Qatar Airways successfully flew the world’s first fully vaccinated flight with all 188 passengers, two pilots and 18 cabin crew having received a vaccine for the Covid-19 pandemic. The Airbus A350-1000-operated flight departed Doha on April 6 marking a significant milestone in the pandemic as airlines look to the future of travel recovery. Qatar Airways is the first airline in the world to operate such a flight where everyone on board must show proof of a vaccine.
Ground staff working the flight were also fully vaccinated essentially creating a travel bubble.
On board were travel agents, media and Qatar Privilege Club frequent fliers who had to show proof of the vaccine before departure. Despite the vaccine requirement, passengers were still required to don masks, except when eating or drinking, and in the economy class section, the airline kept a seat between passengers empty for additional social distancing.
The airline’s medical director Dr. John Roberts, who also traveled on the flight, says that masks are an important part of preventing virus transmission even though all passengers and crew were fully vaccinated. Airlines around the world require that passengers wear masks on flights although Roberts believes that in the near future, when vaccines are more widespread, the requirement will be eased.
The three-hour flight from Doha had no destination, overflying Dubai and crossing over to Omani airspace before returning to Hamad International Airport. The carrier supported the “flight to nowhere” via its carbon offset program.
Qatar Airways group chief executive, His Excellency Akbar Al Baker believes vaccine requirements will be the way forward for safe travel. While his airline does not require a vaccine to travel on its regular flights, he says that there may come a time in the near future when airlines will require proof of a vaccine in advance of travel.
According to Al Baker, the fully vaccinated flight “provides a beacon of hope for the future of international aviation.”
The airline is also “strongly encouraging” its staff to get vaccinated or undergo a PCR test every three days before coming to work. These efforts, according to Al Baker, assure passengers of the airline’s intense safety protocols.
Last year, the airline was one of the few to require the use of both masks and face shields for all passengers. According to Roberts, the face shield requirement was lifted after research showed that aircraft ventilation systems using “high efficiency particulate air” (HEPA) filters, in tandem with masks, were effective at limiting virus transmission.
The vaccinated flight was also the launch of the airline’s new touchless entertainment system. The “zero touch” technology lets passengers pair their mobile device with the seat’s entertainment system after scanning a QR code and entering a password. Then, customers can select movies, music and other entertainment without having to touch the screen.
Hamad International Airport in Doha is the first and only in the Middle East and Asia to achieve the Skytrax 5-star Covid-19 safety rating. The airport employs robotic cleaning machines in addition to ultraviolet light technology to sanitize the terminal, seating areas, security bins and baggage carts. Similar equipment is used aboard the airline’s planes in between flights.
Qatari borders remain closed to international visitors as the nation continues to navigate the pandemic. The country is vaccinating around 1,000 people per day.
Unlike many airlines, Qatar Airways has not significantly slowed its operations, despite the pandemic. It operates 1,200 weekly flights to more than 140 cities around the world. The airline also grew its route network adding flights to San Francisco and Seattle/Tacoma in 2020.