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Qatar Airways: Who is telling the truth?

A recently published article in Europe has made extremely serious allegations against Qatar Airways. On the other hand, could the rapid growth of the Qatari airline be driving competitors to engage in a smear campaign? Who can the public trust with telling the truth?

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker addresses human resources delegates at a May 2013 conference in Qatar.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker addresses human resources delegates at a May 2013 conference in Qatar.

The controversial article was published in a Swedish newspaper, The Expressen. The author, Johanna Karlsson, interviewed serving and former staff of Qatar Airways. The article describes a working environment where the personal lives of airline staff are closely monitored by management.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has also been discussed in the article.

The Swedish article has received support from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), a global body of transport workers’ trade unions.

“Despite their claims to be one of the world’s most luxurious airlines, Qatar Airways runs on the systematic denial of individual freedom; this shames the whole industry,” said Gabriel Mocho, ITF aviation secretary.

The Swedish expose comes at a time when long-established US and European airlines have expressed alarm over the rapid growth of Middle Eastern carriers. The western airlines have warned that their future is at risk.

“Essentially, these are not airlines—they’re governments,” said Delta CEO Richard Anderson. “They have the ability to gain advantages in markets because profitability doesn’t matter.” Anderson’s remarks were quoted in a Wall Street journal article discussing the growing concern among U.S. airlines over the gulf carriers’ rapid expansion into the U.S.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa expressed similar sentiments this week in the wake of reports that Etihad could inject funds into Alitalia in exchange for a stake in the Italian carrier. In Europe, Etihad is already in close partnership with Air Berlin and Darwin Airline. Darwin Airline has been re-branded Etihad Regional.

“We reject recurrent subsidies and the partial re-nationalization of European airlines, whether by European states or by states or state-owned companies from outside the European Union,” Lufthansa said in a statement to Air Transport World (ATW) magazine.

Given the high stakes involved in the struggle between western and Middle East airlines, is it just possible that the Swedish article is part of a smear campaign aimed at mobilizing public opinion against Qatar Airways?

If the allegations contained in the article turn out to be true, what can be done against the airline? Or perhaps the issue is much bigger than Qatar Airways; it could instead point out to gaps within labour laws in Qatar.

The truth – whatever it is – should be revealed so that this matter is put to rest once and for all.

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