A Qatar 777-300ER receives a water-cannon salute as it taxis to its gate at Sea-Tac Airport
Qatar Airways (QR) launched service from Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, to Seattle, Washington, on Jan. 29, 2021, two months ahead of schedule. It also marked the first new service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Inaugural flights are always a joy to cover – you get to see other media colleagues and friends, there’s always a bit of a festival atmosphere, and, best of all, you get to go out onto the ramp at a busy international airport to take photos and enjoy the experience of being airside.
The 777 is an imposingly large aircraft
Qatar now serves the three largest cities on the U.S. West Coast: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. The Seattle service will be served by Boeing 777s with 42 seats in Qsuite business class and 312 seats in economy. The Qsuite seat layout is a 1-2-1 configuration, and economy is 3-4-3. Seattle service begins at four times weekly (Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), and is scheduled to switch to daily service on July 1.
- A Qsuite was set up for the occasion – they are quite spacious
- The food service was impeccable
- Details included custom amenity kits
The new Seattle service will offer connections from the U.S. to global destinations in Africa, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, among others. The national carrier of the State of Qatar continues to rebuild its network, which currently stands at over 120 destinations with plans to increase to more than 130 by the end of March.
Before the inaugural event, I had the opportunity to chat on the phone with Mark Drusch, SVP of Revenue Management, Alliances and Strategy at Qatar Airways, who’s based in Doha.
“We understand that there are Somalis in Seattle who want to go home â€” we know where our customers need to fly. We have flown a robust schedule even in the depths of covid, so weâ€™ve had our finger on the pulse of the market and have been able to accurately gauge the movements that are required,” he said, citing strong pent-up demand for travel to East Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.
Further, covid has opened up a wave of interest in travel to exotic/under-visited destinations. “We have got a massive developing market between the U.S. and more exotic beach destinations like the Seychelles,” Drusch said. ‘People want to go someplace a little more isolated, and that market has developed quite nicely.”
He also cited the attractiveness for the airline of the strong business environment in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. “This area has not had a problem during the pandemic,” he said, adding that “the Pacific Northwest will rebound faster because of the kinds of businesses we have up here.”
The 77W’s cargo hold was filled with containers. Qatar flies the large jets, in part, to maximize its cargo-handling opportunities.
Cargo is the one aviation sector that has seen growth since the emergence of COVID-19. “Our cargo market has just boomed during the pandemic. We are the largest passenger/freighter operation in the world, we were experts already in carrying cargo on freighters and passenger planes, and we’re flying the 773, which has lots of cargo capacity.”
Asked if Qatar sees itself as being in competition with Emirates for connecting passenger traffic, Drush said, “Lets be honest – the airline industry is very competitive, but weâ€™ve been different than Emirates – theyâ€™ve pulled back from the U.S. and Europe. Weâ€™ve continued to be in the market for our customers; in the middle of covid we repatriated almost 2 million people.”
The 777-300 cockpit is also quite spacious
Qatar Airways Privilege Club and Alaska Mileage Plan members can now earn frequent flyer miles on both carriers. Beginning March 31, 2021, members can also redeem frequent flyer miles on both carriersâ€™ full networks and elite oneworld Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald status perks, including lounge access.
- The departing flight also got a water-cannon salute
- Headed back out on the nearly 14-hour flight from SEA-DOH
Of interest to those in the Pacific Northwest who are Alaska Airlines frequent fliers, Qatar is part of the oneworld alliance, which Alaska recently joined. Alaska Airlines will connect customers from the U.S. West Coast to Doha and beyond via its other hubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco, complementing existing strategic partnerships with JetBlue and oneworld carrier American Airlines.
A fewÂ weeks ago, I had the chance to fly Qatar Airways on their (current) longest flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Qatarâ€™s home hub in Doha â€“ about 16 hours. Given all the talk about them being named a â€œFive Star Airlineâ€ by Skytrax, and our previous coverage of flying Qatar, I was really excited for this flight. Â It would be my first experience on Qatar, and it would be in business class. Unfortunately, I was let down by my experience, at least on the flight to Doha (my flight home to the states was much better at least).
I arrived at LAX via a quick domestic hop from Denver on United. Getting from one side of the airport (T7) to the other (T2) was a mess. I walkedÂ outside,Â on foot, as I had a long layover and it was a decent day out. While the south side of LAX is now fully connected post-security, the north side is still old-school separated.
The LAX Terminal 2 (T2). My wait started out a floor below this.
Surprisingly, Qatar flies out of the newly-renovated T2, which seems to be the terminal of bastard airlines at LAX. Hawaiian, Air Canada, Virgin Atlantic, and other low-frequency carriers are based there, as opposed to the excellent Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). Although the actual terminal is updated, getting there did not seem equipped for prime time. Even with a business class ticket, I was held at the lower level of the terminal. Once enough room cleared on the next level at the packed security checkpoint, I was allowed to take the escalator up to join the queue.
Security was an absolute mess. The older facility just wasnâ€™t designed for modern-day TSA security. The floor was sloped towards the gates as my bag was constantly rolling off — it was pretty comical.
At the Qatar press conference on January 12, 2016 in Beverly Hills, with LAWA Director Deborah Flint, His Excellency GCEO Akbar Al Baker, and Qatar’s VP for the Americas Gunther Saurwein (L-R) – Photo: John Nguyen | AirlineReporter
Qatar Airways held a press conferenceÂ on TuesdayÂ to highlight the carrier’sÂ 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.
Number 24 and 25 of Qatar Airways’ 787 Dreamliners at the Everett Delivery Center
Every plane flying today had its delivery flight at one time or another. Many haveÂ been built at Paine Field, in Everett, WA and then flown to each airlineâ€™s home baseÂ to be put into operation. When the opportunity came up to join Qatar Airways on the delivery of their 24th and 25th Boeing 787 Dreamliners, how could I say no? I didnâ€™t!
- The 787 line
- Down the 787 line
- The 777 line
For most airlines, the whole experience is more than just the flight itself. There are pre-events, meals, speeches, and then the best part: the flight.Â I wasnâ€™t able to participate in everything, but I was able to enjoy a line tour of the both the 787 and 777. Getting into the Boeing Factory never gets old, and seeing how makingÂ buildingÂ complicated aircraft look easy is a feat in and of itself.
The business class cabin in the Qatar 787-8
These media events are also about the people who attend. The airline media world is not so big and made up of many great folks. Part of my excitement was being able to hang out with people like Jason Rabinowitz, Paul Thompson, Seth Miller, and I got to meet Mark Lawrence for the first time. A bunch of AvGeeks flying in a 787 halfway across the world? Yes, please!