American Airlines said it plans to terminate its code-sharing partnerships with Qatar Airways and Etihad next year. This simply means you won’t be able to buy (or redeem points for) an American Airlines ticket to fly on operated by either airline– or vice versa. However, frequent flyer partnerships will remain in place. For now, at least.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering that American, Delta and United have been engaged in a years-long fight against the Middle East Big Three – Etihad, Qatar and Emirates – alleging that those carriers are subsidized by their governments, in violation of the Open Skies agreements that have allowed them to greatly expand their U.S. presence in recent years. The Mideast carriers deny those allegations.
The U.S. carriers have long been lobbying the federal government to curtail any new route rights for the Mideast trio, and have mounted extensive public relations campaigns to air their grievances. They even formed an advocacy group called the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies to promote their cause. Its motto is “a level playing field for all.”
So things have been quite tense between the U.S. Big Three and the Mideast Big Three for a long time.
Qatar Airways roiled the waters even more last month when it said it planned to acquire a stake of up to 10 percent in American Airlines – an unsolicited offer that American did not welcome.
A week after that investment plan was made public, American told both Qatar and Etihad that it would be pulling the plug on its code-sharing agreements with both of them effective March 25 of next year. Qatar Airways has been a member of American’s Oneworld global alliance since 2013.
American said that in view of the “extremely strong public stance” that it has taken against the Mideast Big Three, continuing its code-share partnerships with Etihad and Qatar would “no longer make sense for us.”
Important: An American official told Air Transport World that other aspects of the airline’s relationships with Qatar and Etihad will stay in place, including interline access, frequent flyer programs and airport lounge access. The downside of the loss of codesharing means that Advantage members will no longer earn elite qualifying miles on flights operated by Qatar or Etihad.
The decision to end code-sharing was made shortly before another incident that made relations between the carriers even worse. Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker gave a speech last week in which he bragged about his airline’s flight attendants having an average age of just 26, compared to what he called the “grandmothers” who comprise the flight crews of American carriers. He also referred to the U.S. carriers as “crap.” He later apologized for the remarks.
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