Qatar Airways CEO Knocks World Cup Critics at Airport Event

By LUJAIN JO and JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The outspoken CEO of Qatar Airways lashed out on Thursday against criticism of his country hosting the next FIFA World Cup, saying his country would “always put salt in the wound” of its opponents. .

Akbar Al Baker’s comments show the increasingly divisive stance of Qatari officials as the start of the tournament nears on November 20 and as the spotlight on the small, energy-rich country intensifies. Already, some nations and football teams have expressed concern about Qatar’s handling of its large population of low-paid migrant workers and its stance on LGBTQ rights.

Speaking from Qatar’s sprawling Hamad International Airport as officials unveiled an expansion there, Al Baker pointed to winning Skytrax’s best airport award at Singapore’s Changi Airport for the past two years.

“We always put salt in the wound of our competitor, and of course, our opponents, as you can see the extent of the negative media campaign against my beloved country, Qatar,” he said. “Because people cannot accept that a small country like the State of Qatar won the biggest sporting event in the world.”

Political cartoons about world leaders

political cartoons

He added: “Congratulations to Qatar, my beloved country.” Some officials present at the press conference clapped in response.

His combativeness continued in a brief two-question press conference. Asked later how the airport would transform to handle the influx of World Cup visitors, Al Baker replied: “I know why this question is being asked as there have always been rumors against the capacity that we can handle.”

Al Baker, who served for a long time as CEO of Qatar Airways, has made controversial comments in the past, including suggesting women can’t run airlines and calling US carriers “shitty” and that their passengers were “always served by grandmothers”. He later apologized for both remarks.

However, his confrontational and shifting approach continues in negotiations with manufacturers and others. Qatar Airways is now embroiled in a lawsuit with Airbus over its claims that its long-range Airbus A350s are seeing their fuselages “degrade at an accelerated rate”.

Hamad International Airport, a $15 billion airport that opened in 2014, and its former hub, Doha International Airport, will handle inbound flights for the World Cup.

Al Baker said Qatar Airways, one of the major Gulf airlines that benefits from the East-West connection, had cut 18 destinations from its schedules to allow additional flights to Doha. He said authorities expected more than a million people to pass through the two airports during the tournament.

“We have already made sure that all the capacity involved in additional flights and charter flights respects the maximum capacity per hour of each of the two airports,” said Al Baker. “We are therefore very well positioned to deal with this very large influx of passengers.”

Al Baker spoke at an event marking the expansion of Hamad International Airport, which he said will increase its capacity from 40 million passengers to 58 million. He said he hoped future expansions would expand it to accommodate 75 million passengers. This expansion includes The Orchard, an indoor tropical garden with 300 trees and 25,000 plants, as well as a large water feature.

A similar indoor garden can be found at Singapore’s Changi Airport, a design that Al Baker previously accused that airport of stealing from Qatar. Changi Airport officials dismissed the claim and its Jewel Garden, complete with an indoor waterfall, opened in 2019.

“We don’t want it to be the biggest hub in the world,” Al Baker said, a nod to Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel. “But in Qatar, we are always looking for quality. And that’s what we’re going to deliver.

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Leave a Comment