MIAMI— Qatar Airways teased the global media for the past few weeks, promising an “historic announcement” on Wednesday morning by Global CEO Akbar Al Baker in New York City. With the press conference now over and the Q&A completed it remains unclear what the historic announcement is, though the company did share a few morsels of information about future plans.
The main bits from the scripted portion of the event were the new marketing campaign the company is launching and the introduction of a new safety video featuring the FC Barcelona football club. The carrier will also be relocating its main US offices out of Washington, DC and consolidating them with the local NYC operations in a new office at the Empire State Building. While all entertaining and interesting it is hard to see these as major announcements for the company.
Once the floor opened to questions from the media things became notably more interesting. Topics ranged from new routes – Al Baker confirmed that Rio de Janeiro is in the works – to the debate over the value of a Premium Economy cabin, especially in light of oneworld partner American Airlines’ announcement that same morning it is adding those seats to its fleet. Consistent with his stance some weeks ago Al Baker continues to believe that there is no place for such in the Qatar Airways offering because the economy product is so good that there is no reason to charge passengers so much more for what he says are only incremental improvements in a Premium Economy cabin.
I asked @qatarairways CEO if he’ll reconsider Premium Economy now that partner @AmericanAir has announced it. #PaxEx pic.twitter.com/xBRdwIJMM
— Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) December 9, 2015
It is also of little surprise that discussion of the US3 v ME3 subsidy claims battle came up during the press conference. The company was prepared with several slides available for Al Baker to demonstrate what the carrier sees as significant evidence that the US3 is acting to protect its European joint venture partners more than anything else. He also suggested that the US carriers are only willing to operate on routes where they face no competition and, as such, can “overcharge passengers” to make greater profits.
Only between 25-30% of destinations make profit. Another 40% are breakeven. The remaining are losers. But you cannot only operate as an airline where you make profits.
Finally, with respect to the first Airbus A320neo aircraft which is expected to be delivered to Qatar Airways before the end of the month, Al Baker does believe that there is a Christmas miracle, expressing confidence “that Airbus will deliver the neo before the end of the year.”