While airlines around the world start to lay out their new health regulations, Qatar Airways has announced what may be some of the tightest measures by an airline yet. This includes hazmat suits worn by cabin crew over their regular uniform, and passengers must wear a mask on board otherwise face a rather high fine and possible imprisonment.
Although carriers like Qantas and Jetstar are not strictly enforcing the use of masks, Qatar has made face protection mandatory for those who want to fly with the highly regarded airline, which expects to resume travelling to 80 destinations by the end of June.
Additional measures introduced while Qatar Airways continued to operate repatriation flights will be maintained, like having hand sanitiser dispensers in the galleys for both cabin and crew. All social areas onboard have also been closed to observe social distancing measures, although you won’t find the “middle seat blocking” that some other airlines have implemented. However, Qatar is staggering boarding process and aiming to allocate seats as far apart from each other where possible.
Modified service will also be a focus of the temporary changes on board, aimed at minimising the interactions between the passengers and the crew during the flight. It’s an intriguing look into what the “new normal” of travel may look like, for all cabins.
Business Class Measures
Business Class passengers can expect meals to be served on a tray instead of the usual table set up, with pre-wrapped cutlery offered to passengers as an alternative to the individual cutlery service. This brings the meal service experience a bit closer to Economy, but of course the food will still be substantially more up-market.
Business Class passengers will of course also be able to use their Qsuite features, like Do Not Disturb, sliding partitions and fully closing doors to limit interactions with cabin crew.
Advanced Cleaning and Protocol
Qatar Airways has reiterated that aircraft are regularly disinfected using cleaning products recommended by the International Air Transport Association and the WHO. Its hub of Hamad International Airport has also begun using disinfectant robots which emit concentrated UV-C light known to be effective in eliminating a large number of infectious microorganisms.
This is of course in addition to the use of industrial-size HEPA filters that remove 99.97% of viral and bacterial contaminants from re-circulated air. Washing, drying and pressing at microbial lethal temperatures the linen and blankets used by passengers on board is also being observed, while the ear foams in headsets are being removed and sanitised after each flight before being sealed into individual packaging by staff wearing disposable gloves. Utensils and cutlery are also washed to a similar high standard.
Cabin crew has also been distributed differently, with the airline sending out two separate groups on short-haul and medium-haul flights. One manages the outbound trip, while the other takes care of the inbound part. Crew members who have to stay overnight in a foreign city due to long-haul flights are also abiding by their own strict measures, only travelling in Qatar Airways-approved transport and remaining in their rooms to limit human interaction.
Mandatory Mask Use
What is bound to be one of the more controversial parts of these new measures is the requirement for all passengers to wear masks. While the cabin crew will be taking that more than a few steps ahead, with goggles, gloves and their own hazmat suites, passengers will need to wear face coverings on board from Monday 25th May. The airline is encouraging customers to bring their own for fit and comfort purposes, but anyone not wearing one onboard a Qatar Airways flight runs the risk of a AU$81,600 fine and a maximum prison sentence of three years.
Readers should be aware that for masks to be effective, they should be changed fairly regularly as the moisture from your breathe can render them useless after some time.