MIAMI — Doha-based Qatar Airways began service to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Wednesday. It is the carrier’s fifth American destination. The City of Brotherly Love follows New York, Washington, Houston, and Chicago as destinations from the airline’s Qatari hub.
The route will be operated with Boeing 777-200LR aircraft, seating 259 passengers in a two-class configuration. Business class consists of 42 lie-flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, while economy offers 217 seats in a 3-3-3 configuration. All seats have in-seat entertainment and audio/video on demand (AVOD). AC power is also available offered in both classes.
The airline is lauded for both its hard and soft products, and has garnered numerous awards, including “Best Business Class,” “Best Airline in the World for International Travel,” and “Airline of the Year.” The accolades come from respected aviation organizations, including Skytrax, Air Transport News, and UK Business Travel Awards.
Qatar Airways joined the OneWorld alliance in October 2013, and has been aggressively expanding into the United States. The presence of Middle Eastern carriers in the country has opened up a world of destinations that were previously considered unattainable, either due to long journey times or lack of service.
One of the draws of flying Middle Eastern carriers is that connections through superhubs in Doha, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi are seen as more efficient than connections in Europe, especially when flying to the Indian subcontinent or Oceania. The ME3 also offer more flights to second-tier cities, meaning that a two-connection journey can often be reduced to just one. To that extent, Qatar’s Philly flight has already faced some criticism from analysts who are questioning the timing of the service.
According to Centre for Aviation (CAPA) analyses and data, the flight’s 10:40a departure from Philadelphia means that connections are largely restricted to short-haul domestic flights and a handful of West Coast redeyes. The 6:15am arrival into Doha supports connections to one of the airline’s heavier connecting banks, with service to Male, Tehran, Khartoum, Riyadh, Dubai, Bangkok and Dammam. Yet, passengers who count India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as their final destinations will find that the Philadelphia service is ill-timed for those connections, resulting in longer layovers.
On the flip side, the Philadelphia flight is better timed, departing Doha at 1:00am, allowing for connections from the airline’s heaviest connection banks in the late evening prior. The early morning arrival into Philadelphia is perfect for domestic connections to the rest of the country and west coast.
Despite having just stepped off a long flight from Doha, Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker was optimistic and colorful, stating at the inaugural press conference that he saw his airline as a “spark” that people will follow into the skies and over to Doha. The inaugural flight departed today with a near-90% load factor, comprised of passengers from all over, “even Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” said Al Baker with a coy smile.
The airline will continue its expansion into the United States this summer, launching service to Miami in June and Dallas in July. At today’s press conference in Philadelphia, CEO Al Baker hinted at further expansion beyond the two announced destinations, though he didn’t elaborate, “so as not to scare the competition.”
We’ll be looking forward to seeing how this route performs.