Qatar’s national carrier has reignited a feud with rival Delta during a high-profile gala to celebrate its upcoming inaugural Doha-to-Atlanta flight.
This week’s launch party featured a private concert by American singer and actress Jennifer Lopez at Atlanta’s historic Fox Theatre – a venue sponsored in part by Delta.
The US airline said this week that it would end its 20-year support for the theater because of the event.
“When the Fox shared its decision to continue doing business with Qatar, an airline proven to engage in business practices that harm U.S. aviation jobs and violate basic human rights, we let them know we wouldn’t be renewing our sponsorship,” Delta said in a statement, according to Bloomberg.
For his part, Al Baker said the “bizarre” move showed that Delta is “paranoid of Qatar Airways’ service,” the newswire added.
The airlines have been engaged in a war of words for more than a year over allegations that Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad receive government subsidies that give them an unfair advantage over their American competitors.
How many passengers?
On June 1, Qatar Airways will begin flying to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Delta’s primary hub.
Previously, the national carrier’s CEO Akbar Al Baker said the route would rub “salt in the wounds” of the US airline, which he has also accused of flying “crap” airplanes.
Beneath the bickering, Delta has questions about the economic feasibility about Qatar Airways’ Doha-Atlanta route.
Last month, Delta executives told analysts that its research suggests that only five people a day would fly between the two cities.
However, Qatar Airways’ business model revolves around carrying passengers to other destinations after transiting through Hamad International Airport, rather than simply flying travelers to Doha.
Nevertheless, the US airline is not alone in questioning the sustainability of Qatar Airways’ rapid expansion.
After the Gulf carrier reduced its summer flight frequency on more than two dozen routes – including several US destinations – this month, some questioned if the real reason was weaker-than-expected demand, rather than just delays in aircraft deliveries, as Qatar Airways has said.
However, while in Atlanta, Al Baker reiterated that a shortage of aircraft was stalling his company’s growth plans:
Al Baker: We have 5 more destinations to we would like to announce, but we can't, because of delivery delays from @Airbus.
— Paul Thompson (@FlyingPhotog) May 17, 2016
And despite the skepticism, the growth of Qatar Airways has resulted in dramatic increases in the number of passengers flying through HIA.
Trump is (still) my friend
While in Atlanta, Al Baker discussed a variety of topics with reporters and once again weighed in on the US presidential race, specifically the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party.
After reiterating that Donald Trump was a “friend” – echoing remarks made late last year – he downplayed the controversial tycoon’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US.
“I don’t think Trump means what he says. He does not realize that he has a lot of investment in Muslim countries and at the same time there is a very huge Muslim population in the United States,” he said in an interview with CNBC.
“Like all politicians, he says everything but once he gets elected, he will change his mind.”