It happened in Dublin, Ireland as Qatar Airways celebrated a new flight route. Al Baker took to the stage to make some remarks and decided it would be good to let the crowd know why his airline is better than the rest.
“By the way, the average age of my cabin crew is only 26 years. So there is no need for you to travel on these crap American carriers,” he said. Later he added, “You know you’re always being served by grandmothers on American Airlines.”
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) and other groups quickly criticized Al Baker’s remarks. In a statement, Sara Nelson, President of the AFA 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’s remarks were even more questionable when you consider the findings from a 2015 investigation into Qatar Airways. It found the airline was prejudice against female flight attendants who became pregnant while working for the airliner.
Qatar Airways is subsidized by Qatar’s government, so it doesn’t have some of the pressures faced by other airlines in the open market. It was also voted 2017 Airline of the Year by Skytrax. You would think these factors would have kept Al Baker from feeling that he needed to promote youthful flight attendants as a key competitive of his airline.
It also doesn’t seem like there were any public relations types who could have exerted tighter control on his remarks. They may have contributed to a letter of apology the CEO sent to Nelson.
In it Al Baker said, “For the cabin crew serving aboard all air carriers, professionalism, professionalism, skill and dedication are the qualities that matter,” he said. “I was wrong to imply that other factors, like age, are relevant, and I realize that this is particularly offensive to those crew members who have dedicated their careers to our industry.”
The sky is the limit for Qatar Airways but it may be rightly grounded in the court of public opinion. Sometimes a poor choice of words is simply a mistake. Often, it is proof of a company culture.