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Why American's new Doha route isn't as surprising at it seems

Dec. 09, 2021
4 min read
Why American's new Doha route isn't as surprising at it seems
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While American Airlines has been forced to scale back a chunk of its international flying next summer, there's a silver lining.

The Fort Worth-based carrier is adding a new pin to its route map next year: Doha, Qatar (DOH). American announced on Thursday that it would launch flights to Doha beginning on June 4, 2022, with daily nonstop service from New York-JFK.

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American will deploy its flagship aircraft, a Boeing 777-300ER, on the route, which features eight Flagship First pods, 52 Flagship Business seats, 28 premium economy recliners and 216 coach seats. The flight will go on sale on Sunday, Dec.12.

On paper, the new route makes a lot of sense: fellow Oneworld member Qatar Airways operates a mega-hub in Doha, which will allow American to offer plenty of onward connectivity to Africa, India and the Middle East.

American's new 6,704-mile JFK-Doha route (Map courtesy of Cirium)

Plus, with the FIFA World Cup taking place in Doha next winter, American will likely have some traffic terminating in this Gulf nation too.

Meanwhile, in New York, the flight will be buoyed by the airline’s Northeast Alliance with JetBlue, with the airline tapping into JetBlue’s robust network from JFK for additional domestic connectivity beyond the New York City area. For American, the new Doha flight joins recently launched long-haul service from New York to Athens (ATH), New Delhi (DEL), Santiago (SCL) and Tel Aviv (TLV).

While everything checks out on paper, it's the backstory that's perhaps most interesting. In fact, by launching Doha flights, American is making good on a promise it made in the weeks before the pandemic started.

Related: American cuts 5 international markets, including its longest flight, due to delayed Dreamliners

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But first, some context.

In 2017, American terminated its codeshare pact with Qatar, a move that came amid a broader subsidies dispute between the big three U.S. airlines – Delta, American and United – and the three big Middle East carriers: Qatar Airways and Emirates and Etihad of the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. carriers contended that their Gulf rivals benefitted from unfair subsidies, something the latter side disputed.

The spat between American and Qatar continued for a few years, despite diplomatic agreements in 2018 between the U.S. and both Qatar and the UAE to settle the dispute regarding subsidies and U.S. flights. American was particularly rankled that Qatar had invested in now-defunct Air Italy. It contended that the investment was a way for Qatar to circumvent the spirit of the 2018 deal by benefitting from new U.S. to Europe routes.

It wouldn't be until early 2020 that American upgraded its relationship status with Qatar, going from antagonist to partner.

In February 2020, the carrier announced a renewed codeshare and "strategic partnership" with the Doha-based airlines, with American CEO Doug Parker saying that "the issues that led to the suspension of our partnership two years ago have been addressed, and we believe resuming our codeshare agreement will allow us to provide service to markets that our customers, team members and shareholders value, including new growth opportunities for American Airlines."

At the time, Vasu Raja, American's chief revenue officer, said that "we’re keen to add a flight to Doha,” but added that it “wouldn’t start any sooner than 2021.” Now, despite the pandemic, American is making good on that promise.

American will be the only U.S. carrier serving the Gulf when its new Doha flight launches in June.

While some top-tier elites will prefer flying American for upgrade opportunities, most travelers will experience a more refined inflight experience with Qatar, which offers up to three daily flights between New York and Doha.

The airline’s award-winning Qsuite business class and tastefully appointed coach cabins are among the best in the sky. Plus, with tasty meals and robust entertainment options, many might find the 14-hour flight to be more enjoyable on Qatar.

Either way, more options are better than none, so American’s new long-haul flight is a sliver of good news amid a broader network pulldown.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.