Doha, a desert entrepot, is trying to make itself more than a transfer point for Qatar Airways travelers.

A Delta Air Lines executive once snidely remarked that Qatar Airways would have trouble filling planes from Atlanta to Doha, but a year into serving the city, the Middle Eastern carrier is proving him wrong. 

Using Qatar’s seat configuration and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport‘s arrival and departure statistics, Global Atlanta calculated that Qatar has been able to fill 87.7 percent of its available seats since its launch last June.  

Qatar Airways had an average load factor of 87.7 percent for the year, according to Atlanta airport figures. Here’s the monthly breakdown.

Reached by email, a spokesperson for the airline said the number is close to accurate and verified that Qatar Airways’ “load factor” for Atlanta, as the metric is called in the industry, exceeded 85 percent. 

That’s in line with successful U.S. routes, but it doesn’t reveal whether Qatar has been able to sell its all-important business-class product here, especially without offering the type of lavish lounges in Atlanta that it’s known for in Doha, where the airline owns and runs Hamid International Airport. 

Some Atlanta travelers note that Qatar’s pricing and diversity of onward destinations have helped them make the decision to fly a carrier that was completely absent from their market before last year. 

On the inaugural flight to Doha in June 2016, one passenger told Global Atlanta that he and his son were traveling on a one-stop journey to Nepal, which they could never have done from Atlanta on Delta — or any other carrier. 

Perhaps more importantly for Qatar Airways, travelers from the Southeast U.S. to India have particularly embraced its lower fares and greater choice, especially in reaching cities beyond the traditional gateways of Mumbai and Delhi.   

Delta, perhaps understandably, has a different take. The Atlanta carrier has vigorously opposed Qatar’s entry into Atlanta and other U.S. cities, arguing that it’s one of three Middle Eastern carriers that have taken market share and jobs from from American airlines by accepting billions of dollars of government subsidies to keep prices artificially depressed.

Qatar, meanwhile, says Delta is making excuses for “crap” service. CEO Akbar Al-Bakr also made waves in July when he called U.S. flight attendants “grandmothers.” That gave further ammunition to critics who have taken out ad campaigns alleging Qatar mistreats women and represents a government that suppresses human rights. It also prompted a reaction video from Delta flight attendants

Qatar also released an audited financial report in April showing that it turned a profit of nearly 2 billion Qatari rials (more than $531 million) in its latest fiscal year,though some critics argue that the balance sheet doesn’t tell the whole story of government support. Qatar has denied it uses subsidies to compete, and Middle Eastern carriers have said that Delta’s use of bankruptcy protection a decade ago amounts to the same thing. 

Whatever its source of capital, Qatar continues to bring home the hardware for service. This month, the airline won accolades for its business-class experience and baggage systems at the Future Travel Experience Global 2017. This comes after Skytrax named the company the “airline of the year” in June at the Paris Air Show. 

That award came in the midst of a diplomatic crisis with Qatar’s Persian Gulf neighbors that forced Qatar planes to detour around Saudi airspace and ended travel links between that country and three other Arab nations. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...