Qatar Airways CEO Says His Job Is Too Demanding for a Woman

Last year Qatar’s CEO said that on “crap American carriers” you’ll “always be served by grandmothers.”

His airline offers better service. US airlines assign routes based on seniority and there’s little consequence to flight attendants who don’t work very hard. But if he was trying to make that point he was doing it in the worst way possible.

It’s not the first time he caused controversy. He said United, Delta, and American were sitting smelling glue in coming up with their criticisms of his airline. He criticized Delta for flying crap airplanes because of their old fleet. He’s said he absolutely wouldn’t buy certain planes right before buying them, and that Qatar wouldn’t join an airline alliance right before joining oneworld.

Akbar al Baker:

  • Has absolutely no filter
  • Says offensive things
  • Not all of those things are true, he exaggerates and has no problem telling outright lies
  • Has risen to prominence in one of the most conservative countries in the Mideast

He’s the new Chairman of IATA, the International Air Transport Association which represents over 275 airlines in more than 110 countries. And he didn’t waste much time causing controversy with his (offensive) remarks — immediately after vowing not to.

He said the CEO of Qatar Airways must be male, “Of course it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position.”

Oh and need I mention his comments came in the context of a meeting with significant focus on women in the airline industry?

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker with Donald and Melania Trump, via Doha News

For now it’s likely true that the CEO of Qatar Airways must be male because it’s a state-backed airline in a conservative Islamic country. But that’s not the reason al Baker gave, suggesting that women wouldn’t be up to the challenge, reflecting a line of thinking common among men of his generation and prominence in his country.

I have to think that this will eventually change. Saudi Arabia has issued drivers licenses to women.

The comment is offensive to those of us in the West. The thing about aviation though is it brings together people from countries all over the world. There are oppressive dictatorships and notorious human rights violators. Members include, for instance:

  • Air Astana and SCAT Airlines from Kazakhstan are members.
  • So is Air Burkina from Burkina Faso
  • And Air Koryo from North Korea
  • Arik Air of Nigeria
  • Five Iranian airlines
  • And Syrianair

Malido Air just joined IATA last year, and they’re known for requiring women to remove their tops in flight attendant interviews.

Of course the UN Human Rights Council includes Burundi and has been chaired in the past by Nigeria.

The CEO of Qatar’s comments are out of step with audiences in the West, but reflect common thinking in much of the world – and within much of IATA.

However bringing together people and cultures, carrying people from conservative societies to the rest of the world and bringing people from the rest of the world to those societies, we hope that will bring an exchange of ideas. And that after making this remark al Baker will be counseled to tread more carefully in the future (though it hasn’t worked so far). His term as Chairman could become a moderating influence on his own publicly stated views and that of his airline. At least that’s a hope.

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. Just as a matter of empirical fact — outside the confines of liberal America, a large number of people, women included, agree with al Baker.

  2. “His airline offers better service. US airlines assign routes based on seniority and there’s little consequence to flight attendants who don’t work very hard.” You said it, not me, yet it is very true. I have always been served by grandmothers or gay men. Anyone want to argue that? Where is the young heterosexual blood of years gone by? I’m tired of my shoulders being bruised by the wide hips of todays matronly FAs.

  3. i’m with with Jason, let the old birds retire………….

    and US airlines without doubt have pathetic reputations internationally v so many carriers in Asia, and Europe.

    US became the bus line in the air.

  4. This part of the world is generally referred to as the Middle East, not the Mideast.

  5. Why don’t you protest then and refuse to take and high end flights and refuse to stay in any fancy hotels in the middle east then? Bringing up human rights is rich, because you seem to forget about that when they are offering you caviar service. I’m sure the only photo you could find of this guy anywhere just happened to be one with Donald Trump in it and not you trying to make some political sleight.

  6. @Bill — I think you’re missing the point. Airlines are frequently the most liberalizing force, and travel providers generally, in conservative societies. How does undermining those institutions help exactly?

  7. Some of these commenters make me laugh.

    Clinging to the remnants of the “Coffee, Tea, or Me” era of air travel, because — let me guess — that is the only sphere of your life where women are still obligated to cater to you, or even willing to.

    In an age when even the Miss America Organization says it will no longer be evaluating women on their outward appearance, some guys are desperate to find a segment of their lives where they can do that with impunity. You guys are dinosaurs and Qatar Airways is your Jurassic Park.

  8. Thanks Gary. As a 52 yr old female flight attendant and “newish to aviation” …..I’ve gotten a lot information from reading many of your past articles. I work on a ultra low cost carrier and it’s fair to say-I see the good, bad and ugly side of humans.
    But prior to my returning to the workforce- as a primarily passenger on legacy carriers, I saw it there too.
    Like our airline passengers(guests) our employees I’ve worked with and seen in crew rooms all over the USA run the gamut from examples of ideal employee to “why are you in aviation exactly? You seem miserable”
    Thanks again for your contributions and writing on aviation-it’s been extremely informative.

    PS-I’ll try to keep my hips thin so I don’t, God forbid, bump into Tim or “I’m right”;)

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