"For the Philadelphia business community, the world is becoming more and more easily accessible," said Jack Ferguson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The American Airlines-US Airways merger is already paying dividends internationally. People see the routes as strengthening Philadelphia as a destination.
"Qatar coming in brings a five-star airline to Philadelphia, which is recognized internationally," Ferguson said, "and opens up the Mideast, Africa, with access of Asia, as well."
Qatar has teamed up with US Airways and American in a code-share and ticketing arrangement. US Airways will bring passengers from across the U.S. to Philadelphia, and Qatar can take them to 136 destinations worldwide from its hub in Doha.
Inbound Qatar passengers will have access to US Airways' extensive domestic network from Philadelphia.
About 40 percent of conventions and trade shows in Philadelphia are international, Ferguson said. Access to new markets will benefit the region's higher education and medical institutions, and pharmaceutical and medical-device companies that do business globally, Ferguson said.
Leisure travelers, who might not otherwise visit Philadelphia, may spend a night or two here before going elsewhere. "These are customers we probably wouldn't have had before," Ferguson said.
Qatar and Gulf carriers Etihad Airways and Emirates Airlines have been aggressively expanding with eye-popping orders for new aircraft as they compete for routes and critical stopover traffic between Asia and Europe and the Americas. Qatar has $50 billion worth of aircraft on order, including the Boeing 777X and 787 Dreamliners.
Qatar now flies to New York, Washington, Houston, and Chicago from Doha and recently added to its network Cyprus; Istanbul, Turkey; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Haneda, Japan. The government-owned airline will soon begin flights to Miami and Dallas.
"The Gulf carriers are in a strong position geographically for the growth markets in the 21st century," said John Strickland, an air transport consultant in London. "If you look beyond the actual A-to-B link of Doha-Philadelphia, there are so many other markets that this can serve. I'd be quite optimistic that, over time, this will become a very solid route."
Qatar has won awards for service and "best business class" by travelers, with a TV screen at every seat, 1,000 channels of entertainment, roomy seats in economy class, and gourmet-food options.
"Qatar Airways has gorgeous new planes, WiFi, in-seat entertainment, so the actual experience of flying is much nicer, generally speaking," said Brian Kelly, founder of thePointsGuy.com, a blog and website for maximizing frequent-flier miles and credit-card points.
Qatar in October joined the OneWorld global airline alliance, which includes US Airways and American. Worldwide airline partnerships allow customers to buy tickets on one airline and travel via the partners.
US Airways and American passengers can earn and redeem their frequent-flier travel miles on Qatar flights. "That is a win for Philadelphia," Kelly said.
Connecting through a Middle Eastern airport is "generally much smoother" than going through a European airport, such as London Heathrow or Paris, "where it's a two-hour ordeal transferring terminals," Kelly said. "The Middle Eastern carriers have beautiful new glossy terminals, and they are gaining market share because they are competitive on price, and they have a better product."
Just as Philadelphia has had US Airways "acting as a big hub and filling trans-Atlantic flights by offering the breadth of network across the USA, Qatar can do the same thing, in reverse, by opening up the Middle East, links in Africa, and parts of Asia," said Strickland, the aviation consultant. "That's going to be a positive thing for people in the Philadelphia area."