Qatar Airways is to cut 20% of its workforce, representing more than 9,000 jobs.

The Gulf carrier employs more than 46,000 staff but the layoffs come as global travel has plummeted to due Covid-19 lockdowns.

A fifth of the airline’s fleet will not return to service for at least three years.

Chief executive Akbar Al Baker told the BBC: “For me to let them go is really painful, but we have no other alternative.

“Like the other airlines in the world that are suffering massive reductions, we comparatively are not so bad.

“We hope that things will rebound but I don’t think anybody can predict – will it take two years, will it take four years, will it take five years? We’ll have to wait and see.”

Social distancing on aircraft was impossible, but because the virus was spread by droplets rather than in the air, passengers would be required to wear facemasks and gloves and sanitise their surroundings as much as possible.

The airline yesterday announced the resumption of its three-times-weekly service from Doha to Brisbane, Australia, from May 20.

It also extended its booking policy that is allowing unlimited date changes, and destinations changes (within 5,000 miles).

On travel before December 31, 2020, Qatar Airways will not charge any differences in fare price on amendments. All tickets booked up to that date are valid for two years from the date they were issued.

Cash refunds are also available for cancelled flights and the airline is offering a 10% bonus when customers take a voucher instead.