Setting standards

Why Qatar Airways joined the inflight connectivity revolution

It’s a familiar observation in the world of sport that repeatedly winning a title is a lot harder than that first, original triumph. The same could be said for premium companies whose standards not only have to be maintained, but bettered, on an ongoing basis. Their customers demand the best, and the best keeps getting better.

It’s something perennial five-star airline, Qatar Airways, clearly recognises. As a four-time winner of Skytrax’s Airline of the Year award, it knows a thing or two about keeping passengers happy. And while there are a number of reasons why the carrier regularly picks up industry gongs, the common thread is choice.

“We give our passengers options,” says Babar Rahman, the airline’s Senior Manager, Inflight Entertainment/Connectivity, Corporate Sponsorships, CSR & Special Projects. “Our IFE gives our passengers the most programme choices in the sky and now they have the choice of using gate-to-gate broadband connectivity” too. Babar explains that, when gate-to-gate connectivity is implemented in Qatar, it will provide a seamless connected experience from the moment they board. Previously, lack of regulatory approval for gate-to-gate connectivity, meant that passengers could only connect after reaching an altitude of 10,000ft. Babar adds: “With the number of options that Qatar Airways provides our passengers, I believe they can receive the perfect passenger experience.”

This chimes with the words of its Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr Akbar Al Baker, who has consistently remarked that Qatar Airways’ mission is ‘excellence in everything we do’. Rahman acknowledges that it’s an unyielding commitment to this philosophy that keeps the airline continuously striving to be the best.

Getting there first

“We do this by continuously improving on what we do, and by being at the forefront of innovation and technology,” he notes. “We are the first to bring a major improvement to the industry like NFC integration”. He explains that, simply by tapping their smartphone on their seat’s NFC device, passengers can securely and seamlessly transfer data.

This is complemented by the airline’s Oryx One app, which passengers can use to create a playlist prior to boarding the aircraft. Once on board, they can then listen via NFC and use the IFE screen to browse their compilation. This technology is perfect for Qatar Airways’ pioneering Qsuite, launched in March this year, which allows friends, colleagues and families to create what is effectively a home/office in the sky: their own shared, private, module on the plane that, of course, plugs in to personalised media via panels, complete with USB, HDMI and NFC capabilities.

Qatar Qsuite example

These recent innovations follow from the major step forward Qatar Airways made in  2013, bringing all its different  customer experience departments together under one roof, culminating in it being the first airline to design and launch its own airport: Hamad International.

“We wanted to design the airport not only around the airline’s needs,” said its head of Customer Experience at the time, “but also the passenger’s needs.”

Today’s delight is tomorrow’s demand

Central to passenger needs is unquestionably inflight connectivity. Rahman notes that in our ‘always on’ age, it’s vital for customer experience that this constant stream of connectivity is replicated in the air. By positioning itself at the vanguard of aviation’s connectivity revolution, Rahman believes that this has helped deliver customer expectations and enabled Qatar Airways to continually enhance its offerings.

“Fast and reliable internet connectivity has become an essential part of almost everyone’s lives, whether it’s for business travel or families travelling together,” Rahman notes. “Almost everyone utilises connectivity for various reasons, and with Qatar Airways’ high-speed offering, business travellers can now be up-to-date with all their work commitments and travelling families can explore a wide range of entertainment and recreational content.”

Exceeding expectation

This is possible thanks to the airline’s adoption of next-generation, high-speed broadband service, Inmarsat’s GX Aviation. The deal with Inmarsat ensures that Qatar Airways is the first airline in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to install GX.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350XWB-1000

Speaking at the commercial launch of the service, Inmarsat Aviation’s President, Philip Balaam, welcomed the deal, stating: “Qatar Airways is renowned as one of the greatest innovators in global aviation with passengers being at the centre of everything they do. We are delighted that they are now pioneering our game-changing GX Aviation inflight broadband across the globe.”

And with the airline’s adoption of GX Aviation having launched earlier this year - with subsequent installations underway - Rahman says this is a clear win for its passengers.

“With GX Aviation, Passengers can now enjoy the benefits of high speed broadband connectivity on board the aircraft, that until now have only been possible on the ground. Moreover, GX Aviation is well poised to manage the forecasted bandwidth needs of the future, requirements which are very well aligned with Qatar Airways’ strategic requirements.”

Of course, the real test of any service comes when the customers begin to use it, and this examination has been passed with flying colours, with Rahman pointing to “the immense outpouring of positive feedback regarding the speed of connectivity, the likes of which passengers are generally used to only on the ground.”

Looking ahead

Unsurprisingly, connectivity is central to Qatar Airways’ future roadmap. When asked what this next generation of connectivity means for the airline, Rahman is unequivocal.

He says: “Qatar Airways has many interesting strategies lined up which will not only take full advantage of the prevalent bandwidth but also be at the cutting edge of innovation and technology, thereby keeping its promise of ‘excellence in everything we do’.”