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.
- 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.
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?