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Outspoken airline chief pours apologies on thick

June 12, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The outspoken chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, has gone to great pains to apologise profusely over comments he made in Sydney, just moments after becoming new chairman of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Al Baker said only a man could do his challenging job.

Speaking at a press conference at last week’s IATA summit in Sydney, Al Baker was asked how he might help redress the lack of women in Middle East aviation.

Al Baker said that the problem did not apply at Qatar Airways. He then added quickly: “Of course, it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position.”

He may have been kidding, but audible gasps and groans greeted his remarks. Sexism, along with racism, is one of the great heresies of modern western orthodoxy.

Realising the implications of the blunder, the airline later issued a formal statement from Al Baker.

“While I am known in the media for some lightheartedness at press conferences, it is crucial that I emphasise the facts as I did today and the importance of women representatives in the airline industry.

“Qatar Airways firmly believes in gender equality in the workplace and our airline has been a pioneer in our region in this regard, as the first airline to employ female pilots, as one of the first to train and employ female engineers, and with females represented through to senior vice president positions within the airline.

“With a female work force of more than 33%, as I mentioned today, it would be my pleasure if I could help develop a female candidate to be the next CEO of Qatar Airways.”

Later, Al Baker went to even greater pains to say sorry, posting a fulsome apology on Twitter.

Al Baker said he would like to offer his “ heartfelt apologies” for any offence caused by his comment, “which runs counter to my track record of expanding the role of women in leadership throughout the Qatar Airways Group and has been sensationalised by the media”.

Like that other famously outspoken airline chief, Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, Al Baker is no stranger to controversy. Sometimes he delivers a few remarks in an offhand, jocular manner at the end of a speech, seemingly enjoying the media frenzy it causes.

Last year, at an airline event in Dublin, Al Baker quipped that the average age of Qatar Airways cabin crews is 26 whereas flying with US airlines means being “served by grandmothers”

America’s airlines immediately rose to the bait, with people throwing up their hands in horror.

The remark was “incredibly offensive,” Jill Surdek, vice president of flight service for American Airlines said in a message to employees. “It was both sexist and ageist at the same time.”

Al Baker’s words, spoken to great audience mirth after dinner, were: “You know you will always be served by grandmothers on American airlines.”

Everybody laughed – except a handful, who took deep and lingering offence. A few words go a long way.

Written by Peter Needham

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