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.