East’s largest network airlines, operating an extensive network of international services in the Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America, Qatar Airways has remained gigantic managing to bounce back to its pre-pandemic network.
The multiple-award winning airline never stopped flying to at least 30 destinations and this has seen the airline launching new destinations in Africa after noticing that in countries like South Africa in particular, commercial operations are beginning to gradually improve.
Continuous flying operations enabled Qatar Airways to use the opportunity of fewer competitors to expand its routes to become the world’s biggest international carrier serving Africa.
Vice president of Qatar Airways in Africa, Hendrik Du Preez said, “The airline did cut back its global schedules, especially to markets that were closed to international flights. While navigating one of the worst periods the airline industry has ever faced, lessons learnt have enabled Qatar Airways to have a head start. The Middle Eastern airline has already rebuilt its network to where it was before the pandemic started.”
“Even during worst times of the pandemic, we never stopped flying to at least 30 destinations. We tried to keep people connected, including working with the SA government on a considerable number of repatriation flights,” said Du Preez.
He said it is better to fly and preserve or gain market share than simply burn cash by having a fleet grounded indicating that they constantly evaluated demand to see where there were opportunities for the airline.
“In fact, we have even launched new destinations in Africa over the last nine months – including Harare in Zimbabwe, Lusaka in Zambia, Luanda in Angola and Abuja in Nigeria.”
Qatar Airways is offering flights to and from Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban via Johannesburg and Du Preez explained that this explicitly shows the confidence the airline has in the SA market and the belief that in the future it will build up again.
He highlighted that when it comes to yielding positive results in the aviation sector, partnerships were of paramount importance.
“Qatar Airways believes in the power of partnerships. Therefore, in SA, the airline already has interline agreements with local airlines, including Comair, CemAir, Safair and Airlink.”
“We are always looking for key partners in Africa. In Southern Africa, we have also seen quite a bit of traffic in and out of Botswana, for example. Having the right partners to get these passengers onto our network is, therefore, very important.”
Over the past couple of months, Du Preez pointed out, Qatar Airways has seen demand for leisure travel returning in SA.
“Many people are struggling with pandemic fatigue and choosing destinations like the Maldives and Turkey to take a break. We have also seen more South Africans working overseas finally coming to visit their families in SA and Zimbabwe for the first time since lockdowns started,” said Du Preez.
Safety remains of crucial importance for Qatar Airways, and both the airline and its hub airport in Doha have been awarded in this regard.
Qatar Airways immediately jumped into enhancing its safety measures and how it will fit in in the airline’s sustainable quest.
In order to foster the passengers’ travel confidence, the airline introduced health and safety protocols all throughout the customer’s journey from check-in to arrival.
At Hamad International Airport, Qatar Airways has implemented stringent cleaning procedures and applied social distancing measures throughout its terminals.
All passenger touchpoints are sanitized every 10-15 minutes and every boarding gate and bus gate counter is cleaned after each flight.In addition, hand sanitisers are provided at immigration and security screening points.
Cargo has, in general, been a strong sector for Qatar in Africa due to lots of goods being imported and exported. According to Du Preez, during the pandemic, the airline never stopped flying and transported several shipments of vital aid, PPE and vaccines to various countries in Africa while also supporting African exports to its global network.
In 2017 alone, the Doha-based carrier which is already flying to more than 140 destinations globally won over 50 awards for demonstrating its continued commitment to exceeding passenger expectations with its innovative approach to product development and dedication to customer experience.
Leading the host of awards received by the airline in 2017 was the prestigious accolade of the years’ ‘Airline of the Year,’ awarded by international air transport rating organisation Skytrax.
Known as ‘the Oscars of the aviation industry,’ Qatar Airways was also named ‘World’s Best Business Class,’ ‘Best Airline in the Middle East,’ and ‘World’s Best First Class Airline Lounge’ at the Skytrax awards ceremony held in Paris in June 2017.
Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker once said the many awards Qatar Airways has received stand as firm recognition of its ongoing commitment to its passengers to constantly innovate in order to deliver the finest experience available, both in the skies and on the ground.
Significantly, Qatar Airways was also recognised for its launch of Qsuite, the airline’s revolutionary new ‘First in Business Class’ product, receiving the ‘Best Airline Innovation of the Year’ award at the 2017 ULTRAS (Ultimate Luxury Travel Related Awards) in London among other awards.
By Joyce Mukucha