Let's welcome all workers to the friendly skies
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If there was ever any doubt about the discriminatory practices of Qatar Airways and its CEO, Akbar Al Baker, it should quickly be erased by a video that recently surfaced in an Economist article of Al Baker making comments about his airline’s flight crews averaging 26 years of age, and then referring to U.S.-based aircrews as “grandmas.”

These comments are, unfortunately, not an isolated incident, but rather reflective of a pattern of discrimination and deceit by the airline. It is time for our government to stand up to these discriminatory actions and stand up for U.S. aviation. 

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Just a few short years ago, Qatar prohibited female cabin crewmembers from marrying, being pregnant or from even being dropped off for work by a male who wasn’t a relative. Only after intense pressure from the International Labor Organization in 2015 did Al Baker remove these discriminatory prohibitions on female cabin crew. Despite these blatant discriminatory policies, the U.S. government has given Qatar nearly unfettered access to our markets.

 

Here in the U.S., we don’t march potential employees through a height and weight stencil to ensure that they adhere to some misogynistic preference. Nor do we toss out the applications of qualified candidates because they’re approaching age 30. These basic anti-discriminatory policies are hard-fought victories for U.S. workers and are ingrained in the very culture of U.S. airlines, allowing for a diverse and capable workforce.

Implying that a cabin crewmember beyond a certain age is incapable of providing excellent service is not only offensive, but illegal. We are proud to work at an airline that has a 40-year history of award-winning customer service, while employing a diverse and talented workforce. 

When U.S. organizations such as the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), or even U.S. airlines, offer their support to Al Baker and Qatar, they only encourage these types of discriminatory policies. Despite the name, the USTA does not represent a single major U.S. airline and, in fact, takes money from the United Arab Emirates to lobby on behalf of its state-owned carriers, Emirates and Etihad.

American companies and consumers must stand united in the fight against discrimination and worker abuse. It’s time for American CEOs to sever any ties with Qatar and denounce these discriminatory remarks.

The only thing more flagrant than Al Baker’s regard for workers’ rights is his blatant disregard for the very trade agreement that enables his airline to fly to the U.S. As a heavily-subsidized, state-owned carrier, Qatar violates the terms of our Open Skies Agreements, dumping thousands of excess seats into the U.S. market.

Since January of 2015, Qatar, Emirates and Etihad have added or announced plans to increase their flights into the U.S. by 47 percent. Of the 23 routes operated by the Arabian Gulf carriers to the United States in 2014, 19 have lost money. More than half of these routes are estimated to have loss margins in excess of 20 percent.

For the 2017 fiscal year, Qatar suffered an operating loss in excess of $700 million. Meanwhile, market-driven, for-profit U.S. airlines are forced to abandon markets where wholly-owned subsidiaries of foreign governments masking themselves as legitimate air carriers dump excess capacity. Sadly, for every long-haul route lost to unfair, subsidized foreign competition, 1,500 American jobs are lost as well.

President Trump must do what his predecessor was unwilling to do: Enforce the terms of our Open Skies Agreements. The American worker stood behind the president and his promise to put the American labor first, put an end to bad trade deals and put violators in their place. Now is the time for the president to stand behind the American worker.

Mr. President, tell Al Baker, and his partners in crime, Etihad and Emirates, that we don’t discriminate and that trade agreements DO matter! 

Jon Weaks is President of Southwest Airline Pilots Association, the sole bargaining unit for the more than 8,500 pilots of Southwest Airlines.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Correction: This article has been updated to note that U.S. Travel does not take funds directly from the UAE government. U.S. Travel also notes that it “neither supports nor is tolerant of the words of Mr. Al Baker and does not encourage discriminatory policies.”