US Travel Praises Open Skies Resolution

Roger Dow, the chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association is praising the administration on a “successful outcome” over a years-long policy battle over “Open Skies” agreements with two Gulf nations. In 2015, American, Delta, and United, in concert with a lobbying organization known as the Partnership for Open And Fair Skies submitted a 55-page report alleging that the Middle Eastern carriers, including Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar, were receiving unfair government subsidies to the tune of $50 billion. The report also strongly recommended the federal government take action and renegotiate the Open Skies agreements with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Middle Eastern Carriers Deny Findings

The Middle Eastern carriers strongly denied the findings of the report, and over the years, the debate has frequently devolved into bouts of ugly finger pointing and name calling, including Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker calling American carriers “crap” and likening domestic flight attendants to grandmothers. Things were no less civil on the U.S. side. Delta Air Lines released a training video that took a potshot at Jennifer Aniston who starred in a series of television commercials for Emirates, with Delta employees calling the commercial “hurtful.”

Not All Domestic Carriers On Board

It is worth mentioning that not all domestic carriers were on board with the position of the “big three.” Four U.S. passenger and cargo carriers – Atlas Air Worldwide, FedEx, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue Airways also banded together to form a coalition, the U.S. Airlines for Open Skies (USAOS), in support of preserving the Open Skies agreement, which they say saves $4 billion for passengers on U.S. – international routes and brings billions of tourism dollars into the U.S. economy. The U.S. Travel Association also says the Middle Eastern carriers bring jobs and dollars into the United States. “Recall that several of our major airlines were asking the U.S. government to freeze flights from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – they claimed air access from those countries was threatening U.S. jobs,” said Dow. “We strongly but politely disagree with that stance.” “Now, I always stress that an abundance of healthy and profitable airlines – both domestic and international – is vital to our industry and to the American economy. But reducing air access is obviously bad for the U.S. economy and jobs, and our analysis even found that it would hurt jobs in the U.S. airline industry.”

Issue Largely Resolved

Earlier this month, the issue was largely “resolved,” when Etihad and Emirates both agreed to increase financial transparency, mirroring a similar agreement made with Qatar earlier this year. All sides, including the U.S. Travel Association, are declaring victory in the battle. “The Partnership for Open And Fair Skies applauds [the] agreement, which follows a separate, successful deal with Qatar earlier this year,” wrote POFS in a press statement. On the other side of the aisle, the USAOS wrote, “This resolution is a clear victory for American workers, travelers, and exporters, and reaffirms the U.S. commitment to Open Skies. We commend the Trump Administration for its thoughtful approach and unwavering commitment to resolve this matter in a way that fully protects the rights of each party under the agreement. Today’s announcement will allow all sectors of commercial aviation to grow stronger than ever and upholds America’s leading role in global aviation.” Speaking from IPW, the U.S. Travel Association’s annual tradeshow, Roger Dow said, “In recent weeks, we were pleased that the administration rejected both a freeze on new flights and a renegotiation of Open Skies agreements with Qatar and the UAE. We are excited to see our government getting these decisions right.”

Dow Praised Government Approved Expansion

In the same presentation, Dow also praised the government-approved expansion of more Norwegian Air flights into the U.S. from several points across Europe. “These new flights introduce competition, access, choice, and value for flyers to and from the U.S.,” said Dow. “They will direct even more international passengers to, through and beyond our gateways, connecting more people to new experiences in every corner of America.” He also applauded the recent introduction of an Open Skies agreement with Brazil, which he called “one of America’s highest-potential inbound markets.” Dow, who has been extremely vocal in encouraging the current administration and the travel community at large to make infrastructure improvements a priority in order to attract more visitors, reiterated his stance. “In the past, American airports would have made up at least 50 percent of any top 20 lists,” said Dow. “Now they don’t even register in comparison to facilities in the Middle East, Asia, and South America. Reversing that trend is critical, and we need to make it a priority.”