Exclusive: In Conversation With…Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker

Qatar Airways’ CEO is an aviation industry figure of whom is outspoken, critical, and incredibly committed to both maintaining and exceeding the high standards passengers experience at the airline.

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Alex Macheras and Qatar Airways CEO, H.E Akbar Al Baker

I sat down with H.E Mr Al Baker to find out about the airlines’ upcoming new Economy Class Seat, the impact of the geopolitical spat in the Gulf, and the next destinations for the airlines’ A350-1000 XWB, which launched with Qatar Airways (as the global launch customer) earlier this year.

New ‘Modern & State-Of-The-Art Economy Class Seat’

I asked Mr Al Baker about Qatar Airways’ development of a new seat for Economy Class — a cabin where the majority of passengers will fly, and one in which airlines can often overlook when it comes to passenger comfort.

Mr Al Baker told me: “We will launch the new Economy Class Seat next year, at the ITB travel trade fair in Berlin. Everyone will be able to see the unveiling of this very modern, state-of-the-art Economy Class Seat. Immediately after the unveiling, the seat will then be installed on Qatar Airways aircraft. At the moment, that’s all that I can reveal…for now”

While ‘state-of-the-art’ and ‘Economy Class’ are clearly not the most natural pair, I’m quite sure that this seat should live up to Al Baker’s words. Prior to the lunch of QSuite (Qatar Airways business class suites that are undoubtedly the best business class seats in the skies), Al Baker often described the product as ‘revolutionary’ and ‘state-of-the-art’ — and QSuite certainly lives up to such a description.

Can Economy Class be state-of-the-art? Well, there are some great-looking  Economy seats on the market, including those with a staggered seating design (which increases privacy)

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and those with new rear-facing seats, similar to the rear-facing suites on QSuite aircraft.

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Gulf Crisis, and allegations from UAE & Bahrain over aircraft interceptions from the State of Qatar

In 2017, UAE and Bahrain filed multiple claims alleging that Emirates airline aircraft were ‘intercepted’ by the State of Qatar.

Mr Al Baker told me:These false accusations had nothing to do with the peaceful people of Qatar. Actually, if you check any flight radar providing site, you’ll see there is a stream of commercial airliners from UAE and Bahrain, flying extremely close to Qatar, and over Qatar — and they are never, and have never been intercepted. There are hundreds of these jets entering and exiting their hub daily, and they form a long queue over the Gulf”

He added: “If what the UAE is claiming were true, it would mean Qatar would be intercepting at least 400 airline jets per day — which is obviously not the case.”

“As a result of this unjust blockade, we will announce a substantial loss for the last year, because of the immediate nature of this unprecedented act against my country” Al Baker highlighted.

Qatar’s handling of the sudden blockade has been very smooth, given the circumstances. The airline lost its two largest markets (UAE and Saudi Arabia), overnight — and has since had to expand into new markets at a faster rate, in order to compensate for the lost markets and to ensure the books remain somewhat balanced.

As Al Baker notes, Qatar Airways will announce a ‘substantial’ loss in 2017-2018 financial results — which are due to be released to the public in around two weeks time.

Al Baker’s confident that the financials will bounce back, but perhaps not for another couple years. However, given that the airline is state-owned (it’s largest investor is the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar), it’s ‘business as usual’ in terms of passenger experience, and travellers haven’t felt any effect of the blockade, aside from the sudden disappearance of over 20 Gulf destinations.

The A350-1000 XWB: New Australian Routes

Qatar Airways A350-1000 XWB currently operates the most frequencies between Doha and London, but you can also find the aircraft elsewhere on Qatar’s route network (including on short flights to Kuwait, and as from October, New York).

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Qatar Airways QSuite – Copyright Alex Macheras

Al Baker tells me: ‘We’re going to start A350-1000 XWB flights to the Australian cities of Perth and Adelaide. The aircraft has had a fantastic entry-into-service, and it’s not often I can say that about any new, first-of-its-kind jet. Airbus did a really good job, and we’re still collecting data, but so far, we are very happy”

The news of A350-1000 route expansion is great news for passengers, as this aircraft is among the world’s newest of long-haul jets flying today.

Final Thought

While the ailrine pushes on with its route expansion amid a regional blockade, denounces UAE & Bahrain’s false allegations, and plans to push the A350 further; perhaps the most exciting takeaway is the news of the ongoing development of a brand new Economy Seat.

Qatar Airways is known for customisation when it comes to cabins interiors. QSuite is a patented, heavily customised Business Class seat — and the airline (and their collaborative design partners) are experts in the field of interiors. Their teams are able to purchase an existing product (seat) already on the market and introduce various interior brands to customise, tweak, redefine and enhance.

For this reason, I’m excited to see what’s in store for Economy, as from next March 2019.

Do you think Qatar Airways’ Economy Class Seat will live up to the CEO’s words? 

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