Qatar Airways has imposed a strict new nighttime curfew on cabin crew, saying the measures have been introduced because there had been “several instances” of crew failing to comply with COVID-19 regulations. Cabin Crew will not be allowed to go outside between 9 pm to 7 am under the new rules which came into effect on Tuesday without any prior warning.
The curfew will last indefinitely and cabin crew have been warned that “further precautionary measures” could be introduced if infection numbers across Qatar start to rise. Cabin crew found to be breaking the 10-hour nightly lockdown face disciplinary action which will likely result in dismissal.
“It is disheartening to learn that there have been several instances of failure to adhere to the government regulations and MoPH (Ministry of Public Health) guidelines among our Cabin Crew team,” read a memo sent from Qatar’s senior vice president of cabin services, Saliya Karunanayake on Tuesday.
“This is not only irresponsible with respect to your own health and wellbeing, and that of your friends and colleagues; but it also poses a serious threat to the continued efforts of both the State of Qatar and Qatar Airways to contain the spread of COVID-19 and prevent a second wave of this disease,” the memo continued.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of Qatar has registered a total of 113,938 cases of the novel Coronavirus and only 113 deaths. The tiny Persian Gulf country entered Phase 3 of its reopening plans last month which allows for up to 10 people to meet up indoors and up to 30 people if outdoors.
Karunanayake tells cabin crew in the memo to “refrain from participating in any gatherings or social events of any kind either within, or outside of, company accommodation, whilst government-imposed COVID-19 precautionary measures are in place.”
Despite enforcing strict lockdown measures at the height of the pandemic, the country never imposed a nighttime curfew on its residents. The fourth and final phase of reopening plans is set to be introduced on September 1 but only if the spread of COVID-19 remains under control.
Qatar Airways has long imposed a nighttime curfew on cabin crew but many expat crew working for the airline are able to live with the normal 4 am to 7 am curfew. Cabin crew must live in company-provided accommodation and their movements are tracked by security guards, key cards and surveillance cameras.
The airline has previously justified its nightly curfew on the grounds that it ensures cabin crew are well-rested and fit to fly before a flight.
Other airlines in the region – such as Emirates and Etihad Airways in the United Arab Emirates introduced lockdown restrictions in April but these rules have since been relaxed. Neither Emirates nor Etihad enforce nighttime curfews on cabin crew.
As well as introducing an extended nighttime curfew, Qatar Airways has also been reassigning some crew to work in the airline’s call centre. Staffers claim they risk being dismissed if they refuse the assignment.
On Thursday, Qatar Airways said new figures confirmed that it had become the largest international airline in the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of destinations the airline continued to operate to even as travel restrictions closed many countries never dropped below 30 and in June, the airline operated over 1.25 billion revenue passenger kilometres – 50 per cent more than its closest competitor.
In May, Qatar Airways introduced head to toe personal protective equipment for cabin crew, including a full hazmat suit. The airline’s chief executive, Akbar Al Baker admitted the kit was uncomfortable but said it was necessary to protect crew from COVID-19. Since then, less cumbersome PPE has been introduced.
In a statement, Qatar Airways justified the measures, saying: “For the ongoing protection of our cabin crew, colleagues, fellow residents and passengers, this temporary restriction is designed to limit any potential new cases of COVID-19.”
“We appreciate the incredible continued efforts of our crew to go above and beyond during this challenging time and this temporary measure will further protect all individuals.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.