an airplane wing in the sky

Well, it appears His Excellency, Akbar Al Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways isn’t too pleased with his airline’s investment in British Airways or IAG. Unless you consider 2 out of 10 to be a good score, of course. The CEO told The Times that ‘to fly, to serve’ is now nothing more than a billboard.

Before we dive in, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a competitor bashing a competitor. It’s a large owner bashing something their organization has a very large stake in, which doesn’t happen often in business these days. Accordingly, it’s worth deconstructing the statements.

a large airplane flying over a runway

Qatar Airways CEO Slams British Airways

I don’t think this is intended as a slight to British Airways employees, but rather the airline’s general strategy to reduce service levels in recent years, and a trajectory which effectively saw the differentiators between BA, Ryanair and other low cost competition disappear in short haul economy.

At one point, it even seemed destined for long haul travel as well, and British Airways considered purchasing Norwegian Airlines.

So what did Akbar Al Baker tell The Times (London), specifically? The jabs were multi faceted, but focused on lack of vision, short sighted cost cutting and the fact that BA will never be the world’s favorite airline again, because he claims Qatar Airways will be, forever. No favoritism there, naturally.

Here’s a collection of the accusations and statements leveled by Akbar Al Baker, with GSTP commentary on context. This is some popcorn worthy stuff…

“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.”

British Airways came under intense scrutiny and anger during the pandemic for its treatment of staff in relation to labor disputes, but also to customers in response to refund issues.

British Airways at one point re-coded it’s website to hide the refund button which had existed for years, simply to trick people into accepting future travel vouchers.

Many of those grievances have since been settled, and in reality many airlines were bad actors with good faith transactions, but for an airline which long enjoyed the halo and prestige of a premium brand, internal and external moves hardly felt premium in the last year.

“He’s a very good leader. He has my confidence … British Airways will come back to its old glory,” 

Akbar Al Baker to John Arlidge of the Times.

So is this what we can expect, and what Akbar Al Baker expects to remain arguably true? No. The Qatar Airways CEO stated he has full confidence in Sean Doyle, the CEO of British Airways and expects a return to former glory. If that becomes true, loyal BA flyers are in for a good few years as once removed perks return.

a row of seats in an airplane

“We wanted an airline that doesn’t sell food but serves food,”

Akbar Al Baker told venerable Times transport reporter John Arlidge, that Qatar Airways increased investment into IAG, the parent company of British Airways, was about gaining a top airline which serves food, not one that sells it.

In other words, they weren’t happy sitting on the sidelines watching all the things which make a legacy airline separate from a low cost airline, disappear.

Over the last 3-4 years, British Airways reduced short haul food to effectively buy on board only, even removing water briefly before safety regulators demanded its return. The desperation of the pandemic saw a return of basics, but food is still a paid for item in short haul economy, albeit a decent option now with a much improved offering.

“British Airways is a 2 out of 10 low cost carrier”

Asked by Arlidge what he’d rate the current state of British Airways, Akbar Al Baker replied with a simple two. Yes, a 2/10 for an airline of which he’s a majority owner.

Al Baker says a focus on cost cutting caused British Airways to “lose focus” and that too much time and effort spent on Premium Economy isn’t what’s best for customers. Al Baker continued to state a good economy is all that’s needed, but the tape measures tend to disagree.

In fact, many would disagree, GSTP included. Premium economy provides a welcome gap both in price and comfort from the tight squeezes in the back, to the new levels of luxury up front. On that score, British Airways Club Suite is hardly low cost carrier material, even if it’s just a spiced up version of a long serving business class seat.

a group of men in suits

BA & QR: Frenemies, Friends, Or Foes?

British Airways is regarded by the British Public as a British Airline, but it is in fact largely owned by Spanish and Qatari companies. Qatar Airways holds the single largest share in IAG, the parent company of British Airways, which gives the airline some room at the table.

Qatar Airways Chairman & CEO, Akbar Al Baker, is flexing that room.

It’ll be fascinating to watch how British Airways, and new CEO Sean Doyle respond to the criticism, or directional shifts over the years to come.

Will Qatar Airways, as a large shareholder, attempt to exert more influence over British Airways operational moves, or will Akbar Al Baker just occasionally fire shots across the bow, to remind people that his airline wins higher scores and delivers better products in each cabin? Only time will tell, but the popcorn is at the ready.

HT: Paddle Your Own Kanoo

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I think the Qatar CEO really needs to focus on there own off board service – ie it’s call centres and inability to answer the telephone – it’s the poorest customer service of any airline I have had to call both pre and during pandemic – BA on the other hand have been answering calls swiftly

    1. I don’t know where you’re from, but when I call QA customer service, they’re very helpful. Barely any waiting time.

    2. Akbar forget BOAC 1970’s VC10 OPERATIONS ASWELL THE RICHEST GULF AIR OPERATIONS especially THE GOLDEN FALCON lovely TRISTAR . And his traveling to LHR on Tristar.. Gulf Air Omani Registrated Bahrain operations pocketed by the Englishers and ASWELL sky drivers also the Englishers …The great stealthers ..Gulf Air disappeared …And Smart Albaker Gave birth to Qatar Airways,,,….remember B737 through gulf day and night with out any accident..keep a few QR biggest for Worl cup special JFK DOH..

    3. I agree Qatar dreadful airline. Had no option but to fly back from Australia with them during pandemic. Took my money( inflated price). Flew Brisbane to Sydney. In Sydney I was refused boarding insisted the payment hadn’t gone through. I showed them proof it had, they still wouldn’t let me board. I agreed to pay again, but no one at airport could take my payment! My husband, whose booking was on the same payment card was booked through to Manchester. It took 2 days to sort out. Had to find my own accommodation and food. No apology, no explanation!! Customer service appalling! I emailed and wrote to Akbar al Baker, but of course no response.

    4. Not sure what number you have for BA but I wouldn’t say a wait time of between 45mins and 2hours is answering the phone quickly… and when you get through, the answer is almost always no, unless further payments are made

  2. 2/10 customer experience? Maybe. 2/10 investment? 100% false. IAG is their most successful investment till date and that came out of Akbar’s mouth. So it’s up to him what he wants to do

  3. I flew BA business class just before the pandemic and I 100% am in agreement with Mr Baker of Qatar Airways. I have posted my review for that flight on trip adviser which should still be there. BA do not know how to service at all! They cannot differentiate between their low cost flyers and their premium paying ones! So very truly sad! Mr Baker please replace all the lazy BA staff with Qatar Airways trained staff, that alone will do wonders for BA!! I will never fly BA ever again, and will happily pay Business class for Qatar and Emirates any day!! My score for BA minus -10/10!!

  4. A right way to politically level of the right for politically of the correct company line of the old pasttimes of the song of the better of the studying of the older students of the older students of the songs politically of the songs of the older politically for motivations for politically for being too expensive in French of the 1990s.

  5. I was returning through Qater.
    However Uk government put qater on the redlist. I have tried to contact British Airways no success. When you through their online chat. Its robot and only let you to choose refund or book..
    I had to choose refund.
    Then days trying ginlay managed to chat with real people.
    She took all my details and said after explaining myself that I need to get the money back so I can book alternative route.
    She said its all in process so don’t worry about we sort it out in no time.
    No refund till I had to borrow money from family to get back to UK.
    Adywr got to UK they refunded my account £10?
    When I contacted them they said because you cancelled voluntary!
    I even have the chat transcript.
    Complained still not willing to rectify!

    You only know how good is a company in this kinda scenarios.
    I will give 0 out of 10.
    This was my experience.
    I will never fly with them.
    I wish I booked with Qater who has refund or unlimited changes due to covid.

  6. I stopped using BA when I realised
    The passengers were interrupting the cabin crew’s party.

  7. BA. Have been cancelling my flight 8 mths now and i have Lost all respect for this once great airline no better now than any of the low cost airlines around.
    Once the cream of the crop flying the sky’s of the world that has turned into a pile of dog shit on the sole of the worlds shoe, i will be using any of the Arab airlines in future as they know how to treat their customers .

  8. I stucked in UK last year for 5 months unfortunately. My experience in UK over all very bad. They treat customer so low. These people not at all helpful in any department. Poor service. I never see so far if customer wants to buy something and shop sales team don’t know any thing about their products. But it happens in UK. Even if you want to buy a medicine from pharmacy. The pharmist will never help to choose or advice. She or he will point their finger, that is the area please go and check by your self. I mean seriously??
    Plus i had one experience in boots and one in T-Max.
    Zero knowledge with zero customer services.
    And regarding travel scene, Qatar Airways had given complete refund to me. Without cut any penalities. According to me i would give Qatar 10/10 and British Airways Zero.

  9. BA is a reputable company the pandemic has affected them badly and they have done an excellent job in difficult circumstances. It’s all very well middle Eastern airlines boasting about their on board device levels when they have endless amounts of money, BA has shareholders to consider. When the pandemic is over BA will bounce back to their rightful position as the world’s favourite.

  10. I flew 1st class on British Airways to LHR. Sad to note that the seating, design, facilities and services are not half as good as business class on Emirates. Quite disappointing.
    This is the 2nd time I’ve flown BA in the last three years. I’d rather go back to flying Emirates.
    BA needs to put its act together. It’s a real shame!

  11. An airline beyond comparison in today’s travel industry… across all categories too …. that is what Qatar Airways has worked hard to become.

    The rest have a lot to learn from QA’s example, only if they are wise enough.

  12. I will never fly with BA the service it’s is terrible. Qatar I will give 10/10 .March Kenya was was on lockdown down up to date due to Covid -19 I called Qatar customer service, I was able to reschedule my flight to July with no issues. Thank you Qatar customer services staff.

  13. BA 2 out of 10? Really? I prefer BA over Qatar at any time. I used to travel from Lahore to the US through middle eastern airlines. Not any more. Their inflight service is horrible, not to mention the quality and quantity of the food on these long flights. I find BA’s inflight and ground service much better than Qatar’s. This CEO is not in touch with reality and should focus on improving his service rather than criticizing others.

  14. BA is awful and outdated which is typical of all that is happening in UK at the moment. Government money grabbers the British call it rip off Britain.

  15. Qatar are not angels. I had a round trip BKK-GRU via DOH On my way out i had to stop my onward flight get medical attention.i had double pneomonia had to fly via Oman to Dubia to have medical attention. I requested a partial refund which i would expect, as I insured my ticket dates can be changed. After calls to the centres in Uk,USA,Doha, eventuaĺy Bangkok I was refunded 9000 bht £230. The flight cost me 41000 bhat over £1100. His excellency its is worse than 2/10 it took 4 months to get that after manyy many calls. So you are telling me bkk to doh is £800 in when a ticket return averages 600 – 900 gbp was not glying in peak season on that flight. I flew business class on other glights yo GRU, i would have upgraded to Business class as member of you qclub i am asked to upgrade. I would have done. DOH to GRU is 15 hour flight. Hence i did not take because of my health. Result Qatar 2 BA 2

  16. BA needs to hire more telephone agents. I waited one hour to change a booked flight. Still have not seen the Avios redeposited

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