Airline CEO Calls British Airways ‘2 Out Of 10 Low Cost Carrier’

In an interview with The Times of London (paywall) Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker calls British Airways a ‘two out of ten low cost carrier.’

This isn’t mere trash talking by a rival, Al Baker’s Qatar Airways owns a 25% stake in British Airways parent company IAG and is the carrier’s largest owner – so it’s an admission against interests.

Qatar’s CEO says that British Airways now only has the marketing slogan “to fly, to serve” and mocks the carrier hawking sale of food inflight during non-pandemic times, “We wanted an airline that doesn’t sell food but serves food.” He says he never expected British Airways to become “a low-cost carrier.”

British Airways is the flag carrier of the UK. You remember the motto? ‘To fly, to serve’. That was not any more the motto of the company. It was only on a billboard.

I’ve argued that even British Airways first class lags Qatar’s business class and pointed out BA offering less legroom than Ryanair within Europe. It’s been a long way down for BA.

British Airways European Business Class

The Doha-based airline boss didn’t only unload on British Airways. He also

accuses Dubai of becoming a Covid-19 superspreader and lambasts arch-rival Emirates as a gas-guzzling dinosaur; says any airline that offers premium economy is ripping off its customers; and demands $5 billion (£3.6 billion) in compensation from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt for their “illegal” economic blockade of his country, which ended in January.

While reduced tensions in the Gulf region is perhaps the biggest U.S. foreign policy achievement in recent years there’s still animosity between Qatar and the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. And their blockade of the Qatar was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice. The wounds of these past few years will not subside easily.

He’s certainly wrong, though, calling premium economy a ripoff – to the extent it’s priced as a modest increment over economy to travel long haul, it can be a great value. Al Baker has called his own airline’s coach product comparable to others’ premium economy.

If that were true he’d have an argument that others are charging a premium for what Qatar already offers in its lowest economy fare. Except it is not true. For instance they offer Boeing 777’s with 10 abreast seating, comparable to Emirates, but less comfortable than Delta’s recently-retired 777s which only squeezed 9-across. And airlines in which Qatar owns stakes, including British Airways and Cathay Pacific, offer premium economy. So does Qatar’s partner American Airlines.

Of course Al Baker is known for incendiary comments like that Delta flies ‘crap’ airplanes and that on “crap American carriers you’ll always be served by grandmothers.”. He’s also known for spinning tales with only modest relation to reality.

(HT: Paddle Your Own Kanoo)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. BA is a unique blend of the worst of low cost and legacy airlines. Within Europe they combine high fares with poor seating and nothing included.

  2. Hard to argue everything he said. BA business is a joke. Air Norwegian premium for a 5th the price is almost comparable.

  3. Honestly, I wonder about the extent to which British Airways’ contractual obligations to OneWorld and their joint venture partners keep them from declining further in quality.

  4. Considering how BA forced customers to take vouchers in lieu of refunds during COVID, he missed an opportunity to also label BA a thief.

  5. 30 years ago, BA was the envy of the Gulf world and a well-reputed carrier across the UK, the UK’s former colonial empire and beyond.

    But nowadays BA is but a pitiful reminder of its former self in so many ways.

  6. I see all the BA basher’s are out. While there have been some poor decisions at BA under Alex Cruz, hopefully now he has departed, the new CEO might reverse some of them.
    One thing that all the haters of BA never mention is their generous baggage allowance when compared to not only LCCs but also other legacy carriers. The standard Economy fare includes a 23KG bag in the hold AND a cabin baggage allowance of 23KG. Even their hand baggage only fares that they sell on certain routes also include the 23KG cabin baggage allowance.
    BA did spend far too many years just in the pursuit of profit though, to the detriment of their in flight product and are playing catch up. They’ve started updating all the cabins/IFE and service but still have a way to go. Maybe they should also rethink the PR disaster that was the removal of drinks/snacks on short haul.
    I wonder what AABs motives are behind rubbishing BA with a near 25% stake in IAG you would think he would rather approach them privately and tell them ways they should improve rather than a public outburst. If I were more suspicious, I might think it was a deliberate ploy to rubbish BA/IAG and pick up a lot more of the company on the cheap if the price slides…

  7. Let’s not forget that the blockade would have never happened to begin with hadn’t the Trump administration (Kushner) given the go ahead to the Saudis. So yeah, the greatest achievemet was putting off a fire they started, after losing the election, which pretty much sums it all.

  8. BA Sucks – As an American elite flyer I should want to fly BA in Europe but I do all I can to avoid the airline. Club Europe is a joke – I Always fly Business or First but in Europe why would I ever fly Club Europe….
    As for the flight attendants – OK they are better than many US carriers, but they could learn something about customer service from Virgin and the Asian and Gulf carriers.

  9. Intra-Europe business class is almost always a joke. I’ve taken it on BA, Lufthansa, and Swiss, always to or from one of those airlines’ hubs. And it is always the same exact seat you find in economy with the middle seat empty. US domestic first class is orders of magnitude better than the intra-Europe product.

  10. British Airways which was once bragging saying about themselves ” world’s favourite airlines”
    Easybrit is going from worse to worst and all the shareholders care about is how to make more money no matter what they do and no matter what the outcome would be, they have fired the experienced wise staff and employed much younger cheap stupid with zero experience arrogant new staff, girls asked to put too much makeup even though some complined, staff being abused so many occasions by furious passengers but airline never bothered to ask how they feel. Its nothing but corrupted gang where members are greedy miser filthy heartless objects.

  11. BA is a pathetic shadow of its former self.

    I fly around 250,000 miles a year…… and am bemusedly horrified to witness the hollowing out and race to the bottom by a former legend.

    Recent trips have witnessed surly cabin staff in business, crumbs around the seats in first, miscellaneous stains on tray tables in both cabins meal offerings that seem to get more meagre each flight, at times, premium class breakfast meals served in hermetically-sealed plastic packaging, long haul bar service without basic mixers. I could go on.

    Let’s not talk about the complete joke that is Club Europe — aka Economy Plus with lacking legroom and cramped quarters. And let’s not talk about Economy which, of late, has descended to sub Ryanair / Easyjet / Spirit levels (with non-existent leg room etc).

    Amongst our executives and peers, BA is not “British Airways” and rather “Best Avoid”.

    Ignore the advice at your own peril.

  12. IAG did quite a number on BA. It’s both awful and amazing to see the immense harm they did to a world class airline in a comparatively short time. It’s like a Scott Kirby training school.

  13. Great coming from the CEO of a state funded airline that does not need to make a profit

  14. BA was always my airline to fly all over to Europe and USA. Just sad how the airline lost its shining and great service. Please I still trust BA improve the services inflight and on ground especially in London. What happened should motivate the company to do better and you can do it BA

  15. I agree with what he says about Premium Economy, I have yet to find one that justifies the extra cost.

  16. Al Baker never speaks out of line. He speaks boldly, honestly, and takes the bulls by the horns. Some don’t like it; too bad. It’s what this world needs, rather than sugar coating everything. Qatar has proven itself over the years- has BA?

  17. I agree with Akbar Al Baker. BA is a high cost airlines that behaves like a low cost airline. They need to up their game, or fail.

  18. FWIW Premium economy exists becuase most airlines had moved to a 2 class system: Business and Coach. Go back 25 years when almost all were 3 class systems. The highest level corporate flyers (C-level execs) were allowed to first class, and the standard corp travelers were allowed to fly business class. Business class grew nice enough that nobody paid for FC, and it was filled with upgraded pax from an overbooked business class. So FC was eliminated and replaced with a nicer, more expensive business class, and the accountants caught on after a few years and deemed business class as only for C-level employees. And now Premium Economy appears, its called Economy so the accountants cant tell, and it attracts the corp traveler that is not allowed to book business class. More better higher fares for the airlines and the road warrior traveler is spared from being in coach/economy.

  19. British Airways which was once bragging saying about themselves ” world’s favourite airlines”
    Easybrit is going from worse to worst and all the shareholders care about is how to make more money no matter what they do and no matter what the outcome would be, they have fired the experienced wise staff and employed much younger cheap stupid with zero experience arrogant new staff, girls asked to put too much makeup even though some complined,

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