DUBAI: The chief of Qatar Airways on Monday accused American carriers complaining over alleged subsidies to Gulf airlines of “bullying,” as he announced new US routes in defiance of mounting airport restrictions.
US carriers Delta, United and American Airlines have accused Qatar Airways along with Dubai’s Emirates and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad of benefitting from government subsidies to expand their transcontinental networks.
They have urged US President Donald Trump to take action against the Gulf airlines, who deny any form of subsidy.
Speaking to reporters at the annual Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al-Baker said he didn’t expect any action from Washington.
“President Trump is a wise individual and a very good businessman, and I don’t think he will buy into bullying by the three American carriers,” Baker said.
Qatar Airways was among the airlines affected by the ban imposed last month on electronic devices larger than a smartphone on flights to the United States from 10 airports in the Middle East and Turkey.
Baker, whose carrier is offering free laptops to premium passengers in response to the ban, said Qatar Airways has faced some drop in business to US destinations.
“There was some decline. Something manageable. We did not have massive declines,” he said.
“We still have robust business in the United States… and we will continue our expansion,” he added.
Baker announced San Fransisco as a new route to be added to its 10 US destinations early next year. A route to Las Vegas will be launched in the second quarter of 2018, he said.
Emirates, the Middle East’s largest carrier, said last week it was reducing flights to the United States in response to “weakened travel demand.”
The US ban went into effect on March 25 on nine airlines in Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Britain followed with a similar ban from five countries from the Middle East, northern Africa and Turkey.
The fast-growing Gulf carriers have turned their home airports into major hubs for international travelers, capturing a sizable chunk of travel between the West and Asia and Australasia.