Qatar Airways held a press conference on Tuesday to highlight the carrier’s entry into the Los Angeles market, with His Excellency, Qatar Group CEO Akbar Al Baker, providing his insights into the new service, as well has having some choice words regarding what he views as an unwarranted attack on his airline by the three big US-based carriers. AirlineReporter was on hand to live-tweet the event, and Al Baker did not disappoint.
The highly-choreographed press conference began with Qatar’s new soccer (né football)-themed safety video, featuring FC Barcelona. Besides Al Baker, Executive Director for Los Angeles World Airports Deborah Flint and Qatar’s Vice President for the Americas Gunther Saulwien were on hand; unfortunately, footballer Lionel Messi was not present at the presser.
The 42 lie-flat business class seats are arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration, while the 217 economy seats are set up as 3-3-3, though the carrier will be adding more seats by introducing 10-abreast seating on their 777-300ER fleet. Qatar operates out of Terminal 2 at LAX.
After introductions, Al Baker wasted no time in going after the US-based airlines (US3) he felt were “ganging up” against his carrier, with Delta Air Lines being his favorite target. Taking a swipe at Delta’s announcement that it had purchased a used Boeing 777 for cheap ($7.7 million), Al Baker remarked that Qatar does not “fly old, crap, second-hand airplanes.” His Excellency went on to note that Qatar has the newest fleet and, on average, receives one new aircraft every ten days, with $70 billion worth of orders still outstanding.
Al Baker also did not spare oneworld alliance partner American Airlines, adding that if American continues to conduct business unfairly, Qatar is perfectly willing to leave oneworld and “is big enough to form a mini-alliance” on its own. “We will not be bullied.”
The point of contention between the “US3” (American, Delta, and United) and the “ME3” (Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad) stems from accusations by the US3 of unfair competition due to inappropriate massive subsidies from the ME3’s respective governments. Al Baker hit back hard at those claims, pointing out subsidies that the US3 have allegedly received from their own federal and state governments, including discharge of debts and pensions through the federal bankruptcy process, fuel subsidies, tax breaks, and government bailouts. Al Baker also suggested that the unfair competition claims were a red herring, asserting that the US3 have swindled the American flying public with high fares, low seat count, and bad service and products.
Still on the subject of subsidies, Al Baker went after European carriers and their home countries as well, specifically calling out British Airways, Air France, and Lufthansa for receiving their own government subsidies. Offhandedly, he mused about the number of European jobs affected if he were to cancel all of Qatar’s outstanding orders for 132 Airbus aircraft, including four A380s and 74 A350s undelivered.
Continuing the verbal offensive, Al Baker spoke about new destinations for 2016. Six have already been publicly announced by Qatar, with Boston and Atlanta as the new U.S. cities, to start later this year. On the new service to Delta’s home base in Atlanta, Al Baker quipped, “We like to rub salt in the wounds of Delta.” Delta recently announced the end of service to Dubai, citing overcapacity and a “distorted playing field.”
Significantly, Qatar plans to announce 12 new routes in the next few months, but Al Baker declined to disclose them. “I don’t discuss trade secrets in front of the press.”
Much was presented regarding the passenger experience, with significant time devoted to highlighting the features of DOH, almost seemingly purpose-built to Qatar’s specifications, including an on-site mosque envisioned by His Excellency himself as a water bubble by the terminal building’s outdoor water feature.
Al Baker also revealed that mock-ups of new, proprietary seats for both business and economy classes are complete, and that he will soon be flying to a secret location somewhere in the U.S. to “personally inspect and sign-off” on them. Just five people know the details of the design, claimed Al Baker. The only details he provided was that the new business class seat would offer “full privacy” and will first appear on a newly-delivered Boeing 777.
In regards to the economy seats, AirlineReporter elicited the first known comments from Al Baker regarding his airline’s decision to follow many other carriers in installing 10-abreast seating on its 777s.
He replied that the carrier’s own studies showed that there was a lot of wasted space on the 777, especially in the aisles, and that he would never compromise passenger comfort. He claimed that a general passenger who is “not a journalist in aviation” would not notice the difference in width and comfort, but that ultimately the airline was “in the business of making money” by adding as many passengers as feasible.
Qatar and Al Baker continued the celebration of LAX service Tuesday night, with an invitation-only gala at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, featuring celebrity guests and a performance by Mariah Carey. AirlineReporter, unfortunately, was not invited to the gala.