A highly controversial incident in which at least 13 women were subjected to forced strip searches and vaginal exams at Doha Hamad International Airport in Qatar while travelling to Sydney in October 2020 was one of the reasons why Qatar Airways has been denied additional landing rights in Australia.
Australian Transport Minister Catherine King told reporters on Thursday that the strip search incident provided “context” for why she rejected an application by Qatar Airways to gain greater access to Australia’s four largest international airports.
The degrading October 2, 2020, incident occurred after Doha airport cleaners found a prematurely born baby abandoned in a restroom in the terminal. Police were called, and several flights on which the mother could have been on were identified.
One of those flights was Qatar Airways flight QR908 from Doha to Sydney. After passengers had boarded the plane, cabin crew called women of childbearing age off the plane and handed them over to local officials.
They were led one by one into an ambulance that was waiting on the tarmac beside the plane, where they were told to strip naked so that a nurse could conduct an invasive vaginal exam to detect signs of recent birth. The culprit was not onboard.
The incident caused uproar in Australia, and politicians condemned the Qatari authorities for subjecting its citizens to such degrading treatment.
On Thursday, King said the October 2020 incident was one of several reasons why the Australian government had rejected a bid by Qatar Airways to gain additional landing and takeoff slots.
Under a bilateral flying services agreement between Qatar and Australia, Qatar Airways is currently permitted to operate up to 28 weekly flights between its Doha hub and Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
Qatar Airways had hoped to increase that quota by 21 additional weekly flights but the application was quickly rebuffed by King.
Critics have claimed that King was influenced by lobbying from Australian flag carrier Qantas, which fears competition from Qatar Airways will drive down massively inflated airfares.
King said it was “nonsense” that giving Qatar Airways greater access to the Australian market would help lower fares, despite a finding from regulators that increased competition would do exactly this.
Qatar Airways continued to serve Australia at a significant loss throughout the pandemic in the hope that it would win support from politicians and the public for greater access to the market once border restrictions were lifted.
The strip search incident is now known to have massively hindered the airline’s plans for Australia.
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.