Qatar Airways’ CEO is used to playing with the media. He does this at every opportunity at every industry event he attends. The media squash, push and squeeze into the tiniest spaces at events to be within earshot. He never fails to perform and the media lap it up.
Except this week, Mr Al Baker’s performance went over a line. Take a look.
Before you leap to judge the man, note the attendees at the event where he spoke roared with laughter. The audience seemed to find it funny. Because this what is expected when he speaks. He is abrasive about competitors. Especially the US airline industry.
Now bear in mind that after his jibe (which stung) he also apologized. “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,” he said in a statement. “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. This is a time of strong rivalry between our airline and the US carriers and we are of course immensely proud of our own cabin crew. However, cabin crew are the public face of all airlines and I greatly respect their hard work and professionalism. 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.”
Not to give Mr Al Baker a pass on his speech, because he did cross a line. We assume he simply got carried away. After all his airline is facing difficult logistics and routings. His state is under sanctions. Qatar is short on friends. The chance to appear at an industry function and stick it to anyone must have been irresistable. He is a man with a reputation to live up to and he did. But was also big enough to say sorry. This u-turn was the right thing to do.
It might be a while though before he gets another invitation to speak. Which is a pity because the industry needs mavericks. They keep things interesting and, frankly, fascinating.