Qatar Airways Is Flying To Atlanta To “Rub Salt In The Wound” Of Delta

Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, is one of the most outspoken guys in the airline industry. Just to give a couple of examples:

ITB Berlin is going on right now, and yesterday Qatar Airways announced over a dozen new routes which will be launching over the coming year, including the world’s longest flight, from Doha to Auckland.

Qatar-Airways-A350-Business-Class-96

These are in addition to the US expansion Qatar Airways previously announced (and in some cases already launched), including new flights to Atlanta, Boston, and Los Angeles, in addition to a second daily flight to New York.

Atlanta seemed like a bit of an odd choice. While the city has a huge airport, that’s almost entirely because of Delta’s hub there, and not due to actual local demand. Of all the cities Qatar Airways doesn’t serve, is Atlanta really the one with the most demand? Especially when you factor in that Qatar Airways is part of oneworld, which has very little presence in Atlanta, meaning there’s virtually no potential for connecting traffic.

We know that Al Baker’s archenemy is Delta’s CEO, Richard Anderson, so could he be starting the route just to piss off Delta?

Well, Al Baker may have just been a little too honest yesterday during a press conference, when he said the following, via Arabian Aerospace:

Announcing new routes for the Doha-based airline at the ITB show in Berlin, Al Baker said he was launching a daily flight to Atlanta – the home base of rivals Delta – “in order to rub salt into the wounds of Delta.”

That’s not an especially smart comment to make, given the battle going on between the US carriers and Gulf carriers over Open Skies. The US carriers are arguing that the Gulf carriers are subsidized and aren’t being run like businesses, while the Gulf carriers argue that the government simply has stakes in the airlines, and they are being run like businesses.

Not surprisingly, the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies issued a statement almost immediately:

“Mr. Al Baker has made it crystal clear that the subsidies his airline receives from the government of Qatar allow him to fly routes for the sake of petty peevishness rather than rational, market-based reasoning. Of course, with $17.5 billion in subsidies, Mr. Al Baker can choose to fly anywhere, anytime – even if his flights lose money and make no economic sense. The truth is, Qatar Airways is expanding at an inordinate rate because of the market-distorting buckets of cash it receives each year. And that’s why U.S. airlines and pilots, flight attendants and other American aviation professionals can’t afford to have the Obama administration sit on the sidelines while the Gulf carriers violate our international agreements and take away American jobs.”

Usually they’re off base, in my opinion, but it’s tough to disagree with the first part of their statement, at least.

Bottom line

This is a dumb comment for Al Baker to make, though in fairness it’s probably true. I’m guessing Qatar Airways is largely starting the route to “rub salt in the wound of Delta.” Then again, I’m not sure where the “salt” or “wound” plays in when launching a money-losing route to the hub of the world’s most profitable airline.

I guess Akbar and Richard can call it even with dumb comments now, since previously Richard linked the Gulf carriers to 9/11.

Now I really want to fly the inaugural Qatar Airways flight to Atlanta… I’m sure His Excellency will give a heck of a speech on arrival.

Do you think Qatar Airways’ motive for starting this route is to “rub salt in the wound” of Delta, or do you think there’s merit to the route otherwise?

Comments

  1. Did you mean, “Usually they’re off base, in my opinion, but it’s tough [NOT] to agree with the first part of their statement, at least.”?

  2. “but it’s tough to agree with the first part of their statement, at least.”

    Think you meant “disagree”

  3. Lucky, you have a tendency to claim many cities do not have local demand.. Atlanta has almost 6,000,000 residents, I am sure that will generate enough traffic to Africa/Middle east and who knows maybe Australia

  4. I was at the Qatar Airways launch dinner in Sydney on March 3rd, which had to be ironically the most camp event in history, with Kylie Minogue singing approx 10 songs live.

    Anyway, Al Baker made the same comment in his address at the Sydney dinner:
    “I’m sure you know why Atlanta. Because I love rubbing salt in the wound of Delta.”

    Also, in talking about the on-board product, he added:
    “Much to the envy of American carriers. Who try to attack us. Unsuccessfully.”

    Between Kylie and Al Baker, a great night was had by all!

  5. If there are a lot of price sensitive Indians in Atlanta, then it *might* make sense to fly this route, as that’s the traffic on all me3 flights to the me. Maybe some bangladeshis or Pakistanis too. And if course leisure travelers to Thailand.

  6. It’s not just price sensitive Indians,anyone from India would fly a non-us carrier given a option.there is absolutely no choice to fly to India frm Atlanta with one stop,so it is great news that Qatar would be flying to atlanta

  7. Just travel along Buford Highway through Chamblee, Brookhaven, Doraville, and Norcross to see that there could be a market for the flight. As for his grand proclamations, if he really goes all out to poke Delta, expect it to be outside the international terminal in front of the Delta Tech Ops complex. Plus, you need another chance to meet up with the Housewives of Atlanta in Midtown.

  8. I have difficulty as to how the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies is deducing the fact they will not make money and they are flying this route solely because they get subsidies, based on the sole remark of Al Baker stating he wants to rub salt in the wounds of Delta.

    I’d say they would need to back this up with stats, otherwise it is the Partnership that looks petty.

  9. I agree with KG – it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the route is going to be operated at a loss on the basis of an admittedly stupid comment by Al-Bakar.

  10. How is this even for the 9/11 comment?
    Al Baker didn’t passively blame Delta for the deaths of thousands, did he?

  11. My point is that the market that all the me3 caters to from North America is the USA-India market. In general that’s a HUGE market. USA-UAE/Qatar is tiny. On most USA-UAE/Qatar flights at least 80% if not more of the pax are transferring beyond doh/AUH/DXB- with the Majority going to India. If Atlanta has a large population of people going to/ from India on a daily flight, then the flight could do well. Will be interesting to see

  12. Turkish Airlines is starting an ATL-IST route in May of this year. They are part of Star Alliance and Star doesn’t have much of a base in ATL. I am not sure where the sudden interest in ATL from Middle Eastern carriers stem from. There must be a lot of connecting traffic to parts of the Middle East, Eastern Europe, India, and North Africa.

  13. There are very different ways to read his comments.”to rub salt in the wounds of delta” could mean “we are going to show them it’s possible to make money on that route when delta couldn’t”

    Your “analysis” that the route will be loss making based is based on????? Good luck to Qatar I say, I might even be tempted to switch from direct flights to via Doha just to avoid those terrible 767s delta keep hawking.

  14. I would have considered flying to ATL out of Europe, since I’m visiting relatives there at least once a year and really like QR to Asia. But the current 777 seats are just not comfy enough for a 14 hour flight.

    Let’s see what happens in November, maybe QR will be THE way to go to the US in the future, thanks to their new, cutting edge business class! 😉

  15. Maybe you should take a trip to Atlanta and leave the airport. Just drive 2 hours each way from the airport. Some of worst traffic in the country in top 7 can be found here. Lots of local demand for flights.

  16. Brilliant move. Pretty healthy stimulus for the totally underwhelming main US airlines to get their act together, in particular in the area of staff attitude.

  17. Ignore the drama. What matters to me is having first class on domestic US flights, and using miles for international business or first. My last flight to London was AA to Atlanta then BA to London. I will happily connect through Atlanta for international flights, but you will not catch me doing the stupid Delta connections through Atlanta for a domestic flight.

  18. There is definitely some truth to his comments. I think Al Baker loves to make bombastic statements while watching his opponents howl and squirm while being able to do little. It will probably backfire over the long term. IMO, there is probably some demand from Atlanta. The metropolitan region is home to a growing South Asian (overwhelmingly Indian) community. Nobody flies Qatar to go to Doha. It’s usually the connections to South Asian cities that attract passengers.
    One a side note: while poor inflight service combined with rude flight attendants is tolerable on domestic flights, it is often a deal breaker on international flights. Quite a few passengers will pay a little more to fly on an airline with superior service when your door-to-door travel time exceeds 24 hours. That’s where the Middle Eastern airlines enter the picture.

  19. I fly from Atlanta to India 5-6 times a year and know that the huge Indian community in Atlanta hasn’t had a one-stop choice (besides Delta) for years. I think this is a brilliant move on part of Qatar to capture some of that market.

  20. Those Qatar Airways flights from Atlanta are selling like crazy so these comments that they are flying that route at a loss are hilarious. IMO, it’s two birds one stone. Make money for Qatar Airways and beat Richard Anderson in his own backyard. Anderson deserves it for implying the ME3 were somehow involved in 9/11. In the end, the consumer wins because Qatar Airways makes Delta look like Spirit Airlines. You go, Al Baker!

  21. As an Indian residing in Atlanta, this is a relief. Other one stop carriers from ATL being BA and Lufthansa both need transit visa when we travel from USA with approved documents but no visa stamping (which will be available on the return). I am waiting to see how Qatar’s pricing is going to be for ATL-India route.

  22. Fly USA to India often in premium cabins and prefer ME3 airlines for their consistently good service. Generally I am very supportive of USA businesses but feell our airlines need to improve the product. Also was irritated when i learnt Delta has a desire to bolt USA to save on taxes and this after writing off losses in USA for so many years and getting tax exemptions on hugh “fees” collected.

  23. I do not understand why Qatar operating to ATL needs to be about rubbing salt. Qatar primarily carries passengers from the middle east and Indian Subcontinent. With European transit visas getting more restrictive and Emirates and Etihad absent at ATL; it makes complete financial sense for Qatar to start operations at ATL. I am from India and I have come across many Indian Nationals connecting from ATL to DFW to catch a ME3 flight to India due to lack of options from ATL.

  24. It’s not about just atlantans’ demand– it’s the world’s busiest airport because of how many people fly THROUGH. Think of how many Americans can get to ATL more easily and quickly than they can get to NY or LAX. You’re looking at a substaintial percentage of the country.

  25. I’m not Indian, I’m based in Atlanta and fly to Africa and Asia two to four times a year. After taking Qatar Airways twice I’ll never fly any US carrier even to Europe if possible because of the terrible soft and hard product

  26. This is a very Good news – 90 % of the passengers are Indian Origin . It’s a big news for Indians living in Atlanta and their parents coming from India . Atlanta is the second largest growing city in USA and mostly because of the big influx of Indian IT professionals – Qatar air ways knows how to handle them with nice Biryani and Spicy food ..It’s a big decision for them and bound to get big profits which are ignored by Delta –

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