To cheers and a water-cannon salute on the airfield, Qatar Airways arrived in Philadelphia just after 8:15 a.m Wednesday, opening the Philadelphia area’s first non-stop route to the Persian Gulf.
“Philadelphia joins our existing North American hubs: Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Houston and Montreal,” said Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker, stepping off the flight from Doha, the capital of Qatar, which borders Saudi Arabia.
The daily flight to Doha will depart here at 10:15 a.m. daily, arriving at 6:10 a.m. the next day, to connect to flights across the Middle East, Africa, India, Europe, and Asia Pacific region.
About 80 percent Doha passengers travel on to other places.
Qatar is the first new foreign-flag carrier to fly out of Philadelphia since Swiss Air started service in 1990, airport CEO Mark Gale said.
The inaugural flight, a Boeing 777-200LR, was packed with international media, business and leisure travelers, and airline management.
Al Baker was joined at a welcoming ceremony in Terminal A-West by Mayor Nutter and Philadelphia International Airport CEO Mark Gale.
“We are very proud to have an international carrier of Qatar’s acclaim serving our airport,” Gale said.
“Qatar’s vast network in the Middle East, Africa and Asia is the perfect complement to the extensive network of flights and destinations throughout North and South America provided by our hub carrier, the new American Airlines,” Gale said. “We look forward to a long relationship with Qatar Airways.”
Qatar, the national carrier of the state of Qatar, has won awards for its business class service, with angle-flat seats, top-flight wines and meals, luxurious lounges, modern planes, and customer-friendly service.
Al Baker, in an interview, talked about the airline’s rapid expansion since it began in 1997, new plane orders and launching in two more U.S. cities — Miami and Dallas — by July.
Philadelphia is Qatar’s 137th destination.
Gulf region airlines, including Emirates and Etihad Airways, have become increasingly important players in the global aviation landscape. Qatar has 300 new aircraft on order worth more than $50 billion. At the Dubai Airshow in November, Qatar placed orders for more than 60 aircraft, a combination of Boeing 777X and Airbus A330s.
A new airport in Doha will open this year.
“This is an historic day for our city and our airport,” Mayor Nutter said. Qatar Airways arrival brings “unprecedented access to the Gulf region, which is one of the key economic centers in the world.”
“I am bullish about the opportunities this convenient service presents to businesses and leisure travelers in both of our great regions,” he said.
Qatar has a code-share financial arrangement and reciprocal frequent-flier program agreement with American Airlines and US Airways, allowing customers to earn and redeem miles when traveling on each others’ global networks.
US Airways will bring passengers from across the U.S. to Philadelphia to fill Qatar’s daily flight to Doha. Inbound Qatar customers will have onward connections in the U.S. from Philadelphia.
In October, Qatar joined the Oneworld global airline alliance, which US Airways and American belong to. “Qatar joined Oneworld, so they all could be in the same alliance and feed a lot of traffic to the Philadelphia hub from all over the U.S.,” said Brian Kelly, founder of ThePointsGuy.com, a blog and website for maximizing airline frequent-flier miles and credit-card points.
“People from Phoenix going to India can go Phoenix-Philly, Philly-Doha, Doha-Delhi relatively seamlessly, all on one ticket. You check your bag through,” Kelly said.
Al Baker said last fall that he planned to grow to 170 routes with a fleet to match in the next three years. He said he targets new and underdeveloped markets where others might not see an opportunity, such as Africa.
The growth markets are “all over Asia, the Persian Gulf and India, which are customer bases for many businesses,” said John Strickland, an air transport consultant in London. “Africa is often overlooked, but a number of countries there are really motoring ahead.”