Qatar Airways Threatens to Leave the Oneworld Alliance

Oct 8, 2018

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Qatar Airways’ Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker is making headlines again for his outspoken and controversial personality. This time around, Al Baker is threatening — again — to leave the Oneworld alliance.

In an interview with FlightGlobal, Al Baker said that if certain airline partners continue with blocking tactics and accusing Qatar of wrongdoing, the airline will pull out of Oneworld.

“This whole shenanigan has to stop, it has gone too far,” Al Baker said. “If Qatar Airways leaves Oneworld it will send a very wrong message to the world about alliances.” Qatar’s problems specifically sit with partners American Airlines and Qantas.

A break from Oneworld would potentially jeopardize the ability to earn and redeem Avios and AAdvantage miles on Qatar Airways. (The airline does own shares in IAG, the parent company of British Airways and Iberia, so its links to Avios go beyond the alliance.)

“The whole idea behind an alliance is to work together to support each other like a family,” Al Baker said. “But I don’t think that is any more the spirit of the alliance, especially since American Airlines is continuously targeting Qatar Airways, slandering Qatar Airways, giving misinformation to the US government about Qatar Airways. And now it is targeting our investment in Air Italy at very high level government interaction, claiming that we are cheating on the open-skies agreement that we signed with the US government.”

The state-owned Qatari airline, together with its Gulf-based rivals Emirates and Etihad, has long been locked in a dispute with US airlines that accuse them of unfairly exploiting government subsidies and violating so-called “open skies” agreements with the US. Earlier this year, Qatar first and then the other Gulf airlines reached deals with the US government ending the years-long feud. Qatar also re-launched Italian airline Air Italy, with a 49% stake and the intent of making it into a big international player — including on routes to the US, where it already serves New York JFK and Miami. Al Baker told FlightGlobal there is no intention to use the Air Italy hub in Milan for fifth-freedom routes — bringing passengers from Qatar to the US via Italy — which could put that open-skies agreement at risk.

In January, the Qatari government agreed to disclose financial information about its airline to the US, a move that was encouraged by American Airlines as well as United and Delta. Things had been tense between Qatar and American before that. In June 2017, Qatar announced plans to take a major stake in AA, but those plans for a 10% investment  were soon scrapped.

In his interview with FlightGlobal, Al Baker also detailed his frustrations with other Oneworld parter Qantas, saying their relationship was “trivial.”

“And it is blocking us getting rights into Australia,” Al Baker said. “So what is the point of us being in this alliance if it is only in the interest of a few and the interest of the rest is compromised?”

An American Airlines spokesperson said that, “American is a founding member of Oneworld and we hope the alliance’s membership remains intact.”

In an interview with TPG‘s managing editor Alberto Riva earlier this year, Al Baker was trenchant when asked if he would reconsider an investment in AA: “No I won’t. That train has passed.” But investing in other US-based airlines is possible: “Maybe,” said al Baker. “If we get the opportunity and the airline is comfortable with us, why not?”

Featured image by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images for Qatar Airways.

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