Who is behind throwing muck at Qatar Airways?


(Posted 20th February 2015)

This is bullshit’ was Qatar Airways’ Group CEO Akbar Al Baker quoted to have said in response to new allegations of bias and prejudice against female staff, among those allegations suggestions that permission would be needed to get married and staff would get fired when pregnant.

Al Baker is of course almost notorious to let fly if irked or rubbed the wrong way and yet it is this quality which makes him one of the world’s most watched and reported airline CEO’s in particular when considering how he says and comments on things others don’t dare touch with a long barge pole. It is clear that he is the sort of man whom you either love or hate and, here it comes, this correspondent is not among the haters, especially having had the opportunity in the past to interact directly with him, in Kampala, Kigali, Bahrain and more recently in Doha.

The Gulf carriers, Qatar Airways among them, have come under sustained assault by America’s legacy airlines which have of late demanded that access to the United States by foreign airlines be restricted in their own favour and the open skies agreements be revisited and revised. Of course, let’s call a spade a spade – I am reportedly equally notorious with my comments when something irks me or rubs me off the wrong way – foreign carriers does not mean their primary alliance partners from Britain and Europe but are a thinly disguised reference against the Gulf airlines. It is not the Japanese carriers, or the Chinese airlines now resolutely pushing in to the North American market, or airlines from Singapore, South Asia and the Pacific the American big league guys are after but specifically the Gulf airlines Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad, make no mistake about it.

The most recent outburst by Delta’s CEO on open air with CNN, taking aim at the Gulf trio and stepping into the proverbial along the way, already forced Richard Anderson to retract and apologize, but many think that he ought to go for the faux pas he committed.

He, going by some analysts however seems to have spoken out in public what other American airline top managers may perhaps only think in private. Having taken their quest to stop further expansion to Washington, it does not take a wild imagination to figure out what has been said there in the privacy of congressional and senatorial offices, leave alone what they discuss among themselves when they conduct their meetings, very likely of a clandestine nature to avoid prying eyes and dropped eaves of aviation and business reporters.

Notably is American, which recently merged with US Airways, part of the campaign in Washington, surely causing consternation in the quarters of OneWorld of which Qatar Airways is a member. How alliance relations can be so blatantly undermined and turned on the head is another story worth following in the future but does not spell well considering the grudges Al Baker will no doubt bear, and rightly so.

It is no wonder that suggestions are emerging that the campaign against Qatar Airways’ employment policies may not be an accidental event but an orchestrated one. The anti QR campaign also ties in nicely with a range of other allegations against Qatar about the 2022 FIFA World Cup. While FIFA itself has absolved Qatar of any wrong doing, and the building of the stadia, hotels and transport infrastructure is in full swing – as incidentally personally seen and inspected during a visit to Doha in January – are some quarters clearly not interested to put the matter to rest. Conspiracy theorists are probably united in thinking that the perpetrators of that campaign are somewhat in league with those throwing muck at the airline, which of course is one of the State of Qatar’s public shop windows.

Success breeds envy and big success breeds even bigger envy. Getting the FIFA World Cup was and continues to be a major success story. However, having seen the original presentation at the very same venue where the Qatari bid committee showcased their vision for the FIFA World Cup in 2022 to the FIFA team, it is clear that Qatar had lined up the brightest and best in their respective fields to make a case why they should be handed the right to host the football world in 2022.

To imagine that it will be possible to watch two matches, even three on a single match day in the opening round, using public transport from one stadium to the next and reaching it within the hour – as long as one was able to secure the tickets that is – will no doubt be an added bonus for football fans from around the world. And of course it is not the first big sporting event Qatar has hosted. The Asian games took place in Doha as did the Asian Cup and the 2019 World Athletics Championships too will be held in Doha. The Handball World Championship just ended in Doha and other sporting events provide highlights for visitors on a regular basis. The Aspire Academy has gained global acclaim for the way all forms of sports are taught there in state of the art facilities, and yes, again, success breeds envy.

Does Qatar Airways have issues in their relationship with their staff? No doubt yes, but so do all other airlines I know of, in fact all companies I know of. None has been spared the occasional spat, with employees or their unions, or not been taken to court over claims of wrongful dismissal and other issues. Unless facts are put on the table by those who run the present smear campaign, giving irrefutable evidence that Qatar Airways indeed engages in the sort of practices the nebulous perpetrators of the campaign claim it to use, they are best advised to shut it. And while at it, those who still voice doubts over Qatar’s ability to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022 should perhaps make a trip to Doha, go visit the Legacy Pavilion and see firsthand what the footballing world can expect when they assemble in Qatar in 7 years’ time. I rest my case.

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