Qatar Airways on Codesharing and Competition (Across the Aisle, Part Two)

Across the Aisle Interviews, Qatar Airways

Yesterday in part one of my discussion with Qatar Airways Senior VP of the America Tony Hughes, we were just getting warmed up. Today in part two, we get right into the meaty issues of codesharing and competition.


Cranky: Middle Eastern carriers tend to avoid traditional alliances, what is your Across the Aisle from Qatar Airwaysstand on alliances? Codesharing?
Tony: Two things really. Codeshare: whatever makes business sense to us, we will work with. We have a strong relationship with United in the USA. We codeshare on New York and Washington. We codeshare with US Airways out of Houston but those are one-to-one business relationships. The alliance strategy, I can’t really comment on, because that’s our CEO’s prerogative.

Cranky: Are you pretty happy with the feed you’re getting in the US from United and US Airways? Are you looking for more?
Tony: The day we go out with full flights every day of the year, we’ll be happy with the feed. One of the issues we have in the US is the Fly America Act [where US government travelers have to buy tickets on US-based airlines]. In Washington in particular, we carry a lot of government and military business. So the United codeshare does mean those passengers can travel on us with a United ticket. So that’s good. And the passengers are pretty pleased they can do that.

Cranky: Washington is obviously a lot of government. New York is a lot of everything.
Tony: Yeah, it’s New York. We get a lot of business. We also carry a lot of ethnic traffic. About 80% of all our business connects beyond to somewhere else.

Cranky: Really?
Tony: Yeah, the big premise of Doha is as a hub and spoke, so that’s what we do. We have this very famous premium terminal for Business and First. It’s like being in a five star hotel. That’s what we’re geared up to do.

Cranky: Another thing that may surprise people is the Houston connection. Qatar has a lot of natural gas, right?
Tony: Yes, second largest supply in the world.

Cranky: Is that primarily what the Houston flight is doing?
Tony: That was the key premise. Very much so. We carry a lot of business for the main oil companies and affiliated industries. But again, we carry traffic from the West Coast, even from Canada, and again we have some ethnic business. We have a lot of medical tourism becase of the big medical center in Houston.


Cranky: Let me go back to Emirates and Etihad for a second. Emirates is in Houston, New York. Eighty percent of your traffic is connecting so you’re not necessarily selling on the nonstop flight. If you could explain how you compete with them – what’s your selling point?
Tony: Like any business, there’s no blue ocean space around anymore. For us, our biggest competitors are not just Etihad and Emirates. We compete with Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, KLM , who have pretty extensive networks. The value proposition we have is that for one, we offer excellent serice. All our flights from the States are ultra long haul. Our shortest flight to the States is 12 1/2 hours. So obviously we are very good at that.

We have to offer the customer more space. If you take the 777s, all airlines in economy have 3-4-3 configuration and we have 3-3-3, so we have a whole row of seats not there so that makes a difference. Our business class space is huge. So all the ingredients for long haul flying have to be there. That’s a big hook. The other thing is depending on where you’re going, you can do a one stop service with us that might require 2 stops on another carrier.

Thirdly, the terminal proposition. I’m a Brit with good ole’ Heathrow and everything. But Frankfurt and Heathrow in particular can be tough for transfers. Doha is quick. It’ll be better with the new airport which will open in about 18 months.

Cranky: Wait, in Doha there’s a new airport?
Tony: Yeah, there will be. It’ll be the most modern airport in the world.

Cranky: Is it just a new terminal or a greenfield site? I suppose it wouldn’t be greenfield but maybe brownfield.
Tony: No, it’s a brand new airport built on reclaimed land about 4km from the current airport.
Cranky: I’ll have to get more info on that.


And that I will, once I have time. The new airport looks to be absolutely massive and only a couple miles from the current one. Thanks to Tony for taking the time to chat.

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17 comments on “Qatar Airways on Codesharing and Competition (Across the Aisle, Part Two)

  1. Fairly inaccurate comment that “If you take the 777s, all airlines in economy have 3-4-3 configuration and we have 3-3-3” – there are only a few carriers that operate the 777 10 across (Emirates, some BA/AF/KL come to mind). No US flag carrier operates the 777 10 across.

    1. Yeah, I had that same thought, but I printed it as he said it. To be fair, Qatar’s biggest competitors that fly 777s do have the 777s in a 3-4-3 configuration. So I get what he was saying from that perspective, but yeah, not exactly accurate there.

    1. Nope he was right, US4982/US4983 is the codeshare flights for QR78/QR77 IAH-DOH-IAH. There is no CO codesharing going on. Now that is strange and would be a good follow up question to ask why.

      Out of JFK and IAD it’s only the UA codeshare with QR.

      1. at least IAD gives them 60-70 addtl options beyond IAD. granted, this will be low on the priority list but, if CO and UA do end up combining, that could open up the opportunity for much wider code share connections at IAH and even EWR (if they shift the flight from JFK) via CO.

        speaking of which, i think Qatar would be a great fit for star, especially since that would make them the first middle east carrier in a global alliance (good way to differentiate from emirates and etihad) AND it would put them in the largest alliance. seems like a win / win, especially since emirates is unlikely to be interested in ever joining an alliance.

        1. If I had to guess, there might be some sort of contractual conflict with codesharing at IAH with CO because CO already has a OnePass partnership with Emirates. By cleverly codesharing with US – a CO partner in Star Alliance – Qatar can still offer FF miles to all of those loyal CO oil and gas execs.

          Also, I suspect the main obstacle to Qatar in Star would be Lufthansa, who doesn’t appreciate the long-haul connecting competition.

          1. wow, that makes a lot of sense, good call Tory. also explains the emirates flight to IAH, did not know they did some codeshare w/ CO. wonder how THAT will work out after the CO/UA combo.

        1. Well, it can’t hurt right? Maybe there’s a group in Phoenix that goes to Qatar a lot. Not bad to slap a codeshare on there.

  2. The IAH connection for both Qatar and Emirates doesn’t surprise me a bit with Houston being the hub for all oil & gas business in N. America. I know people in the Alberta Canada oil & gas business that make all their mid-east flight connections through Houston.

  3. I was going to ask if the UA codeshare let them in under the Fly America act. I see it does. Good stuff.

    I wonder where the biggest chunk of US-Doha-X traffic is going. South Asia? SE Asia? ME? Africa? or is it fairly well distributed.

      1. India. Everyone goes on Qatar from Washington now. British Airways is really losing out on their India connections from Washington.

        Those with Star miles take Lufthansa to India and everyone else flies Qatar.

        Qatar flies to more regional cities in India than BA or LH cause they can do it with even A319’s while BA can’t fill a 777 to regional places (or even huge places like Kolkata)

        On another note, Turkish Airlines showing up here in Washington could drive down some prices but still this place is totally dominated by Star Alliance and their friends.

    1. I think Sanjeev and David are right that India is a huge piece of it, but Tony said it really does fan out all over. Africa and Southeast Asia get their share too.

      1. QR is known for a good economy class and I second that opinion.

        QR is heavily dependant on traffic from South Asia. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It does fly to many cities in India. No where close to EK in terms of number of flights or the fact that EK flies A330s (mostly) and few 777s while QR does mostly A330s and A320/1.

        Other than EK, I cannot think of a carrier ex-India that does 10 abreast 777 seating. However, a 9 abreast seating does not guarantee the 19″ seat width which QR and SQ (only on 77W) offers. BA, EY, UA, AI, AA, and others offer only 17″~18″ widths with 9 abreast.

        I flew QR in May BLR-DOH-JFK-IAD-DOH-BLR. It was a mixed bag, highly dependent on their cabin crew which is a mix from airlines across the world. The BLR-DOH was good, but DOH-JFK was probably the worst flight of my 4+ million mile flying career. Similarly IAD-DOH was good, DOH-BLR had a boorish flight supervisor who told me “I don’t care if your food is bad” and this was their much vaunted business class.

        I later learnt that QR has a terrible churn problem due to low morale of the cabin crew, so the mixed bag I experienced is normal.

        In the US and in Doha, the ground staff are surly and on average rude, Indian staff is much more welcoming.

        The US flights are pretty near full even mid week, but clearly the DOH-LHR is over capacity with their flights going only about 60% even on weekends.

        The US call centre is an unmitigated disaster. Hold times of 90 minutes or more is very normal, even though I am a Silver member of their priority club. I found it easier to go the QR office in the John Hancock building in downtown Chicago to get re-scheduling done on my ticket.

        Till the new airport is made, transit in Doha is not too good. There are no contact stands, so it is stairs and buses. The terminal is small and cramped as is the duty free.

        Overall, there was a cattle-class approach to economy class passengers. May be Mr. Akbar Al Baker who prizes himself as a customer should look to offer the same form of respect to his customers, as he expects from Boeing and Airbus.

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