A Five-Star performer

What Five-Star airline serves 98 destinations now and will serve 101 by April 6 (including Bangkok, Moscow, Shanghai, Melbourne, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Buenos Aires, Houston, New York, and Washington, D.C.), with a current fleet of 94 aircraft and 170 on order, all but six of the total being Boeing and Airbus? This airline has seats that fold down into flat — repeat flat — beds, and is the flagship airline of a small country with a total national population of 1.7 million and with the first or second highest GDP per capita in the world. The airline had only four aircraft in 1997, and has maintained a perfect safety record during all that growth.

The answer is Qatar Airways, flagship airline of the country of Qatar, which is on a small peninsula bordered by Saudi Arabia on the south and by the Persian Gulf in every other direction. The country is rich as Croesus in oil, gas, and a desire to be a world leader. Get used to the name of that country — we’ll hear more about them when they host the World Cup in 2022. The country owns half of Qatar Airways; the other half is owned by individual investors.

Frankly, up ‘til a few weeks ago I had pretty much specialized in ignorance of Qatar Airways and Qatar the country. I had nothing against them; I just didn’t know anything about them. Then a nice lady, Jamie Bezozo, sent a press release followed by a call. I confessed to knowing zip about Mideast airlines. She came back with a great line. “Oh. I am so glad I called. You see, Qatar Airways is not a Mideast airline. We cover much of the world including Houston, New York, and Washington, DC.”

Jamie then offered to arrange a telephone interview twixt me and Tony Hughes, senior vice president, The Americas, of Qatar Airways (QA). Well, shoot, I don’t get to talk to many senior vice presidents of the Americas, and I’m easily swayed by nice ladies. Since then, Jamie, Tony Hughes, and another nice lady, Jo Gabrielski, have provided tons of info on QA and Qatar itself.

Hughes is a friendly Englishman who has an long background in transportation. Do you think, I asked, that an airline not backed by an oil-rich country could have achieved this amazingly fast growth? “Well,” said he, “all airlines need sources of money, and half our investors are private. Also, we compete in the free market for equipment and financing, just as other airlines do.” He also states that QA averages an 85 percent passenger load year-round.

How does QA compare with another flagship airline of a wealthy country, Emirates? Hughes’ answer was delightful. “Well, they are a Four-Star Airline; we are a Five-Star Airline.” QA operates from Qatar’s Doja Airport. This puts the airline in the interesting position of negotiating with the entity that owns half of the airline. One of QA’s terminals is the only terminal in the world dedicated solely to first and business class travelers.