A number of Qatar Airways passengers say they were asked to take COVID-19 rapid antigen tests without any prior warning on recent flights from the airline’s hub in Doha to the Maldives. Many of the passengers who were caught up in the mass testing trial had already taken a mandatory pre-departure PCR test and had travelled on long-haul connecting flights to Doha. They say they had no idea a second COVID-19 test would be required before being allowed onboard their next flight.
The unannounced testing requirement comes just over a month after it was revealed that a group of at least 13 women who were booked on Qatar Airways flights were subjected to “invasive” vaginal exams at Doha’s Hamad International Airport. The scandal drew widespread international criticism and several officials involved in the incident face criminal charges.
In order to travel to the Maldives, tourists must obtain a negative COVID-19 test certificate dated within 96-hours of arrival. There is no legal requirement imposed by the government of the Maldives for a second test at the airport.
Passengers on a number of flights which departed Doha last week, however, say when they arrived at the departure gate they were told they must take a rapid antigen swab test in order to be allowed to board their flights.
“I must say it was extremely stressful having an extra hurdle thrown our way at the gate which we were totally oblivious about,” one Tripadvisor user who goes by the username Co-amox said of the experience. “Not going to lie, for a moment I thought it had come back positive and they were just cohorting passengers in order to avoid a scene,” the user explained.
Another user going by the name msgmg said of their experience: “We are flying with a 3 year old and I will never do this again. It would make sense if done on initial flight but in Doha? They have no clue and refused to answer my questions regarding what happens if one family member tests positive and the rest negative.”
And on popular frequent flyer website, FlyerTalk one Qatar Airways passenger said: “It is quite stressful since no previous communication from QR until you are there. And no questions were answered.”
Many passengers questioned what would happen if someone tested positive in Doha, with gate agents apparently unable to say whether someone would be required to enter quarantine in Qatar for two weeks.
Most passenger traffic at Doha Hamad International Airport originates in another country for connecting flights. Qatar has, however, implemented a ‘travel bubble’ scheme for passengers originating in the country which does require a rapid COVID-19 test just before departure and this is advertised.
Last week, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker revealed that the airline planned to roll out mass antigen testing. “Qatar Airways is already one of the first airlines that has placed a huge order for the rapid tests,” Al Baker explained in an interview with ‘Aviation Analyst’.
“Roche is one of the pharmaceuticals companies that has brought this rapid test [to the market], and we will start testing our passengers, a lot of them — hundreds of thousands of them, starting from the middle of this month.”
In a statement, however, a spokesperson for the airline said it had stopped carrying out rapid tests on travellers who had not started their journey in Qatar.
“Passengers flying with Qatar Airways to Maldives are not required to complete a rapid PCR COVID-19 test at Hamad International Airport unless they are travelling from Qatar as part of a Qatar Airways Holidays travel bubble package,” the spokesperson said.
“A limited number of tests were recently carried out, purely on a trial basis, and we can confirm that no further test is required for travel, traveling to the Maldives originating outside of Qatar.”
There are now at least eight major airlines conducting pre or post travel COVID-19 trials in an effort to ease travel restrictions imposed by many countries. Many of the airlines involved have publicised the trials and give passengers the option of booking on an alternative flight which does not require a test.
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 used by some of the biggest names in journalism.