DUBAI: Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al-Baker received a strong rebuke from the American airline industry after he publicly ridiculed his US competitors at a gala in Dublin, Ireland last week.
In his speech to celebrate Qatar Airways’ launch of its Dublin-Doha route, Al-Baker told the audience that the average age of his cabin crew was 26 years old and there was no need to travel on “crap American carriers.”
“You know you’re always being served by grandmothers on American airlines,” Al-Baker added, eliciting laughter from the audience.
The American aviation industry was quick to condemn Al-Baker’s comments, and wrote in a statement that the Qatar Airways leader had “sunk to a new low.”
The Air Line Pilots Association, a union that represents pilots at Delta Air Lines and other major airlines, said that Al Baker “owes US airline workers an apology.”
“Straight from Akbar Al-Baker's lips, he confirms what AFA has said all along: Qatar Airways thrives on misogyny and discrimination,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said in a statement
“Qatar is not only seeking to choke out US Aviation, but also the 300,000 good jobs built through opportunity created on the principle of equality,” the AFA statement said.
“There is no room for a separation of humanity in air travel or in an emergency. Flight Attendants are onboard to save lives and every life counts. If you prop up Qatar Airways you are supporting sexism, racism, and ageism.
Al-Baker later apologized, and a communications firm was representing Qatar Airways released a statement from the Qatari airline leader: “I should like to apologize unreservedly to those offended by my recent remarks which compared Qatar Airways cabin crew with cabin crew on US carriers.”
The remarks “were made informally at a private gala dinner, following comments about the Qatar Airways cabin service, and were in no way intended to cause offense,” he said in the statement.
Al-Baker that flight attendants “play a huge role in the safety and comfort of passengers, irrespective of their age or gender or familial status …. I have a high regard for the value that I see long-serving staff members bringing through their experience and dedication.”
Qatar Airways has been a subject of investigation by International Labor Organization after complaints were filed against the airline for widespread gender discrimination, which included allegations of female crew routinely harassed, being subjected to dismissal for becoming pregnant and being barred from getting married.
The year-long ILO inquiry, which ended in 2015, found that Qatar Airways flouted global standards on the treatment of its works particularly female employees who became pregnant while under contract with the airline.
Female cabin crew made to sign contracts that gave the airline the right to automatically dismiss them if they became pregnant, the UN labor agency said.
ILO likewise called the Gulf airline’s regarding its ban on cabin crew getting married, which prevented employees from tying the knot for the first five years of their employment, after which they could only get married with the carrier’s permission.