A few words on Al Baker, gender equality, and the importance of business leaders speaking up on social change

So, Aviation is my passion – and there are some things that happen in the industry that have me shaking my head.

Today, it’s gender equality, and the importance of business leaders speaking up for social change.

Already this week at the IATA AGM in Sydney, CNN’s Richard Quest delivered a blistering line on the topic of gender equality in aviation:

Six men in suits will now discuss gender equality

Today, during a panel interview – Qatar Airways CEO & new IATA Chair Akbar Al Baker responds to a question about what IATA is doing on gender equality, especially given the Middle East has the lowest representation of women in airlines.

His response: (audio)

Well it is not at Qatar Airways” (sic), “of course it has (the position of CEO) to be lead by a man because it is a very challenging position & I’m sure that Alan (Joyce) will agree.

Joyce did not agree.

The reaction in the room was palpable, with ghasps, audible boos, and Alan Joyce immediately attempting to lighten the mood given Al Baker’s history for creating controversy, before delivering a sterling answer on the topic.

And that same reaction in the room extended online, with every industry journalist and commentator expressing bewilderment, shock, and calling out how awful, misguided, and tone deaf the remark was. I’d quote some of the tweets, but there’s too many to mention – and i’m writing this on a tablet device.

But what really got my undies in a bunch, was a specific comment from part the aviation peanut gallery – aka a frequent flyer forum.

In a thread about Al Baker’s comments, the one post from one user left me dumbfounded:

Shameful – it is not appropriate for business leaders to be weighing in on social and political issues.

And if you know me well enough, you’d also know my response to it, which i’ve included below.

CEO’s need to be activists. If anything in the current consumer climate, their balance sheets depend on advocacy as part of a well executed Corporate Social Responsibility strategy.

Look at what happened after the Parkland school shooting. Delta, who offered discounts for flights to NRA members was the subject of an effective consumer boycott, which caused them to drop their support of the NRA. The same went for car rental companies, airlines, trucking businesses, tech firms, insurers and a bank that issued an NRA-branded credit card. And the same happened to Fox News, whom advertisers walked away from in droves because of the behaviour of network starts involving issues that matter to their companies, their people, and customers alike.

The fact is – companies realise that consumers will vote with their wallets. Be it social issues, equal rights, or on environmental matters. Why do you think Woolworths and Coles this week basically went tit for tat this week on reducing plastic packaging.

They know that unless they take the lead on issues that are important to their customers – money will go somewhere else.

So, what did I say to this person I thought was ill informed – here it is. It shouldn’t need to be said, but sometimes – you just have to get it off your chest.

What do you think?

Firstly, a bit of context here.

Al Baker is known for being controversial, and for his intended humour not coming across as meant. It’s why Joyce jumped in with his line.

You also heard the reaction of the room, which was mirrored online by every Aviation/Aerospace journalist I know or follow.

Al Baker’s remark was at best tone deaf, and at worse stupid. It should have been patently obvious to him, especially after CNN’s Richard Quest blistering line earlier in the week calling the whole industry out for leadership gender inequality (“Six men in suits will now discuss gender equality”), that even a joke of this nature wouldn’t fly.

But, what strikes me as bizarre – is your comment that business leaders shouldn’t be weighing in on social and political issues.

Are you honestly suggesting that leaders of companies who employ lots of women, or have a substantial part of their workforce who identify LGBTIQ, shouldn’t be pushing for social change that gives equal rights and representation for these groups?

Are you honestly saying that Joyce, and the CEO’s of every major company that came out in support of marriage equality had no business doing so at all?

Should Andrew Forrest stop talking about indigenous equality and representation?

Should Tim Cook stay silent on issues involving data privacy?

Should Marc Benioff (Salesforce) zip his lip, just so he gets a better balance sheet because women in his company don’t have to get equal pay?

Should Donald Trump get away with decimating irreplaceable natural heritage and indigenous monuments because Rose Marcario (Patagonia) has chosen to stay in her lane?

CEO’s and corporate leaders are some of the more powerful voices shining light and bringing awareness to issues of local, national, and even international importance. Adding a voice that’s more likely to get top of the hour news coverage to the issues that should lead the news daily.

Regardless of what he said, I simply cannot find a charitable way at this time to describe just how dense your comments are on the inappropriateness of business leaders such as Al Baker weighing in on these issues.

First screen cap of Facebook comment, and my reply. Full text of the image is included earlier in the page. First screen cap of Facebook comment, and my reply. Full text of the image is included earlier in the page.

The insult and injury tour living up to its name

So, it’s been a fun* start to the trip so far.
Disclaimer: Fun may be sarcasm, read on to find out how much *fun* it’s been so far.

We’re barely a day in, and we’ve survived an AA ticketing snafu where as part of reissuing both our tickets to apply upgrades – they issued them as paper tickets which prevented Qantas checking us in.

That took several phone calls and about 40min to resolve before they could issue the tickets, topped up by another 10min dealing with Most Significant Carrier (MSC) baggage allowances so Stuart Nolan could check in his six items of luggage (he’s moving to the US, so using 2/3 bags I’m allowed, plus the four he is, to move personal property over there).

With that issue almost resolved and dispensed (I need to check in with AA tomorrow, whilst Stuart has his boarding passes all the way through to Milwaukee) – we then move onto the next saga – which is why mentioning the moving vans worth of luggage Stuart is carrying is important.

So, we get a Wagon at the Taxi Rank, and load up half a moving vans worth of luggage – and the driver takes us from Domestic arrivals around to the Rydges on the international side.

Half way there, Stuart realises his hand luggage hasn’t made it into the car. I dump Stuart on the Rydges driveway to check in, and get the cab driver to race back over to Domestic Arrivals.

Mercifully, the bag was in the same place he left it – except with Qantas Security, Contract Security, and the Taxi rank supervisor pouring over it with a bomb/drug swab – all of whom were in a state of panic and I had to calm them down, explain what had happened, and successfully identified the owner so they’d back off and let me get on my way.

Talk about a fun start to the trip.

Transcript: Passengers of size & reclining seats

So earlier today I mentioned I’d done a talkback segment discussing the issues related to passengers of size and people who recline their seats in economy.

The team at the APEX Blog have run the audio, and for those who just want to read then here is the transcript.

Audio transcript

Station:                                Radio 882 6PR (FM), Perth, Western Australia
Date:                     Sunday 26 November 2011
Program:             Sunday Session with Jason Jordan.
Topic:                    Air travel – passengers of size, people reclining seats.

Length:                 9min 26sec
              Jason Jordan – Announcer (JJ)
Ray Palmer, Social commentator – Studio Guest (SG)
Michael Harris – Caller (MH)

Transcript by Michael Harris, Errors and Omissions Excepted (E&OE).

Jason Jordan (JJ) Announcer: …Michael from Joondalup joins us now, g’day Michael.

Michael Harris (MH): G’day Jason, pleasure to talk with you guys this afternoon.

JJ: No problem at all. Good to have you on board, what have you got to say about all of this?

MH: Well, there’s a couple of things we need to consider firstly Jason in regards to passengers of size, both in width and in height, which is a couple of legislative things. Now there’s no actual legislation in Australia, either in the Disability Discrimination Act or the Civil Aviation Act which deals with passengers of size.

So, in terms of how the airlines handle it, this is down to a policy issue. So it’s down to them as to how they deal with these sort of passengers.

For me, my view being an aviation enthusiast and industry watcher is that you as a passenger of size have a personal reasonability to your fellow passengers.

If you know that you know that you can’t fit in an airline seat, you might spill over into the seat or say you 6″3′ or 6″4′ and a 31 or 32 inch seat pitch is the norm in Australia, and you can’t fit in to, you need to take a personal responsibility for that situation and come to an arrangement with the airline beforehand.

JJ: Now there are certain seats that don’t have that sort of seat pitch out there like the… what do they call them, row…

MH: the exit row seats

JJ: Exit row seats, yeah

MH: yep, so as a person as a passenger of size, you have a personal responsibility to call the airline to make arrangements for your situation, say I know it’s not easy, you know, you can feel personal shame and embarrassment, piratically if are an obese person, but you do need to admit that to the airline and say “Hey, I’m a very large passenger, I might be able to fit in one seat, how can we work around this, so I can fly and fly comfortably?”.

JJ: So, it’s not fair on you, but it’s even more unfair for the people who have to sit next to you.

MH: And that’s correct. As you said, yes, that’s right the average width of a seat internationally in economy is about 43.8cm, and you buy and air ticket to be comfortable within the confines of the seat you’ve been sold.

MH: I’ve had issues, myself previously, not to do with passengers of size, ar, but at one time I had to fly with a bro, with a fractured rib. Um, regret ably my seat mates were all quite broad shouldered which left me a little squashed against the window bulkhead of the plane. OK, it’s not comfortable, I can deal with it, but I’d still like to comfortable on my flight.

MH: Imagine having that broken rib and being sat next to a passenger of size?

JJ: Humm…

MH: …who was flopping over into your seat basically.

[Laughter in studio]

JJ: Um

MH: It’s not, it’s not comfortable for anyone whose been in that situation. But yeah, the legislative environment in Australia means it’s up to the airlines as a matter of policy. Um, and because if it’s a medically diagnosed condition which is causing their obesity, then the Disability Discrimination Act applies. So, they have to look after you accordingly, because you present a medical certificate and they deal with it how they would any other passenger with a medical need.

But if you’re just a passenger of size because of lifestyle choices, then you need to take that personal responsibility to make sure both you’re comfortable and the people around you can fly comfortable…

JJ: So, what direction do you think the airlines are eventually going to go in? Are they going to force people to buy two seats or they’ll have wider seats eventually for people of size?

MH: Listen, wider seats won’t be an option practically on commercial jetliners, you know anything which is currently in production or planned for production. Seating space is at a premium, practically as they make high yield economy seats so they’re selling as many as they can, and fitting in as many as they can – and if they could they certainly would reduce seat width and pitches but that’s simply not possible.

Ah, um, so that’s not going to happen. We probably have to look towards the US example Jason of where they’ve gone, and a lot of the airlines in the US, practically Southwest and Continential have put in place policies where if you are a passenger of size you will have to buy a second seat or or they can give you a second seat at half price, or if there’s not too many people on the plane they can set it up so they can give a vacant seat next to you to make sure you and your other passengers are comfortable. But it’s a by airline basis.

JJ: I was going to say, what rights have I got? Let’s say I’m just doing the Perth to Sydney hop and you know where only talking four hours there, or just under,

MH: Well

JJ: If I get stuck next to two really, really big people it’s not going to make for a very pleasant flight for me. [undechiphered] do I have any rights there?

MH: Well, that’s where really the Competition and Consumer Act would come in. Um, I mean from a public relations perspective, practically in the age of social media, so let’s say it’s you Jason for example. If in fact let’s use an even more recent example, not related to passengers of size – but where you have famous people tweeting about airlines and problems.

Um, if you might recall, um a British comedian Stephen Fry left his wallet on a plane after it was diverted to Dubai. Now that gets a lot of traction with followers.

Let’s say you Jason were in that actual scenario. So there’s a public relations aspect to that for the airline, so the bad publicity. In terms of your rights, you could, you know, easily ask the airline for a refund or some consideration for the inconvenience caused, or you could reasonably say I wasn’t provided the service I paid for, as in I wasn’t given a seat where I was able to enjoy my flights.

Studio Guest (SG): Mike, Mike, can I just interject there for just one sec. What you’re saying is extremely clarifying and articulate about the airline industry and I’ve learned some stuff listening to you. But what about the safety risks of an obese person on a plane, who say struggles to fit into the toilet. And um..

MH: Ok

SG: And, are, how does that work?

MH: Ok, well that’s where the Civil Aviation regulations kick in. Um, now airlines have to make sure that any person boarding the plane, um, is able to have appropriate assistance to look after themselves, from obviously a toiletry perspective and a medical perspective. Um, airlines staff are actually prohibited by CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) from assisting you to go to the toilet or to administer medication – needle or what other stuff.

So, yeah, it’s a bit more personal responsibility.

SG: What about the, OK, forget seating arrangements then, what about this. If I want to fly to China tomorrow, and I want to bring my luggage and it’s overweight by 20kgs I gotta spend ridiculous amounts of money to get that there.

MH: [Indecipherable]

SG: So a human being that weighs an extra 100kgs, why is it that he can just get on there? Why shouldn’t he have to pay more of a premium ’cause of the added weight that he’s going to be putting on?

MH: Its not that he has to pay more of a premium, [indechiperable]

SG: But I’m saying he should Mick, because at the end of the day, he’s, he’s, let’s say he’s got a, he weighs 180 [kgs], I weigh 100 [kgs], and I’ve got an 80kg suitcase. We’re exactly the same weight on, but I’m paying more. Why is that?

MH: I understand that. Um, there’s really no hard and fast thing on it. It’s really the airline take the policy [decision] they choose – if they feel that the passenger isn’t going to be able to fit in – they apply their policies to make sure that that passenger and others are comfortable as possible. There’s no hard and fast published policies from Australian airlines practically on this issue, so they deal with it on a case by case basis.

JJ: Michael, before I let you go

MH: Yep

JJ: And we’ve got a little bit of echo happening on the line now. But before I let you go, what’s your thoughts on people slamming their seats back and taking up some of my space?

MH: [chuckles] Um, yeah that’s an interesting one. Just quickly before we divert off that Jason – um, there is a legal issue where you have to look towards Canada on the passengers of size, a similar legal system to Australia, um where they have looked at this issue and it was actually ruled against the airlines that by charging passengers of size more they were actually proclivity discriminating them. So the airlines have had to come up with processes to look after them.

In terms of slamming seat backs, um, that’s actually inspired a bit of a cottage industry, um practically within the frequent flyer communities. I know of at least one product in the US where they’ve developed a more molded plastic piece which is a jam to stop someone reclining.

JJ: I know the one, kneedefender.com.

MH: That’s the one. You’ve got people who will also use water bottles or something of a similar size to stop that. Um, four hours is actually a long flight Jason, so even though you see it as domestic short haul – I mean don’t forget that it’s five hours coming back from the east coast in Australia. Um, Yeah, it’s still a long flight and some people need to stretch. One or two hours is probably closer to shorthaul.

Yes, OK, people have a right to recline that seat, that comes with what they pay for – but they should do it responsibly.

Don’t thrust your seat back instantly; only go back as far as you need to. Or if you do need to recline the seat, don’t do it close to a meal service or just let the passenger behind you that hey “I’m about to recline my seat, is it going to cause you any discomfort”. You know, it’s not hard.

SG: These seats should have reverse beepers..

[laughter from studio and caller]

MH: Ah, if they had reverse beepers, I fly Qantas practically myself, they have that practically on the flight to Sydney, practically if you’re flying a red eye – those reverse beepers would be constantly. It would become more of a nuisance…

JJ: Oh it would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it.

MH: More of a nuisance than the PA announcements from the wonderful cabin crews which all our Australian airlines have. So really, again, same [indechipherable] if you’re a passenger of size – be it you’re quite wide, or you’re quite tall, or if you want to recline your seat – it comes down to personal responsibility.

JJ: I hear ya.

MH: Be considerate of those people around you, if you can – make arrangements with your airline, or even if you’re travelling on public transport like a schedule bus service or something – make arrangements with them. Tell them your issues and work with them so you and everyone else can be as comfortable as possible.

JJ: Far too much common sense there Michael. Thank you so much for joining us.

MH: Pleasure to talk to you both today.

SG: See you Michael.

JJ: Michael from Joondalup there, and are…


Dear Westfield Sydney

I write you this letter, sitting on a leather couch on the fourth floor. My feet are aching, my brain is hurting, and my mind has given up. Let me explain.

It’s currently 6pm in the evening on a Thursday. People are generally tired, and catching a quick spot of shopping before heading home and preparing for one day of work before the weekend break.

Sadly, the design of your mall is such that places for mid-mall seating are as sparse as any glimpse of daylight whilst walking around trying to find a store. The fact mid mall seating locations are only located off the main escalator shaft means you’ll have to keep walking back to a central point, restarting your journey each time.

But, as in life things don’t repeat themselves in a constant manner. So while you might think a seat will be in the same spot – it won’t. You’ll have to locate where it is on each floor and re-work your disorientated brain to map a route that keeps you as near to a chair as possible.

Granted, these chairs and couches are comfy, and being able to take a seat whilst writing a complaint to you on free wifi does have its perks.

But this is not the most annoying part of the mall experience you have developed at Pitt St.

Going from floor to floor up the main escalator bank, you have chosen to wrap the walls between each floor with massive white lights that are a meter high. Worse still, their intensity is turned up to 11; blinding you as you ascend and descend from floor to floor.

And sadly there is no point trying to be a smart cookie and avoid them by using the lifts, as these are located off corridors in the most hard to find places, with way finding signs that are well out of the eyeline; and symbols that are too closely stacked together for those with poor eyesight to distinguish. Yet strangely, the exit signs are at a decent height as per the Building Code of Australia. Why the height queues couldn’t be taken from that boggles belief.

And let’s talk some more about way finding around the centre shall we. Much like our aforementioned seats, they are spread at random locations and are often hard to find. The are also digital, and while they provide good directional help no provision was made in their design to provide paper maps as an additional assistive tool.

And due to the dark lighting on the upper floors, you have to distinguish where they are by shape. They are also positioned side on to the mall, and with no information symbols on the short sides, it’s hard to know what they are until you’re right on top of the unit.

The only redeeming feature of this new mall and design language is your Level 5 Food Court. Multiple seating options to suit all group sizes, large tables which make it easy to share a meal, and a broad spectrum of options to cover every cuisine at good price points. I also applaud the emphasis on fresh food created in front of the customers eyes, and encouraging all stores to put as much of the process on display. Din Tai Fung is one of the great examples of this.

The range of dessert and sweet options is to be applauded. Becasse is a stand out, as well as Villa Di Novo, offering a range of dessert options to cover every price point and taste desire. This could easily be described as destination dining for the masses.

So yes, while you spent several hundreds of millions of dollars creating this retail experience – the letdown is that the money didn’t buy an experience beyond the manufactured nightmares casinos are built on. If Sydney embodies the future of retail malls, then I for one will run for the hills.

No love,


A little bit of history: Australian airline TV commercials

After a thread of Australian Frequent Flyer this evening, I was reminded of a Youtube playlist I started last year.

The playlist is a collection of Australian airline commercials produced over the many years – little pieces of industry history that thankfully have found their way online. Some from production masters, but most from VHS tape collections users have digitised and put online.

And some of these are real gems – from the short lived Compass Airlines, the Australian Airlines “you should see us now” campaign, and even some from the 70’s by TAA and Ansett.

So, please enjoy this collection of TV commercials and take a look back into our history. And if you spot any duplicate ads, or find some on Youtube that are missing from this collection, please let me know so I can add them.

SYD, I hate thee

I posted some comments earlier today in relation to an article by Ben Sandilands of the Crikey blog Plane Talking. Ben’s latest insightful post was on the recent spectacle that has been the New South Wales Government’s transport planning initiatives and the impacts on airline travel in and out of Sydney Airport.

The plan, now having passed through the hands of no less than three successive premiers is no closer to delivering fixes for any of Sydney’s transport problems. The latest version of the plan, released in the last couple of days has removed a number of improvements that would have made accessing the airport by road and rail that much easier.

Having just experienced the horror of surface access in and out of the airport, I decided to contribute my 0.02c to the post. Needless to say, its part rant, part analysis of the stupidity that is infrastructure planning and maintenance in Australia.

My two big beefs with Sydney Airport are:

  1. commuter rail rolling-stock being used on an airport service not designed for passengers with bags,
  2. approach roads and drop-off areas so overloaded with cars that it adds an extra 20min to your journey.

Needless to say, until Governments get serious about infrastructure planning, and making private owners of facilities such as Airports keep pace and ahead of the demand curve – we’ll be stuck in the same problems for time immemorial.

Ben et al: apologies in advance, I’m about to rant about SYD because that place drives me around the bend.

I couldn’t agree more with your statement that “Sydney Airport suffers from inadequate surface access by all modes,” judging from my experiences in the last 12 months, and more recently just last week.

The NSW Government needs to go back and sort this issue out – fast.

I used both road and rail for this recent trip. AirportLink is a nightmare, as getting to the platform involves at least two escalators/lifts (three to four if arriving on QF Domestic). SYD’s ticketing infrastructure is woeful, albeit the standalone single-trip EFTPOS/Credit Card terminals do offer a slightly faster method for an uncompleted single type ticket purchase.

Ticketing also needs to be revisited promptly, as while the single trip city price is in comparison to rail and direct bus route options in other Australian capitals, going beyond there is astronomical. Its also not possible to purchase one ticket that can be used for return without handing over your arm, leg and first born.

And then of course there’s the use of double-decked rolling-stock on the line, which fail to offer adequate areas for baggage leaving passengers jammed in the entry/exit if their bags are too heavy to lift/carry to the upper or lower decks. And the issues of passenger needs on rolling-stock for airport services still haven’t been addressed in the Waratah series trains due to enter service this year.

And after all of that, good luck being able to understand which station your train is arriving at so you know where to get off. The speakers on board Comeng, Goninan and Tangara rolling-stock are barely maintained, and combined with the terrible and fast pronunciation of the Conductors – inexperienced passengers aren’t in for a good first impression of the network.

And christ, road. What an unmitigated disaster. Poor signage from the City centre to the airport needs to be addressed so people know how to get there. Most people without a GPS would get lost or seriously confused trying to get their via the signposted route along Regent/Botany, as signage isn’t always present at key intersections along the route.

And then of course there’s trying to get to Domestic along General Holmes Drive, which is jammed solid by the looks of it and from out experience during morning peak. You’ll take 10-15 to traverse this section from Southern Cross/Eastern Distributor before reaching Reginald Ansett…

which is also overloaded as cars back up to drop-off at the pathetically small T2 & T3 decks. You can spend another 5-10min waiting on the elevated roadway just to reach your terminal. Of course this isn’t the problem of the NSW Govt, but Macquarie Airports isn’t doing much to relieve the situation which is firmly in their purview.

I cross my fingers that the NSW Govt. isn’t sitting back waiting for the feds to make a move on a 2nd airport for SYD in the vain hope it will relieve their need to spend on transport infrastructure to their existing major airport. We all know the political willpower just isn’t there for a 2nd airport to become reality any time soon.

Right, bile spent. Normal programming resumed.