Qatar Airways has been accused of forcing married cabin crew to spend a significant period of time apart from their spouses through the COVID-19 pandemic as part of measures to reduce the risk of virus transmission through the airline. Since May, married cabin crew who were allowed to live with their partners in private accommodation have been moved back into same-sex company provided accommodation if they want to continue flying and earning money.
The airline said it had taken the measures on the advice of Qatar’s Ministry of Health but was now actively reviewing the policy as the small Persian Gulf country continues to ease COVID-19 related restrictions.
Married cabin crew remain a rarity at Qatar Airways after controversial policy required staffers to request permission from the airline’s chief executive before being allowed to wed. Critics claim the airline would promptly end someone’s employment if they applied for permission to marry.
Qatar Airways moved to align its employment policies with international norms several years ago but cabin crew must still inform managers before getting married. While the Doha-based carrier provides shared accommodation for cabin crew, married couples are granted a ‘live out’ allowance.
“Earlier this year, operational members of the Qatar Airways Cabin Crew team who were living in private residences across Qatar were provided with company-allocated accommodation, in-line with guidance issued by the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) designed to limit the potential spread to COVID-19,” the airline confirmed in a statement.
“This temporary measure was in addition to Cabin Crew continuing to receive their usual housing allowance allocation, ensuring that affected Crew were able to maintain their usual place of residence, whilst allowing the airline to meet its commitment in supporting government efforts to limit new cases of COVID-19, as well as provide ongoing protection for our Cabin Crew, colleagues, passengers and fellow residents of Qatar,” the statement continued.
“We can also confirm that married Cabin Crew team members were given the option to continue living with their spouse and families outside company accommodation on the understanding that they would be unable to operate on flights during this time.”
But whistleblowers who moved back into company-provided accommodation say they were then hit with a strict curfew that prevented them from spending the night with their spouse. In August, Qatar Airways introduced a shortlived 9 pm to 7 am curfew but a longstanding 4 am to 7 am curfew remains in force.
The airline now says it is reviewing its policy with the hope that cabin crew might be able to return to their family homes and also fly in the near future.
Qatar Airways was one of only a few airlines that continued to fly long-haul international flights throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The airline’s route network never dropped below 30 destinations at any one time and the carrier became crucial in some government’s efforts to repatriate their citizens never regularly scheduled flights had been grounded.
Despite having now resumed service to over 90 destinations and recently announcing plans to start a new route to San Francisco, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker fears the worse is still to come.
“The worst is not behind any airline, not only Qatar Airways,” Al Baker told CNBC on Thursday. There will soon be other bailouts in Europe, there will be other collapses around the world. Because of the second wave, I think it is … even more severe than in the first wave,” he continued.
Al Baker supported state aid for airlines and expected more bailouts across Europe and the rest of the world in the coming months. Qatar Airways has already received a near $2 billion bailout from the government of Qatar in order to survive the Corona crisis.
“I think that if this pandemic spreads further into the near future, that the recovery could be even beyond 2024,” Al Baker warned. “I don’t think it’ll be 10 years, but it will certainly be between three and five years.”
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