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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.”


Paris Air Show/Facebook

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar’s national carrier has dropped plans to buy four A350s over apparent delivery delays, manufacturer Airbus has confirmed.

Qatar Airways still has an order in for several dozen of the aircraft, which are worth some $311 million apiece at list price.

But its CEO has been complaining for months about handover delays and how they’ve been slowing down the airline’s growth.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker

In March, Akbar Al Baker said:

“I have to scream at Airbus to get my planes faster. I am nearly eight destinations behind schedule because of delays in aircraft deliveries. I hope this will be resolved during this year.”

However, when asked yesterday about whether the airline had canceled any orders, Al Baker simply said, “They (Airbus) have all our orders. They only need to deliver them to us.”

Gulf dispute

Still, an Airbus spokesperson told Reuters this week:

“We confirm that Qatar Airways has cancelled four of their contractual A350 delivery slots” due to “known supply chain issues.”

The undelivered jets “will be reallocated,” the spokesperson added.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

It is unclear why Al Baker didn’t confirm the cancelation.

The news comes at a time when Qatar Airways has grounded more than two dozen flights indefinitely.

This is because last month, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt closed their airspace to Qatar for political reasons.

With no end to the dispute in sight, one theory is that the canceled order could be a cost-saving measure.

“All the Gulf carriers realize they have ordered too many wide-bodied aircraft and don’t have room for them, especially now,” an aircraft finance industry official told Reuters.


Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways offered laptops for loan to premium passengers during the ban

A ban on bringing larger electronic items onboard some Qatar Airways flights has been scrapped, more than three months after it was introduced.

In a statement, the airline said restrictions on carrying items like laptops and iPads onboard direct flights to the US had been lifted “with immediate effect.”

It added that the carrier and Hamad International Airport have both met all of the US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) new security guidelines.


Photo for illustrative purposes only.

DHS has not explained what these new measures entail.

But CNN said they include “greater scrutiny of passengers entering the US, enhanced screening of electronic devices and better deployment of canines that detect explosives.”

The lifting of the ban is a spot of good news for Qatar Airways. The carrier has seen many of its flights grounded amid an ongoing Gulf dispute.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

“We would like to express our thanks to the US and local authorities for their support during this process,” the airline said.

Doha is the fourth of the affected cities to have the US-imposed restrictions removed.

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad saw its ban lifted on Tuesday, while Emirates and Turkish Airlines both announced they had met new security requirements yesterday.

Laptop ban

The so-called “laptop ban” was introduced without warning in March.

At the time, DHS expressed concerns that terrorist groups were looking for ways to attack aircraft, including smuggling explosive devices in electronics.

In response, the US restricted carrying of larger electronic items on direct flights from several Arab cities.

Frankieleon / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only

Saudi Arabian Airlines has said that it hopes to be flying restriction-free by July 19.

But for now, the ban remain in place on direct flights from Riyadh and Jeddah to the US, as well as Cairo, Amman, Kuwait City and Casablanca.