Qatar Airways to launch nonstop service between New York and… Athens?!

This is one of the more puzzling route announcements I’ve seen in a long time. Qatar Airways announced today that they’ll be starting 787 service between New York and Doha via Athens as of next year.

One of the beautiful things about the 787 is that it opens up routes that otherwise aren’t economical, either due to operating costs or lack of demand. The 787 is a much smaller aircraft than the Airbus 380, and as a result can profitably serve markets that otherwise wouldn’t be served.

I think Japan Airlines has done a spectacular job with their 787 routes, as they’ve started service to San Diego and Boston, routes that weren’t previously possible. Similarly, ANA has used the 787 to serve Seattle and San Jose.

But I’m still puzzled as to Qatar Airways’ 787 strategy. Taking advantage of fifth freedom rights is great, though of all the cities in Europe you could connect New York with enroute to Doha, is Athens really the first one that makes sense?

Beyond that I’m not really sure what purpose the stop serves. Qatar Airways already offers nonstop service between New York and Doha, so are they hoping to just transport passengers between New York and Athens, or what’s their strategy here? The 787 is a long range aircraft and could easily fly the route nonstop, which is why this is puzzling. I think it would’ve been smart to maybe replace the daily 777 service with two 787s spaced apart, to offer passengers more timing options.

Then again, maybe this route announcement is all a joke. After all, Qatar’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker, is known for blatantly making stuff up

Can anyone rationalize this route?

Either way, I’m excited about it. Qatar Airways will be joining OneWorld soon, so flying between New York and Athens in business class on Qatar Airways will be a great use of AAdvantage miles at 100,000 miles roundtrip.

(Tip of the hat to Point Me to the Plane)

Comments

  1. Maybe I can. Lots of Greeks have moved to Qatar and other countries nearby for better employment prospects. A good portion of these workers actually come from the hospitality/tourism industry in Greece which is undergoing “along with the whole economy and society” the biggest crisis in a very long time! In addition, Qatar has invested in Greece and Greeks continue to pursue the Qatari prince to invest more (he loves Greece by the way). Also Arabs always liked visiting Greece so they can eat some real kebab:-)
    Still crazy news…but maybe not so crazy after first glance?

  2. What?! It doesn’t make any sense. Doha is not partnered up with any Greek airline, so if you are not going to Athens, this route is not worth (for going to Europe). And who travels to Athens now a days? Last time I checked no business and the city is “kind of ugly” for tourism.

  3. @ TravelBloggerBuzz — Not questioning the logic behind flying between Doha and Athens. That makes sense to me. But why the 5,000 mile tag flight to New York? šŸ˜‰

  4. I’m thrilled; my whole family (18-strong, and mostly from New York) is taking a cruise from Athens to Venice. I’d much rather fly Qatar in business, and earn or spend AAdvantage or Avios, than have to deal with Delta (the only other carrier with a nonstop) and SkyMiles.

  5. Oh yeah, the ATH to NYC leg:-) Yeah, it makes no sense.Well, as so many have abandoned Athens maybe there is enough market there…1/5 of Greece actually lives in New York City! I would love to fly Qatar to Athens from NYC…can’t wait actually!

    As far as investing in Greece, yeah it makes no sense. But, at some point, the price is cheap and it could be worth it? I certainly wouldn’t. I actually inherited some property from my father. If anyone is looking for some prime time grain fields in middle of Greece, let me know. Price negotiable, lol.

  6. The real reason behind it is the QR configured 787s can not go ultra long haul. There is no crew rest (Pilot of FA) onboard so its made for mid haul flights only. so this makes sense. Its only about an 8 or 9 hour hop from Athens to NYC so would be inside the crew time on the job.

    It was one of the questions I got to pose to the CTO of QR when I spoke with him at the Dreamliner launch couple of weeks ago.

  7. @ Mal — That’s interesting. Seems bizarre for an airline like Qatar not to go “all out” on their 787s. They really can’t utilize it for all its worth with such a configuration.

  8. Could turn out to be a brilliant move. If/when Greece is forced to drop the Euro and go back to the drachma, the incredible drachma inflation will create a very favorable exchange rate for foreign tourists. Qatar would be ready for American tourists with the JFK-ATH route! A pessimistic view, for sure, but Greece’s economic outlook is particularly bleak, as are its chances of remaining with the Euro.

  9. @Lucky – QR doesn’t really want the 787 so it will be treated like a stepchild of the fleet and probably disposed off quietly in a few years.

  10. @ Andy — Yes, but it’s not leisure traffic that pays the bills at the airlines, but business traffic. And there’s very little premium traffic to Greece.

    @ Sean M. — If there’s a guy that would know it’s you. Thanks for the insight!

  11. I suspect, in addition to Mal’s comment, its also easier to obtain fifth freedom rights in Greece than any other European country.

    I believe Singapore Airlines did operate a fifth freedom flight between Athens and Turkey, but it was recently discontinued.

    Could it also be that the US is just a little more willing to invest in Greece than the EU currently?

  12. I have several friends here in NYC who have to fly to Athens for work many times a year and they were all mad when Continental stopped direct service. I imagine this will be welcome news for them…

  13. Athens is one of the largest cities in Europe to not have non-stop service to NY. With the severe economic contraction going on there, the [three] carriers that operated the route have pulled out.

    If none of the big three carriers in NY (DL, CO or AA) serve the route the route, it probably is indicative of the demand.

    A fifth freedom operator will face an even more difficult time making this work than a local.

  14. I had to purchase a ticket to Athens a couple of months ago, there are no direct flights from anywhere in the US to Athens anymore, unless its summertime. US Air and Delta serve from Philly and JFK, but only seasonally. Seems like a pretty untapped market

  15. Gabe pretty much got it. Qatar actually has a fairly brilliant strategy. Take advantage of an underserved market and 5th Freedom rights. They will be able to charge through the nose for that flight.

  16. Yeah I’m sure they just threw a dart on the map and put no effort into researching the market before setting up the route. If only they’d consulted the more knowledgeable FF blogosphere…

  17. I flew years go to Buenos Aires short after their financial crises was over. The agent in the RCC claimed that most of the premium passengers came from the IMF. So I assume there is a premium market for passengers to Greece out of New York :-).

  18. Lucky –

    You mentioned this in your post, realize it is slightly OT…

    With Chase UR or UA MP miles, have you had success booking the ANA SJC-NRT flight in C?

    Regarding Qatar: I’ll give you the US Airway’s reps answer: I think Qatar is the capital of Greece, so that award routing should be no problem?!?

  19. Before we all say that it will not work, and that there is no premium traffic out or in to Athens, i beleive we shall look who was getting the premium traffic till now, and why DL or CO were not taking it.
    Cause I’m quite sure that LX/LH/BA and AF, are definitely not smiling at moment in Athens. In life we say that people need to think out of the box !! I prefer to think that Mr. Al Baker, think like there is no box. He see wider and the future.

  20. @ Lark — LOL! I’ve found the SJC to NRT flight to be wide open on the award redemption front, so you should have no problem redeeming for it.

  21. Does the 787 have the range to fly NYC-Doha non-stop ? If not, then maybe they’re looking at he ATH stop as a technical stop only.

    That’s not to say that they won’t try to pick up some NYC-ATH and/or ATH-DOH traffic.
    But let’s say they expect to practically fill the plane out of NYC. In that case, they don’t want a lot of ATH-DOH passengers as those are seats that can’t be sold as NYC-DOH. Likewise, every NYC-DOH seat sold can’t be sold as ATH-DOH. Which city pair offers the highest yield ?

    To optimize the flight, they’d want the number of ATH-DOH tickets to match the number of NYC-ATH. They could have (maybe) used LHR or FRA instead of ATH and tried to play that balancing game. Or they can play it safe and chose an intermidiate city where they’re less likely to generate a lot of traffic and concentrate on selling the flight as NYC-DOH.

  22. Lucky I love your blog. I think this is a strategic move in relation to the American Airlines partnership and positioning pivot against Ethiad and Emirates.

  23. Qatar Air screwed me during Hurricane Sandy. I had a ticket from IAD to Doha to Muscat the night Sandy hit, using UA miles. Well, the Qataris had dropped Mileage Plus a few months before, so when they did not operate my nonstop flight to Doha because of the hurricane, they refused to honor the ticket. UA had to fly me to FRA, then MUC, eight hour layover and then only to Dubai, where I had to buy my own ticket to Muscat. To make matters worse, an incompetent UA rep canceled my Bahrain to Doha leg on my return, and UA could not rebook it due Qatar Air’s effed up attitude that it was UA’s problem, so I had to buy my own Bahrain to Doha ticket. While Qatar’s business class cabin is to die for, their customer service sucks. Good luck in One World!

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