Sometimes shaming is a powerful tool to move others toward corrective action. I admire what Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker set out to accomplish in powerfully shaming British Airways.
Qatar Airways CEO Shames British Airways
Qatar Airways owns a 25.1% stake in IAG, the parent company of British Airways. As such, you would expect the CEO of Qatar Airways would have kind words to say about his portfolio of investments. But not so with British Airways, where Al Baker spared no expense in lambasting his oneworld partner in a Sunday Times interview.
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.
Ouch. But that’s not all. Al Baker also claimed:
- British Airways is “a low-cost carrier, a level I never expected BA to be”
- British Airways is a “two out of ten” carrier
- He “wanted an airline that doesn’t sell food but serves food”
But Al Baker did offer some hope. He praised new CEO Sean Doyle, calling him a “very good leader” and expressed hope that BA “will come back to its glory days” and gets it “glitter” back. However, BA will never be “the world’s favorite airline” again because Qatar Airways is.
I view Al Baker as less of a deluded narcissist and more of a shewed businessman. While British Airways can offer many justifications for its service cutbacks (most pointedly that other carriers are doing the same thing), there is a very real truth that if British Airways offers less service and legroom than Ryanair and Easyjet, people will STOP paying a premium to fly BA.
That’s an inherently reasonable point. And since Qatar Airways has an interest in the success of British Airways, it is not strange to see Al Baker goad the company to do better. That is self-interest.
Nevertheless, it is also reasonable to note that Qatar Airways is seen as far more than a for-profit carrier but a vehicle to grow the entire Qatari economy. British Airways does not enjoy the same privilege and its resources are not unlimited. Losses are simply not acceptable or sustainable.
I see what Al Baker was trying to do–his comments toward British Airways were more than just a gratuitous insult like his ageist insult against U.S. flight attendants. But I’m still not sure British Airways will see a profitable return on mimicking Qatar Airways service levels. In fact, I’m fairly sure it will not. That’s the problem.
Under IAG British Airways has sunk so low that shame is simply ineffective. For shame to succeed you have to have some sense of pride and BA left that in the rear view mirror years ago. What surprises me is that Qatar doesn’t force through changes that would bring back premium business instead of bringing in another IAG stooge to do the “Meet the new boss – same as the old boss” dance. BA needs bold outside thinking rather than another internally groomed cost cutter.