Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
At the end of almost each fight or argument, young kids usually start blaming one another for the issue. They end up saying, “You started it.” Interestingly, sometimes adults also behave in this childish manner. Recently, a key official of a major airline acted in the same childish way. Before delving into the details of that row, let us do one quick comparison between three major US airlines and their Gulf counterparts. In 1976, United Airlines transported one million passengers in a single week. That was eight years before the Dubai-based Emirates started its operations. Delta Airlines was the first in the world to board one million passengers in one city in one month in Atlanta during the month of August in 1979 —14 years before the Doha-based Qatar Airways was founded. American Airlines carried its one-billionth passenger in 1991. That was 12 years before any one even heard of the Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways. United, Delta and American Airlines are the largest in the world. They were all founded in the 1920s by aviation pioneers and in due course the three shaped the global aviation industry. They had and still have skilled manpower — mechanics, engineers, and pilots — in abundance and drawn from their local market. There is no shortage of takeoff and landing strips either. Above all, these airlines are based in countries known for their technological prowess, which in return helps these airlines stay well ahead of the entire world in terms of technology. We, in the Gulf region, don’t have this luxury. So, why are these western aviation giants appear to be so upset their Gulf counterparts mentioned above? The Delta Airline CEO, Richard Anderson, recently surprised the entire world by issuing a statement about the three Gulf airlines. Delta Airline is an American public listed company and the statement is a big question mark on the credibility of an American high profile CEO. His remarks were not acceptable by any means and were not appropriate. So, what and who started it? United, Delta and American airlines claim that Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways receive billions of dollars in subsidies from their governments. But, many are asking what made the three US major carriers worry so much about the three Gulf airlines. The US carriers were light years ahead. The world had saw and flew the three American carriers more than 60 years before they even heard of these three Gulf-based airlines or airports. And none of these three Gulf carriers operate any domestic routes. On the other hand, the three American carriers have hundreds of domestic and international routes carrying tens of millions of passengers and operating from hundreds of airport terminals. So, right now many ask why the three US carriers are worried about their routes or if the Gulf states are giving their national carriers any subsidies. As far as we know, many US carriers are/were operating under chapter 11. Many US carriers were saved by the US government’s bailout packages. And most if not all national carriers around the world always rely on their governments to help them sustain their ability to fly and few are making profits. As for the three Gulf airlines, their biggest asset is that they cover hundreds of international routes. That helps a lot. Now, it is true that any major airline has the right to protect itself from any competition but in that process common sense should prevail and one should be careful in his/her utterances against the competition. But, at the end of the day, it is the customer satisfaction that makes all the difference — with or without subsidies. If you take any domestic flight by any US carrier then you have to pay for your meal even if the flight is longer than five hours. While even during a 30 minutes flight, an economy-class passenger of these Gulf airlines is served nice meals. Let us also not forget the business lounges at Doha, Abu Dhabi or Dubai. These days, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways fly around 20 direct flights to American airports every single day. It is true that some of them are code shared with US carriers. But, they control the bigger piece of the pie. So, Richard Anderson, if you can’t beat them then you have to join them. Bad words will not help your airline. Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. If You Can’t Beat Them... reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.