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Qatar Airways, one of the largest members of the Oneworld alliance headed by American Airlines and British Airways, may leave the group soon over its mistreatment of the Qatari airline, CEO Akbar al Baker said.
Speaking Thursday at a meeting with US media in New York, al Baker also announced that the government-owned airline will be privatized “within the next decade.”
Al Baker was especially trenchant about American, which he accused of being unsupportive of its alliance partner. He said Qatar Airways has given the alliance an ultimatum to enforce fair play within its members, although he did not elaborate on when that ultimatum might expire.
“We are waiting to see what will be the outcome of the ultimatum we have given to the Oneworld administration. We have told them that we are consrtantly being targeted by a Oneworld partner,” he said. “Alliance means interlining with each other, letting passengers use each other’s lounges, to be able to earn and burn miles on each other, to support each other. This is not happening from the American Airlines side. On the contrary, rumors have been constantly spread. The US government is being approached with lame excuses to restrict our investments, our growth. So what is the point?”
“American Airlines is a founding member of Oneworld, and we hope the alliance’s membersip remains intact,” Matt Miller, a spokesperson for American, said in response to a request for comment from TPG.
“We are of course aware of these latest comments that have been reported in the media,” said Oneworld vice president for corporate affairs Michael Blunt in an email. “As in any family, there are differences of opinion from time-to-time between individual members of the alliance. We always hope that they can be resolved quickly so all parties can come together to focus on the key issue for us all — providing great service for our customers all around the world.”
There is still “a lot of bad feeling both within my government and especially with me,” al Baker said, about the longstanding spat between the three biggest airlines in the Middle East — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar — and the three biggest US airlines, American, Delta and United. That dispute was formally resolved between Qatar and the US earlier this year, and the other two airlines, based in the Emirates, followed shortly afterward.
Al Baker, though, is still unsatisfied with his nominal US partner.
“We were invited by American to join Oneworld,” he said Thursday, “so it is very hurting to see that very airline creating this bad feeling [saying] that we are government-subsidized, that we are not operating on a level playing field. Frankly I don’t understand.”
Qatar Airways is in fact owned by the Qatari government, a fact that al Baker obviously doesn’t dispute, but which he says is immaterial. “We are not government-subsidized, we are government-owned, and the government has absolute right to inject capital and equity into its business,” he said.
But Qatar Airways won’t be owned by the state for long, al Baker revealed. “British Airways, Lufthansa, Swiss, all of these airlines were government-owned once upon a time. They were government-owned for more than five or six decades before they were privatized. We are new, so we have the right also to be government-owned for that period before we would also be privatized, and actually we will not wait for five decades to be privatized. We will do it earlier.”
As for the exact date, it will be “within the next decade,” al Baker said.
This story has been updated with comments from Oneworld.
Featured image of Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al Baker speaking at the Peninsula Hotel in New York, October 18, 2018, by Alberto Riva/TPG)
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