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Qatar Airways Accused of Forcing South Asian Cabin Crew to Work COVID-19 Repatriation Flights While Sparing European Crew

Qatar Airways Accused of Forcing South Asian Cabin Crew to Work COVID-19 Repatriation Flights While Sparing European Crew

A Qatar Airways whistleblower has accused the Doha-based airline of forcing mainly South Asian cabin crew to work COVID-19 repatriation flights while sparing European expat crew who have been allowed to stay in their company-provided accommodation out of harm’s way. Unlike many airlines, Qatar Airways has continued operating a relatively extensive route network throughout the Coronavirus pandemic and has worked with a number of governments on special repatriation flights.

“We had no choice,” claimed the whistleblower in comments reported by the Arab News. “We were forced to work on these flights or be fired. Managers would threaten us using abusive language, saying things like, ‘Take this flight or go back to your third-world country,” the crew member continued.

Photo Credit: Qatar Airways

“Some staff with good looks or who are favourites of the management, especially Europeans, were asked to stage an act for CNN that (suggested) we were very happy flying health-care workers. They were paid very generously to do so, despite the fact that they didn’t necessarily serve on the flights or take any risks. But the staff that were forced to work on those flights were given only threats.”

Since the pandemic wreaked havoc on the aviation industry, Qatar Airways says it has helped to repatriate over one million travellers from around the world. The government-owned airline has made much of its promise to continue operating despite the pandemic and its high-profile “We’ll get you home” publicity campaign has helped the airline build strong levels of trusts with both passengers and national governments.

At present, Qatar Airways is only flying to around 30 international destinations but hopes to increase that number to 52 within the next couple of weeks. By the end of June, the airline is targeting an 80-strong list of destinations in its network which will be dependent on the easing of travel restrictions around the world.

In comparison, regional competitor Emirates has just resumed regularly scheduled passenger flights to just nine destinations and Etihad has delayed the resumption of normal commercial flights until mid-June at the earliest.

Qatar Airways says it has taken its responsibility for the health and safety of crew seriously and for the past several weeks it has been mandatory for cabin crew to wear face masks and disposable gloves, as well as undergo temperature checks before and after every flight. Those protections have since been ramped up and now cabin crew must wear a disposable hazmat suit and goggles, along with all the other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

But while the Arab News conceded it would be unfair to “single out Qatar Airways for mishandling the situation” that came with the caveat that Qatar had become a “case study in coronavirus-crisis mismanagement.”

The Arab News is a Saudi-backed publication and the story was published in Dubai. The UAE is part of a Saudi-led bloc that has orchestrated a blockade on Qatar since 2017.

Qatar Airways has been contacted for comment but had not responded by the time of publication. The airline recently informed cabin crew that a “substantial” number of crew would be laid-off because of the effects that the pandemic is having on the airline industry. Around 5,000 cabin crew could be made redundant with anyone who has worked for the airline for 15 years or more set to be axed.

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