American Airlines to restart Qatar Airways codeshare, ‘exploring’ service to Doha

Feb 25, 2020

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The long-running spat between American Airlines and one of its Middle East rivals appears to be over.

The Texas-based airline announced Tuesday a new “strategic partnership” with Qatar Airways that will be anchored by a renewed codeshare pact and could include new American-operated flights to Doha.

American and Qatar Airways already offer some benefits to each other’s customers through their membership in the Oneworld frequent-flyer alliance. But the codeshare pact announced Tuesday would bring the two carriers closer together after several years of frayed relations.

American terminated a previous codeshare pact with Qatar Airways in 2017, 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. But rhetoric surrounding the dispute quieted somewhat after diplomatic agreements in 2018 between the U.S. and both Qatar and the UAE. The agreements called for a closer look at the accounting used by the Gulf carriers and a statement at the time that the Gulf airlines had no plans to add more “fifth freedom” flights, which had particularly rankled their U.S. counterparts.

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Another thorny issue for Qatar Airways had been its investment in Air Italy, which some U.S. airline executives criticized as a way for Qatar to circumvent the spirit of the 2018 deal by benefitting from new U.S.-Europe routes. But Air Italy is now facing liquidation after its majority investor pulled out; the carrier’s last flights are expected to operate this week.

American did not specifically detail what changes had led it to renew its ties with Qatar Airways, but it’s against that backdrop that Tuesday’s deal was announced.

“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,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in a statement. “We look forward to the renewed cooperation between our airlines and hope to build an even stronger relationship with Qatar Airways over time.”

Vasu Raja, American’s Senior Vice President of Network Strategy, added any previous matters with Qatar Airways are “in the past.”

More: The 10 longest (and 10 shortest) American Airlines flights

“Now, as we look forward, there’s just so much customer opportunity here for being able to put these two networks together and growing American Airlines as a result,” he said to TPG.

The deal, which must be approved by regulators, would enable the carriers to place their codes and sell tickets on each other’s flights

American plans to place its AA code on “select” Qatar Airways’ flights, both from the U.S. and from Qatar Airways’ hub in Doha. The move, American said, would allow its “customers to access new destinations in the Middle East, East Africa, South Asia and South East Asia that are not currently served by American.”

Qatar Airways would place its QR code on certain American flights out of American hubs in Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York-JFK and Philadelphia (PHL). Qatar’s QR code also will be applied to American’s international flights to and from Europe, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

More: American to fly from Seattle to Bangalore and London

American touted the deal as a way to expand the number of global destinations it can offer its customers.

“This is American Airlines and Qatar creating a really comprehensive network between the U.S., Africa, Middle East and India,” Raja said. This is something we at American have been keen to do for a long time.”

The codeshare will need approval from regulators, but Raja said he hoped it could launch this spring.

“We think the codes will be out there and selling by the end of March,” he said.

Overall, the pact is just the “first step” of a new “strategic partnership,” the carriers said Tuesday.

More:Alaska Airlines plans to join Oneworld, forms alliance with American

The airlines didn’t spell out what exactly their next steps might be, but the effort is likely to include American adding its own flights to Qatar Airways’ hub in Doha. The Qatari carrier flies to more than 170 destinations from the airport, including to numerous destinations across India, Africa and Southeast Asia where American and other U.S. carriers have a limited presence. Officially, American said in its statement that it is ” exploring the addition of service from the U.S. to Doha,” but Raja said adding such a flight would be a logical move to help take full advantage of the codeshare.

“We’re keen to add a flight to Doha,” Raja said, but added that “wouldn’t start any sooner than 2021.”

Raja said American has not yet determined which hub might get its first Doha route, suggesting that would be determined after the renewed pact with Qatar launches.

“As we turn on the codeshare, we’ll get a better sense for where we’re seeing demand go from the AA network,” he said. “That will be how we determine where we fly to Doha from.”

In the past: Qatar Airways threatens to leave the Oneworld alliance

But, when pressed, Raja said American believes there will be several possibilities for service to Doha.

“We think the connectivity of that hub is so amazing. We think it could work from a lot of different markets,” he said. “Certainly, of course, DFW [and] Chicago are some obvious ones that come to mind. But we’re are every bit as interested in Philadelphia, New York and Seattle – our newest house.”

Featured photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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