The Australian government has cited Qatar’s searches for five Australian women in Doha as “context” behind a decision to block additional Qatar Airways flights.
Transport Minister Catherine King said on Thursday that the “invasive” gynecological examinations carried out at Doha International Airport in 2020 influenced her decision to reject the Qatari airline’s bid to double the number of Australian flights.
Qatar authorities investigated the passengers as part of an investigation into the whereabouts of the mother of a newborn baby discovered in an airport bathroom.
“Certainly, for context, this is the only airline that has experienced something like this,” King said at a press conference in Canberra.
“And so I can’t say that, you know, I wasn’t aware of it, but it certainly wasn’t the only factor.”
“There was not one factor that influenced this decision,” added King.
King said the women’s experiences were “frankly not something we would expect anyone, especially Australians traveling on an international airline, to experience”.
In June, the female lawyers sent King a letter describing Qatar Airways as “unfit to carry passengers around the world, let alone major Australian airports”.
The five women are suing Qatar Airways and the state-run Qatar Civil Aviation Authority over the incident.
King formally rejected Qatar Airways’ bid to add flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in July, citing her belief that the proposal was not in Australia’s national interest.
Australia’s centre-left Labor government is under fire for blocking the Qatar Airways proposal. Critics accuse Canberra of protecting the profits of national airline Qantas at the expense of consumers.
The cost of flights between Australia and Europe has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic, with some tickets costing double their usual fare, and travel industry figures have argued that more competition could help lower fares.
Qantas, which has admitted to lobbying against the Qatar Airways bid, has also faced criticism over a string of recent controversies, including allegations that it sold about 8,000 tickets for flights it knew had already been cancelled.
On Tuesday, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce retired two months ahead of schedule while acknowledging mounting criticism of the airline.
Qatar’s embassy in Canberra did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The mail Australia says search for women in Qatar plays a role in blocking flights appeared first on Al Jazeera.