United Airlines Organizes Protest of Emirates’ Athens-Newark Route

Mar 12, 2017

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The very first Emirates flight from Athens (ATH) to Newark (EWR) is scheduled to land on Sunday night, but an un-welcoming committee is planning to be at the airport several hours beforehand.

United Airlines and its unions are organizing a Sunday afternoon protest at Newark Airport aimed at the Middle Eastern carrier’s new fifth freedom route. The demonstration, in Terminal C from 11am to 12:30pm, is expected to draw 150 to 200 people and will include the airline’s employees, union leaders and local congressmen. It’s intended to draw attention to what United and its allies believe is anti-competitive behavior by Emirates that could result in job losses in the United States.

The protest is another salvo in the ongoing battle between the legacy US carriers — United, American and Delta — and the three major Middle Eastern airlines known as the ME3, consisting of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. The US airlines claim the ME3 have been able to engage in unfair expansion thanks to the subsidies they receive from their home governments. The Middle Eastern carriers deny the allegations and respond that the US airlines have received government support of their own over the years in the form of tax exemptions, loan guarantees and bankruptcy court protection.

Emirates is flying a 777-300ER between Athens and Newark.

When Emirates announced the new US-Greece nonstop route in January, the Partnership For Open & Fair Skies — a trade organization representing the three US airlines and their related labor unions — claimed the route was a violation of the Open Skies agreement and asked for an investigation by the US government. However, the Trump Administration has not taken up the call and has indicated it is open to increased competition in US air markets.

This is not the first time one of the US airlines has made a public show of displeasure with the ME3. Last year when Qatar flew its inaugural A380 flight from Doha (DOH) to Atlanta (ATL), a major Delta hub, the airline found the only A380-capable gate at the Atlanta airport was occupied by four to six Delta aircraft, forcing the carrier to park at a remote gate and bus its over 500 customers to the terminal. This incident came after the CEO of Qatar took several shots at his competitor, stating that his intention of launching the Doha-Atlanta route was to “rub salt in the wounds of Delta.”

While the sniping between the two groups shows no sign of ending soon, improved competition is generally a positive for the travel consumer, resulting in better service and lower prices. Whether that turns out to be the case, as this seemingly endless battle rages on, is yet to be determined.

Featured image courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images.

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