The airline was launched in 1995, with two aircraft and a handful of destinations, recalled Al Baker. “I was brought in back in 1997 to relaunch the airline with a very clear mandate – create a carrier that serves the needs of the state of Qatar and, at the same time, create an airline that was the best.”
The carrier’s first Boeing 787 arrives on November 12 and another four will be delivered before the end of 2012. “Qatar Airways is not only buying aircraft, but is concentrating on giving the highest comfort levels for passengers in all classes,” says Al Baker. “We’re giving passengers unparalleled amenities and Boeing 787 that we will operate will be the most luxurious airliner of its type that will be flying.”
Recaro-made economy class seats are on the 787, though they will ultimately need to altered so that the armrests can retract flush against the seat. “Boeing had a catalogue and you can’t order outside the catalogue. But Qatar has very high standards and very high demands. Aircraft manufacturers have to oblige and understand what customers want. They can’t just give us a catalogue and say ‘this is what we can give – take it or leave it.’”
Qatar’s 787 will have onboard Internet. “That is what passengers want and this is why the aircraft isn’t in service yet. We took delivery of the aircraft and now it’s in Victorville, California, with Boeing installing inflight connectivity,” says Al Baker. “The first 10 aircraft will be done in Victorville. And from aircraft 11 onward, it will be done on line.”
Qatar will offer a connectivity hardware solution from its IFE provider, Thales, with service from SITA/Airbus joint venture OnAir. Its connectivity runs over the Inmarsat SwiftBroadband link, which will boast better speeds, in part, because of pressure from Qatar.
Qatar Airways has helped Boeing refine its product, says Al Baker. “We have helped Boeing to upgrade a lot of things on the airplane and Boeing is very appreciative that Qatar as an airline has been so aggressive in pushing them to improve their product.”
Another key part of Qatar’s passenger experience will be the new $16 billion Doha International Airport, which will open by the second half of 2013. “This will most certainly, without doubt, be the most sophisticated and the best airport in the world.
“I’m also CEO of the airport, which puts me in charge of the total passenger experience in the air and on the ground. This is the only airport in the world which has been designed not by an architect, but by an airline,” says Al Baker. Some of the features include a full spa, a 25-meter swimming pool, squash courts and a 200-room airside hotel.
Qatar Airways is always shifting the bar for other airlines, according to Al Baker, who offered an example. “We were the first airline in the world after British Airways to have a horizontal lie-flat seat in our premium cabin. You see today that all carriers are providing that,” he says. “But they did it five years after us. We don’t follow other airlines. We audit other airlines to see how we can change and get better.”