Middle Eastern Airline Launches New US Route, Gets ‘Mixed’ Welcome!

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Airlines and Aviation

Qatar Airways’ first commercial airline flight from its Doha hub in Qatar to the world’s busiest airport in the United States received a traditional water canon salute upon its arrival on 1 June 2016.

Qatar Airways flight QR755 departed Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar (DOH), at 9:05 am AST.

The flight arrived at Atlanta Hartfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) several hours later at 4:55 pm EST.

But despite the water-canon greeting, the airline’s inaugural flight to Atlanta was mired in controversy.

The world’s busiest airport, Atlanta has five runways, seven concourses, and more than 200 gates.

Only one of those gates, however, can accommodate a double-decker Super Jumbo Airbus A380, the world’s largest aircraft, CNN reports.

Delta Air Lines, which is based at Atlanta, refused to vacate the gate to accommodate Qatar.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Delta had a much smaller aircraft, an Airbus A320, parked at the gate.

The airline said vacating the gate would have involved the shuffling of “multiple aircraft”.

Unfriendly Skies?

In case you didn’t know, Delta is one of three American airlines claiming that generous government subsidies give Qatar Airways an unfair competitive advantage, violating international Open Skies agreements.

American Airlines and United Airlines also support this claim.

According to Delta, there is only enough demand for two seats between Atlanta and Doha per day. This claim, however, seems a bit dubious.

Both Atlanta and Doha are hub airports. The overwhelming majority of traffic at BOTH airport is transit rather than local.

With a population of under 450,000 people – and a metropolitan area of just 5.5 million people – Atlanta is only the ninth most populous metropolitan area in the United States.

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In terms of locally generated traffic, there is no way Atlanta could trump New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or several other American cities.

Its central location and warm weather climate (which results in fewer flight delays) are the reasons why Atlanta can lay claim to being the world’s busiest airport.

If you’re going to come up with a defense, Delta, you’re going to have to do better than that!

Akbar Al Baker, CEO Qatar Airways, meanwhile, has been widely quoted as saying the airline’s decision to serve Atlanta was to “rub salt into the wounds” of Delta.

Did it really have nothing to do with economics? Was it really just a  simple issue of tit for tat?

Larger Aircraft

Delta Air Lines and Atlanta Airport officials say Qatar failed to give adequate notice that a larger aircraft was going to be deployed on the inaugural Doha-Atlanta flight.

According to media reports, the deployment of a double decker, Super Jumbo on the inaugural flight was common knowledge. It had been announced at least a month in advance. There had been lots of hype.

Whether or not the airport had been officially notified of the change in aircraft by the airline is unclear. Assuming it had not, well – that’s not how government bureaucracies operate.

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Shouting something from the rooftops doesn’t count, Qatar. You’ve got to OFFICIALLY notify the airport in advance.

According to a report by CNN, when asked if Qatar had given “enough notice to access the gate,” a spokesman for the airline said, “In general, yes, we gave some lead time that we would be here.

In general? SOME lead time? Sounds like a “gotcha” if you ask me.  To dumb down (or translate) this answer into just one word, the answer would have to be  “NO!!!”

As a result of the “misunderstanding”, the aircraft had to park at a location remote from the passenger terminal, and passengers had to exit the aircraft in the elements via stairways onto the tarmac rather than in air-conditioned jet ways into the airport terminal.

They were shuttled to the airport terminal via shuttle buses.

In the end, it took 45 minutes for all the passengers on flight QR755 to deplane. The return flight, QR756, will regularly depart Atlanta at 7:25 pm EST, arriving in Doha at 4:15 pm AST, the following day.

The inaugural return flight from Atlanta to Doha, however, was delayed by two hours.

Remote Locations

Living in Asia, I don’t find that unusual. Aircraft are frequently parked at remote locations (even in “first world” countries such as Japan), with passengers having to be shuttled to and from aircraft via shuttle bus.

Which, if truth be told, is EXTREMELY annoying – especially in rainy and/or hot and humid weather.  And what about snow?

The shuttles are usually crowded, and there are never enough seats.

Overall, it is not a pleasant experience.

So far, I have flown on Qatar Airways only once, and we were, in fact, parked at a distant location from the airport terminal in Doha and were shuttled back and forth by shuttle buses.

Doha Hub

Qatar Airways maintains a hub at Hamad International Airport, which is within six hours flying distance of 80% of the world’s population.

Atlanta is Qatar’s 10th travel destination in the United States, and its third new American travel destination this year.

The airline launched flights to Los Angeles, California, in January and Boston, Massachusetts, in March.

The airline also added a second non-stop flight between New York JFK and Doha in April.

The airline also serves Chicago, Illinois; Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; Houston, Texas; Miami, Florida; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Washington, DC.

The airline has an extensive route network linking Doha with more than 150 travel destinations in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Qatar Airways is a member of the oneworld global alliance.

Reality Check

For what it’s worth, I am flying Business Class on Qatar Airways to attend TBEX Asia this summer.

Whatever you say about government subsidies and/or unfair competition, let’s get one thing straight.

I would NOT be going to attend this bloggers convention if 1.) I had to fly cattle class (I would rather stay home); and 2.)  the fare wasn’t highly attractive.

So US airlines are not losing my business to Qatar. I simply wouldn’t be going if it weren’t  for this reasonable fare – subsidized or not!

Having said that, I’m just one person. When all is said and done, I am “statistically insignificant”.

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