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Reports: Qatar Airways Cabin Crew Working Long-Haul Flights With No Layover and No Crew Change

Reports: Qatar Airways Cabin Crew Working Long-Haul Flights With No Layover and No Crew Change

Some cabin crew at Qatar Airways are now being forced to work long-haul flights without any layover for them to rest and recuperate according to several sources who claim to have knowledge of the matter. In normal times, cabin crew and pilots must have a period of rest after a long-haul flight to comply with safety rules known as ‘Flight Time Limitations’. But in the COVID-19 era, many airlines now believe its safer to avoid laying their staff over in a foreign city where they might be more at risk of catching the novel Coronavirus.

Since April, Qatar Airways has been sending two groups of cabin crew on short-haul and medium-haul flights, while still allowing layovers on long-haul flights but those rules have recently changed. Rather than sending two groups of cabin crew on some flights where a layover would normally be required – one to work the outbound flight and the second to work the return sector – the Doha-based airline has been given special dispensation from the country’s civil aviation authority to operate flights with just one set of crew.

Photo Credit: Qatar Airways

A source said one such flight where the rule change was being put to use was the 9-hour flight between Doha and Manila, Philippines. Rather than staying in Manila for a period of rest, cabin crew will now be expected to work both the outbound flight and return sector with only a short time on the ground for the plane to be turned around.

Qatar’s civil aviation authority allows this if cabin crew are given a period of onboard ‘horizontal’ rest of at least five hours – ie. they spend the rest period on an aircraft with crew bunks fitted. In the case of a Doha to Manila flight, cabin crew would be on duty for around 23-hours with a total break time of five hours.

The policy obviously mitigates the risk of cabin crew contracting COVID-19 during a layover but it does require a change to Flight Time Limitations which are designed to prevent crew fatigue. Generally speaking, FTL guidelines in the Middle East are more relaxed than those observed by European carriers.

But it’s not just Gulf carriers that are having to push FTL rules to their limits. Over the last couple of months, many European airlines have been sending cabin crew and pilots on turnaround flights to China, although these flights are operated as cargo-only services without passengers.

In contrast to the FTL rule change for cabin crew, Qatar Airway’s is believed to be despatching two sets of pilots to operate flights when layovers have been banned.

Qatar Airways cabin crew are currently expected to wear full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on passenger flights, including a full hazmat suit, face mask, goggles and gloves for the duration of the flight. The airline’s chief executive, Akbar Al Baker admitted in a recent interview that the PPE was uncomfortable but was necessary to protect cabin crew.

The airline has been contacted for comment. There is no suggestion that Qatar Airways is operating outside of government-mandated rules on FTL.