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Qatar Airways CEO Appointed as Chairman of the Airline Alliance He Threatened to Quit Over Dispute With U.S. Carriers

Qatar Airways CEO Appointed as Chairman of the Airline Alliance He Threatened to Quit Over Dispute With U.S. Carriers

Akbar Al Baker speaking in Canberra, Australia at the launch of his airline's fifth route to the country. Photo Credit: Qatar Airways

Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways has been newly appointed as the chairman of the oneworld airline alliance, taking over from Alan Joyce who is the chief executive of Qantas. The oneworld alliance also counts American Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific amongst its members and Alaska Airlines joined the alliance in March.

It’s not unusual for the role of oneworld chairman to move between the various CEO’s of member airlines but what is unusual is the fact that Al Baker had repeatedly threatened to withdraw Qatar Airways from the alliance in a particularly nasty spat with American Airlines and Qantas.

On Friday, however, Al Baker only had warm words to say about oneworld, commenting: “I am proud to lead an alliance that has set the benchmark for innovation, safety and customer service throughout the pandemic with many members, including Qatar Airways, taking the lead in trialing digital health passports.”

“Qatar Airways has also enhanced bilateral relations with fellow oneworld members in the past 18 months, further demonstrating the strength of the partnerships between member airlines,” he continued.

Qatar Airways became the first major Middle East airline to join a global alliance in 2013 when it became a member of oneworld but its relationship with fellow members haven’t always been plain sailing. Rumours that Qatar Airways might quit oneworld first emerged just two years after the airline joined oneworld but the threats were taken to the next level several years later.

In 2018, Al Baker told reporters that he had issued an “ultimatum” to the alliance and that Qatar Airways might leave oneworld soon because of public attacks by a fellow member. While Al Baker never named names, he was believed to be referring to American Airlines which had led a concerted campaign against what it claimed was government subsidies that gave Qatar Airways an unfair advantage.

Qatar Airways was also in a dispute with Qantas over its commercial partnership with arch-rival Emirates that was effectively preventing Al Baker from flying more lucrative routes to Australia.

In early 2019, the often outspoken chief executive again reignited the threat to leave the alliance, suggesting that other alliance members didn’t “respect” Qatar Airways.

“We are not going to be bullied by some individual who thinks that the world belongs to them,” Al Baker said. “The world belongs to the world community. And we as an airline, we will demand respect, and we will not submit to anybody that is trying to bully us.”

Those threats, however, eventually amounted to nothing and just before the pandemic gripped the world, Qatar Airways and American Airlines significantly mended their relationship. Under the deal, American Airlines is even expected to start direct flights to Doha – although the pandemic might be a good excuse never to start that route.

Al Baker tried to draw a line under the dispute last February when he said that he had “moved on from past issues”.

Qatar Airways said Al Baker would oversee the alliance’s governance, as well as lead governing board meetings. He will also work closely with oneworld chief executive  Rob Gurney and the alliance’s management team.

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