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Qatar Airways/Flickr

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker

The chief of Qatar Airways will soon hold a key leadership position at one of the world’s largest airline trade bodies.

CEO Akbar Al Baker was elected to head the board of governors of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) this week.

He will assume the position for a year starting in June 2018.

Boeing

Qatar Airways 737 Max

In a statement, Al Baker thanked the board for their confidence in him.

In a nod to the ongoing Gulf dispute, he also pledged to uphold “freedom of flight for all” during his term:

“For more than two decades I have lived and breathed aviation, and I look forward to working alongside the Board of Governors to champion passenger rights and improve security standards across the industry, as well as continuing to promote the rights of freedom of flight for all.”

Al Baker will preside over fellow board members with whom he has had a contentious relationship, including the CEOs of American Airlines and EgyptAir, as well as the director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines.

Gulf dispute

The IATA represents the interests of 275 airlines around the world that account for 83 percent of global air traffic.

It also carries out security audits of airlines, offers consulting and training and pushes for greater safety in global aviation.

Cy Kuckenbaker/ Petapixel

Illustration for illustrative purposes only.

The group does not usually get involved in political disputes. But it recently spoke out when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt halted all flights to and from Qatar.

“Of course we accept that countries have the right to close their borders,” IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said in June. “But connectivity with Qatar must be restored as quickly as possible.”

The UN’s civil aviation body also urged Gulf states to honor their air agreements with Qatar.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Chantelle D'mello

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

But so far, this has only resulted in the opening of a few emergency corridors to Qatar Airways – and a stern warning to avoid breaching sovereign airspace.

This means the airline continues to have to take more circuitous routes to avoid their neighbors’ airspace, resulting in longer flying times and the burning of more fuel.

Thoughts?

American Airlines/Facebook

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.”

Apology

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.”

Thoughts?

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.

Thoughts?