On Friday, January 29, Qatar Airways kicks off four-time per week nonstop service between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Doha, the capital city of Qatar. Daily service is set to start in July. The airline is using its Boeing 777 aircraft with 42 business class seats and 312 economy class seats for this new service.
This new international route for Seattle was originally set to begin on March 15, 2021. But in an unusual move, Qatar moved up the launch date by almost two months.
“Qatar Airways’ decision to begin service to the Pacific Northwest is a testament to the airline’s confidence in the strength of the region and the expectation to bounce back after the past year’s struggles with the pandemic,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Fred Felleman. “We look forward to this being one of the first steps back to recovery as we will soon welcome global travelers into the new International Arrivals Facility later this year.”
In advance of the launch, Stuck at the Airport chatted with Qatar’s Mark Drusch, SVP of Revenue Management, Alliance, and Strategy. [Answers edited for space, clarity, etc.]
Why is Seattle an important market for Qatar now?
Drusch says traffic on the airline’s Los Angeles and San Francisco flights is very strong and the airline is seeing a lot of traffic through Seattle via partners American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, which is joining the oneworld alliance. “Seattle was the largest gateway on the west coast we weren’t operating out of. So this [new route] is just a natural,” says Drusch.
Why move up the launch?
“Our San Francisco service [launched December 15] has taken off so quickly, and the advance bookings for Seattle in March were so incredibly strong,” says Drusch. “With that and the fact that we were making great progress in establishing a partnership with Alaska, we said, ‘Why should we wait?”
Isn’t moving up a launch complicated?
“It is only complicated in that you need to work through the details with your crews – pilots and flight attendants. But we had enough advance notice that we could do that,” says Drush. “And, honestly, pre-COVID it would have been a lot more difficult. During COVID we have extra pilots and extra flight attendants, and we have more flexibility than we’ve had in the past.”
What about the partnership with Alaska Airlines?
“Alaska is joining oneworld at the end of March, and we are a member of oneworld, so we will obviously have a partnership with them via oneworld. But we’ve been talking to them about having an enhanced relationship versus the oneworld relationship. We haven’t announced anything yet, but stay tuned you might hear something shortly.”
How is the inflight service altered in response to COVID-19 concerns?
Qatar is using a Boeing 777 aircraft for this route with Qsuites in business class. The suites have sliding doors, “so when you are in your Qsuite you don’t have to use your mask,” says Drusch. Full meal service is being offered in both business class and coach, with some modifications. Flight attendants are in full PPE, including face shields. All planes are being cleaned every 24 hours with an automated UV machine.
What special events are planned for the inaugural landing and take-off of this new Qatar flight at SEA?
A social-distanced gate celebration will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Passengers will receive gift bags with local treats from Seattle, Qatar Airways, Alaska Airlines, and Boeing.