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American Airlins cabin crew

This story was updated on July 13 with Akbar Al Baker’s apology

Qatar Airways’ CEO is facing an international backlash this week for “incredibly offensive” comments he recently made about flight attendants.

During a speech in Dublin, Akbar Al Baker boasted that the average age of his airline’s cabin crew is 26 years old, adding:

“So there is no need for you to travel on these crap American carriers. You know you are always being served by grandmothers on American carriers.”

The outspoken official’s remarks were received with applause and laughter during his speech. But they were immediately denounced by rival American Airlines.

Jill Surdek, vice president of flight service for American Airlines Group, said in a message to employees that the comments were “both sexist and ageist at the same time.”

Reacting to the speech, a blogger for The Economist used the incident to demonstrate how firmly entrenched sexism in the sky remains.

It stated:

“Calling the service on America’s airlines ‘crap’ is fine; not many flyers mistake their treatment on United for good service, for example. It is no doubt also correct that flight attendants in America are older than in the Gulf.

But correlating those two facts hammers home the idea that the job of cabin crew is to be gawped at; that if a stewardess has lost her looks, she should be discarded and replaced by a younger model, regardless of how good she is at her job.”


On Wednesday, Al Baker apologised for the remarks in a letter to the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA).

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways CEO and his staff celebrate the win

He said in the letter that his recent “careless” remarks did not reflect his “true sentiments” about cabin crew.

“For the cabin crew serving aboard all air carriers, professionalism, skill and dedication are the qualities that matter. I was wrong to imply that other factors, like age, are relevant,” he added.

Backlash in the US

American Airlines, which Qatar Airways is seeking to buy a stake in, was not the only organization in the US to take offense.

Chantelle D'mello

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies called his comments “misogynistic and demeaning.”

The group represents US carriers including United, American and Delta airlines in a campaign to stop Gulf carriers’ expansion into the US.

In a statement, chief spokesperson of the coalition Jill Zuckman said:

“Those executives at the US Travel Association, FedEx and JetBlue who have repeatedly defended Al Baker must unequivocally condemn his comments and explain to women everywhere why they want to outsource American jobs to this man.”

Several unions have also weighed in, with the Air Line Pilots Association (the US pilots’ union) saying that Al Baker had “sunk to a new low.”

Meanwhile Bob Ross, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, defended his colleagues at American Airlines, calling them “well-seasoned and highly-trained professionals.”

Investment plans

This spat between the two carriers comes after Qatar Airways disclosed that it was planning to spend more than $800 million to purchase up to a 10 percent stake in American Airlines.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The carriers are both members of the same global alliance, oneworld.

In a statement last month, Qatar Airways said it saw the US carrier as “a strong investment opportunity” and “a good oneworld Alliance partner.”

In response, American CEO Doug Parker called the airlines’ intention “puzzling at best and concerning at worst.”


Qatar Airways/Flickr

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker

The new laptop and tablet ban onboard flights heading to the US has hurt Qatar Airways’ business, its CEO admitted this week.

It also doesn’t actually make people safer, Akbar Al Baker told CNN.

The comments are a departure from remarks the official made late last month, when the ban was first introduced.

At the time, Al Baker said that the policy was simply a “security measure” that did not target Gulf airlines unfairly.

But now, he said that the measure is ineffective because it does not stop terrorists from carrying out attacks on planes that don’t have electronics bans.

“It was not necessary to frighten passengers and put a strain on airlines,” he told CNN, continuing:

“If (Trump) continues this way, at the end of the day you will have people sitting in the airplane with underwear and nothing (else) on them.”

US, UK restrictions

Since the end of March, electronic items larger than cell phones have not been permitted inside the cabin of aircraft flying to the US from 10 Middle Eastern cities, including Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Instead, passengers must check their laptops, iPads and e-readers, among other devices. Nine airlines are affected by the ban, including Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad.

HIA security

Brian Candy/Flickr

HIA security

No US carriers are on the list.

The UK has implemented a similar measure, but Gulf carriers are exempt from it.

When asked about the discrepancy, Al Baker told CNN that the US policy must have been “done in a hurry.”

He reiterated his support for President Donald Trump, someone he previously called a “friend,” but added the official must have been “ill-advised.”

Fewer passengers

To counter the ban, Qatar Airways has begun offering laptops to premium passengers. But Al Baker did admit that business has still been affected.

“Yes, we have had a drop in passengers, but it’s a manageable drop and people have started to realize that there are other ways to use laptops,” Al Baker said.

He added that each flight has seen perhaps 10 fewer passengers due to the ban. But because the airline flies to 10 US cities a day, the numbers must be adding up.

It is unclear how much longer the ban will be in place, though Emirates has previously expected it to last until at least this fall.


Jennifer Lopez

The Cable Show/Flickr

Jennifer Lopez

Qatar’s national carrier has reignited a feud with rival Delta during a high-profile gala to celebrate its upcoming inaugural Doha-to-Atlanta flight.

This week’s launch party featured a private concert by American singer and actress Jennifer Lopez at Atlanta’s historic Fox Theatre – a venue sponsored in part by Delta.

The US airline said this week that it would end its 20-year support for the theater because of the event.

Qatar Airways gala in Atlanta

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Qatar Airways gala in Atlanta

“When the Fox shared its decision to continue doing business with Qatar, an airline proven to engage in business practices that harm U.S. aviation jobs and violate basic human rights, we let them know we wouldn’t be renewing our sponsorship,” Delta said in a statement, according to Bloomberg.

For his part, Al Baker said the “bizarre” move showed that Delta is “paranoid of Qatar Airways’ service,” the newswire added.

The airlines have been engaged in a war of words for more than a year over allegations that Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad receive government subsidies that give them an unfair advantage over their American competitors.

How many passengers?

On June 1, Qatar Airways will begin flying to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Delta’s primary hub.

Previously, the national carrier’s CEO Akbar Al Baker said the route would rub “salt in the wounds” of the US airline, which he has also accused of flying “crap” airplanes.

Beneath the bickering, Delta has questions about the economic feasibility about Qatar Airways’ Doha-Atlanta route.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Last month, Delta executives told analysts that its research suggests that only five people a day would fly between the two cities.

However, Qatar Airways’ business model revolves around carrying passengers to other destinations after transiting through Hamad International Airport, rather than simply flying travelers to Doha.

Nevertheless, the US airline is not alone in questioning the sustainability of Qatar Airways’ rapid expansion.

After the Gulf carrier reduced its summer flight frequency on more than two dozen routes – including several US destinations – this month, some questioned if the real reason was weaker-than-expected demand, rather than just delays in aircraft deliveries, as Qatar Airways has said.

However, while in Atlanta, Al Baker reiterated that a shortage of aircraft was stalling his company’s growth plans:

And despite the skepticism, the growth of Qatar Airways has resulted in dramatic increases in the number of passengers flying through HIA.

Trump is (still) my friend

While in Atlanta, Al Baker discussed a variety of topics with reporters and once again weighed in on the US presidential race, specifically the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party.

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


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

After reiterating that Donald Trump was a “friend” – echoing remarks made late last year – he downplayed the controversial tycoon’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US.

“I don’t think Trump means what he says. He does not realize that he has a lot of investment in Muslim countries and at the same time there is a very huge Muslim population in the United States,” he said in an interview with CNBC.

“Like all politicians, he says everything but once he gets elected, he will change his mind.”