Qatar Airways has slammed the Australian government’s decision to deny its request for extra flights, dubbing the decision ‘very unfair,’ especially considering the airline’s support for Australians throughout the pandemic.
“We found it to be very unfair [for] our legitimate request to be not granted, especially at a time when we were so supportive of Australia,” CEO Akbar al-Baker told CNN, adding that he was “very surprised” at the decision.
“We were repatriating their stranded citizens from around the world to and out of Australia, helping them receive medical supplies and spare parts, etc., during the COVID-19 period,” added al-Baker. “The national carrier and its partners completely stopped operating in Australia. We were there for the people of Australia.”
During the pandemic, Qatar Airways continued operating flights to Australia, sometimes transporting as few as 20 people per flight, while flights from Qantas, Australia’s national airline, remained grounded.
The Gulf carrier asked to fly an extra 21 services into Australian cities, but Australian ministers have rejected their request, claiming it not to be in the country’s national interest.
Earlier this month, the Australian Minister for Transport, Catherine King, said that “invasive” gynecological examinations of five Australian women carried out at Doha International Airport (DOH) in 2020 underpinned her decision to deny Qatar Airways’ bid for extra flights.
“Certainly, for context, this is the only airline that has something like that that has happened,” King said during a news conference in Canberra. “And so I can’t say that, you know, I wasn’t aware of it, but, certainly, it wasn’t the only factor.”
King described the women’s experiences as “not anything we would expect anyone, and certainly not Australians traveling on an international airline, to experience”.
However, critics have accused the government of protecting Qantas’ interests at the expense of the consumer, suggesting King is using the incidents in Doha as a smokescreen.
The price of flights between Australia and Europe has skyrocketed since 2020, with some fares going for twice their usual rate. Industry insiders have claimed that more competition could help reduce ticket prices.
Qantas has endured criticism in recent times, including the staggering allegation that it sold 8,000 or so tickets for flights it was aware had been canceled. Earlier this month, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce retired early amid a growing list of controversies that are tarnishing the Australian national airline’s reputation.
Al-Baker’s criticism comes days before an Australian Senate committee holds a public inquiry to investigate why Qatar was denied its request for more flights despite the lack of competition in the market currently.
Chair of the Senate inquiry into the matter, Bridget McKenzie, has called out Catherine King for refusing to submit documentation relating to the decision to block additional flights for Qatar Airways.
McKenzie has expressed the wariness of the “cozy, personal, and political relationship” between Qantas and the federal government.
Several aviation and travel industry organizations have supported Qatar’s bid for extra routes, with increasing international flight capacity a safe bet to reduce the cost of air travel.
“We can never influence a government decision, but the fact remains is that we were very surprised for getting these rights blocked or unapproved, I can say,” said Al-Baker. “There is a parliamentary inquiry, and it is very difficult for me to make any comments. We have full confidence in the government and in the parliament and in the Senate of the Australian Government.