Qatar Air CEO Is Sorry for Slighting U.S. Flight Attendants

Updated on
  • Akbar Al Baker says comments weren’t intended to cause offense
  • American Airlines pilots call for end of marketing alliance

Akbar Al Baker

Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

Qatar Airways Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker apologized “unreservedly” for his unflattering description of U.S. flight attendants as grandmothers, a day after the remarks touched off a firestorm of criticism from labor unions and American Airlines Group Inc.

The informal comments at a private gala dinner in Dublin were “in no way” intended to cause offense, Al Baker said in an emailed statement Wednesday. He had said “you are always being served by grandmothers” on U.S. airlines, adding that the average age of Qatar Airways cabin crews was 26. American called the earlier remarks “both sexist and ageist” in a message to employees.

“Cabin crew are the public face of all airlines, and I greatly respect their hard work and professionalism,” Al Baker said Wednesday. “They play a huge role in the safety and comfort of passengers, irrespective of their age or gender or familial status. I have worked for many years in the industry, and I have a high regard for the value that I see long-serving staff members bringing through their experience and dedication.”

The apology came amid an intensifying feud between Qatar Airways and American that began last month with the disclosure that the Persian Gulf carrier wanted to buy a stake of as much as 10 percent in the U.S. company. American CEO Doug Parker has called the proposal “puzzling.”

Parker is among U.S. airline executives who have urged the government to examine whether subsidies fuel unfair competition from Qatar Airways and other Gulf carriers. Al Baker said his comments were made in “a time of strong rivalry” between Qatar Air and U.S. airlines.

American’s pilots union called for the carrier to end its marketing arrangement, or codeshare, with Qatar because of Al Baker’s remarks. The two airlines are members of the Oneworld alliance of global carriers.

Al Baker’s apology was “insincere,” said Dan Carey, president of the Allied Pilots Association. “Sheik Al Baker is a well-educated man and I think it’s corporate damage control.”

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition of American, Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc., and five unions representing pilots and flight attendants across the industry denounced Al Baker’s comments on Tuesday.

(Updates with union comment in seventh paragraph.)
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