Qatar Airways boss Akbar al-Baker has said his rival at Delta must be “smelling glue” in claiming the Gulf airline’s new US route is unpopular – but had kinder words for Donald Trump.
The Gulf airline, along with the UAE’s Emirates and Etihad, is embroiled in a war of words with the three big US carriers over alleged unfair subsidies.
Executives at Delta, the US airline, in April suggested that demand on Qatar Airways’ Atlanta-Doha service, which launches on June 1, is minimal.
Glen Hauenstein, incoming president of Delta, reportedly said that “less than five people a day” will travel on the route, excluding connecting passengers. And Ed Bastian, the U.S. airline’s incoming CEO, reportedly added: “We do have some markets that we have four or five passengers on… We call that Delta Private Jets.”
Qatar Airways’ al-Baker today responded in typically outspoken style.
“Frankly he must be smelling glue,” he said of the Delta CEO’s suggestion there is little demand for the new route.
More US routes
Al Baker explained that more than half the seats on Qatar Airways’ upcoming Atlanta-Doha service are booked, with more business expected.
“We are already at over a 57 percent load factor, and we still have another month and a half to go,” he told Al Arabiya English.
Al-Baker said in March that the launch of the route would “rub salt in the wounds” of rival Delta, which is based in Atlanta. Delta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Al-Baker said today that more US routes are planned, although he declined to specify which cities.
“We will expand to a few more cities in the United States. We already know what those cities will be,” he told the audience at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
Opening the books
The three big US carriers – American Airlines, United and Delta – allege that their Gulf rivals received unfair government subsidies amounting to $42 billion over 10 years. Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad have vigorously denied the claims.
The US airlines have called on Qatar Airways to open its books and publish full sets of financial accounts.
Al-Baker said that “our books are already open,” with Qatar Airways having disclosed such information in “many jurisdictions where we file for tax”. But these numbers had, he alleged, been misrepresented by the American carriers.
The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition formed by the three US airlines, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Al Baker said his airline’s latest financial results would be announced in June – and cover “the best year we have ever had”. But whether this will include publication of full accounts depends on the approval of the Qatari government, al-Baker added.
“We are a government-owned entity, and we have to take permission from our Ministry of Finance. But of course most probably we will publish our accounts,” he said.
Trump is ‘my friend’
Al Baker again dismissed allegations by US carriers that the airline receives unfair subsidies.
“It is just a proxy war on behalf of their European partners,” he said of the claims.
But he had kinder words for the controversial US presidential hopeful Donald Trump.
Al Baker said that Trump would likely backtrack on some of his more controversial pledges, which include banning Muslims from America and building a wall between the US and Mexico.
“He’s just saying it for political gain… Policies that he’s saying he will introduce will not happen. Cool and stable minds, in the end, will prevail. But that is if he will be elected,” Al Baker said.
However, al-Baker said some of Trump’s anti-Muslim remarks were a mistake. “I will not back anybody that makes extreme statements. [Trump] has so much investment in Muslim countries. By doing this he is making a big mistake. Because people will not forget,” he said.
Pressed on what the possible next US President would mean for the “Open Skies” row, al-Baker pointed out that Trump is a pro-business candidate.
“He is my friend. Donald Trump is a very successful businessman,” said Al Baker. “Regardless if it is in the interest of certain entities or not, he will look at the general interest of the American public.”