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Qatar Airways made headlines last month when it launched the first A350 flight from the US. This week, the airline’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker, is in Los Angeles to promote the carrier’s new service to LAX, and as usual, he was outspoken against his US-based rivals when addressing questions from journalists at the event. The problem is that one of Qatar’s “rivals” is American Airlines, a fellow Oneworld alliance member.
Naturally, that complicates the situation — AA and Qatar have a formal partnership, offering codeshares and the ability to earn and redeem miles on one another’s flights. However, American, Delta and United have all publicly expressed displeasure with aggressive pricing (and, unofficially, a superior in-flight experience) from the three major gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar) — Delta and United have gone so far as to cancel flights to the UAE (perhaps American may have followed suit if it had offered a flight to Dubai).
Now, Qatar is firing back — specifically at its own partner, American Airlines. Today, Bloomberg reported that CEO Akbar Al Baker made some aggressive remarks at the LA event, saying “We don’t get bullied by anybody. If American does not want to work fairly with us, we will consult the others and we could form our own mini-alliance if we wanted to.”
Al Baker is suggesting that he could split the alliance — unofficially, perhaps — in an effort to put pressure on AA. Other Oneworld members include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, JAL, Malaysia, Qantas, Royal Jordanian and SriLankan, many of which have much more significant relationships with AA than Qatar. While that’s unlikely to happen, AA has likely been feeling some pressure to back down, and leave the fight to Delta, instead.
What American, Delta and United really should be working on — instead of taking their fight public — is improving the in-flight product in an attempt to draw travelers back in, rather than allowing foreign-based airlines to one-up them with better planes, service and fares. While it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a US-based airline match the experience of, say, Etihad’s A380 Residence, there’s plenty they could be doing to improve the customer experience.
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