MIAMI – On Tuesday, June 2, Qatar Airways (QR) invited Airways and a group of journalists to Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) for a small celebration. The occasion marked both the fifth anniversary of QR’s flying to ATL and the restart of nonstop service from ATL to Doha.
Qatar is flying an Airbus A350-900 on the route. Reporters were allowed on the ramp to watch the arrival of the A350 and also tour the aircraft to get a first-hand view of the airline’s award-winning Qsuites.
After meeting with representatives from the airline at the Maynard H. Jackson, Jr. International Terminal, airport personnel escorted us through customs and security to a VIP room where we waited until the plane was nearing the airport.
About a half-hour before landing, wearing yellow reflective vests, we left the room and exited the terminal via the outside stairway that led to the ramp.
On the Ramp
Already parked were planes from Delta Air Lines (DL) and British Airways (BA). An Air France (AF) A350 would soon pull into the gate next to that being used by QR.
But soon we saw our girl, A7-AMG, serial number 207, delivered in October 2018, taxiing off the runway after the 13:11 flight from Doha. The ATL fire department was out in force and saluted the occasion, giving the plane a double water canon salute.
Intellectually, we know that A350s are large aircraft. But seeing one up close drives the point home. These are BIG planes. I’m over six feet tall (2.1M), and were I to stand in an engine intake, I would have more than four feet (1.3M) of head room to spare.
We had the opportunity to walk around the front and sides of the plane to shoot photos and video and watch the ground crew service the craft.
But too soon, we were escorted back inside the terminal to await our tour of the Qsuites.
Interview with Qatar Executive
During that time, we had the opportunity to interview Eric Odone, vice president, sales, Americas. I asked Mr. Odone about the significance of the Atlanta market to Qatar and what was special about this occasion. (Edited for clarity.)
“Atlanta, Georgia is a massive Business Center. We’ve started reintroducing flights gradually since June 2020. And we’ve realized that there was actually a lot of pent-up demand.
“First, mostly amongst what I call diasporas, people just wanting to go back home. Atlanta is a very diverse community and has a lot of different populations that can travel.
“And the second thing, which has been interesting, is we’ve seen also, throughout the pandemic, actually a real demand for premium leisure.
“Traditionally, out of the USA, most of our business was going to the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia. But obviously, these areas have been closed for many months now. And what we’ve seen is we’re not able to sell our entire network. So now we’re selling a lot of Africa and Middle East. Cairo, Egypt is very big for us. So is Kenya. Dubai actually is very big from here as well for us.
“So, what has been interesting is the elasticities in the market, which means that when we can sell India, Thailand, Indonesia, we will, but without those countries, we can still fill up the plane with people going elsewhere. We are maximizing the power of our network at the moment.”
Mr. Odone also commented on the fleet and the green initiatives of the airline.
“We operate an ultra-young fleet. The average is two and a half years. And the Airbus 350 is very green aircraft, it’s got a very low carbon footprint. And we feel that the 350 is the perfect aircraft for the flights between the USA and the Middle East. The carbon emission is a lot lower, for example, than with the A380.
So we think it’s having the right aircraft in the sky, is the first step towards that. We also have a carbon offset program that passengers can redeem.”
Mr. Odone is referring to the voluntary carbon offset program for passengers that Qatar has joined along with IATA and ClimateCare. The partnership was announced in November 2020. Contributions from the Qatar Airways program will be directed to the Fatanpur Wind Farm project in India, which generates and supplies clean energy with a combined output of 108 MW to the Indian National Grid, avoiding around 210,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. You can read about the program at this website.
In regard to COVID-19 protocols, Mr. Odone reminds us that “we never stopped flying throughout the pandemic. Because we were always flying, we were able to integrate, gradually, every new discovery that was identified and recommended (to stop the transmission of the virus).
“We were the first international airline to mandate masks. At the peak of the pandemic, we were providing face shields to passengers. We’ve got brand new aircraft. So, in terms of air filtering, that’s top notch.
“We have the Hewlett Packard, ultraviolet robots that disinfect the cabin in Doha. All the services which are used are regularly cleaned, all the elevators and escalators, check-in machines. They’re being cleaned all the time.
“So ultimately what we’re trying to do is rebuild Passenger confidence, I think people will be very impressed. Passengers will see really stunning aircraft, shining, and the airport in Doha is stunning as well. Our product hasn’t been downgraded. It has been tweaked in order to limit the interaction with a cabin crew, because that’s what people wanted.
“Ultimately, you’ve got the same quality, but enhanced.”
The star of the day, and the reason for the press event, was the Qsuites which Qatar launched in 2017. There are 36 suites on the 350, and they can be configured in several ways, including converting two side-by-side suites into one suite with a double bed for passengers traveling together.
I asked Mr. Odone what he loved about the Qsuite.
“What I love about it is the privacy, because ultimately, it really is the best for social distancing. Because when you are in that seat, you are completely private. You feel very safe, and you have a wall that can close and give you complete privacy. And you have a door which you open and close as you wish. You’re not in contact with anyone, behind you, in front of you, or on the side, the only contact you have is your cabin crew. We give you full TV equipment, goggles, masks and gloves. So they are as they’re very, very safe.
“The second thing that I love is that if I traveled with my wife, for example, I could customize the suite, you can lower the partition between the two seats, and you make it into a double bed. And so suddenly, instead of being two people who traveled together, albeit separately, you have the ability to change that and make it people traveling together. On your own, you’re completely private. But if you travel with somebody you can be really private as a couple.”
Onboard the Plane
Following the interviews, we were escorted aboard the aircraft to see the Qsuites for ourselves. And they are very nice. There are many online reviews of the suites which extoll the virtues and comfort of the product, but seeing them in person offers a higher level of appreciation.
The suites were prepped in a variety of configurations for us to see, including two adjacent suites set up as the aforementioned lie-flat double beds. We were allowed to sit in the suites for a few minutes, and even for a tall person like me, there was ample space and legroom.
Each suite contains its own large video screen, a plethora of controls and video/electronics plugs and outlets, and ample storage space. Also, every passenger in a Qsuite is given a Bric’s amenity kit containing a face mask, a sleep mask, socks, ear plugs, and Castello Monte Vitiano skincare/beauty products.
Too soon, we had to deplane so that the craft could be turned for its nonstop back to Doha. Qatar presented us with an amenity kit, a logoed cookie, and an A350 model plane as souvenirs.
The 12th US Destination for Qatar Airways
Qatar flies four weekly nonstops from ATL to DOH. This increases the carrier’s US network to 12 destinations. Qatar has reinstated its network to more than 130 destinations worldwide, including the addition of seven brand new destinations.
The ATL flights are operated by the airline’s A350-900, featuring 36 seats in the award-winning Qsuite Business class and 247 seats in Economy Class.
Featured image: Qatar Airways A7-ANB Airbus A350-1041. Photo: Roberto Leiro/Airways