Qatar Airways CEO Makes Controversial Coronavirus Comments

Filed Under: Qatar, Videos

Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, is one of the most controversial people in the airline industry. It has actually been a while since we’ve heard a controversial soundbite from him… well, he’s back!

Al Baker’s coronavirus comments

During a recent interview, Al Baker made some controversial comments about coronavirus. He essentially claimed that there is no scientific evidence to support that coronavirus can be transmitted during the incubation period, and therefore any restrictions on aviation are just a “fear factor.” Here was his exact quote:

“During the incubation period, okay, they say that this virus still can be transmitted. There is no scientific evidence for that. So it is just, you know, a fear factor. You know, you don’t block aviation, you know, just because there is something in the air but it’s really not a scientific fact. I don’t know about it.”

Al Baker then went on to talk about how some countries have been preventing crews from entering when they’ve been to China in the past 14 days:

“For them to do what they did with the Chinese cabin crew, whoever goes into China can not now go anywhere else in these countries for the next 14 days. They don’t realize the operational impact this will would create on an airline. Suppose there was a pilot for some technical glitch was rostered to go on a flight to Australia, United States, Singapore, you know, the aircraft will get stuck with all the passengers. And what evidence you have that on every single aeroplane you don’t have three or four people with contagious disease sitting next to you?”

Here’s the interview with Al Baker in case you want to see it for yourself:

My take on these comments

I’m obviously no scientist/coronavirus health expert, and based on doing some Googling, it does appear like there’s some debate about the extent to which coronavirus can be spread during the incubation period.

Regardless, it’s complete hogwash to suggest that this is an attempt at creating a “fear factor.” The reality is that there’s a lot more we don’t know about coronavirus than what we do know.

There’s a difference between something that isn’t universally agreed upon scientifically, and something that is done to create a “fear factor,” and it’s ridiculous that Al Baker is suggesting that the latter is what’s going on.

Perhaps the bigger question, though, is what exactly Al Baker’s point is? He’s saying you don’t block aviation because “there is something in the air but it’s really not a scientific fact.” To what extent does he think aviation should be blocked during these times?

As far as his second quote goes, I love his suggestion that authorities trying to deal with coronavirus should be considering technical glitches in airline rostering systems when coming up with guidelines!

Bottom line

Al Baker is quite an outspoken guy, and says some controversial things. While he’s not going so far as to call coronavirus fake news, his suggestion that concerns over coronavirus being transmitted during the incubation period are intended to create a “fear factor” seems rather irresponsible…

  1. The Guardian is now reporting:
    “After we reported earlier that Lufthansa was considering an application for financial aid from the German government news now also breaks that Delta Airlines is in talks with the White House regarding support that can be provided.

    “That’s according to a memo to employees from the company’s CEO, and which has been reported by Reuters.”

    Looks like the subsidy-junky US3 are gearing-up to suckle some more at the tax-payer’s teat…

  2. I work for the airlines and I am really, really concerned about my job. However, you can’t be mad at anyone for this. If anything, you can be angry that Trump disbanded the pandemic task force in 2018 and right-wing media out right saying it’s a hoax. It’s just prolonging the virus wreckage because there is no national coordination and half the population is still trying to decide if it’s a real threat or not. Look, It just is what it is. It sucks but to not be somewhat serious about this is irresponsible. All we have to do is look at Italy as to what happens if we aren’t proactive. I have elderly parents and to think of them having to be triaged at the hospital is sickening and Italy is already doing that due to it getting out of control. We will get over this but it’s going to suck for our world economy being so interconnected. De-globalization started with Trump and Brexit. I think once everything is done, this will accelerate de-globalization. The world in 6 months will be vastly different than now – everything from economy to globalization and to not accept that now and continually blame others will not prepare you for the future. It’s like 9/11 in that aspect – everything has fundamentally changed going forward.

  3. @Gene…honestly the only question I have is why didn’t we panic like this during the H1N1 outbreak that killed over 100,000 (by some estimates 500,000) people. Not taking a stand for either side…but I does seem weird.

  4. In regards to airlines asking financial aid to the government…
    They instituted baggage fee and other ancillary revenue at the height of record oil prices to allay fuel costs. When the oil price dropped record levels, they kept them. They use as extra revenue for many things, stock buy back included. They devalued their miles/points. Tell me why airlines need taxpayers money again? They should have dropped once fuel price went down, or at least save the extra revenue for rainy day. They had record profits with low fuel costs.

  5. @ Charles S — Of course, this is all a Democratic Hoax. Sounds like a plan — put your head in the sand and hope for the best.

  6. Thank you, Akbar! I really needed that laugh. QR is coming off as a goody-goody nowadays, and barely seems to take a wrong step, what with being the best airline in the world in J and having the largest A350 fleet, AND hosting FIFA 2022.

  7. QR’s CEO is just mad that governments throughout the world will support their carriers and he won’t be the only major global subsidized airline anymore.

  8. He’s wrong. I quite literally caught COVID-19 from someone when they were not showing any symptoms. (I’m feeling fine btw).

  9. Hey if (allegedly) the Pope or Tom Hanks can get it, Akbar Al Baker can too.
    Akbar, try put virus where your mouth is. Prove the world wrong by flying around in your aeroplanes.

  10. Have you seen their cleaning propaganda video on Instagram? I can categorically state that no deep cleaning takes place and half of the cleaners don’t wear adequate gear. They send their crew on FCO flight (yes still operating) and quarantine them in Doha. Not in a 5 star hotel like the locals get but an apartment with no wifi and no way of cooking.

  11. @ Charles S — H1N1 had a mortality rate of 0.02%, while COVID-19 has a mortality rate of 3.4% so far (likely will be lower, maybe 1%). If every American got H1N1, we would expect about 70,000 deaths. if every American gets COVID-19, we might have 3.5 million+ deaths. Does THAT answer your question?

  12. @Charles S: “honestly the only question I have is why didn’t we panic like this during the H1N1 outbreak that killed over 100,000 (by some estimates 500,000) people. ”

    Let’s be guided by facts. H1N1 is very different from Covid-19 in both how it spread and the potential death toll.

    A public health emergency was declared by Pres. Obama in April 2009 when there were only 20 cases in the country. See

    Also see:

    “Covid-19 is near the beginning of its spread in the U.S., and thus cannot be compared with H1N1’s effect over a full year. If the U.S. death toll from Covid-19 is only 12,469 a year from now, that will likely be counted as a great success. The legitimate worry is that it could be many, many times higher, because Covid-19 is so much deadlier for those who get it than the 2009 H1N1 influenza was.”

  13. The 0.02% mortality rate for H1N1 wasn’t arrived at until 2013 after retrospective analyses by the WHO of databases of 19 countries. At that time the mortality rate was always quoted to be higher.

    During every one of these outbreaks there are always people who try to do simple arithmetic to arrive at how many tens of millions of people will die, when no one knows the final percentage.

    The difference now is social media and 24hr news have grown exponentially and panic (or concern or whatever) multiplies…and also testing sucks in this country.

  14. @Gene except that H1N1 is far more contagious than COVID-19. A lot of medical professionals are still more worried about the flu. Plus COVID-19 doesn’t effect kids in the same way. Also my whole point is was your comment was for whatever reason there is a large amount of hysteria about the disease. The odds are still far greater that I will die in a car crash than of COVID-19. (At least as of now).

  15. @Pete and Jay. Thank you. That’s what I was looking for in a response and makes sense. I get the precautions. I just think it stinks for the economy. Tons of people in the service industry are really going to hurt. Guess I forgot how social media has changed.

  16. This interview was from early February when less was known, most of the travel restrictions were not in place and COVID-19 had not recorded many cases outside China. Take that into account when contextualizing those comments.

  17. You realise Dr al bakar was a scientist and doctor before becoming a pilot and hostess with Qatar airlways

  18. Indeed saw this interview about a month ago. Curious that you talk about it now. Even more curious that this tweet comes from a Saudi backed news publications given the Gulf tensions

  19. Jay and Gene:

    Your explanations were too elitist for the fox news/trump hillbillies here.

    You got them lost when you started citing science and facts (something they have no idea what it is).

    Maybe try to explain using the bible to pray the virus away (which is all a Democratic hoax anyway)…

  20. @Charles S Your sources are not reliable. H1N1 is half the LOW estimate for covid-19 reproduction rate

  21. @Sad State of My Commentary:

    By conflating Fox News, which is the number One cable news channel, and which frequently has a viewership equal to CNN and MSNBC combined, with “hillbillies” you proved that you are simply a troll, and any rational person beginning to read your comment immediately tuned you out.

    Thanks for sharing, though….

  22. @Charles S
    1. Every year we become even more social media entrenced and people learned of world events sooner and panics quicker

    2. covid-19 is still going strong so there is no final count yet. And for all you know the death count is lower because people took it seriously more quickly. What you would want to do is compare H1N1 over the same period of time. That said you can’t easily quantify which is more deadly because of how early the response was for each and how people react to each. Not to mention medicine changes over time.

    Fact is overreacting is a good and bad thing. Its good because “IF” it can become way worse, over reaction would mitigate that because once something like this gets bad it’s too late to make it managable.

  23. There is an old saying : If people think you are a fool, it is better to be silent than to speak and remove all doubt!”

    It appears that Akbar Al Baker is unaware of the above saying.

    However, I still rate QR as the best business class product in the world today.

  24. He does make an accurate point. COVID-19 transmission is highest when people are coughing and putting air droplets into the air. Those without symptoms are less likely to do this. Saying that transmission of people with the virus during the incubation period has not be proven scientifically is a fact. It hasn’t been tested with a study and controls. Whether or not he is saying this to diminish the risks or criticize the heavy response by World governments is another matter.

  25. It is scientifically proved that coronavirus can spread during incubation period. The hospitals analyzed those on incubation period and thr droplets from the people contained coronavirus. So Baker comments are plain wrong.

  26. “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.” Emerson

    I wonder if this applies to the many “experts” above touting all the “science” and “facts”

  27. @Craig jnr. Are you serious when you say the CEO of QR ( al-Bakar) was a ” hostess” in his past ?!
    What type of hostess do you think he was????? ….. Ah hah .. that explains his behavior since taking over OR .

  28. @Jay
    Yes there is virus within droplets of patients in incubation period. But whether they are actually spreading it during that time is unknown and cannot be proven without a controlled experiment.
    If you are asymptomatic than you will less likely transmit droplets to other people. How less likely we don’t know.

  29. Dr. Bonnie Henry, BCs Health Officer, literally said the same thing today. Asymptomatic people do not spread the virus. This is not a controversial position.

  30. While I do not agree with the delivery of the message- in particular the lack of sensitivity in the tone, he does bring up some pertinent points.
    For one we have no reliable data to calculate the actual fatality rate as there are certainly many infected individuals who are asymptomatic and have not been tested. What is clear from the early data available is that the fatality rate is likely to be well under 1%. There is also considerable ambiguity on how many deaths can be directly attributed to covid 19 given that a very significant proportion of those who have died have serious pre-exisitng medical conditions that would be aggravated by many other viruses including influenza.
    Secondly, one of the major factors impacting death rates is the load on health care systems. This hysteria has overwhelmed health care systems and hospitals in affected countries are having to make trade offs on which patients to treat or not based on expected life expectancy.
    This again is not directly related to the virus. One can argue that the severity of the situation has been impacted as much by the inadequacies of certain health care systems as much as the virus itself.
    The pandemic has also brought to fore the partisan nature of the global community. For one how can we justify allowing uk nationals to visit the us verus european nationals from several countries where the infection rate is lower then the uk?
    I do believe that with the levels of community spread lockdowns will not help and the incompetence of governments should not create hardships for the general population.

  31. Why is it controversial? My Scandinavian health othorities say its very low chanses the virus can be transmitted during the incubation period. This was unclear to them upon resently though.

  32. Not seeing what’s so controversial about his comments…

    If anything, video being old makes his words ominous

  33. Al Baker is not denying that the virus exists, but that it has been over-hyped and caused unnecessary fear. That responsibility I put squarely in the hands of the MSM.

    Fortunately not everyone thinks that the world is ending over this viral pneumonia, and THAT is refreshing.

  34. I really think this virus has been blown out of proportion. Just look at the statistics of those who recover compared to the mortality rate. Then there are those who have the virus, show no symptoms and then recover from it without getting tested for it. So the mortality rate could possibily be even lower.
    There are now projections that up to 17times more people will die from impoverishment in South Africa than the virus will kill, because of the economic ramifications of this national lockdown.

    The rest of Africa is in trouble too. WFP predicts 130million people will be starving by the end of this year in Africa. How many lives will that claim?

    I understand most of this was done in order to not overwhelm the health care system. But if the consequences of global shutdown are potentially more deaths than the virus itself will cause, and more starving people then we have to ask ourselves wether this has been handled properly.

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