Qatar Airways CEO Likens British Airways To A Low Cost Carrier

Out of its hub at London Heathrow, British Airways is a full-service carrier offering both short-haul and long-haul service around the world with its diverse fleet of aircraft. Indeed, it’s on the list of carriers that serve destinations across all six inhabited continents. Despite its rich history and earning a four-star rating from Skytrax, the CEO of Qatar Airways, a fellow oneworld airline, doesn’t hold the carrier in the same regard. Instead, Akbar Al Baker calls British Airways a “two out of ten” airline.

Qatar Airways CEO Likens British Airways To A Low Cost Carrier
Skytrax has awarded Qatar Airways with a five-star rating. The carrier has also been awarded TripAdvisor’s “Travelers Choice” award for the last four years. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons 

Speaking out

During an interview, UK publication The Sunday Times reports that Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker called British Airways a “two out of ten” airline. Sources add that the CEO also labeled it a low-cost airline.

Indeed, according to View from the Wing, Al Baker doesn’t see the airline’s motto “To fly, to serve” as something that is actively being put into action, criticizing the carrier for selling food (during normal times). For his own carrier, the CEO says, “We wanted an airline that doesn’t sell food but serves food,” and says he never expected British Airways to become “a low-cost carrier.” 

Al Baker is optimistic for his oneworld alliance compatriot, though. Under the BA’s new CEO, Sean Doyle, Al Baker hopes that the airline can “get the glitter back.”

Qatar Airways CEO Likens British Airways To A Low Cost Carrier
Qatar Airways and British Airways are both members of the oneworld alliance. The two carriers have a codeshare agreement in place. Photo: British Airways

Is there any merit to these comments?

While the comments will certainly raise eyebrows – we think the “two out of ten” rating is a little bit hyperbolic. After all, airline rating sites – many of which are based on customer reviews – award the legacy carrier with more than a 20% rating. Here are just a few results:

  • Trip Advisor: 3.5/5
  • APEX (Airline Passenger Experience Association): Four Star Global Airline (out of five stars)
  • SkyTrax: Four Star Airline (out of five stars)

In fact, SkyTrax doesn’t even have any single-star airlines (equivalent to 2/10) on its list at the moment. Its Two Star carriers include carriers like Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), LAM Mozambique Airlines, and Tunisair. Most would agree that BA comes out ahead, even with those carriers. While its service may not be as highly rated as Qatar Airways, it’s nowhere near the status of a “low-cost carrier.”

Where BA might fall short, and why

Akbar al Baker’s scathing criticism isn’t coming out of nowhere, however. Indeed, the carrier charges for food on certain routes, with a fairly basic regional and short-haul service lacking inflight entertainment and meals.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

The challenge for BA is that it is locked in intense competition with low-cost carriers across Europe. Not just one, but at least three major budget airlines operate in the airline’s territory: easyJet, Ryanair, and Wizz Air. This competition has forced BA to adjust its pricing so that it can remain relevant in the region.

While Qatar Airways is more highly-rated across the board, the airline is operating in a fairly different environment. Its main focus is long-haul, with its short-haul services feeding this. There is a smaller proportion of regional service for this airline – especially when compared to BA.

The nearby competition, largely in the form of Emirates, has pushed the airline in the opposite direction – competing not on lower fares but on a higher standard of service.

The biggest issue that has created an uneven playing field, however, is the fact that the airline is a state-owned carrier and has received a great deal of support from the Qatari government – especially in recent times.

But what do you think? Do the comments of Qatar Airways’ CEO have merit? Let us know in the comments.