Qatar Airways was denied a request by Australia to add 21 weekly flights to major cities like Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth from the Middle East.
One of the world’s largest travel agency has accused the Australian federal government of intentionally maintaining high airfares by refusing Qatar Airways’ request to increase its flights to the country.
Flight Centre Australia CEO Graham Turner slammed the decision as “ridiculous” after announcing a positive profit upgrade ahead of the group’s full-year results in August, reports said.
“The cost of airfares is a huge problem for travellers. I think it’s the most ridiculous decision I’ve ever seen. We have Australian airlines like Qantas, which do not have the capacity for additional services, and yet we’re rejecting Qatar’s extra capacity,” he said.
The comments came after Australia’s Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Catherine King rejected a Qatar Airways request to increase its flight capacity in Australia after facing opposition from the national carrier Qantas.
Qatar Airways had applied to add 21 weekly flights to major Australian cities like Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth from the Middle East.
During the bilateral air rights application process, the Federal Government consulted with Qantas, and the airline expressed its objection to the proposal. Qantas argued that approving Qatar Airways’ request could lead to job losses in Australia, which influenced King’s decision to block the application, according to The Australian.
The rejection of Qatar Airways’ application coincides with a period of elevated international airfares, which some people attribute to a lack of competition in the airline industry.
Kevin Hogan, a Nationals MP and opposition spokesman on tourism, conveyed his disappointment with the decision in a statement to the Australian Financial Review.
“I strongly support competition in the sector and more slots for airlines like Qatar would be beneficial to our slow recovery in international tourism,” Hogan said.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker joined others in criticising Qantas’ influence in the matter. Al Baker emphasised that his airline had continued operating flights throughout the pandemic, unlike Qantas, which suspended all flights except for government-subsidised repatriation flights, reports said.
Australia’s decision comes as the Gulf carrier faces a legal case in the Federal Court over an incident in which five Australian women underwent invasive personal examinations at Doha’s Hamad International Airport in the year 2020.
The five were part of a group of passengers removed from ten international flights while authorities searched for the mother of a newborn baby that had been left in a bin at the airport in the Qatari capital. Among the affected passengers were women aged between 33 and 75, some accompanied by young children.
The women said they were then subjected to an alleged “non-consensual” invasive medical examination in an effort to find the baby’s mother. Investigations found that the mother proceeded to board a flight after discarding the baby.
Sources had told Doha News in 2021 that the baby was taken to Qatar’s Orphans Care Center (Dreama), where authorities have ensured she is taken care of.
Doha News also learnt that one the security official responsible for ordering the invasive searches was charged a hefty fine and given a six-month prison sentence which he then appealed, but was upheld by the Qatari courts.
The five women urged the Australian minister, King, to consider Qatar Airways’ “insensitive and irresponsible treatment of us and its failure to ensure the safety and dignity of its passengers.”
In February 2022, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani renewed Doha’s apology to the Australian women.
Responding to whether the women should be compensated, Sheikh Mohammed said the matter had been settled, as the Sydney Herald reported.
“As the government we are taking the full responsibility of this action, and we are penalising the people who were responsible for such a slip, which was a big mistake,” he said.
Sheikh Mohammed noted that “it was a single incident that happened and nothing happened after” it.
“We are assuring the safety and security of women and men who are travelling through Qatar Airways,” said the Qatari diplomat.
In November last year, seven women who were victims of the invasive search announced their plans to sue Qatar, claiming the Gulf state had yet to provide them with a formal apology.
Despite the women’s claims, Qatar did release a public condemnation and an apology for the incident. The Gulf state’s communications office (GCO) also released a statement on 28 October, 2020, condemning the violation of the women’s rights.
The Sydney Morning Herald said the lawyer representing the women in NSW Supreme Court is claiming that training regimes have never been released publicly.
In 2021, however, Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee organised a training course for leaders of HIA. The programme was titled “International Standards for Human Rights at Airports” and applied international human rights standards.