When Your Airline CEO Adversary Commits Political Suicide, Just Stand Back and Let Him

Delta CEO Richard Anderson overplayed his hand attacking (a limited number of) Gulf airlines (that aren’t also their partners) in his quest to get the federal government to limit their flying to the US by trying to link them to 9/11.

It’s on its face absurd to attack Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar in this way, while remaining silent about Skyteam partner Saudia. And surreal to attack the subsidies received by Middle Eastern carriers while at the same time seeking its own subsidies.

So while the airline might have gotten some sympathy with the misleading claims about its shrinking market share to India and vicinity (a smaller piece of a larger pie, when they don’t themselves fly to the destinations they complain about), their own statements begin to turn that sympathy towards Middle Eastern carriers. That’s not easy to do.

Instead of just letting that happen, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker responds.

“He should be ashamed to bring up the issue of terrorism in order to hide his inefficiency in running an airline. He should compete with us instead of cry wolf for his shortcomings.”

Some simple political lessons:

  • When your opponent is imploding, just let them.
  • Whenever possible, let surrogates attack for you.
  • When you have something to hide, don’t attack your opponent directly for the very same thing.

When former Reagan budget director ran in the Virginia Republican primary for Senate in 1994 against Oliver North, he sought to distinguish between his scandal-free record and North’s. He released a bunch of personal records and called a press conference to tout his total transparency.

When you do that you aren’t well-positioned to refuse to answer questions. So when asked whether he had ever sought psychiatric treatment, and he refused to answer, it didn’t play well. He acknowledged only that he had “good days and bad days.

Talking to the press about your own clean hands merely raises questions about how clean they are, when you want the focus to remain on your opponent. Someone needs to advise Akbar al Baker on that — since Anderson’s claims about 9/11 aside, Qatar Airways is state-owned and the government of Qatar has certainly faced accusations of sponsoring terrorism.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Lolz…

    The quote is probably the one thing you NEED to grammatically for at correctly…

    Maybe it’s time to hang up the towel Gary

  2. Anderson’s comments may have been ill-advised, but they certainly aren’t political or career suicide. He’s not going to get in much, if any, trouble over this, and he certainly won’t lose his job.

  3. Took me a few reads to figure that line out as well. I think he meant to say “When you DO that…”

  4. Yeah, but… this is Akbar al Baker we’re talking about here. “Standing back” was never his style.

  5. Does anyone proof read this stuff before it’s posted?

    If so, try reading it backwards. It works me for.


  6. While nothing he said was untrue, him pointing out where the terrorists came from was a bit over the line. But considering that the big three accuse the US airlines of receiving subsidies because of the government’s one-time payouts in the 9/11 aftermath, 9/11 is totally in play.

  7. “… hide his inefficiency in running an airline. He should compete with us instead of cry wolf for his shortcomings.”

    Says the guy who’s proud to run company in the red because it’s “not meant to” make money.

Comments are closed.