Qatar Airways CEO apologizes for sexist comment

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Akbar Al Baker said the media "exaggerated" in their response to his comment. "They blew it out of proportion. It was just a joke," he said. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

SYDNEY -- Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker issued a formal statement apologizing for suggesting that airlines need to be led by men.

But in a forum in Sydney on Wednesday morning, Al Baker also accused the media of embellishing his comment.

"Quite frankly, I think the press took it out of context," he said at the CAPA Centre for Aviation Airline CEOs summit. "They exaggerated. They blew it out of proportion. It was just a joke."

In a Qatar Airways tweet posted immediately before Al Baker spoke at the CAPA summit, the controversial chief executive offered "heartfelt apologies for any offense caused by my comment yesterday, which runs counter to my track record of expanding the role of women in leadership throughout the Qatar Airways Group." 

Women comprise 44% of the carrier's workforce, Al Baker went on to say, and they serve as pilot and senior executives.

Al Baker's impolitic comments the previous day came during a news conference immediately after was elected chairman of the IATA's board of governors, a position he will hold for the next year.

Asked by a reporter about the lack of women in leadership positions at Middle East airlines, Al Baker had begun to explain that Qatar has lots of women employees when the reporter cut him off to point out that the airline is led by him -- a man.

"Of course, it's led by a man, because it's a very challenging position," he responded.

During the CAPA summit on Wednesday, Al Baker pledged to "endeavor to bring more women on our board of governors."  

Also during his Wednesday conference appearance, Al Baker addressed the question of whether recent diplomatic deals between the U.S and Qatar and the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates has put to bed the Open Skies campaign by Delta, United and American against Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.

"It should be the end because we have clarified our position and the American administration has accepted it, so I don't know what other excuse they will make because they didn't win," he said.

The legacy U.S. carriers had accused the Gulf airlines of accepting more than $50 billion in state subsidies since 2004 in violation of international aviation agreements and had called for curbs on the Gulf airlines' flying rights to the U.S.

Al Baker said that what the U.S airlines were really worried about was competition.

"This was just a way to jack up the fares so they will take the public to the cleaners," he said.

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