Skift Take

This is a small ad buy, but good for Hawaiian, JetBlue and Fedex to spend money to try to persuade political types. Open Skies agreements are helpful for consumers, and for global trade. If the U.S. takes a protectionist stance against the UAE and Qatar, the repercussions could hurt U.S. businesses.

A trade group representing three familiar U.S. brands — JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines and FedEx — is criticizing United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines in a new advertising campaign, arguing the big airlines’ efforts to discredit the three largest Gulf carriers will harm U.S. business interests.

It’s a small ad buy, and it will only run for two weeks on social media and in Washington, D.C.-area media. But through a group called U.S. Airlines for Open Skies, JetBlue, Hawaiian and Fedex, along with shipping company Atlas Air, suggest United, Delta and American are distorting facts to try to prop up their businesses and avoid competition.

“The legacy carriers don’t speak for all — or even most — U.S. airlines,” the group said in one of its ads.

The group, which was founded in 2015, argues many U.S. entities benefit from the Open Skies agreements American, Delta and United have criticized. The agreements permit Emirates, Etihad and Qatar to start as many new U.S. routes as they want, including one-stop flights routed through Europe. But they also permit Fedex to operate a regional hub in Dubai, and they give Hawaiian and JetBlue unfettered access to many of the world’s most important airports.

Additionally, Open Skies agreements help carriers, including JetBlue and Alaska Airlines, to enter into profitable relationships with international airlines. JetBlue earns considerable revenue shuttling Emirates passengers to Boston, New York, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, where they transfer to flights to Dubai.

American, Delta and United generally support Open Skies agreements with most countries, but not the ones with United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Through their own trade group — the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies — they’ve asked the Trump administration to renegotiate the deals so Emirates, Etihad and Qatar no longer have unfettered access to U.S. airports. They’re especially irked by conditions permitting the airlines to fly nonstop flights between Europe and the United States, such as Emirates’ Milan-New York route.

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies claims the three Gulf carriers have taken nearly $50 billion in government subsidies and “other unfair benefits” since 2004, including interest-free loans, government grants and capital injections, free land, and airport fee exemptions. The Gulf airlines acknowledge they receive help, but argue it’s no different than the assistance, on infrastructure and other matters, almost every government provides its airlines. The Gulf carriers say they’re profit-focused independent businesses, just like U.S. carriers.

Nearly every time Qatar, Emirates or Etihad announces a new U.S. route, the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies sends out an angry statement criticizing it. On Monday, after Qatar Airways said it will begin flying from San Francisco to Doha next year, the group’s spokeswoman, Jill Zuckman, released a new zinger.

“President Trump hasn’t even hit the 100-day mark in office and a Gulf carrier is launching yet another subsidized route into the United States,” Zuckman said. “Qatar Airways receives billions of dollars in illegal subsidies from its government in order to fly to our country and trash American jobs. It’s time to enforce our international agreements and stand up for 1.2 million American jobs supported by the U.S. carriers.”

But the new advertisements suggest the American/Delta/United group is engaging in some creative — and perhaps misleading — arguments to protect market share.

“If the Trump Administration caves to the demands of the legacy carriers it will open the U.S. to retaliation and jeopardize our entire network of Open Skies agreements and the economic benefits that come with them,” the JetBlue and Fedex-backed group said in an advertisement.

One of the group’s advertisements notes that, collectively, the three largest U.S. airlines employ roughly 270,000 people. Meanwhile, airlines not aligned with anti-Open Skies effort employ almost one million people, according to the trade group.

The ads also remind readers the U.S. travel, tourism and hospitality industry, which relies on international visitors, employs roughly 15 million Americans.

It is the first time U.S. Airlines for Open Skies has made an advertising buy, a spokeswoman for the group said.

Here is one of the ads. 


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Tags: american airlines, delta, gulf carriers, Open Skies agreements, united airlines

Photo credit: A Qatar Airways Airbus A350 approaches a gate in Frankfurt, Germany. Qatar Airways said recently it will fly from San Francisco to Doha next year. Michael Probst / Associated Press

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