Qatar Airways CEO Call British Airways “Two Out Of Ten” Low Cost Carrier

Filed Under: British Airways, Qatar

Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, is the most outspoken and interesting man in the airline industry. While he has been a bit quieter than usual lately, fortunately he dropped some brilliant nuggets of wisdom in a recent interview.

Interviewing industry executives is often boring

I’ve been blogging for over 13 years, and over time I’ve had the opportunity to interview a countless number of airline executives. While I’m grateful for these opportunities, nowadays I turn them down 90%+ of the time, especially in conjunction with some announcement from that company.

Why? Because more often than not, talking to an industry executive on the record is like hearing a regurgitated press release. I can read the press release, so I don’t really need the audio book version. Furthermore, I do what I can to maintain as much independence as possible, and many industry executives seem to think you owe them a positive story if they took the time to communicate with you.

Now, there are definitely some exceptions, and for that matter a lot of fascinating off the record conversations happen. I’ve had 10 minute off the record conversations with certain executives that were mind-blowing in terms of what I learned, and which completely changed my perception of certain airlines and/or loyalty programs.

Qatar Airways’ Al Baker is never boring

That brings us to the point of this post — there’s not an airline industry executive out there who so freely shares their opinion quite like Al Baker. Admittedly what he says sometimes gets him in trouble, but it’s also refreshing to hear an executive actually share their thoughts. Whether you agree with him or not, this man is passionate about the industry, and also has a lot of perspective.

Al Baker was interviewed for this weekend’s edition of The Sunday Times, and my gosh it’s amazing. I mean, this is the second paragraph of the story:

In the course of just 45 minutes from his boardroom in Doha, he dismisses British Airways as a “two out of ten” carrier; accuses Dubai of becoming a Covid-19 superspreader and lambasts arch-rival Emirates as a gas-guzzling dinosaur; says any airline that offers premium economy is ripping off its customers; and demands $5 billion (£3.6 billion) in compensation from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt for their “illegal” economic blockade of his country, which ended in January. That’s all before he commits the cardinal aviation sin — warning that good times are, alas, no longer around the corner for air travellers.

Al Baker’s thoughts on British Airways

The most interesting part of this interview involves Al Baker’s comments on British Airways. Keep in mind that Qatar Airways is the largest shareholder of IAG, which owns British Airways, as Qatar Airways has a 25% stake. So, how does Al Baker feel about British Airways?

British Airways is the flag carrier of the UK. You remember the motto? “To fly, to serve.” That was not any more the motto of the company. It was only on a billboard.

There’s more:

  • Al Baker said “we wanted an airline that doesn’t sell food but serves food”
  • Al Baker said that British Airways has become “a low-cost carrier, a level I never expected BA to be”
  • Al Baker was asked to give British Airways a score on a scale of one to ten, and he gave it a two
  • With British Airways now having a new CEO, Al Baker hopes that the airline will “get the glitter back,” as he states that the new CEO is “a very good leader,” and that “British Airways will come back to its glory days”
  • However, Al Baker said that British Airways will never again be “the world’s favourite airline,” because that title belongs to Qatar Airways

Controversial as these comments are, and as much as these are probably against his own interests given British Airways’ ownership structure, he’s absolutely right. I’m not quite as confident as him when it comes to British Airways getting its glitter back, but I’d love to be wrong.

Bottom line

I could listen to Qatar Airways’ Al Baker talk for hours. I don’t always agree with what he says, though I do appreciate the honest perspective he provides on the industry, unlike so many of his counterparts.

What do you make of Al Baker’s comments?

Comments
  1. Ah, what it must be like for money to be no object and profitability to not matter. Living in fantasy-land.

  2. Ben – referring to BA, did you insert the “low cost” part of that quote or did he add it later in his interview?

  3. @ Stuart — It’s in the story. “The leadership reduced it ‘to a low-cost carrier — a level I never expected BA to be.'”

  4. @ Ben – What did he meant by ” warning that good times are, alas, no longer around the corner for air travellers.”–it’s it arrived or will take longer or never coming back?

  5. @ jetiquette — I agree that obviously Qatar Airways isn’t traditionally profitable, but I also think it’s worth acknowledging that’s not necessarily the goal. It’s undeniable the extent to which the airline has put Qatar on the map, and the massive positive economic impact that has on the country.

    Unlike other airlines (like Etihad), Qatar Airways has continued on its course quite consistently, and I think the airline is now better positioned than ever before (thanks to its strong partnerships with Alaska and American, and the Gulf blockade being over). Unlike Etihad, the airline has at least invested in foreign carriers in a strategic way.

    My point is, there are tons of airlines in the world that lose money, or where money is no object, and they ultimately add little value. Qatar Airways is different, and is extremely well run.

  6. As someone who has never gotten the chance to fly BA and has always loved seeing their planes in America, it is sad to see where they have ended up. I know in Europe they’re a joke but is it that bad even intercontinental with them as well? Seems like even UA Polaris is 100x better than BA J these days. Sad.

  7. Bottom line, American’s want cheap or free rewards!
    You get what you pay for!
    Emirates does not give it away!
    Passengers who sit in first class on an A380 actually pay for that level of service.
    JFK TO LAX Most are upgrades,etc..
    So enjoy airtravel in 2021.

  8. For short haul flights, my own experience flying easyJet out of Gatwick has been far better than flying BA from Heathrow. The only thing BA does better is gate location. I hate BA’s claustrophobic rear facing seats in long haul business class. Or perhaps I have just got used to a better product from others.

  9. Nice summary Ben and yes, it was a stunning article in the Times. I too appreciated the fresh honesty that it shared even if it came from an individual who is considered ‘controversial’ for his blunt speak. I agree wholeheartedly with him and I hope he’s right about BA improvin the quality of their product as they go forward under the new management. Although again he’s right, since for me, Qatar is MY favorite overall airline!

  10. Honestly the Qatar CEO is spot on.

    American and British Airways are taking a low cost approach.

    I see United and Delta and Emriates and Qatar and Lufthansa as taking a holistic approach and being a full service carrier.

  11. @ Sharon :

    LUFTHANSA a full service carrier ?
    Either your memories are from Wayyyy… long ago
    OR you only fly Lufthansa F (because their Business Class is anything but Full Service)…
    OR may I have some of what you smoke ?

  12. Al Baker doesn’t have to compete to the airline with another successful CEO, who you can listen to without getting bored: Ryanair and Michael o’Leary. BA won’t have a choice to stripping down service in economy class to low cost level if they want to survive this rough competition.

  13. As others have said, it really depends on the (shorthaul) competitors. In case of BA this is Ryanair and Easyjet, who started the race to the bottom. Some mainline carriers (IB, SK, EI, TP) followed early, later also BA, AY and most recently LH/LX/OS. Even those still serving food before the pandemic, such as KL/AF or AZ had fairly minimal offerings in terms of food, actually most of the BA BoB menu is positioned above (but, of course, for pay). In such an environment it’s very hard to position yourself above, at least if you are not a niche carrier.

    Now, the pandemic might be a game changer, at least if testing requirements remain in force. Those who are willing to pay 2*150$ for two PCR-tests, will probably be happy to pay 50$ or 100$ more for their ticket, if decent food and legspace is provided. This under the assumption that testing will not easily go away, even for those vaccinated.

  14. Not that I’d ever fly Ryanair, but I think Michael O’Leary might give al Baker a run for the money in terms of frankness from an airline CEO…

  15. … and how RIGHT he is!!!
    I fully agree with him, QR the most favorite Airline in the World right now.

    BRAVO

    No matter weher:
    *Coach
    *short haul flights service
    *Q-Suite
    *Service on Board

  16. He is spot on, though.
    BA is horrible, and then add the ridiculous charges and sub par food even in business class. I avoid flying with them.

  17. Kudos to the Qatar CEO for simply reiterating facts. He isn’t talking sh**. He’s neither embellishing nor downplaying. He’s simply stating what we (regular travellers) know to be the badly-concealed truth: BA really is a glorified LCC (and by implication Qatar is an excellent airline). Like him or loathe him, this is a person whom the industry needs to keep it real. He stands up his own airline while calling out substandard competition. NOTHING wrong with that.

  18. Lol, in other travel forums out there people are saying Al Baker’s assessment of British Airways “two out of ten LCC” was actually generous and magnanimous!

  19. Ben,

    You mentioned how some off the record conversations with executives completely changed your perception on some airlines / loyalty program…

    Will you be able to share some examples without damaging confidentiality?

    Thanks

  20. He is spot on…No better time to saying the way it is than now…Hope they get themselves back on track with the new management

  21. I would agree with the sentiments, except for one memorable incident which changed my mind. Some years ago, my wife and I flew from Melbourne ( Australia) to LHR with BA on a B747 in the brand new premium economy. Got to Singapore just fine if the rattle of bits and pieces is fine. Got of the plane for its refuelling and got back on, only to sit on the tarmac because as the captain put it…..I cannot start the engines, because the batteries are flat. We got to LHR four hours beyond the ETA and missed a flight to Athens. Heathrow was a total chaos, but luckily our flight to Athens was in business. Proceeded to the appropriate counter to hear a high pitched American lady ‘s voice lambasting the BA employee for a good ten minutes as the queue for longer. When she was finally out of energy and departed ( to applause in relieve) I approached Nigel, his real name I hope and enquired in Australian fashion how was he going, mate? He ruefully smiled in appreciation and solved our connection problems within five seconds, pointed us to the way to the business class lounge and forever in our memory. That is what I remember BA a was like and God help recreational travellers if those standards have lapsed.

  22. The pot is calling the kettle black. Ease my Trip says Qatar Airways hasn’t returned my ticket money of Rs 72000/- for flight cancellation due to covid in India. 4 months have passed but EMT is making excuses and laying the blame on Qatar Airways.I don’t know at whose door I should knock.

  23. Many people believe that EK, while not as bad as BA, is no longer on par with QR in not only J (7-abreast J vs. industry-leading Qsuite) but also in Y. Is this a reflection of how well EK is run? And is EK a better-run airline than QR (despite both being highly professionally run, unlike EY), given that the latter has the monumental disaster called Air Italy in its history?

  24. I could not have agreed more with Al Baker. 2 out of 10 was generous!
    BA trying to get it’s ‘glitter’ back?? This must be a joke..they never had any ‘glitter’ EVER….lousy service…terrible food…luggage often (more than often) arriving in the wrong destination airport…haughty staff….uncomfortable seats…..I could go on forever!
    Give me Qatar Airlines any day…they know what they are doing….

  25. @ s – ‘I know in Europe they’re a joke’

    Versus who? Lufthansa? Swiss? Austrian? All these carriers have recently switched to the ‘buy on board’ proposition in short haul economy which is ironic given the snide comments they made about BA introducing it a few years ago. Lufthansa is a basket case in terms of J class seating. Swiss still doesn’t have all direct aisle access in J. Austrian does, albeit they have a small fleet of longhaul aircraft. We have KLM and AF. AF like LH has a variable J class longhaul seating arrangement (their A380’s they only recently retired still had angle flat seats) and they are in a sh*t load of debt. KLM have varying levels of longhaul J class seating and charge for snacks in Y within europe. IB – no need to expand. SK and TP both charge for food and drink in economy.

  26. For those of us who used to fly the ‘Kangaroo Route’ it always made me chuckle and shake my head in utter disbelief that in a crowded field of airlines offering a one-stop service from Australia to the U.K. (I counted fifteen airlines, but certainly missed some) it was B.A. which was consistently one of the most expensive options, while having arguably the very worst product (and yes, I’m even taking certain mainland Chinese carriers into account!). How Alex Cruz thought he could charge more expensive business class fares than quality airlines such as Qatar and Singapore is beyond me. I can only surmise B.A. offered bulk discount fares to corporations, because no discerning traveller would pay good money for that.

  27. Qatar is good, until you fly through Qatar Airport and they pull out all females from the airplanes to inspect their vagina and verify that she was not the mother of a random baby found on a trash can at the airport.

  28. Brits especially those in the North and in Scotland prefer Qatar (and Emirates) to BA as northern airports like MAN are largely ignored by southern-centric BA. From a product point of view, the food on BA is far nicer in both cabins as Qatar’s menu is very Indian-oriented especially on UK and USA routes. Qatar’s presentation is nicer and crew are more polite, service with a smile. As a Brit though I have no nationalistic loyalty to BA as much as I’d like to and prefer the ME3.

  29. Qatar have very good label but in 2 of many flights that I took on Qatar seating on economy they complete forgot to serve food and drinks in my zone, it look like we were never there until we talk to the lead flight attendant, it was not a experience that Qatar promised and I expected.

  30. Whilst I don’t disagree with a lot of what he says, it’s rather easy to run a business that doesn’t need to make money, in a country with no labour laws, no human/women’s rights, free fuel and bottomless pockets to buy new jets etc.

  31. The one single biggest difference between Qatar Airways and BA is this – BA has to please it’s share holders. The UK government has no stake in the carrier and it is exposed to the same competitive environment of other airlines flying to the UK. Thus, every investment it makes has to equal an increase in profit. Qatar Airways doesn’t have to bother itself with pleasing it’s investors. It’s sole purpose is an arm of the Qatari Government to put Qatar on the global map. Fact.

    The reasons the Gulf airlines offer such high levels of service is because they have to offer an incentive to travellers to choose them and change planes at their hub instead of flying direct on the legacy carriers.

    If airlines like Qatar or Emirates didn’t have the HUGE financial support of their government investors there’s no way they could afford to splurge on the type of products or fly all the routes that they do.

  32. Totally agree with CEO/Baker.
    Since BA began charging for food not serving, flying experience is exactly the same as flying Easyjet et al. Yet the costs are higher than the lowcost brigade, The customer expects a better service when they pay more for an implied standard. QR Airways are the most expensive but at least some of that is reflected in an excellent service.

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