US carrier American Airlines has cancelled codeshare deals with Qatar Airways and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad over a longstanding dispute linked to alleged government subsidies.
The move was revealed a day after Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker was criticised by US unions and airlines for controversial comments describing US flight crew as “grandmothers”.
Qatar was privately notified of the decision on June 29, a week after American disclosed the airline had made an approach to buy a 10 per cent stake, according to reports.
American CEO Doug Parker described the interest last month as “puzzling at best and concerning at worst” leading Al Baker to respond last week that his rival was “frightened” by the proposal.
American said the codeshare relationships “no longer makes sense” and the cancellation was an extension of its “stance against illegal subsidies these carriers receive from their governments”.
It added the move would have little financial impact.
The carrier and its US peers United and Delta have accused Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad of receiving more than $50bn in subsidies to the detriment of US jobs.
The three are pressuring the US government to review its open skies treaties with Qatar and the UAE through lobbying group the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies.
“We view the decision by American Airlines as being anti-competitive and anti-consumer,” Etihad said in a statement.
“This action will reduce choices for consumers and may result in higher fares for travellers to and from the United States.”
Earlier this week American vice president of flight service, Jill Surdek, described Qatar Airway’s CEO as “sexist and ageist” in a message to employees.
The message came in response to Akbar Al Baker’s comments at an event in Dublin in which he highlighted the average age of Qatar Airways’ cabin crew was 26 compared to US carriers where “you are always being served by grandmothers”.
His words drew a strong response from several US flight unions leading Al Baker to apologise “unreservedly” on Wednesday.
The CEO said the remarks were made at “a time of strong rivalry” with US airlines and expressed his great respect for the “hard work” of cabin crew.
“The remarks were made informally at a private gala dinner, following comments about the Qatar Airways cabin service, and were in no way intended to cause offence,” he said.
He also wrote a personal apology to Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 50,000 US workers.
Qatar withdrew and refilled a regulatory document on Monday regarding its plan to acquire a stake in American, the US carrier said on Wednesday.
The proposed investment would not change American’s board, governance or strategic direction, it indicated.
Qatar owns stakes in several airlines including 20 per cent of IAG, the parent company of one of the Qatari airline and American’s closest partners British Airways.
It also owns 10 per cent of Latam Airlines Group and had planned to acquire a 49 per cent stake in Italy’s Meridiana.