Topic of the Week: Do You Care About Working Conditions at an Airline?

Qatar Airways

Quite a sensational portrait of the rough (to say the least) working conditions at Qatar Airways was published this week. Though I have no personal knowledge of those conditions, comments made publicly in various places seem to confirm that it’s basically the way things work there. Does this impact whether or not you’d fly an airline?

39 comments on “Topic of the Week: Do You Care About Working Conditions at an Airline?

  1. I would certainly be concerned as I know that dissatisfied staff will not pay full attention and accidents, bad quality of service and inattention to detail are the result.

  2. Of course it would and should impact your decision to fly an airline. Control over employees as described in the article (whether completely or only partially true) are unacceptable, and I for one could not in good conscience choose QR for my travels.

  3. This situation does not surprise me in the least, there is an article in a recent edition of National Geographic about the disgusting conditions that guest workers from other countries have to endure working in various mideast countries.

  4. A friend of mine ended up working in QR when Spanair went bankrupt. Only seven months later it was more than she could handle (in her own words “My Orwellian Summer”). Since then I try to avoid all Gulf airlines for my travels… Anyway she is European, as you know working conditions for people born in Southeast Asia are quite worse…

  5. This is consistent with the various accounts of human trafficking and other labor abuses surounding the construction industry, in particular in relation to the World Cup preparations ( The reason why the Gulf carriers are so much less expensive yet have opulent service (at least for business & first class) is not because they have such great business skills. It is because they have government sanctions human trafficking with artificially low wages and other advantages handed to them by the government. It is not true market condition when labor is not allowed to move freely between jobs or leave, or are brought into a country under the guise of one job but forced into another.

    If anything, this is a reason we should be careful about our government setting up shop (ie: pre-clearance facilities) in other countries even if it is paid for. Our government should not be rewarding abusive labor practices. Note: I realize that Qatar is not UAE, but we should be giving scrutiny to any country before we award them the privilege of a pre-clearance facility.

  6. Do working conditions at Walmart or you local McFastFood keep you from visiting those places? For the vast majority it does not, all the public wants is their goods & services cheap. Even in my own field clients are squeezing our fees so tight it’s hard to even earn a profit. That downward pressure has cost me bonuses that I used to enjoy, not to mention many other perks that made the workplace more enjoyable.

    Unfortunately the race to the bottom seems to be the new normal. It’s happening everywhere. So, while Qatar might not be the best place to work, most places aren’t what they used to be. Think about that when you get that $200 trans-con that priced for inflation is a bargain compared to fares just 20 years ago.

    1. Agreed. I have an iphone and a gap shirt on today, I’m typing on a keyboard, linked to a computer and monitor all made in sweatshops throughout Southeast Asia.

      Hard for me to take the moral high ground on employees working for an airline who are far better off than the thousands of people working in essential slavery to produce the billions worth of stuff we Americans import and consume.

      1. Heh,

        If you pay people less than they need to live, they won’t have time to misbehave. They will be too busy working second and third jobs.

        Mind you, there are plenty of security cameras at Walmart too!

  7. Having lived in the Gulf States in the Middle East, and traveled there extensively, there is very little difference between what goes on at Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways, Oman Air, Qatar or Emirates. These are very strong patriarch societies in which women have always had limited rights. Keep in mind that many of the cabin staff on these carriers come from the 3rd world and often lack first world judgement, even those that have 1st world judgement, are going to find that what is acceptable in their home culture is not acceptable the Sunni Muslim Middle East.. When I lived in Kuwait, some of the shops had special hours when only woman and young children were welcome, in no small measure to protect them from the local (and the foreign) dirty old men.

    I won’t say I agree with what goes on, because I don’t, but I understand exactly why it happens. One of the major failures of the west is that very few in the west have ever bothered to read the Quoran. It is the size of a small paperback book. If we would bother to read it, a great deal of what goes on in that part of the world would make a great deal more sense. Let me assure you that most Muslims are far more knowledgeable about the Bible, than non-Muslims have knowledge of the Quoran. If you cannot be bothered to read the other guy’s rule book, then you should expect to be surprised by the other guy’s rules!

  8. For me, flying is a little different than shopping at Wal Mart or eating at McDonald’s. All a badly treated employee at WalMart can do is make the checkout process longer. All a McDonald’s employee can do is screw up a burger. The implications at an airline, however……

    There is one American carrier that I absolutely will not fly because of the horror stories that I have heard from past employees, contractors, and passengers.

  9. Is it nice when you hear about what goes on ? No
    Will QR get a bit embarassed about this ? Yes
    Will this all blow over in a week’s time ? Yes
    Will customers really care in a week’s time ? No
    Will this change anything ? No

  10. @A – “Do working conditions at Walmart or you local McFastFood keep you from visiting those places?”
    I’m not sure about you, but I’ve worked in retail and fast food making minimum wage. Equating working at McDonalds with the articles on Qatar Airways’ working conditions either indicates that you did not in fact read the article, have no clue of the reality of working at a place like Wal-Mart or McDonalds, or have no clue about what life for flight attendants looks like for US/Euro airlines.

    Working at a fast food chain wasn’t the most glamorous job in my job history, but it certainly didn’t come close the conditions described in the Qatar Airways article. Not by a longshot. Frankly, I’d rather work at Burger King than work as a US-based flight attendant as it is. High standards, below-average pay, long days on your feet, constantly on-call, constantly dealing with angry people, and shared living. There’s a reason so many US Airline flight attendants are surly. They have one of the toughest service jobs in America. They have to be personable, yet direct. Constantly aware of their surroundings. They also act as in-flight security, cook, and babysitter for thankless passengers. That’s pretty miserable as it is.

    To treat your employees as property – with full insight into their personal lives, and with the power to steal their money and ban them from visiting a country for the rest of their lives? Yeah, that’s just a bit worse than working 40 hours at a McDonalds. Just a bit.

    1. Spare me the sob story about airline employees. Especially when you are talking about flight attendants. When tens of thousands of people apply for a job that has several hundred openings, somehow I’m not going to think it’s that horrible.

      Part of it isn’t an easy gig. But for the long-term flight attendants that are surly, I just say if you don’t like it, take a walk. There are literally a thousand people standing in line that would love to have that job you hate so much.

      1. John G – you really have no clue about this story. The article is spot-on correct and I have interacted with several current and and former QR crew members while working myself in the Gulf as a Western expat worker in the airline industry. The stuff that goes on at QR for F/As is ridiculous – but I will say the conditions are much better for F/As working at Emirates and even better at Etihad – although they aren’t the same as what you’d find in Western Europe or North America, for example. QR is the *worst* in the region when it comes to working conditions when not flying. Yes there are hundreds of applicants every day, but like the other “guest workers” in the world who move to the Gulf for work, what is advertised or what is implied can often be a very far cry from the truth. In Qatar, if you want to leave for the weekend on your personal time, you need an exit permit from your employer — no such thing is needed in other Gulf countries/Gulf airlines. The horror stories about Al Bakar are rampant and the three most feared words in Qatar are “Next. Flight. Out.”

  11. I’ve seen on TV things like this before about the middle east. There’s a reason the middle east carriers have a lot of flights to places like India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, etc. It to transport all the slave labor they use for the (peon) manual jobs. Even westerns working in the M.E. are subject to some form of slavery and in some cases need permission from their employer to do basic things we all take for granted.

    Lincoln freed our slaves, the middle east will only free their’s when the oil runs out and they can’t paid someone a penny a week to wipe their butts.

  12. This does not surprise me, given that the Gulf states have a long, sordid history of abusing foreign workers, especially those from South and Southeast Asia. The Indian press has done several exposes of the conditions faced by Indian laborers in places like Qatar – passports confiscated, 15 people thrown in to an apartment the size of my office, fired for no reason, etc. That’s one reason why I refuse to set foot in any of the Gulf states, or give them even one penny of my tourist money.

    But at the end of the day, while boycotting Doha and Dubai might give me a small sliver of personal satisfaction, do I think this is really going to change anything? No. As David and A say, the vast majority of QR’s customers aren’t going to care about this next week, and are only looking for the cheapest price anyway.

  13. One night, we were on the hotel van heading for the overnight. Our flight attendant mentioned it
    would be fun to work for one of the airlines in the middle east. A stranger in the van turned and in
    very strong terms responded NO! Turns out he was an pilot working out there to escape a bad
    family situation. Bought him a drink and got an education, afterwards our FA said she was glad she
    heard the story.

  14. Is Qatar a popular airline amongst travelers? There is a promotional video for Qatar (though not produced by Qatar) where the plane from somewhere in America to Doha is literally empty. The reviewer himself even said Qatar flights are never to capacity. Strange how they were promoting the airline with a practically empty plane.

  15. As a human being I care about how others are treated. As a consumer, I also care because the way employees are treated often reflects on the product and the way customers are treated. So, yes, I do take these things into consideration. But it’s not the only factor I use and I don’t go strictly on hearsay. I try to get as much good information as I can before making purchasing or investment decisions.

  16. I don’t think this would have any impact on whether I would fly the airline. However, being in the airline industry, it would definitely affect my aspiration to work at Qatar Airways.

    One of my ex-colleagues recently moved to Qatar Airways in a senior technical role and already wishes to move back after 15 months there. It’s just a big paradigm shift when you go from a collaborative decision making work environment to one that is currently prevalent in the Middle East.

    1. I’m really curious what prevents people from walking out? Especially in flight crew that leave the country as part of their job. If its common knowledge in the airline industry that Qatar treats these employees in the way they do, leaving that way shouldn’t cause an extra pain.

      1. Nothing prevents the FA’s from leaving while on a flight to Europe or similar. This is the normal way to quit if I understand correctly.
        However, at least Swedes who work for Qatar are paid very well even as FA’s. Couple that with no tax and it’s quite favorable.

        That it sucks to live and work in the middle east as a female is another issue. Emirates and Dubai as a city is much better than Doha.

  17. When do we hold their partners somewhat accountable? Seems to me that oneWorld and AA should take a close look at who they’re associating with.

  18. What is happening to the employees carries over to the real-time flight experiences for me. I recall vividly the happenings at United prior to the merger with Continental and shortly thereafter with the labor strife; things were not very friendly in the “Friendly Skies” back then and it made a real difference in the tone on a given flight when employees were not on the same “happy page” as ought be in working with the general public. Happily, things appear to be much better with the employees at United from my perspective in Economy Plus.

  19. Yes, of course. I do not shop at Walmart and I would not fly with such an airline. However, I need specific proven information to make a decision. One drop in the bucket that can become a river if others join me

  20. This doesn’t really surprise me at all. But I’m not a fan of Akbar Al Baker at all. To say that he is unprofessional is a giant understatement. I consider Ryanair’s O’leary way more professional than him.

    It seems people have no respect for other people and HUMAN RIGHTS


    1. Etihad and Emirates are NOT like this….although they are a bit more restrictive than Western carriers, for example, but they are certainly not as stuck in the “Big Brother” mentality that QR is. Akbar Al Bakar has asserted himself as the ultimate authority figure, it’s his way or the highway (or Next Flight Out) and he makes that very clear to everyone who he meets – and not just people that work for his airline. For someone who came from a background of having nothing and extremely humble beginnings, this man (despite his vision and success at making QR very well-known worldwide, earning QR tons of accolades and striving for consistency) is a disgrace and extremely disrespectful of others and really needs a reality check of where HE himself came from and that he’s no better than anyone else. Even if you’re a rags-to-riches success story, at least remember where you came from and treat people with a bit of decency – even if they don’t work for your company.

  22. While this article is shocking, it is unfortunately common in many places. If you buy something from a store in the US, very likely it was made in China or Mexico by someone working in similar conditions. The oil and coal we burn for fuel is extracted by workers under even worse conditions. The majority of chocolate sold in the US is from cocoa farms that are worked by slaves (many children) in Western Africa and other places.

  23. ABSOLUTELY!!!!
    love this article as a few airlines in the us have also have contracted there ground services to contract employees of some companies that pay at or several cents higher than minimum wage. However;
    Mostly flight attendants at regional carriers and perhaps a few smaller mainline L.C.C. and U.L.C.C. carriers not going to name them. Being a ramp agent is also very hard work if your working at a hub, or an large focus city or a large spoke city with multiple flights to multiple hub, focus city with some seasonal destinations and non hub and focus city destinations. the constant revolving cycles of unloading and loading countless planes with known and unknown amounts of cargo (non company from known slippers via a set contracts) bags & or mail of various quantitys, human remains (human body in casket or in narrow strapped container) mass shipments of puppy mill dogs and cats, government archive containers, and company ship cargo such as main landing gear tires and nose wheel tires all have to be place in there by somebody. the loading of such ideas happen in the best if not very worst of conditions known to most of us that is otherwise way beyond the tolerance of many for the pay you receive. did u know that many airport janitor receive more pay that many below wing and above wing support staff in many locations? this is very true in fact I’ve worked as an ramp agent for 10 years and I was still paid less than someone who was cleaning toilets in doors all the time by at least 2 to 3 dollars but yet my staff and I was laid off and replaced by contract staff that makes about 8 to 9 less than the janitors. its insane that one can deal with that conditions and get paid the same as someone working for McDonalds or Walmart but its happening as we speak right now.

  24. As a current Middle East expat, all I can say is that nothing I read about Qatar Airways’ treatment of its employees is no different from those from any other industry. You can easily find similar accounts from teachers, medical professionals, retail and fast-food workers. Many people have long and successful careers here, and the tax advantages allow them to retire early with nice nest eggs. Even the Nepalis, Bangladeshis, etc who work for what we would consider a pittance are able to support their families at home.

    The two-year contract is a standard throughout the region; no-one has to renew, but many do because there is little or no work at home. Many of my western expat colleagues are here because of the state of the US economy.

  25. I seem to hear, now and again, about airline employees’ negative experiences, etc… has there been any news of carriers who have a really loyal/engaged employee base?? Personally, that could make a difference to me if I were booking and had to choose between two carriers.

  26. I absolutely care about the working conditions of airline employees! I want them well paid, rested and reasonably happy to work at the airline. Our safety depends on it.

    Having said that I used to work for GF in the 90s. While there were rules for the FAs (i.e age, marital status, weight to height restrictions) they were nothing as draconian as this.

    I also used to live and work in Saudi Arabia and the comments about South and East Asian workers being treated like dirt are spot on. If I’m not mistaken, the practice of giving up one’s passport to the company on arrival and needing an exit visa is an old practice started by ARAMCO (now Saudi Aramco) in Saudi Arabia. Ostensibly it was to prevent people from fleeing the country after committing crimes, which apparently did happen, hence the practice. Many companies and countries follow Aramco’s example. As for letting people go for any reason that’s not unlike all the “right to work” states here in the US.

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