At the International Air Transport Association (IATA) summit in Doha, the Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker revealed that Virgin Australia was not his first choice for an Aussie partner pick.
Al Baker sat alongside the Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka at an IATA panel when he was asked what he liked about Virgin that made him want to partner with them.
“Quite frankly I don’t know if Alan (Joyce) is here but we tried to do work with (Qantas) for a very long time and we realised that it’s not going to happen because they have partnered with somebody (Emirates),” Al Baker said.
“They have recently extended their partnership for another five years which if we were going to wait for them we would’ve had to wait seven years and no business individual will wait for that long.”
The Australian reported that Al Baker continued to say the opportunity for partnership with Virgin Australia was “never expected.”
“Jayne is new there, I’m sure she’s very experienced in aviation. Anyway she was ex-Jetstar and we found this a fantastic opportunity,” the Qatar Airways CEO said.
“We will be able to really show what getting together with somebody that never expected to get together can achieve the results.”
Responding to this, Hrdlicka said that Virgin was looking for a partner who would give consumers a “phenomenal travel experience” as the airline came out of the pandemic.
“We had to start from a standpoint of who are we serving. We’re serving our guests and for us that’s Qatar into Europe, United into the US and Singapore Airlines into Asia and Europe,” Hrdlicka said.
“Qatar was one of the few airlines along with United that kept Australia connected to the world (in the pandemic). We were isolated, we are a long way from anybody for those of you who don’t know and it’s very daunting when your borders shut and your national carrier’s not serving your network.”
The panel also discussed airport chaos, which the airline chiefs blamed on delayed and cancelled flights and passenger’ bags not being loaded.
Al Baker said these issues were not factored in by many airlines for their recovery plans.
“Nobody expected this chaos would happen at airports because nobody expected there would be a pandemic, nobody expected millions of people would be made redundant and millions of people would be allowed to work from home,” he said.
“Passengers need people to serve them and this is where the problem is at the airports.”
Al Baker claimed there weren’t these issues at Hamad International Airport in Doha but said that airports like Heathrow and Schiphol were not so lucky.
“It’s also because during the pandemic their equipment was not properly looked after and serviced,” he said.
“We get delays of 1.5 to two hours (at these airports) and 50 per cent of the time the baggage system is broken down.”
The Virgin CEO added that “nobody has the perfect foresight” for making it through the pandemic and suggested that airport maintenance should have been obvious.
“It’s very frustrating for all of us not to have airports back and functioning as well as they should because that seems like the easiest job,” she said.
Travel Weekly reached out to Qantas and Virgin for comment.