Qatar Airways CEO: ’Donald is my friend’

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump, wife Melania and CEO Akbar Al Baker during launch of Doha-NYC flights in 2007.

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US presidential hopeful Donald Trump, wife Melania and CEO Akbar Al Baker during launch of Doha-NYC flights in 2007.

Updated on Friday, Dec. 11 with Akbar Al Baker’s comments on Donald Trump not being welcome in Muslim countries.

With reporting from Peter Kovessy

Though many people are distancing themselves from American presidential hopeful Donald Trump following his remarks about banning Muslims from entering the US, the head of Qatar’s national carrier is not ready to give up on him yet.

During a visit to New York this week, Akbar Al Baker called Trump, who has visited Qatar previously and complimented its airport, his friend.

The CEO added that the conservative businessman likely doesn’t believe his own rhetoric about Muslims. The New York Times quotes Al Baker as saying:

“Look, Donald is my friend, and we have been friends for a long time. I think it is an exercise only to gain political mileage. Nothing more. This is the opportune time to excite more extremist people so that they could give him their votes.”

However, in a subsequent interview with CNN, Al Baker said he had taken offence to Trump’s remarks and that the US presidential hopeful “will not be welcome” in Muslim countries where he has investments.

Al Baker is not alone in being offended by Trump’s comments.

Khalaf al-Habtoor

Al Habtoor Group/Facebook

Khalaf al-Habtoor

Shortly after Trump called for the Muslim ban following last week’s mass shooting in California by two suspected ISIS sympathizers, Dubai-based Landmark Group removed all Trump-branded products from the shelves of its Lifestyle home furnishing stores.

Meanwhile, Dubai businessman and columnist Khalaf al-Habtoor, who previously endorsed Trump’s campaign, is now calling on others to distance themselves from the candidate and his business interests.

“It would be a ‘huge mistake to associate themselves with Donald Trump,’ the Financial Times reports al-Habtoor as saying. “His brand is a liability, not an asset.”

US visit

Al Baker made his remarks about Trump during a trip to the US to announce the opening of a new office in New York’s iconic Empire State Building, as well as to celebrate the airline being the first to bring the A350 to the US.

Qatar Airways also unveiled its new branding campaign this week, called “Going Places Together.”

Speaking to reporters about the campaign, Al Baker said:

“We have big plans for our guests in the United States. We believe travel is a transformative experience, unlike other airlines which treat it like a transaction.”

US expansion

Also this week, the CEO hit out at American carriers as a long-standing dispute over unfair competition claims continues.

Though the national carrier is owned by the state, Al Baker called allegations that Gulf carriers were basically governments “nonsense.”

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

According to Mashable, he also accused Delta CEO Richard Anderson of only going after GCC carriers to stifle competition “so he can swindle American passengers even more.”

“Let him come face to face with me in any forum. I will hang him on a wall.”

Qatar Airways, which already flies to seven cities in the US, is launching direct flights from Doha to Los Angeles in January, Boston in March and Atlanta in July – “which will be my great pleasure,” he told Bloomberg, since it’s “the doorstep of Delta.”

Speaking to USA Today, Al Baker said Qatar Airways is also considering flying to two other US cities, but declined to name them.

Previously, the carrier had announced plans to launch a direct flight to Detroit, which is another major Delta hub. But that route never materialized.

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