Qatar Airways’ reputation has taken an enormous hit, with many Australians vowing never to fly through Qatar again, following shocking reports that women were subjected to human rights violations while transiting at Doha’s Hamad International Airport.
Women on around 10 flights, including 13 Australians on QR908 to Sydney on 2 October 2020, were forcibly subjected to invasive internal medical examinations after a newborn baby was found abandoned in an airport bathroom. The terrified women said they were not informed of what was happening, and one told the ABC she thought the plane was being hijacked when the women were all forced off without explanation.
The Qatari government has released a 3-paragraph statement expressing “regret” for “any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action”. But the statement does not contain the words “sorry” or “apology”.
“This was the first instance of an abandoned infant being discovered in such a condition at HIA – this egregious and life-threatening violation of the law triggered an immediate search for the parents, including on flights in the vicinity of where the newborn was found,” the Qatari government said.
But many, including Amnesty International, have pointed out that the abandoned baby did not justify the invasive searches of innocent women.
Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne labelled the incident a “grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events” and has complained directly to her Qatari counterparts.
Qatar Airways, the airline, is not directly responsible for what happened at Hamad International Airport on 2 October. According to reports, cabin crew on board the flight were not aware of what was happening at the direction of Qatari authorities and were “absolutely horrified” when they found out afterwards. But flying with Qatar Airways requires travellers to transit through Doha, and the state carrier is owned by the Qatari government. So that will provide little comfort to travellers – some who say they will now boycott the airline.
Here’s what just a few AFF members had to say:
Utterly horrific. Totally inexcusable. Can’t imagine the distress.
Appalling. I don’t care how good their product is if this can happen.
Agree. I can’t imagine that experience. Totally degrading and the power that Doha officials have in forcing women to have this examination is unimaginable. I love Qatar but must think twice next time.
In some ways, Qatar Airways has become Australia’s de-facto international airline since April. In the month after Australia’s external border closed, Qatar Airways grew its international market share in Australia from 3% to 45%. In the same month, the Qantas Group’s market share dropped to below 3% and Virgin Australia to less than 1%.
In fact, while Qantas and Virgin cancelled all commerical international flights, Qatar Airways added new flights from Doha to Brisbane. By maintaining reliable service to Australia, Qatar Airways has helped tens of thousands of Australians to get home. All of that goodwill has just been undone.
Qatar will need to issue a sincere apology to all of the women affected, and an assurance that this can never happen again, if it is to earn back any of that lost reputation.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Australian women on Qatar flight internally examined