Qatar Airways CEO calls U.S. flight attendants 'grandmothers,' riling unions and prompting Delta response

A remark by Qatar Airways' CEO referring to U.S. airline flight attendants as

"grandmothers" has sparked an outcry by airline unions.

Qatar Airways flies nonstop from Doha to Atlanta. Its CEO Akbar Al Baker is known for known for his aggressive approach to competition and occasionally biting remarks.

At a gala at an InterContinental hotel in Dublin, Ireland last week to celebrate Qatar Airways' launch of its Dublin-Doha route, Al Baker told the audience that "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," Al Baker said. "You know you're always being served by grandmothers on American carriers."

Delta Air Lines' senior vice president of in-flight service Allison Ausband responded in a written statement saying: "We won't let anyone demean our workforce with rude, misogynistic comments."

​“Having 33 years with Delta and starting o​ut as a flight attendant, I would have never learned the ropes without senior flight attendants shepherding me along the way," Ausband said in the statement. "They modeled the culture and taught me everything from how to serve our customers to how to maximize a layover."

Al Baker's comment comes amid a heated dogfight between Middle Eastern carriers and U.S. airlines in the skies and in the political realm.

When Qatar Airways launched its flight to Atlanta from Doha last year, its arrival sparked disputes with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines over a gate and over the Fox Theatre's decision to host a Qatar Airways launch party featuring a concert by singer Jennifer Lopez. Delta decided to end its sponsorship of the Fox over the incident.

Atlanta-based Delta, American Airlines and United Airlines have led a campaign for the past couple of years arguing that Qatar Airways, as well as Etihad Airways and Emirates of the UAE, unfairly receive subsidies from their governments. The U.S. carriers are calling for the U.S. government to take enforcement action under Open Skies agreements that govern cross-border airline competition.

The Association of Flight Attendants union issued a statement saying that "Qatar Airways thrives on misogyny and discrimination."

"When there's an emergency onboard, a Flight Attendant's gender, age, weight, height, race, or sexuality simply do not matter," Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson said in a written statement. "What matters is effective safety and security training, along with experience on the job."

The Air Line Pilots Association, a union that represents pilots at Delta and other major airlines, said Al Baker "owes U.S. airline workers an apology."

Delta pilot Tim Canoll, who is president of the international pilots union, said Al Baker "sunk to a new low" and called his remarks "sexist and degrading," according to a written statement.

Canoll said the pilots union calls on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to raise the issue of Open Skies agreements in his meetings with the Qatar government.

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About the Author

Kelly Yamanouchi
Kelly Yamanouchi
Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.
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