The ongoing war of words between major U.S. carriers and their Middle Eastern rivals over government subsidies and unfair competition is starting to have real-world consequences: Delta said it will abandon its Atlanta-Dubai service in February, and it placed the blame squarely on overexpansion by airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad.
Delta, American and United have been lobbying the U.S. government — so far without result — to block the Mideast Big Three from adding more U.S. gateways. They allege that the foreign carriers benefit from government subsidies that the U.S. companies don’t enjoy. The Mideast airlines deny those allegations.
In announcing the end of Dubai service from Atlanta, Delta said the 777 it uses on the route “will be redeployed to other transatlantic markets where it can compete on a level playing field that’s not distorted by subsidized state-owned airlines.”
Delta said that from 2008 to 2014, 11,000 seats a day to the U.S. were added from Dubai (Emirates’ hub), Doha (Qatar) and Abu Dhabi (Etihad’s home base), and more than 95 percent of them are operated by the Middle Eastern airlines.
Delta’s move comes on the heels of United’s plans to terminate its Washington Dulles-Kuwait/Bahrain flights in January, a move that some sources suggested may have been mandated by Kuwait’s government in a political dispute over U.S. anti-discrimination laws.
Meanwhile, the Middle Eastern carriers continue to add U.S. flights. Qatar Airways, for instance, earlier this year announced it would begin service to three U.S. gateways in 2016 — Atlanta, Boston and Los Angeles — and it plans to add a second daily New York flight next spring. Emirates last month started a new route from Dubai to Orlando. And some traffic between the U.S. and the Middle East is likely to travel via Istanbul on a rapidly-expanding Turkish Airlines, which started flying to San Francisco last spring and Miami this week, and plans to start Atlanta-Istanbul flights in May 2016.
TravelSkills reader S.C. wrote to suggest that Delta didn’t seem to be having trouble attracting business on its Dubai (DBX) route: “I’ve traveled there three times in the last three years, and only one time did an empty seat even exist, and that was on the ATL to DXB segment I took in July this year…which happened to be during Ramadan, so there were about 20-25 empty seats. NEVER before that has there been even one empty seat on the plane in either direction – and a waiting list of people trying to get on!”
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